Barre approves revised wind ordinance, allowing 700-foot high turbines

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 11 February 2021 at 10:57 am

Town Board deems large wind turbines don’t pose significant environmental impact

BARRE – The Town Board, in a meeting that stretched nearly four hours on Thursday night, approved revisions to the town ordinance for wind turbines.

One big change increases the maximum height of the structures from 500 to 700 feet.

The board passed the changes to the town ordinance and approved the SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review Act), stating the ordinance doesn’t have significant environmental impacts.

The board voted on the local law and SEQR despite objections from Town Board member Kerri Richardson, who asked at about 10:15 p.m. that the meeting be adjourned until next week to give the board more time to discuss the local law and the SEQR.

Richardson said she and other board members were tired as the meeting stretched on last night. She also wanted to get home to her 2-month-old baby. Adjourning the meeting would allow the board members to all be able to “think clearly,” she said.

“We could meet again next week,” she said. “I’m not trying to hold this up.”

The other board members – Town Supervisor Sean Pogue, and council members Margaret Swan, Lynn Hill and Tom McCabe – said they wanted to continue discussing the local law and SEQR last night, without putting it off any longer.

Richardson said she was disappointed by the lack of “courtesy” from the other members and she left the meeting at about 10:20 p.m.

Before she left, Pogue told her being an elected official sometimes requires going “above and beyond.” That rankled Richardson, who noted she gave birth about two months ago with the baby born seven hours after she was at a town meeting.

The other board members stayed and voted on the new ordinance and the SEQR. The meeting ended at 10:47 p.m.

Pogue abstained from voting because he said there is a perception he is conflicted with the turbines, with his girlfriend’s family standing to gain financially. Pogue noted during the meeting the family turned down a $3,000 a year lease to have a transmission line go through the property.

Apex Clean Energy wants to build Heritage Wind in Barre, a project with 33 turbines that would generate 184.8 megawatts at full capacity. The turbines would be a maximum 680 feet high from the base of the unit to the tip of unit’s longest blade. Those turbines would be more than 200 feet higher than the ones in the Wyoming County wind energy projects.

Richardson noted they would be the biggest turbines on land in the country. Their size should warrant closer study of the environmental impacts and other negatives on the community, with noise including “infra-sound”, shadow flicker, the visual impacts and other issues. She said the town should insist on a property value guarantee.

“I think we have some homework to do,” she said in a meeting shown live through YouTube.

She said she is also concerned the law doesn’t set a limit on the number of turbines in the town. There may be more than the 33 proposed by Apex in the future.

Pogue said the issue has been thoroughly discussed by the town for about three years. He said the wind energy ordinance is modifying one from 2008.

The town ordinance could very well be pre-empted through Article 10 of the NYS Public Service Law and the new 94-C of the NYS Executive Law. The state has a Siting Board to review and approve larger-scale renewable energy projects that exceed 25 megawatts. State officials have said they will try to stay within local laws as much as practical but the state could approve the projects, allowing turbines taller than the local ordinance or not adhering to the town’s setback requirements from property lines and residences.

Pogue read many letters from residents during the Wednesday meeting, with many opposing the project and many also stating their support. Some residents said they felt the new ordinance was unduly crafted by Apex officials, with a goal to make the project fit in Barre.

Richardson said that is the perception by many in the town, that Apex officials had too much say in the new ordinance.

Pogue said the Town Board and its consultants, including LaBella Associates in Rochester, put a lot of work into the revised local law.

“We have increased the protections, even greater or more strict than the state allows,” Pogue said.

Some of the regulations proposed for the turbines include:

  • Setback distances: The zoning amendments establish setbacks from property lines to be at least 1.5 times the tip height of a turbine from any public roadways or above-ground power lines, and that is for non-participating land owners or those without leases for a turbine as well as participating land owners. For non-participating property owners (those without leases for a turbine company), the turbines would have to have setbacks at least twice the turbine height from the property line.
  • Noise: The town’s proposed ordinance states noise shall not exceed 45 dBA of equivalent continuous sound for 8 hours at non-participating structures and 40 dBA at night outside at non-participating structures. The standard is 55 dBA at participating structures and 50 dBA at night for turbines at night on leaseholders’ land. The turbines or Wind Energy Conversion Systems shall not produce human perceptible vibrations inside any non-participating structures that exceed the limits of residential use recommended in American National Standards Institute.
  • Height: can not exceed 700 feet as measured from the case of the unit to the tip of unit’s longest blade. The current ordinance caps the turbine height at 500 feet tip height.
  • Roads: Companies are encouraged to use existing roadways as much as possible. If that isn’t practical and a access or new roadway is needed, the turbines should be built in a way so they are level with the surrounding environment. The wind turbine company is responsible for damages to public roads during the installation or maintenance of the turbines. The company shall post a public improvement bond prior to the issuance of a building permit. The amount shall be determined by the Town Board.
  • Shadow flicker: The Wind Energy Conversion System shall be designed so the shadow flicker from each turbine will not fall on a specific area of a roadway or residential structure for more than 25 hours a year. If a turbines exceeds the 25 hours, it “shall be shut down until the offending condition is remedied,” the ordinance states.
  • Construction hours: The construction hours will be limited to 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays except in cases of cement pours or component deliveries. Maintenance of the facilities shall be limited to the same time frames, except in cases of emergency.
  • Decommissioning: at the end of the useful life or where otherwise necessary an individual turbine may need to be decommissioned or the entire project decommissioned. The applicant or its successors are responsible for decommissioning and all costs associated with it, including removing turbines, blades, nacelles, towers, transformers, above-ground collection cables and poles, permanent meteorological towers and collection substation. Foundation and collection lines buried less than a depth of 36 inches in non-agricultural lands and less than 48 inches in agricultural lands also must be removed. The applicant will post and maintain financial assurance in the amount of the net decommissioning costs, on a per turbine basis, to be determined by a qualified, independent engineer, at the applicant’s expense. The net decommissioning cost shall be updated a year after facility operation and then every fifth year thereafter.
  • Restoration: The applicant and its successors that may own and operate the project are responsible for restoration and all costs associated with restoring the project site, including agricultural lands and public roads.

With the SEQR, the board – absent Richardson – said the new ordinance would not have a significant environmental impact on the land, water, air quality, agricultural resources, tourism, open spaces and recreation, and transportation.

The board checked “yes” that the ordinance could have minor or no impact on plants and animals, aesthetic resources, and historic and archeologic resources. The board deemed the law overall would “no significant impacts on environment.”

During a public comment opportunity at the end of the meeting, George McKenna said he didn’t see how the SEQR was approved because of the unknowns with the larger model of turbines. The visual impact, for one, will be dramatic in a flat town, he said.

McKenna said allowing the larger turbines – “these eyesores” – clearly doesn’t support agriculture or tourism. He said the 33 turbines are the height of the St. Louis Arch, with moving parts and lights at night. That, he said, “does not, does not preserve the vistas of countryside”

McKenna and his wife, Iva, are Richardson’s parents. Mrs. McKenna said the board should have adjourned the meeting before the vote out of respect for her daughter, who has a newborn baby.

Mrs. McKenna said the local law allowing the larger turbines will clearly change the rural town.

“We’d have more skyscrapers per square mile in Barre than they do in New York City,” she said.