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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 5, 2010

Committee says ‘no’ to big wind, but will public?

By Zach Simeone

RENSSELAERVILLE — A bill that would prohibit industrial wind development in town will get a public hearing next week.

After Shell WindEnergy aborted its plan for large-scale wind development in the Hilltowns, Rensselaerville declared a moratorium and appointed a committee to study the pros and cons of wind development on scales both large and small. At the time, Rensselaerville, like the other Hilltowns, had no laws specifically regulating wind development.

Last summer, the town board adopted a local law for the regulation of smaller-scale, non-commercial windmills, based on the committee’s recommendations.

After a year-and-a-half of work, Rensselaerville’s wind power committee found that industrial wind power would raise health, environmental, and safety concerns; would tie up government while bringing in little income; and would run contrary to the town’s master plan.

The town board held a special meeting in July at which it accepted the wind power committee’s final report and recommendations on industrial wind power, introduced the local law, and scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday, Aug. 10, at 6:30 p.m. The law incorporates, by reference, the committee’s entire final report, though the report itself has not yet been made public.

The town’s wind-power moratorium was recently extended through Sept. 3, 2010, or upon completion of the regulations, whichever comes first.

“The plan,” town attorney Joseph Catalano said, “is for the board to introduce this law, schedule a public hearing…and then, the town board will be in a position possibly to vote on it at the regular meeting; the one caveat is that Albany County has to give us their recommendations.”

Before unanimously adopting the resolution, the town board questioned the wind power committee members.

Councilman Gary Chase asked for clarification between a wind farm and a wind facility, and committee Chairman Noel Abbott offered his view.

“A wind farm is basically a developer’s spin on an industrial wind facility to make it seem more appropriate,” Abbott told the board. “A wind farm is an imprecise term.”

Committee member Alan Wilson agreed.

“It’s marketing,” he said. “It is to connote the idea that it is sitting within agriculture, and that it can be as small or large as conditions permit, or as is desired.”

Peter Sedlmeir, echoing his fellow committee members, pointed to wind-power companies’ use of terms like “green,” and “harvesting” the wind, to appeal to rural town governments and residents.

Abbott went on to define the division between the committee’s two types of research.

“There’s one very clear distinction,” Abbott said, “which is that, if you have a wind turbine…it actually produces electrical energy using a mechanical force — the wind — and it goes one of two places: It either goes directly into the grid for sale, and we’re defining that as industrial wind; or it goes into the electrical system of a given property and we’re defining those as non-commercial.”

It is very unlikely, Abbott went on, that a company would place only one large turbine in the town for feeding the grid, except as a demonstration project, or as a “Trojan horse” for bringing in a larger project, as it would set a precedent for the acceptance of large-scale wind in the town.

Further, an industrial wind facility would do little to serve the town’s energy needs, he went on.

“The only way that could happen is if, as a town, we constructed our own totally new infrastructure, separate from the grid,” he said, “because, once the energy is fed into the grid, then it is basically part of this extraordinary pool that gets utilized, usually, in very remote locations, but not always. And the independent system operators control that, and they’re given their authority by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They control the distribution, transmission, all of that. But it may go in to serve New York City, for example, but it could never directly be utilized to serve the community in which it’s established.”


Upon completing its work, the wind study committee released a summary of its findings and rationale for recommending the prohibition of industrial wind power in Rensselaerville, containing eight bullet points:

— Bringing industrial wind power to Rensselaerville would be “out of alignment” with the town’s comprehensive plan, and this alone is sufficient justification for barring the large turbines;

— There are significant health, environmental, and safety concerns associated with large-scale wind development;

— Albany County’s wind speeds are not consistently high enough to make industrial wind power a viable option for energy production;

— Residents’ property values may decrease;

— Income to the town would be minimal, while the costs to the quality of life would be disproportionately high, as would the amount of time spent by the town’s governmental bodies throughout the process;

— Once the large turbines are installed, it may be difficult or impossible to remove them, as industrial wind leases and easements often give developers long-term control of the property on which the turbines are situated;

— Some towns have lost control of their ability to independently negotiate with wind developers; and

— While the town could develop zoning that would restrict industrial wind development to a particular area, it would be easier for a developer to challenge a zoning restriction than a complete prohibition.

Other business

In other business at its special July 22 meeting, the town board:

— Discussed with Highway Superintendent Gary Zeh its options for purchasing a used vehicle. Zeh and the board debated the efficacy of his capital improvement plan, and the board asked that he present a revised version of the plan that does not involve borrowing money.

The plan, presented to the board at a special meeting in May, involved a combination of selling and replacing all 23 pieces of town equipment, mapping out when these proposed transactions would take place, and how much he plans on spending. Vehicle purchases, according to Zeh’s original plan, were to be financed by five-year statutory-installment bonds; and

— Voted unanimously to send its emergency action plan, for the theoretical failure of the Lake Myosotis Dam, to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for review.

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