April 20, 2006

Town Attorney Perkins tilts at residential windmill 'fad'

I published Environmental Planner Dan Kwasnowski's proposed alternative energy ordinance and accompanying explanation last week, but I wasn't aware that the Town Attorney, Mahlon Perkins, had also weighed in with his opinion.

It's not a particularly legal opinion - it's much more what I would expect to hear from a citizen opposing the ordinance at a board meeting than from the town's legal advisor. Perkins writes:

Last week, Dan Kwasnowski asked me to review a Renewable Energy Conversion Systems Ordinance (ordinance) he drafted. I attempted to review it, but found it so incomplete and disjointed that I recommended to the Supervisor that the Board follow a different course of action. My recommended course of actions differs from Dans, since his presupposes allowing wind generators and the adoption of regulations.

Perkins offers no explanation of how the ordinance (699KB PDF) is incomplete or disjointed, nor did I get any great sense of that at the Town Board meeting last Thursday. If there were technical problems with the ordinance, I would expect the town's attorney to explain them in depth and describe options for correcting them. Instead, he's concerned that the Environmental Planner - acting per earlier conversations with the Board - "presupposes allowing wind generators and the adoption of regulations".

After some reasonable discussion of a possible process for developing and approving an ordinance, Perkins inserts his own "unscientific" opinions about the value of such an ordinance:

I believe they should also address the fundamental issue of whether there is enough wind in the Town to warrant permitting these towers. My unscientific investigation of the matter leads me to believe that you need sustained winds of approximately 15 mph to warrant investing in wind generation of electricity. The wind maps I looked at show that the only places such winds occur are on a few ridgelines, which would mean towers extending significantly above the ambient tree height. This will require a fundamental policy decision by the Town Board, since the aesthetics will impact more than the owner and the immediate neighbors.

A map of the county showing wind potential lights up much of Dryden as having potential. I'm not sure how far Perkins' unscientific study extended, or why he thought it was his job as Town Attorney to pursue such study.

The next paragraph compares this to telecommunications towers, which is reasonable in some ways. Kwasnowski made sure this ordinance was compatible with that one and allowed towers for windmills the same clearances as cell phone towers. Even when the towers are of similar heights, however, residential windmill towers are much more slender, carrying far less load. (Guy wires are amazing things, really.)

In the next paragraph, however, Perkins again questions the value of the whole endeavor:

I suggest that the Town Board first determine whether there is widespread interest in the community to warrant allowing the installation of expensive wind generators or whether the requests are from only a few residents. It seems the Planning Board and/or the Conservation Board may be in a better position to gauge the public sentiment surrounding this matter before the Town Board drafts an ordinance without any prior study of the matter. It is not good government to react too quickly to every new fad, or to change the status quo for a few at the expense of many without good, sound and compelling reasons.

If generating power, with state subsidies provided, is a fad, we've come a long way since the hula hoop. I'm also not sure why it's the Town Attorney's task to advise the Town Board on how quickly to respond to requests from residents. That seems pretty clearly to be a task for those who are elected by residents, not the legal advisor.

Perkins then proposes keeping the ordinance out of public view - sorry, too late - and adopting a temporary moratorium. Once again, is this really supposed to be the Town Attorney's sphere of influence?

Perhaps I need to start requesting and publishing Perkins' memoranda to the Board on a more regular basis. If many of them have this little legal content and this much politics to them - and I hope they don't - it's time to question whether Perkins should be paid tax dollars to draft messages like these.

Posted by simon at April 20, 2006 5:40 PM in ,
Note on photos


KAZ said:

Perkins is once again protecting his own real estate interests at the expense of the town. He has politicized this issue and thrown enough monkey wrenches in that Dryden'll probably have a nuclear power plant before we're allowed to put up solar panels. When, oh when will we pull this man's plug?

Mary Ann said:

In the interest of the welfare of the community, the Town should not only allow wind generators and other clean energy technologies, we should promote them. The Town Board doesn't need to wait for residents to drag us kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century. But if we do, they will.

Jason Leifer said:

It is not the town attorney's place to get involved in developing policy. He should know better. He's a legal advisor, not a Board member, and it appears as if he may need to be reminded of that fact either behind closed doors or publicly at the next Town Board Meeting.

The Tompkins County Environmental Council has an electronic version of the Cornell Wind Resources map at this URL.(http://www.tompkins-co.org/emc/Cornell_wind.htm)You can zoom in to see Dryden's substantial resources.

Sidney Hobb said:

Aghast I read of your plight with Mr. Perkins, aka, attorney lord/god of Dryden's town council. It was refreshing to know they are not all concentrated in SLC. Maybe you should elect him off to Washington D.C. where he would be unrecognizable amongst his further advanced piers.