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Barre Planning Board wrestles with revisions to wind energy ordinance

Photos by Tom Rivers: Barre Planning Board members are pictured Monday evening during a meeting a Barre Town Hall. The members include, from left: Jean Depatie, Jean Peglow, Wes Miller, Chairman Tom Keeler, Steve Harling, Kirk Mathes and Kurt Dudley.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 October 2018 at 12:59 pm

BARRE — The Barre Town Planning Board is working to revise the town’s wind energy ordinance, and may make changes to allow turbines taller than the current 500-foot limit. The setbacks from houses and property lines may also be increased.

Apex Clean Energy is proposing a project with 47 turbines. The company wants them to be 600 feet tall at maximum tip height, Ben Yazman, the Apex project manager, told the Planning Board on Monday.

That would be nearly 200 feet taller than most of the turbines in Wyoming County. The Barre turbines also would likely generate 4.2 megawatts per turbine, more than double the power from the models from a decade ago. (The 75 turbines in Sheldon, Wyoming County, that were constructed in 2009 produce 1.5 megawatts each.)

Barre adopted its wind ordinance in 2008 when a different developer was looking at the town for a project that didn’t end up materializing. Apex has proposed some revisions to the ordinance “to modernize the technological standards of the law, and also continue conversations with the town about the details of the wind farm we are working to develop in Barre,” Yazman said.

The town ordinance supports wind energy development, “but it was crafted over a decade ago based on a different set of technical standards that have changed since that time,” he said. “The ordinance also contains some technical ambiguity that is worth reexamination by the board.”

Barre residents concerned about the project also have submitted suggestions that call for far greater setbacks than the current town law.

The Planning Board, led by Chairman Tom Keeler, has set a Nov. 1 deadline for people to submit suggestions about possible changes in the ordinance. Kerri Richardson, president of Clear Skies Above Barre, said the group will be submitting many proposals for the town ordinance. Those suggestions are designed to protect all residents, including the leaseholders, from negative impacts of the turbines.

“Setbacks and noise are our biggest concerns,” she said. “Those are the two things we feel need to be changed to protect the citizens of Barre.”

Keeler said the Planning Board will work to have a revised ordinance to present to the Town Board by Jan. 1. That proposal, if accepted by the Town Board, will be subject  to review by the Orleans County Planning Board and also a public hearing in Barre.

The setbacks are one of the biggest issues for the town to consider, Keeler said.

The current ordinance says the turbines need a property line setback of at least 1.5 times the tip height. That is for the property lines where the turbine is located.

The current ordinance also says the turbines need to be at least 1,000 feet from any existing residential or commercial building.

These 410-foot-high turbines were constructed this year in Arkwright, near Fredonia, in Chautauqua County. This photo was taken on Saturday. That project includes 36 turbines.

Apex has agreed to 1,500 foot setbacks from residential buildings. Yazman also suggests 1.5 times the tip height for setbacks from property lines for non-participating property owners, or landowners without an Apex lease.

A bigger setback would push many of the turbines in the middle of corn fields, he said. Having a smaller setback would allow farmers and landowners to have turbines in hedgerows, Yazman said.

Richardson of Clear Skies says the setbacks should be six times the turbine height. That would be at least 3,600 feet or more than a half mile for 600-foot-tall turbines.

John Metzler, a vocal critic of the project, said the setbacks should be even greater than what Richardson suggested.

“They need to be a mile away for people to be unaffected by these monoliths,” Metzler said. “We’re trying to protect the health and safety of residents, and the property values.”

Kirk Mathes, a member of the Planning Board, also is a leaseholder with Apex. He asked Yazman if the larger setbacks would, in effect, kill the project.

The larger setbacks, at six times the turbine height, would result in fewer turbines and may not make it economically feasible for the developer, Yazman said.

Mathes was chided by resident George McKenna for speaking as an advocate for the project. Mathes, because he stands to gain financially, shouldn’t participate in discussions about the project.

Keeler said the town attorney, Lance Mark, said two of the board members, Mathes and Jean Peglow, can’t vote on the project because it would be a conflict of interest but Mark said they can participate in discussions.

Mathes said he was simply asking a question that everyone was wondering, if the bigger setbacks would derail the project.

Metzler also told Mathes he shouldn’t be speaking at the meetings because of his lease with Apex.

“From the start you’ve done nothing but help Apex,” Metzler told him during the meeting.

• Apex would like to see the maximum impact for shadow flicker increased from 25 hours a year to 30. The 30 hours is the standard for the industry, Yazman said.

If the shadow flicker gets close to exceeding the limit, he said the turbines can be curtailed during those times to reduce or stop the flicker.

In that case, Richardson of Clear Skies said no shadow flicker should be the goal.

“This is our community,” she told the Planning Board. “The decision is in your hands. If the technology is there to better serve the residents of the Town of Barre, then why not?”

• Apex said the current decibel cap of 45, measured 1,000 feet from the turbine, doesn’t need to be changed. There is a provision where the noise limit can go to 51 decibels 10 percent of the time or 6 minutes an hour.

One resident, Nancy Blank, asked the town to lower the decibel limit to 40.

Yazman said Apex is doing two ambient noise studies and the noise issue will be reviewed by the State Siting Board, which includes the commissioner of the state Department of Health.

• The current ordinance says the turbines need to be decommissioned or removed after 180 days of no use. Yazman said the language should likely be modified because “unused” is ambiguous. It doesn’t necessarily mean the turbine has been shut down permanently.

If there is a malfunctioning turbine, it could take two months or more to have parts shipped and repairs made, he said.

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