GLEN — Residents say they were not fully aware of plans and the impacts of a wind turbine proposed in the town before a public hearing on the project this week, while raising objections over the developer’s failure to prepare renderings depicting what the over 600 foot tall device would look like from nearby homes as requested.
The public hearing on the application from Borrego Solar on Thursday stretched on for over three hours as developers answered questions from the Planning Board and increasingly dismayed residents.
Borrego Solar is seeking approval to construct a single, 4.3-megawatt wind turbine on approximately 5 acres of leased land out of a roughly 191.6-acre parcel located at 411 Reynolds Road. The turbine would be approximately 640 feet tall when the blades reach their highest point.
Michele Wadsworth wasn’t entirely sure before the meeting where the wind turbine would be located in relation to her home on over 100 acres of land on Severin Road adjoining the project site. By the end of it, she was admittedly anxious about the impacts the project would have on her property.
“I was hoping to see something tonight that would make me say that’s not so bad,” Michele Wadsworth said. “Coming here tonight, I did not realize where this was, I am worked up.”
The turbine is located more than 1,500 feet from existing homes in the area with a minimum setback from neighboring property lines of 1.1 times the height of the turbine, approximately 704 feet, to create a buffer in the unlikely event catastrophic failure causes the device to collapse.
The Planning Board requested in October that Borrego relocate the turbine within the property to increase the setback distance from boundary lines to 1.5 times the height of the device.
However, the developer found that resituating the project site would result in the turbine being located closer to homes, and would require more extensive tree removal. Under the circumstances, the board signaled its preference last month for the developer to maintain the previously proposed 1.1 setback distance.
Reviewing the project documents submitted to the board, Shelby Wadsworth found the setback distance of the turbine from the boundary with her mother’s property as less than 1.1 times the height of the structure.
THE DOCUMENTS PROVIDED
Doug Strong of Borrego Solar indicated the distance was misstated, saying the development team would review and correct the documents. But, resident Boddy White questioned how the town can trust the developer to carry out the project correctly if the submitted documents contain errors.
“There should be no mistakes,” he said. “This is what you guys do.”
Residents whose homes are located near the turbine site made clear their displeasure that Borrego provided only “representative” photos from 10 locations around the town displaying scale renderings of the turbine to demonstrate the visual impact of the project.
The images from some vantage points show the turbine partially obscured in forested areas or with the blades fully exposed above the tree line, while in others the device was clearly visible standing tall across open fields.
Residents objected to the photos having apparently been taken on a cloudy fall day, softening the image of the white turbine against the gray skies. However, developers noted they were taken after the leaves had fallen, giving a more accurate idea of what the project would look like under the most extreme conditions.
The biggest sticking point with nearby homeowners was the developer’s failure to comply with their specific request for renderings showing the view impact from each of their properties. Strong said Borrego just recently learned of the request and that came in too late to include the individual properties when a photographer was sent to capture images for the renderings.
However, board secretary Sandra Hemstreet noted the request had actually been made during a previous meeting.
In an effort to satisfy residents, project engineers had created scale renderings showing the turbine from nearby homes using images from Google Maps. But, the pixelated images did not include vegetation and residents said the renderings looked more like they were “taken from Mars” than from their homes.
Residents further lodged their displeasure with the results of a sound modeling report that found there will be some noise impact within roughly a mile of the turbine, although the sound diminishes with distance from the device. The closest homes would be subject to outdoor sounds of about 40 decibels described as akin to a soft whisper from 3 feet away. The sound would be even softer indoors, developers said.
NOISE AND LIGHT
However, some properties adjacent to the project site could be subject to sounds as loud as 50 decibels equivalent to the noise of a dishwasher running in the next room. That includes portions of Michele Wadworth’s property where she said her family was considering someday building homes for her children.
“Two generations have lived on this property, I was hoping for three or four. I am not comfortable with this,” Michele Wadsworth said.
Strong downplayed the noise impact, saying the turbine would only create sound when there is sufficient wind for the blades to spin. The noise of the wind could obscure or drown out the sound of the device, he indicated.
Residents were unconvinced, including Michele Wadsworth who said her family spends much of its time outdoors at a pond on their property located close to the boundary with the project site. The quiet nature of the environment attracted them to the town in the first place, she said.
Locals were again concerned about the results of shadow flicker modeling prepared by Borrego. The rotation of the turbine blades can cast a shadow causing intermittent changes in light that varies based on distance from the device, weather, location of the sun and time of year.
While there can be intermittent changes in light outdoors from the turbine’s shadow, the shadow flicker phenomenon is more pronounced indoors when the shadow cast by the turbine blade can cause the natural light inside to momentarily fall into shadow before the position changes and the shadow dissipates before repeating.
The study found only three existing structures will be impacted by shadow flicker. One impacted property on Lang Drive is expected to experience shadow flicker for a total of about an hour and 20 minutes over the course of the entire year. The most heavily impacted structure where shadow flicker is expected to occur for nearly 20 hours out of the year is a barn located on McDuffie Road.
The third building expected to be impacted is Michele Wadsworth’s home where it is estimated shadow flicker would occur for roughly 12 hours and 25 minutes each year. When asked how to combat the phenomenon, the developers suggested curtains as the simplest solution, going on to note shadow flicker would only occur in rooms where windows are oriented towards the project.
Michele Wadsworth said her home doesn’t have curtains, because she “lives in the middle of nowhere.”
COST OUTWEIGHS BENEFIT
Residents upset by the potential impacts of the project questioned its proposed benefits. Strong pointed to local tax incentives for the school district and county, a roughly 10% reduction in power costs for residents who subscribe to the community solar project and a host community benefit agreement the developer will enter with the town after the plans are approved. That will likely include some recurring payment to the municipality over the life of the project.
Nearby homeowners estimated at best they would save $20 per month on their energy bills if they subscribed to the project while their properties would be forever impacted if the turbine is constructed.
“I would rather pay $20 more to National Grid,” one man called out.
Although she indicated a willingness to make some sacrifices if there were benefits from the turbine to her neighbors, Michele Wadsworth said there essentially wouldn’t be any. She expressed fear the project would lead to more turbines going up in the town that would impact even more residents if the project is approved.
“If one of these go up, we’re going to see plenty of them,” Michele Wadsworth said, comparing the situation to the rapid growth of solar projects in the town.
Borrego has suggested the single turbine may be the only wind energy project capable of being constructed in the town, due to the limited availability of large enough sites that are located within a strong enough wind stream to support the devices.
Still, Planning Board member Susan Whiteman expressed similar concerns about the lack of benefits to residents who will ultimately be impacted by the project.
“I think we’re asking a small number of families who are well-established, who have built their homes, who enjoy living here and chosen to live here and we’re asking them to take on a benefit that really will not come back to them, and I do not believe that is a job that we should do,” Whiteman said. “I do not like to ask residents to take on a burden I would not take on myself.”
Strong expressed compassion for the concerns of residents, while saying from his experience in the industry, the fear and anxiety among residents about the impacts of wind projects are usually much worse than the reality once constructed.
“I don’t take that lightly, I understand. I’ve been doing this same sort of project for my whole career. What we’re coming to this community with is a different type of project,” Strong said. “The benefits are real. There are financial benefits. We haven’t talked about any environmental benefits because some don’t believe in them, some think they’re marginal. But there are definitely environmental benefits.”
With the additional renderings of sight impacts sought by residents and a study regarding the project’s impact on wildlife still outstanding, the Planning Board ultimately agreed to leave the public hearing on the project open until the next meeting on Jan. 20. This will give residents additional time to comment and incoming board members a chance to familiarize themselves with the project.
“There are a lot of things to be considered and I hope people will come out and make their voices heard,” Whiteman said.
Planning Board Chair Tim Reilly, Vice Chair Rosalie Farina and Whiteman will vacate their seats at the beginning of the new year when they are sworn in respectively as town supervisor and members of the Town Board. The trio will participate in Planning Board activities one last time to review three applications from prospective board members during a special meeting on Dec. 29.
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.
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