Wind turbine setback rules challenged in Moresville project

By Julia Green
The Western Catskill Preservation Alliance (WCPA) released a statement last week challenging the wind turbine setback requirements in the towns of Roxbury and Stamford, taking official steps to increase setbacks to adequately reflect the 1,300-foot guideline advised by the turbine manufacturer.
Currently, the wind ordinance in the Town of Roxbury, Local Law No. 3 of 2002, requires that a turbine be placed 1.5 times the height of the turbines from a neighboring property line. The model of turbine proposed for the Moresville Wind Farm is 410 feet tall; the setback would therefore be established as 615 feet, which is less than half the distance of the recommended setback defined in the safety manual published by the manufacturer of the turbine.
“I think the issue with this is, in 2002 no one knew about turbines,” said WCPA President Ron Karam. “For the most part, this wasn’t anything that was on anyone’s radar. Now, years later, we know a lot more. The technology has changed, the towers are bigger, and there’s more empirical data that people can point to now, so now you typically set setbacks of 1,000 feet to a property line.”
Peter Henner, attorney for the WCPA, formally requested last week that the towns revisit the ordinances governing the placement of industrial wind turbines based on setback requirements defined by Vestas, the manufacturer of the V90-3.0 MW turbines being proposed for the Moresville Wind Farm project planned for the Moresville Ridge.
In the Mechanical Operating and Maintenance Manual for the V90-3.0 MW turbine published by Vestas, Chapter 2, “Stay and Traffic by the Turbine,” reads, “Do not stay within a radius of 400 m (1,300 ft.) from the turbine unless it is necessary.”
That 1,300 feet is more than three times the total height of the turbine – a significantly greater distance than the pre-existing ordinance set by the Town of Roxbury – and is concerned with safety alone, not taking into consideration the noise, shadow flicker, or visual intrusion issues brought up at last year’s public hearings in Stamford.
“The Vestas manual is a proprietary document that gives general guidance,” said Eric Miller, Director of Business Development for Invenergy. “Vestas has done a site-specific review of Moresville and found it to be an acceptable location for the V90.”
When asked whether Vestas specifically addressed the fact that siting of the proposed turbines falls inside the recommended 1,300-foot radius, Miller said that the company “refrains from making specific statements on local regulations.”
The recommended setback of 1,300 feet is also greater than the 1,000-foot requirement set forth by the Town of Stamford, which, in addition to the 1,000-foot minimum distance from a property line or public road, requires that turbines be situated no closer than 2,500 to an off-site residence, hotel or motel, hospital, day care center, sanitarium, nursing home, municipal building, school or educational building, or correctional institution, and that the sound pressure level generated by the turbine should not exceed L10 - 50 dBA measured at the nearest residence located off the site, meaning that in any hour of the day, 50dBA can be equaled or exceeded only 10 percent of the time (or for six minutes).
“If you’re a homeowner in this area you have three protections,” Karam said. “It’s not optimal, from our perspective, but it is far more reasonable than what Roxbury has.”
Addressing the existing setback requirements in place in Roxbury and Stamford, Miller said, “Invenergy believes the setbacks in Roxbury and Stamford are more than adequate to protect neighboring owners. In fact, the property setbacks in these towns exceed the property line setbacks we have seen in other towns in New York where successful and safe wind projects are operating.”
Miller acknowledged, however, that the V90 model proposed for the Moresville project is not currently being used in any of those wind projects.
“The setback is not a function of what turbine model you’re using,” he said. “The setback does not really vary based on what turbine model you use.”
He added that the “question of safe setbacks has been evaluated in the DEIS and will be further evaluated in the FEIS. Increasing the setbacks beyond what is necessary for safety will increase the number of landowners involved, adding to the cost, complexity and time to complete the project.”
Invenergy anticipates that the Final Environmental Impact Study (FEIS) will be submitted within the month.
On one matter, at least, the two sides agree: Karam echoed the sentiment that a change in the setback requirements would surely impact the number of feasible turbines that could be built within the project as it is currently proposed.
“We would be up to 27 out of 33 turbines that could not be built,” he said, adding that the number of landowners whose property would be involved that have voiced support of the WCPA call into question the feasibility of the project.
Miller said a “significant number of landowners have expressed interest in the project, many of whom have signed agreements with Invenergy,” though he declined to give specific numbers.
A number of opponents of the project, including the WCPA, voiced their skepticism when, after the discrepancy between the setback minimums and the 1,300-foot recommendation published in the operating manual was pointed out, Invenergy pulled the manual from its Web site, claiming that the document was not meant to be made public.
“It was a confidential document, and shouldn’t have been posted there in the first place, and Vestas requested that we remove that,” Miller said.
Another potential issue that could arise if turbines are built, Karam said, is the possibility that, if the towns of Roxbury and Stamford choose not to change the setback requirement and turbines are placed within 1,300 feet of a neighboring property line, then the portion of the owner’s property would become unusable or essentially condemned.
“This is pure and simple an environmental safety issue that needs to be addressed by the towns,” he said.
And, as the SEQRA process moves forward, the Roxbury Planning Board awaits submission of the FEIS by Invenergy.
“We remain committed to building the project and look forward to the Planning Board having the opportunity to review the project in the upcoming months,” Miller said.