August 26, 2006
WindFarm Prattsburgh EIS Response Group
Steuben County Industrial Development Agency
SCIDA, Route 54, Bath, NY 14810
Thank you for sending me a copy of the EIS for the WindFarm Prattsburgh project. Below you will find my comments, which I believe you will find useful in your efforts to protect the rights of non-participating landowners who would be potentially negatively affected by the inappropriate siting of wind turbines. The focus of these comments is on setbacks. In my comments, I will at times also refer to the EIS Response submitted by Advocates for Prattsburgh, which provides relevant technical recommendations. Please do not hesitate to get in touch should you have any questions.
John G. Servo
11752 Black Lock Road
Naples/Prattsburgh, NY 14512
Response to the WindFarm Prattsburgh EIS
The Setbacks Issue and Recommendations
Wind projects in the U.S. are predominantly located are very large tracts of land owned by single owners in the sparsely populated semi-arid West. Prattsburgh in Steuben County is far more densely populated then these Western sites. And while several large contiguous parcels of hundreds of acres with good wind profiles are located in the town (where these projects should be located), land ownership in Prattsburgh is predominantly in smaller parcels of insufficient size in themselves for windfarm development. For this reason, UPC and GWH want to place their turbines in between the homes and properties of non-participating landowners. For this reason, it is critical that appropriate and adequate setbacks from property lines be provided to non-participating landowners to protect their rights through adequately addressing the potentially significant negative impacts of:
· invasive industrial noise generated by the wind turbines,
· issues of health and safety,
· near-view viewshed concerns,
· property values,
· the freedom to build homes in the future on our properties where we want to build them, and
· the right to freely negotiate fair compensation, should a property owner decide to grant an easement of these adequate setbacks.
UPC and GWH imply in the EIS that their project will not be economically viable if run on a smaller scale. This is clearly untrue, as shown by the 20-turbine project in Fenner, the 14-turbine project proposed by UTC Atlantic Renewable in Springwater, and the 15-turbine projects proposed by Empire State Wind. Instead, this claim represents a poorly disguised effort by the developer to persuade the lead agent to grant them the inadequate setbacks they seek, with the implied threat that without the proposed 1200' setbacks from houses and 500' setbacks from property lines, the Project will not succeed. This should be dismissed by the lead agent out-of-hand. SCIDA should require that UPC/GWH provide "a harder look" - a more adequate and substantive assessment - of the setbacks which will be required in order to protect non-participating landowners.
Setbacks and compensation as two sides of the same coin.
· In the semi-arid West, wind turbines are placed on large dryland farms and ranches. Typically, 2000 acres (3.1 square miles) is required for these farms and ranches to be financially viable, and historically they are single-owner contiguous properties of 2-10 square miles.
· On these wind projects out West, the owner of the land representing the footprint for the tower/turbine - who is compensated - and the owner of the surrounding, potentially negatively-affected land are one and the same.
· However, in Prattsburgh - if UPC/GWH is allowed to implement the proposed clearly inadequate setbacks - the non-particpating landowners will not be compensated. Only the landowner immediately under the tower is compensated.
· Windfarm development in Upstate New York and Steuben County is being run like a shell game: get the public to look at the right hand (extravagant claims for alternative power), so they don't see what the left hand is doing - ripping off the non-participating landowners to dramatically increase the profitability of their projects.
· Those of us non-participating landowners who don't want wind turbines are highly concerned about securing adequate setbacks to address noise, health, safety, viewshed and property value issues. However, there is a strong additional reason which is often not discussed for providing adequate setback protection: the rights of those non-participating landowners who may elect to sacrifice some use-value and financial value - through allowing closer siting of wind turbines on adjoining properties - for the right price. Unfortunately, these landowners are denied the right to negotiate away these rights in exchange for freely negotiated fair compensation, and they are currently being told they deserve nothing, and that there are no problems. The issue is that the denial of fair and adequate setbacks is primarily an issue of avoiding payment.
· The developers could, with effort and higher expense, create de facto industrial parks for these windfarms based on a combination of direct ownership, leases, and granted/paid easements. A successful (though perhaps less outrageously profitable) project can be effectively accomplished within the framework of adequate setbacks for non-participating landowners. Advocates for Prattsburgh has shown SCIDA that it can be done, and how they can do it. However, not paying people is far more profitable than freely negotiated fair compensation. The lead agent should take the high ground and protect the rights of non-participating landowners through requiring that UPC/GWH more effectively address these critical issues.
The Noise Impact Assessment done by Hessler Associates, Inc. is highly flawed and the lead agent should require that a new assessment be conducted which more accurately reflects actual site conditions.
· The setbacks are based on computer modeling analysis alone, which employ strategies which lead to a self-serving assessment of low noise impact (see the EIS response from Advocates for Prattsburgh for specifics). The noise impact assessment should be based on noise studies at actual wind find farms using similar turbines, operating under similar conditions. This site exists, and nearby: the 20-tower Fenner wind project, which employs GE 1.5s turbines.
· For several years, GWH (and more recently, UPC) have emphasized to the public that the Fenner wind farm project as an example of a safe and beneficial project. This effort has included providing transportation for citizens wishing to visit the site.
· It is absolutely unconscionable that the developers and Hessler Associates did not conduct a detailed study of the Fenner site in its assessment, especially considering the problems which this study would readily reveal. (Please see the accompanying letters from two non-participating homeowners in Fenner - Pastor Kathleen Danley and Pam Foringer - indicating persistent and very disturbing nosie problems. Pastor Danley's home is approximately 2000' from the nearest tower.)
· In addition, when I visited Fenner last Summer on an otherwise clear and sunny day, my experience was highly disturbing. Standing on Milestrip Road at a 2300' distance and about 80' in elevation downhill from the nearest wind turbine, the low frequency noise from these industrial machines was incessant was clearly audible and unpleasant. If similar machines were placed 2300' from my home, I would be driven indoors to escape the noise. Worse still, the attractiveness of my property (should I decide to sell in order to escape the noise) would be severely damaged, if I could sell it at all.
· The lead agent should protect the citizens of Prattsburgh and require UPC and GWH to conduct credible noise studies at the Fenner wind farm before approving the EIS.
o These noise studies should be of sufficient duration to track changes in atmospheric conditions affecting noise propagation and should be conducted at different times during the year.
o These noise studies should also be conducted at different locations reflecting the highly varied topographical relationship of the proposed turbines and the properties of non-participating landowners. Of special concern are locations on slopes and in valleys below these turbines.
o Computer modeling should be restricted to the applications where it can enhance accuracy of actual noise readings at the Fenner site, rather than their current role in creating self-serving projections. For example, the potential greater noise propagation distance for taller towers and the higher initial noise level of the 2.0MW Gemesa Eolica G87 turbines can be factored in the provide even greater setbacks from property lines of non-participating landowners.
o The claim by the developers (though Hessler and Associates) that it is appropriate to use mean daytime noise levels is highly self-serving and should be thrown out. At issue is the noise these turbines make at their worst, not on average, and the lead agent should insist on setbacks which adequately mitigate this to near inaudibility. At sites where background noise levels are shown to be lower at night, these nighttime reading should be applied toward a worst-case noise model.
· It is astonishing the UPC and GWH have the boldness to claim that "sensitive receptors" should only refer to houses. Sensitive receptors should refer to people. We are the ones who will actually hear this noise, and we should not be driven into our homes in order to escape it. Non-participating landowners should have the right to enjoy (the term stated on their deeds) all of their property free from the unnecessary and unwarranted intrusion of noise.
· The "pro-noise" ordinances of 50dBA (mentioned by Hessler Associates) enacted by some towns should be an embarrassment to any elected official who has accepted the public's trust. Background noise levels for significant periods in the 28-35 dBA are quite common in similar regions. The initially-recommended conservative guidelines provided in October 2004 by NY DEC of no greater than 6dBA above background noise levels at property lines should be followed. SCIDA has this document on file (provided upon request).
UPC/GWH should study the problems at actual working wind farms and the implications of these problems for determining adequate setbacks.
· On page 153, the EIS claims that "data gathered at existing wind farms documented ice fragments from 50' to 328' from the base of the tower". Not addressed is that ice fragments (especially smaller ones) melt quickly, and it is the smaller projectiles (with the potential for traveling significant distances) which are the concern of non-participating landowners.
· Far more astonishing, however, is the willingness of UPC and GWH to use data from operating wind farms only when it suits them. This is unacceptable. What is good for the goose should be good for the gander.
· The lead agent should require that conduct substantive noise studies and interviews to assess the incidence of shadow flicker and other complaints at the Upstate wind farms utilizing virtually identical machines - such as the Fenner wind farm, which employs GE 1.5s turbines.Ice throw.
Please see the comments and recommendations provided by the Advocates for Prattsburgh EIS Response regarding calculating appropriate setbacks - at least 1500' - to protect against ice throw. The lead agent should require UPC/GWH to take a hard look at these issues and provide setbacks which adequately protect citizens.
· Characteristically, a study presenting data which contradicts its own recommendations is considered sloppy engineering. The EIS does this. The 500' property line setback requested by UPC and GWH is contradicted by the for ice throw in the European safety threshold of 660' to 820' quoted on page 157. The issue is UPC/GWH's claim that the falling ice, which they apparently acknowledge would fall on the properties of non-participating landowners, would not be "of significant size". In addition, as "mitigation" they would then "contact local landowners and snowmobile clubs, and inform them of the potential risks posed by falling ice in the vicinity of wind turbines." This is breathtakingly self-serving. The issue is not to warn non-participating landowners, but to protect them with adequate setbacks. Tower collapse/ blade throw.
Tower collapse and blade throw are highly serious potential threats to health and safety posed by these colossal industrial machines. The lead agent should require UPC/GWH to give a hard look at offering non-participating landowners adequate setback protection from these hazards.
· The EIS states that "the risk of catastrophic tower collapse or blade failure is minimal" (pg. 158) and offers no substantive mitigation. The clear implication is that UPC/GWC believes this problem does not need to be addressed. This is equivalent to stating that, as catastrophic fires in music clubs seldom happen (statistically speaking), there is no need for fire codes for these facilities. However, even a cursory study of the wind industry indicates multiple instances of tower collapse and blade failure within the past year. For this reason, this clearly needs to be addressed through setbacks.
· And on page 161, the EIS states that "even a worst case failure would not endanger adjacent properties, roadways…". This is clearly not the case, as an analysis of the physics of these machines indicates that blade throw can be 1000', and an instance of blade tip throw of 1300' was reported in the U.K. (Calculations and data provided upon request, and please see the response from Advocates for Prattsburgh). In order to provide adequate protection for citizens, the lead agent should require that wind turbines be sufficiently set back from property lines to protect against both calculated and demonstrated worst case scenarios.Viewshed.
The EIS acknowledges the overwhelming near-view visual dominance posed by these 400' industrial machines, but offers no setbacks or mitigation to address this whatsoever.
· On page 187 in the EIS, the assessment done by EDR (the contractor hired by UPC/GWH to assess viewshed) states that "the presence of the turbines will result in a change in the perceived land use from some viewpoint, and the turbines will contrast with the landscape (to varying degrees) where visible."
· On page 106, the EDR states "The greatest impact typically occurs when the turbines are close to the viewer (i.e. less than 0.5 miles), which heightens the projects contrast with the landscape in color, line, texture, form and especially scale. In such views, the turbines become focal points, and begin to alter the perceived use of the land."
· And on page 107, EDR states that the "high concentration of red lights flashing in unison will be discordant with the current dark nighttime conditions."
· The implication (by omission) is that 'there is a problem, but nothing can be done about it, so you are just going to have to live with it, as the lead agent will let us put in our project on our terms.' This conveys a profound disrespect and lack of concern for the rights of pre-existing non-participating landowners and their right to enjoy their property.
· On numerous occasions, Jim Sherron of SCIDA has stated his opinion that viewshed issues "can't be mitigated". This is clearly true for visibility at considerable distances, as these turbines are potentially visible up to 20 miles away. However, viewshed mitigation can be offered while still maintaining the health of the project.
· For example, for instances where the turbines are within 5 miles of locations/entities dependent upon tourism - and when these entities state a concern regarding the potential negative impact posed by the high visibility of these turbines - the only mitigation is to not sites theses towers where they will be visible. While this critical issue does not appear to be a concern for Phase I of the UPC/GWH project, this may need to be addressed in future phases of the project.
· However, an effort can and should be made to address the impact posed by these colossal industrial machines on near-view locations. EDR clearly states that the potential greatest negative impacts (as quoted above) occur when turbines are within one-half mile. For this reason, the setback to mitigate this overwhelming visual dominance for non-participating landowners should be at least 2640' from property lines, which corresponds to EDR's one-half mile. Clearly, an effort to protect citizens from near-view viewshed threats can be made. SCIDA should require that UPC/GWH address the implications of its own study and provide significant setbacks to address viewshed concerns.Viewshed and property values.
A number of prominent local realtors have indicated that viewshed concerns have already had a negative impact on the purchase behavior of potential buyers. They have also stated that siting turbines where they will be visible from the properties of non-participating would have a negative impact on the potential value of these properties, with the negative impact greater the closer these turbines are sited. (SCIDA has these letters already on file, and they can be provided again upon request.)
· The lead agent should require that the developer provide a property value guarantee during the first 5 years of the project for each property within 5 miles from a visible tower. The comparative valuations should be based upon comparable properties from which the Project's turbines are not visible. This 5 mile Zone of Visual Impact would not be a true setback. Nonetheless, it would represent a zone of acknowledged responsibility to provide mitigation - where warranted - against the potential negative impact posed by the specific siting of their turbines. Shadow flicker.
To effectively mitigate shadow flicker (and other assessments of potential threats and hazards), the definition of "receptors" should be people rather than buildings. This follows the incontrovertible logic that people are potentially negatively affected by shadow flicker, rather than inanimate objects. The lead agent should require that UPC/GWH site its towers at a distance where the shadow flicker effect will not be visible from the property lines of non-participating landowners.
· The assessment offered by EDR states that "at distances greater than 1000' between wind turbines and receptors, shadow flicker generally occurs only near sunrise and sunset…" (page 110). By implication, EDR is stating that shadow flicker is a common occurrence within 1000'. Non-participating property owners should have the right - which they already have now, pre-Project - to walk (and potentially enjoy) their properties. For this reason alone, the setback from property lines should be at least 1000' to protect these property owners from high-incidence near-view shadow flicker affects (please see Pam Foringer's attached letter).
· EDR also states that the model they employed "assumes shadows will be of sufficient intensity to cause flicker at a distance of 1.5 km (0.9 miles)", but that this distance is "more likely to be on the order of 2900'". EDR then goes on to state that the frequency of occurrence is not sufficient to require any mitigation whatsoever. That the developer supports this assessment conveys an extraordinary hubris and lack of respect for the rights of non-participating landowners. Evidently, UPC/GWH makes two key assumptions:
o They, not the potentially negatively affected landowners, have the right to determine the "acceptable" level of negative impact which non-participating landowners should suffer at their hands.
o They are confident that the lead agent will rubber stamp their claim to trump the rights of these pre-existing landowners. However, if the lead agent accepts that their responsibilities extend beyond the interest of the developers to encompass the interests of the non-participating landowners, this assumption is mistaken.
· It is easy (and potentially highly self-serving) for a developer to claim this is just 'no problem' with shadow flicker. However, two "real life" factors indicate that this problem is pervasive.
o EDR acknowledges a shadow effect up to 4750' away (0.9 miles) - not just 2900' - it is fair to assume that this visual disturbance is a dominant effect.
o The "receptors" should be people enjoying their property, and in rural Prattsburgh where owners of hill property acres of land, this most often means outdoors, not just within their houses. Standards appropriate for urban dwellers driven indoors do not apply.
o SCIDA should address this problem and require that UPC/GWH address both
§ high-incidence near-view shadow flick effects and
§ study the actual impact of shadow flicker experienced by property owners at representative Upstate wind farms.Wind rights.
The lead agent should require UPC and GWH to give a hard look at protecting the wind rights of non-participating landowners downwind from proposed tower sites. These non-participating landowners should be able retain the right to maintain their option to chose to have a developer place wind towers on their properties at a future date.
· In order to retain this right, the viability of the wind resource on their properties must not be damaged. Wind turbines create a wake 8 to 11 rotor diameters downwind, and this turbulence effectively damages the viability of the land within this wake as viable wind turbine sites. 8 to 11 rotor diameters represents a distance of 2021" to 2779' for a GE 1.5 sle turbine (77m rotor) and 2283' to 3140' for a Gemesa Eolica G87 turbine (87m rotor).
· The rights to this above-ground wind resource should be considered as significant as sub-surface rights for natural gas resources. The non-participating owners of properties downwind from these turbines within this range (as little as 2021' and as much as 3140') are potentially subject to having their wind rights seized without compensation.
· SCIDA should require that UPC and GWH freely negotiate fair compensation for the wind rights of non-participating landowners or require that these turbines be sited 11 rotor diameters from the property lines of non-participating landowners.Future use of property for home building.
· Non-participating landowners should retain the right for the future use of our property for home building, which will require that the maximum setbacks be from property lines. This will allow the pre-existing non-participating property owner the flexibility to site his home at the optimal location on his property. The most appropriate site fro a new home or cabin is often by a road or at the edge of a field, which may be across from a proposed tower site.
· Placing more distant setbacks only from pre-existing houses effectively precludes sane property owners from placing future home sites near these boundaries. This - and all other inadequate setbacks - represent a "taking" of value from the non-participating landowner without compensation. The lead agent should make every to protect non-participating landowners from these potential thefts of value.
Wind turbines should not be placed along prominent traffic corridors where their distraction can pose a threat to safe driving, and therefore a threat to traffic safety. Scida should require that the potential negative impact of traffic safety resulting from the placement of turbines along Route 53 be given a much harder look.
The lead agent needs to require that the developer provide adequate protections to non-participating landowners. Placing wind turbines too close to property lines would subject non-participating landowners to
· turbine-generated industrial noise,
· potential threats to health and safety,
· threats to the value and future usefulness of their properties, and
· the overwhelming visual dominance of these 400' machines with flashing red lights 24 hours/day.
All of these problems can be successfully addressed through providing adequate setbacks from property lines, with the maximum setback distance determined by the distance required to effectively address worst-case scenario threats. This can be accomplished by having all the potentially negatively affected property be within a controlled space. Through a combination of direct ownership by the project, leases, and granted easements, these vast industrial machines can effectively be placed within an industrial park. SCIDA should require that the developer to take a much harder look at each of these serious concerns. SCIDA should also require that UPC and GWH provide a project plan which includes setbacks which more effectively address all of the potential threats posed by siting their turbines close to the property lines of non-participating landowners.