RANDOLPH — The thought of a wind farm in Randolph never crossed the mind of most area residents until now.
The Zoning Board of Appeals recently denied a special use permit to Atlantic Wind LLC, a subsidiary of Iberdrola Renewables LLC, to put up a meteorological tower for wind testing.
Some Randolph residents, including several who live in proximity to the proposed site of the meteorological (met) tower at 3018 Sample Hill Road, recently shared their thoughts on the matter. However, gag orders prevented public comment from property owners who have signed a lease with Atlantic Wind.
Cheri Mohr who lives in not far from the proposed site, said she needs more information before she can make a decision.
A Sample Hill resident with neighboring property who wished to remain anonymous said they aren’t sure if it’s the right decision, but respects the decision of their neighbors. They think another more feasible form of energy would be better.
Randolph resident Linda Inkley said she is particularly concerned about vibration and flickering caused when sunlight hits the revolving blades.
“I would encourage people to get on some of these websites and learn more about the health hazards,” she said. “Everyone thinks it’s such a clean source of energy, but the health for both humans and animals is at risk.”
Kay Mann, who lives not far from Sample Hill, said if a wind farm were to be developed in this area, she’d be very concerned about collateral damage from the vibrations, the noise, and the impact on the environment.
Mann said this area has flyways for trumpeter swans and research suggests the lungs of bats can explode due to the change in air pressure behind the turbines’ blades. She’s also concerned about archeological sites in that area being destroyed.
“We have a lot to lose. These (turbines) are forever and once you deed parcels of land, you can’t get them back and there’s no ‘super fund,’ like there is for oil and gas, to clean up the brownfields,” she said. “Who is going to clean up those brownfields when these giant windmills come tumbling down?”
Sample Hill resident Cindy Burdic said she can’t say she is for wind turbines or against them, but the issue does concern her.
Burdic is a field supervisor for the United States Census Bureau and she travels often in Western New York including Wyoming County, where there are many wind turbines. Several people in that location told her the turbines don’t benefit the community at all when it comes to electricity.
“A community member up there told me that company went bankrupt, so they were left with these windmills on all these properties and nobody was getting any money,” she said.
An issue that bothers Burdic is the fact that her neighbor who was to get the proposed met tower on Sample Hill no longer lives in the area.
“I’m not saying anything negative about him as a person, because he’s a great neighbor, but how can you make such a huge decision when you’re not even living in the town where you’re wanting to have this company come in and affect so many people’s lives,” she asked.
Burdic said if anything, she thinks this is very good for the Randolph community because now they know there are loopholes and issues they have to address.
“I think the zoning board was wise to want more information about it, to investigate it more, and not just jump into it,” she said. “I’m leaning towards the side of ‘let’s take this slow.’ What’s the rush?”
Local veterinarian Dr. Martyn Inkley DVM has done extensive research and would like the public to understand a few key points.
According to Inkley, the lease is for 50 years, which will most likely extend beyond the landowner’s lifetime. The gag order prevents discussion of financial gain, complaints or concerns with anyone outside of the leasing company. Subleasing allows the company to sublease property to anyone regardless of the landowner’s input, Inkley said, noting this could be subleasing to any other company in the future that finds the property suitable for their gain.
Inkley said there is a restriction on the landowner’s use of the property. Consent would be required to alter a person’s own property as it may interfere with the company’s use or future plans to use.
“What kind of resale value will a property that is locked in such a lease hold?” he asked. “It would be a great idea to have a lawyer look the lease over before signing. Too many of your core rights as a property owner will be lost.”
Inkley said the community owes it to themselves and their children to slow the process and meticulously evaluate and improve upon the town’s wind ordinance. Without thorough and informative investigation of the impacts and benefits, the community cannot make this long-standing decision responsibly.
“If the wind companies can meet or are willing to meet our requests and can provide written proof of financial gain to the community, then I welcome a discussion,” he said.
“One fact stands: this will and has repeatedly divided communities. Friendships have been lost, families torn, and for what gain? That’s the big question.”
PAUL COPLEMAN, communications manager for Iberdrola Renewables LLC, said the process of developing a wind farm is lengthy. It’s transparent and is governed by a lot of regulatory oversight.
In regard to the extremely lengthy contract, Copleman said there are wind companies that have contracts with thousands of landowners all over the country that are roughly similar to the one in question with Iberdrola.
Copleman said from an agricultural standpoint, landowners often see it as a way to diversify the revenue stream from their agriculture production and harvest a crop that isn’t affected by draught or flooding. They can often make more revenue per acre based on what the turbine revenue will mean for them than they can with traditional agriculture. He said it’s often a complementary use for agriculture in the sense that it takes very little of the land out of useful production.
“There is a minimum payment of roughly $8,000 per year for each turbine to landowners hosting a wind turbine,” he said. “We work with a lot of farmers and ranchers around the country and they continue to farm and they continue to ranch. The wind turbines don’t negatively affect their ability to use the land as it has always been used. It supplements that in a positive fashion.”
According to Copleman, property taxes for the land itself remain with the landowner, but his company works with the taxing authorities to separate the assessment of whatever improvements they make to the facility, so the landowner is not responsible for any increased taxes based on the fact that there are now wind turbines.
“The lease has language in there to remove the equipment if it’s no longer in operation,” he said. “The permit requires us to remove the turbines, so there are a number of layers of protection there for the landowners and the community that if, for some reason, a wind turbine is not functional and reaches the end of its useful life, that it has to be removed and the land returned to a reasonable previous state.”
In regard to wildlife, waterfowl and small airports in the area, Copleman said those are fair concerns and are standard permitting evaluations that go on long before the feasibility of a wind turbine or wind project is even assessed.
“We certainly look at and study habitat, migration patterns, nesting areas,” he said. “We work with experts in the local, state and federal level that guide how we do the environmental evaluations of the site. All of those have to be factored into assessing the sites, along with airports and safety, to deem whether it’s suitable for a wind farm.”
Copleman said the local economic possibilities are significant and that’s not just for landowners — that’s for the communities and the counties that are participating with whatever revenue the project provides. He said depending on the size of the project, there are economic benefits that accrue to the local taxing authorities at the local and county levels.
“Even a single turbine has a benefit that extends beyond participating landowners,” he said. “Every project is a little different, so I would point to a project we’re building in North Carolina at the moment across two counties. The project is going to be the largest taxpayer in those two counties.”
“It’s a long process and we want the opportunity to have that discussion and address those questions.,” he said. “We’re not necessarily even sure that we have a site here (Randolph). We’re just looking for a met tower to better understand the wind if we’re fortunate enough to realize that this is a site that may be windy enough to support a development.”
(This story appears in the March 31, 2016 edition of The Salamanca Press.)