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Maple Ridge wind farm near Lowville. Photo: David Sommerstein<br />
Maple Ridge wind farm near Lowville. Photo: David Sommerstein

Wind farms test New York's home rule tradition

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A company that wants to erect 48 wind turbines in the town of Clayton recently announced it would seek permitting through the state's Article X, not the town council. Another company did the same thing in nearby Cape Vincent earlier this year.

Article X is a law passed last year. It gives a state board the authority to green light new power plants, including wind farms, possibly over local objections.

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

The town of Clayton has been embroiled in wind power issues since 2006. That’s when Spanish energy giant Iberdrola Renewables said it wanted to build 62 industrial-scale windmills on farmland there. 

The project was scaled down last year to 48, in part because Clayton passed a new zoning ordinance. It’s stricter about noise limits for the turbines, with bigger setbacks from roads and neighbors.

Now Iberdrola wants the state to take up its application, instead of the town council. In a letter to the town Planning Board, Iberdrola said it still considers its Clayton project “an excellent opportunity”, but it will seek a permit through the new Article X process.

Clayton town supervisor Justin Taylor says he thinks that’s fine, as long as the Article X siting board upholds the zoning law Clayton took years to make. "We believe it’s an ordinance that provides safety for our residents, and we hope that the Article X review board will take our ordinance into consideration because we feel it is a safe ordinance."

Article X is controversial because it attempts to strike a balance between local laws and beliefs with the state’s enormous appetite for new sources of energy. Article X says it would override a local law only if that law is “unreasonable”. 

Speaking last August at Fort Drum, Governor Andrew Cuomo said it’s that “unreasonable” clause that distinguishes home rule from obstruction, "so you can’t say no to wind and no to solar and no to biomass and no to power plants and then say, I want jobs and I want a thriving economy. That’s the balance we have to reach."

Cindy Grant represents the Environmentally Concerned Residents of Clayton, a group opposed to wind power. She says state regulators on the Article X board are too far away to appreciate many local nuances. "Some people wouldn’t have even one clear horizon. They would step out of their homes and they would be surrounded by towers over 400 feet tall, 32 within a mile and a half of their home."

She says Clayton’s wind turbines ordinance doesn’t go far enough, because the town council was too worried it would overstep Article X’s notion of “reasonable”.

The whole project is subject to a very big unknown. Congress is debating whether to renew $12 billion in production tax credits for wind power. President Obama supports them. Mitt Romney doesn’t. If that money’s not available, the wind farm may not be profitable enough to pursue at all.

 

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