Schenectady County

Town passes wind turbine law

Duanesburg officials have adopted Schenectady County’s first ordinance regulating wind turbines.

Duanesburg officials have adopted Schenectady County’s first ordinance regulating wind turbines.

The Town Board Thursday passed the local law unanimously, following a public hearing attended by more than three dozen residents. Those speaking voiced little opposition to the law, which sets performance standards for both home and commercial wind turbine projects.

Duanesburg isn’t in an area likely to attract large commercial wind farm developments, explained Todd Mathes, the town’s zoning and planning board attorney who helped draft the law. But by establishing the ordinance, he said, the Planning Board would have a basic set of guidelines to work through smaller residential projects, which are more likely to crop up.

“We’re setting minimal thresholds,” he said.

Any development generating more than 100 kilowatts in an hour is considered a large project and subject to more stringent regulations. Mathes said small wind projects are more likely to generate around 10 kilowatts of electricity in an hour.

Large developments must be located at least 1,500 feet away from residences and a minimum of 500 feet away from public roads or off-site property boundaries. In contrast, small wind turbines and measurement towers would need to be located at a distance 1 1⁄2 times their height.

The ordinance sets a maximum height of 500 feet for large projects, with the tip of the rotor being located no lower than 30 feet from the ground. Small energy projects are limited to a 200-foot maximum height, with their blades reaching no lower than 15 feet from the ground.

The law establishes a $100 fee for small projects. Large projects would pay a fee equivalent to $500 per megawatt of “proposed nameplate capacity” of a project.

Some residents at the hearing suggested the new law might become onerous for homeowners trying to put up a small wind tower. Others questioned if the law was necessary because of standards set forth by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which imposes guidelines in towns lacking an ordinance.

Supervisor Rene Merrihew said the town wanted to be proactive in establishing its own guidelines tailored to the needs of the community. Without the law, she said the process of regulating the towers could become difficult.

“In absence of the law, they could be placed anywhere,” she said.

Town officials also pointed to the relative ease of the small wind tower application process. The state Environmental Quality Review form is only one page long and the process for getting a tower approved could be as short as two meetings with the planning board.

“We made it as easy as possible,” Merrihew said.

The wind turbine ordinance is the first of three being considered this year. Both the towns of Rotterdam and Princetown are reviewing similar laws.

The county’s first large commercial wind tower is expected to be proposed during the Rotterdam Planning Board meeting next week. General Electric officials are scheduled to pitch plans for a 300-foot tower that would generate 1.5 megawatts and would be used to power the company’s Renewables Global Headquarters.

In Duanesburg, board members first considered drafting the law while they were reviewing the town’s comprehensive plan last year. Since that time, Merrihew said she’s been approached by several residents indicating interest in building small towers for their homes.

“Over the past year or so, I’ve had probably a dozen people who have expressed interest in constructing one for personal use,” she said.

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