May 5, 2006

Waiting for wind

Last week I stopped in to talk with Carol Schmook and Ken Jupiter, whose plans to put a 10 kW windmill on their property at the corner of Baker Hill Road and Mount Pleasant Road came to a sudden halt at last month's Zoning Board of Appeals meeting. NYSERDA, the state authority that provides funding for solar and wind installations, requires a building permit for their projects, which required a zoning variance, which led to the conclusion that the Zoning Board can't presently issue such a variance until the Town Board passes a law.

While the Town Board ponders an alternative energy ordinance (which the Town Attorney apparently dislikes for non-legal reasons), these folks, who've paid a $6000 deposit to Renovus Energy, are stuck.

Renovus does warn on their site that:

unless you are prepared to be very patient waiting for permits and approvals for your wind turbine, don't even think about contacting us. It will only end up being a waste of your time and ours. To date, our experience has been waiting periods of between 6 months to one year from signed Purchase Agreement to an installed, grid-connected, operating wind turbine.

Obtaining the necessary permits from "authorities having jurisdiction" (AJHs) will be the most time-consuming and frustrating step in the process of design, permitting, installation, commissioning and ongoing maintenance of a small wind project. AHJs include: local planning and zoning boards, local building department and code enforcement office, electric utility, NYSERDA project reviewers (NYS SEQR requirements) and possibly others.

Even with that warning, though, I think everyone was surprised to find that Dryden currently has no mechanism at all for approving these, especially given that windmills are already operating at a few places in the town.

They want to put the windmill on a tower in this forested area, over 150 feet from anything else.

Prospective site for a small windmill
Prospective site for a small windmill.

The windmill would be a Bergey Excel, a common turbine for residential use that can produce 10 kW when there's 29 mph of wind. They shared the technical data with me, including a noise test report (203KB PDF), information on its (lack of) impact on birds (52KB PDF), and a letter from Audubon Society of California supporting the use of small-scale windmills (50KB PDF).

Renovus also has a set of pictures of local wind installations in various places that provide some idea what these look like. This windmill would use net metering, feeding power back into the grid when it generates more than the house itself uses. Given the seasonal nature of wind, it will likely feed as much power to the grid as the house uses from the grid during off-seasons. Break-even for the project is estimated at 15 years.

Schmoock and Jupiter seem willing to wait, if frustrated by the delay. They described the windmill as:

fitting well with retirement. We can't avoid property taxes, but can avoid electrical bills. We would like to stay and keep paying taxes.

They had been hoping to put up the windmill this summer, to take advantage of fall's higher winds, and have been sending letters to neighbors explaining their plans (59KB PDF) along with an approval letter to Renovus (56KB PDF) that they need to collect from their neighbors in order to proceed with NYSERDA. So far, all of their neighbors but one have sent approvals.

I'll admit that this all seems strange to me. Putting up towers of any kind seems like an activity that the Town should regulate, but currently telecommunications towers are heavily regulated while ham radio towers aren't regulated at all. These windmills aren't the schoolbus-on-a-stick giants that generated so much resistance for Cornell last year, but much smaller devices that aren't nearly as visible. The town's known of windmills going up earlier in other places, but suddenly it's become a problem.

Hopefully the town will move quickly on this.

Posted by simon at May 5, 2006 7:12 AM in , ,
Note on photos


Paul Lutwak said:

I would also like ot point out that the town of Dryden is also not approving any building permits for any projects that relate to solar energy. I don't know for sure, but I bet that even geothermal projects wouldn't be approved.

On a "You can't get any more hypocritical than this" note, the new town hall will have solar panels on it.

I would like to know how and why the town board members can sit and allow the town attorney to dictate town policy. I believe that the town attorney's job is to give legal advise. If he would like to represent the town then he should run for the town board.

For him to state that alternative energy is a fad and that he doesn't think that there is enough wind in Dryden to warrant the construction of wind generators, is an miss-use of his position.

I don't care if you are a new town board member or a multi-termed board member, this is wrong.

Mary Ann said:

I share some of Paul's frustration with the apparent impotence of the Town Board on the altenative energy issue. There's no question that Attorney Perkins can make the Board's work progress very quickly (as in the case of the breach of privacy notification law passed at the April Board meeting) or slowly (as in the case of the electrical inspector law scheduled for public hearing at the May Board meeting.) Still, the Board is really not sitting idly by letting Perkins dictate policy.

Supervisor Trumbull and I brought back extensive information regarding wind energy laws from the Association of Towns meeting in New York in February and asked Environmental Planner Kwasnowski to begin drafting an alternative energy proposal. I took the proposal to the April meetings of both the Conservation Council and the Planning Board and both are expected to make recommendations following their May meetings. Kwasnowski introduced the draft to the Board in April, proposed a process for public input and is arranging for fact-finding visits for board members to existing wind energy installations.

I'll write more about the procedure and timetable for passage of the three laws considered so far in 2006 on my Dryden Democrats blog later today. (Right now I have to work on splitting my firewood.) Judging by experience with these first three laws, we might reasonably expect the alternative energy law to reach a public hearing and Board resolution in August. Maddening to the two people now forced to sit on their investments? Yes. But, generally speaking, a good process for the Town.

Paul Lutwak said:

I appreciate everything that Mary Ann is and has been doing. What concerns me is what she said about the town attorney.

"Attorney Perkins can make the Board's work progress very quickly (as in the case of the breach of privacy notification law passed at the April Board meeting) or slowly (as in the case of the electrical inspector law scheduled for public hearing at the May Board meeting.)"

This depicts to me that the town attorney can dictate the progress of a town decissions and outcomes based on his will.

This isn't how the town should be run.

In regard to the alternative energy situation, the town should allow the people who want to put up wind generators and install solar panels on a case by case situation. Not just deny everything.