Members of the Newfield Town Board unanimously voted to pass a local law tightening wind power restrictions following a public hearing on the issue at the beginning of the board’s regular meeting July 14.
Several people spoke in favor of passing the law, which is a revised version of a local law originally passed in 2009 to “promote the effective use of the town’s wind energy resources through wind energy facilities and wind turbine generators, and to regulate the design and placement of such systems so that the public health, safety and welfare will not be unreasonably jeopardized,” as is stated in the law.
Newfield decided to take a closer look at the law when Black Oak Wind Farm submitted a proposal to the neighboring town of Enfield that included one potential site within Newfield on Cayutaville Road. On April 14 Newfield put a 90-day moratorium on any wind development within the town while they reviewed their local wind energy laws.
The most significant change to the revised version is the increase in the distance required between a wind turbine and nearby property lines. The current law states there must be 750 feet or 1.5 times the blade radius, whichever is greater, between the turbine and the property lines of adjacent property owners.
In the newly adopted law, the setback is increased to 1,760 feet or three times the blade radius, whichever is greater, from adjacent property lines, unless each neighboring landowner within 1,760 feet consents to a written lease, easement or other agreement.
According to a Black Oak spokesperson, this would make wind energy development in Newfield nearly impossible because it would require too many easements from landowners; obtaining easements is a costly and time consuming process, said Marguerite Wells, project manager for Black Oak. “It’s a common way to outlaw wind farms in a town, to make the setback impossible,” she said.
Prior to the vote to pass the law, several Newfield residents spoke up in support of the increased setbacks. “I think it was very well done,” said Eva Marques, of Newfield, of the board’s approach to the issue.
“I am,” said Kim Wojtanik when asked if she was happy with the town board’s decision. Wojtanik owns 13 acres of land adjacent to the potential Newfield turbine site.
Jude Lemke, who resides on Connecticut Hill Road, said that she is happy the board is placing stricter restrictions on setbacks but that she would like to see the sound regulations revisited. “I think there are some clarifications that need to be made. They need to tighten up some of the language around sound,” she said. “I think the standard is too high.”
Tompkins County Planning Department reviewed Newfield’s proposed wind law and determined that it “may have negative inter-community or county-wide impacts.” Town Supervisor Jeffrey Hart read aloud a letter addressed to the town from Edward Marx, Tompkins County Commissioner of Planning.
The setback standards included in the proposed Town of Newfield law exceed any of the examples given by the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority, the letter states. “Our analysis indicates that a 1,760-foot setback requires at least a 225 acre parcel to develop, which would very much limit the number of potential opportunities for installation in the Town of Newfield,” the letter states, recommending “a more standard” setback of 1.5 times the total height including the rotor blade height.
Because of the county’s recommendation to revise the proposal, approval of the law without changes would require a supermajority (or majority of the voting body plus one) in order to pass, the letter noted.
“Why the pressure to vote tonight?” asked Joanne James, Newfield Town Board member. The other board members pointed out that the moratorium on new wind energy construction would end the following Monday, July 18. They agreed it could be risky to wait to pass the law, as developers who were interested in Newfield could submit proposals under the old law before the town is able to pass the new one.
“We could adjust it at a future date, during which we would need a public hearing to adjust the law,” said Hart. James agreed to vote in favor of the law if she could make a stipulation that the board revisit it in the next couple of months, and Hart said that he would like the minutes to reflect that the board would go back and consider some of the county’s recommendations at a future date.