Shelby residents share concerns over two 650-foot-high turbines on Route 63

Photos by Tom Rivers: Representatives for Borrego Solar System Inc. discuss the company’s proposal for two 650-foot-high turbines on South Gravel Road. David Strong is the senior project developer for Borrego and Lydia Lake is an engineer with Borrego. They are speaking during a public hearing Tuesday evening at the Shelby Town Hall.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 June 2022 at 5:06 pm

SHELBY – Residents shared concerns that two proposed wind turbines, that would peak at 650 feet high from the top tip height, don’t fit in with a rural area and would be the beginning of more of the oversized structures for the town.

The Town of Shelby held a public hearing on Tuesday evening about a special use permit and the site plan for the turbines proposed by Borrego Solar System Inc. They are planned for South Gravel Road in an apple orchard owned by the Smith family.

Town Supervisor Jeff Smith recently retired as an apple grower. His family’s property is proposed for the two turbines. He is recusing himself from any votes or official discussion about the project.

Borrego already has completed a big energy project in Orleans County. in 2019 it developed an 8.5 megawatt solar project in the Town of Ridgeway on Allis and Beals roads on land owned by Ken Baker.

The two turbines were presented as a “community wind project” by David Strong, senior project developer for Borrego. He said the turbines could provide enough electricity for 2,000 homes. He said residents could be eligible for 10 percent off their electricity costs through the project.

Several residents spoke during the hearing, including from left: Kathy Colley, Karen Jones and David Reese.

Residents during a public hearing had many questions. Kathy Colley wondered where the parts for the turbines would be manufactured. She wants assurance the two turbines would be properly maintained for years to come. She worries the turbines would have a negative impact on the Oak Orchard River through vibrations.

Others shared concerns that Borrego is using the two turbines to get a foothold in the town, with a bigger project to come. The project, at 10 megawatts, is below the 25 megawatt minimum for a renewable energy project to obtain a siting permit from the Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES).

“The two will turn into 20,” said David Reese. “It’s small little bites at the apple. It’sd a domino effect. We’re chipping away slowly of our backyard.”

Reese said the turbines will be disruptive with their enormous size on a rural landscape.

The two Vesta V150 turbines would have a capacity to generate 10 megawatts of power. The hub height is 393 feet with a rotor diameter of 493 feet. With shadow flicker, Borrego officials said in the worst-case scenario the residences and businesses along Maple Ridge Road, Salt Works Road and South Gravel Road will see 19 hours and 34 minutes of shadow flicker a year, or an average of just over 3 minutes a day.

Patti Bushover also is concerned the two-turbine project could lead to more. The public hearing was attended by about 50 people, but there were few younger adults in the room.

“There aren’t young people here,” Bushover said. “You guys are deciding the future and it’s not our future. It’s the future for the young people.”

About 50 people attended the public hearing about whether Borrego should be issued a special use permit and have the site plan approved.

Michael O’Keefe said he supports the project if it stays at two turbines and doesn’t lead to more. He said the community should do as much as it can to meet local energy needs and be less dependent on others.

Phil Keppler, a local beef farmer on South Gravel Road, said he supports the project but would like to see Borrego pay more than the $500,000 it is offering the community to provide more tax relief and help the town keep up with road maintenance.

Wendi Pencille sought clarification on that $500,000, whether it was a one-time payment or if it would be spread over the life of the project, an estimated 15 to 30 years. She also asked if the 10 percent discount on electricity would be based on electricity from renewable energy, which is billed at a higher rate. In that case, the residents might not see a reduction in their electric bills, Pencille said.

Ryan Wilkins, the deputy town supervisor, said Borrego would be responding to questions in writing and wouldn’t give answers during the public hearing.

Resident Jim Zelazny also said Borrego should be paying more to the community.  He said the Town of Sheldon in Wyoming County received $936,000 from the wind energy developer in 2018 for 112 megawatts of wind energy. That is about $8,300 per megawatt annually.

With Borrego, if the $500,000 is over 15 years that would be an average of about $33,000 a year or about $3,300 per megawatt annually, Zelazny said, advocating for more money for Shelby.

These residents also spoke during the hearing. They include Judy Smith, Michael O’Keefe and Wendi Pencille.

Judy Smith spoke during the hearing. The turbines would be on her family’s property. She said she has been to the Sheldon wind farms. The two in Shelby would be set farther back from the road than most in Sheldon, she said.

“After seeing it, I felt OK with it,” she said about seeing the Sheldon turbines. “It’s part of the solution, bringing power. Russia has every one over a barrel. I think this is part of the solution. It’s a way for us to be ourselves – to be free.”

Karen Jones of South Gravel Road said the turbines are out of scale for a rural area. She presented a model showing her home at 22 feet high, her barn at 70 feet in height and the turbines at more than 630 feet.

“This turbine will be visible from so much of Orleans County,” she said.

She also said Borrego may sell off the project to a different developer or operator. The company last month announced a sale of over 8.4 GW of solar and 6.4 GW/25 GWh of energy storage to ECP. Borrego officials said it is selling its development arm, including projects in the pipeline, but not the company itself.

“Who are dealing with?” Jones said.

Georgette Stockman also submitted a comment online during the hearing. She said the area has bald eagles and other wildlife with the refuge so close by. She worries the two turbines could be a menace to the eagles and wildlife.

“They are so out of character with a rural area,” she said about the turbines.