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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 2, 2010

Rensselaerville passes law prohibiting large-scale wind power

By Zach Simeone

RENSSELAERVILLE — This rural Helderberg Hilltown is the first in the county to adopt a law on large-scale wind power, and the word is prohibition.

On Tuesday night, the Rensselaerville Town Board passed a resolution on a local law that bans all industrial wind development in town, after a year-and-a-half of work on the part of the town’s wind power committee.

“This is the resolution that ties up the entire process,” Town Attorney Joseph Catalano said Tuesday, prior to the vote on the law. “Albany County actually recommended approval of the law,” Catalano said of the county’s planning department. He went on to pass along some advice from the county.

“They also provided some…guidance that cautioned the town boards that, at some point, the federal or state governments might adopt laws that could potentially override this local law,” Catalano said, “and that the town board should watch out for that, and perhaps anticipate that, or perhaps generate regulations about siting in case this law gets overridden at some point in the future.”

The town’s wind power committee concluded its work earlier this year, and released a detailed, 60-page report on its research of commercial wind development, and its potential effects on the environment and aesthetics in a town, and the health of its residents.

The committee was formed nearly two years ago after Shell WindEnergy pulled its plans to line the crest of the Helderbergs with 50 industrial, wind-producing turbines, and had approached private landowners without consulting the encompassing towns’ governments.

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 motion by Supervisor Marie Dermody to adopt the local law on Tuesday, it passed 4 to 0; Councilman Gary Chase was absent from the meeting.

The board held a public hearing on the proposed law on Aug. 10, at which four of the five speakers supported the banning of commercial wind power in town; one felt that the public had not had enough time to review the committee’s report.

[For more on the public hearing, and insight from the supervisor of Fenner, N.Y., a town with a 20-turbine wind farm, go to www.altamontenterprise.com, and look under Hilltown archives for Aug. 26, 2010.]

The wind power committee had recommended the prohibition of industrial wind power in Rensselaerville based on eight main 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.

The Rensselaerville Wind Power Committee has concluded its work, and has provided a jump-off point for the neighboring Hilltowns currently researching the subject in order to create their own wind-power regulations.

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