Individual’s right questioned by some, applauded by others
By Lois Powers
Noise and “view-shed” concerns were raised at a Philipstown Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) public hearing in April when Garrison homeowner James Gleick continued his appeal for a height variance to install a 152-foot residential wind turbine on his wooded property 2½ miles north of the Bear Mountain Bridge off of Route 9D. A fourth and final public hearing is planned for Monday, May 13, and according to ZBA Chairman Vincent Cestone, the board will then vote on the appeal.
“It will not endanger or annoy anyone,” said Gleick in a phone interview. “Installing a wind turbine will save my family money and decrease the carbon footprint.”
Gleick is an author, journalist and biographer whose bestselling books include The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood, and Chaos: Making a New Science. Three of his books have been Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalists, and The Information was awarded the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award in 2012.
The issue before the board is not whether Gleick has the right to install a wind turbine on his property, although some objectors have argued the point, but rather whether the ZBA will grant the needed variance on the height for such a structure to be built.
According to Code Enforcement Officer Kevin Donohue, Philipstown’s building code was amended in 2011 to include implementation of solar- and wind-powered technologies, with the caveat requirement of a special-use permit and site-plan approval from the ZBA. Section 175-30 E (2) of the code states: “Any wind energy conversion system that exceeds 40 feet in height and any solar energy facility or wind energy conversion system that is used to generate electricity primarily for off-site consumption shall require a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals.”
If the variance is granted, the first turbine to be considered in Putnam County will join similar sustainable energy systems in Dutchess, Columbia, Greene and Schenectady counties. There are three residential wind turbines in both Dutchess and Columbia counties, two in Greene and one in Schenectady.
New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) provides attractive incentives for use of alternative energy systems with grants of up to 50 percent of a homeowner or commercial owner’s installation cost with available rolling tax credits sweetening the mix. Douglas Passeri, owner of Hudson Valley Wind Energy in Pine Plains, N.Y., a licensed installer with NYSERDA, said installation of a standard residential 152-foot wind turbine with three blades extending 11 feet costs approximately $80,000. With recent superstorms and power outages in the area, a turbine seems a good investment to Gleick, who anticipates a financial break-even point in about 11 years.
Opposition to the wind turbine idea in Philipstown comes from some area residents concerned with noise or view obstruction, as well as precedent setting. Mark Mayhew, On-site Wind Turbine Incentive Program project manager for NYSERDA, addressed such issues at the April ZBA meeting with assurance that a wind turbine standing 152 feet accesses “clean wind” rising above weather turbulence, resulting in minimal sound, comparable to a refrigerator if one were in close proximity.
With the closest home to the proposed site being 1,500 feet away, the NYSERDA manager believes noise will not be an issue. NYSERDA has done studies on visibility distances for wind turbines, finding them apparent within a half-mile and indiscernible a mile away, unless one knew where to look. As the Gleick property is wooded, the “view-shed” issue may be moot.
Posting of a bond or letter of credit to protect Philipstown from any financial responsibility for the turbine is not required, according to Donohue, who cited Section 179-59 of the Town Code, which “does not authorize posting of a bond as a condition of approval of the variance.”
As for overall safety and stability of a wind turbine structure, Hudson Valley Wind Energy’s Doug Passeri reported the wind turbines installed by his company are manufactured in Oklahoma’s “Tornado Alley” and are built to withstand powerful, destructive storms. NYSERDA requires certified inspections of wind turbines every two years — a 10-year warranty is guaranteed by the manufacturer. Installation takes only one to two days.
Still some people are skeptical about allowing a wind turbine in Philipstown. While against allowing one, town resident Alan Smith posed the idea that Philipstown might consider a wind farm whereby all town residents could benefit from state grants, tax abatements and lower energy costs. Louie Lanza of Nelson Lane applauded the idea of having a sustainable energy system for his home, dairy barn and maple farm and is planning to file for a ZBA variance soon for a wind turbine on his land.
For those wishing to express their opinions on allowing a wind turbine in Philipstown, the ZBA will hold a final public hearing on Monday, May 13, in the Philipstown Town Hall.