Project Background

In 2006, John Rancich proposed building a so-called “community based” wind farm on Connecticut Hill in Enfield, NY. He formed Enfield Energy LLC and began obtaining development rights to build a wind farm from local residents. The following December 2007, the Enfield Town Board adopted a wind energy law which required setbacks of 1,250 feet or 1.5 times the total height of the turbine, which ever was greater, from property lines, communication and electrical lines, transmission facilities such as substations, inhabited or inhabitable structures, public roads, Robert Treman State Park, neighboring municipalities and county lines, and property lines of a school, church or nursing facility. It also required that noise produced by the turbines not exceed 50 dBa measured at the property line.

On March 12, 2008, a newly elected Town Board repealed this wind energy law claiming that it had been passed illegally by the previous Town Board. However, rather than take corrective action to simply adopt the law properly, the new Town Board chose to adopt a whole new statute in its place with much less favorable setbacks and noise limitations. That new statute was adopted apparently in response to statements by John Rancich that the December 2007 wind energy law would have blocked his project.

The new statute, which is currently the law, provides that any wind turbines be:

* no less than 450 feet or 1.1 the total height of the wind turbine from any residences; and

* no less than 100 feet or 1.1 times the blade radius from any property line.

Furthermore, the law specifically provided that there would be no required minimum setbacks from any public or private roads or public utility lines. Finally, the noise limits are 60 dBa as measured at a residence.

Prior to the passage of this law, the Tompkins County Planning Department reviewed the town’s proposal and recommended that the law be modified to tie any setbacks to property lines and public road right-of-ways as well as residences and proposed that:

* the setbacks from property lines and public roads be no less than 1.5 times the total height of the turbine, including the rotor blade height; and

* for residences, schools, churches or public libraries, they be no less than 2 times the total height, including the rotor blade height.

 

Finally, it recommended that noise not exceed 55 dBa measured at the property line and 50 dBa measured at any residence, school, church or public library. The Town Board ignored the recommendations of the Tompkins County Planning Department when it adopted this law.

Over time, the size of the turbines that Black Oak proposes to install have grown to 483 feet. Under the current town law, the minimum setbacks for these turbines would only be 531 feet from a residence and only a little less than 200 feet from a property line. As proposed by the Black Oak Wind Farm project, turbines will be located a minimum of slightly less than 1,000 feet to residences and a little less than 200 feet from neighboring property lines. According to the Final Environmental Impact Study, the Black Oak Wind Farm turbines will, in most cases, not exceed 45 dBa at a residence but it was never updated to take into account the change in noise readings from the GE 1.7MW turbines to the new GE 2.3MW turbines.

In 2010, Marguerite Wells, the Black Oak Wind Farm project manager, and her business partner, Lexie Hain, purchased a 60% controlling interest in Enfield Energy LLC from John Rancich who retains the remaining 40% interest. Black Oak Wind Farm has agreed to pay Enfield Energy LLC $500,000 in cash by December 31, 2016 in exchange for the tangible and intangible assets of Enfield Energy LLC, including development rights to the wind. Theoretically, Ms. Wells and Ms. Hain would indirectly receive 60% of that payment as a result of their ownership in Enfield Energy. But in a private conversation with a local resident, Ms. Wells stated that she and Ms. Hain have not yet paid Mr. Rancich for their interests in Enfield Energy LLC and therefore the entire $500,000 would all go to Mr. Rancich eventually.

In January 2015, the Town Board completed its review of the project under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). The SEQRA review assessed the environmental impacts associated with a facility consisting of seven 1.7 megawatt (“MW”) turbines and a total rated capacity of 11.9 MW. In June 2015, the Town Board approved modifications to the project including an increase to the height of each turbine by eight feet, and an increase to the rated capacity of each turbine to to 2.3 MW with a total rated capacity for the facility of 16.1 MW. The Town Board also authorized certain changes to the location of the proposed interconnection substation. The Town Board approved these changes without reopening the SEQRA process.

Following these actions by the Town Board, it is our understanding that a contract dispute arose with one of the lessees who no longer wished to participate in the project causing Black Oak Wind Farm to begin looking for alternative locations to place the substation and one of the turbines. In September and October 2015, Black Oak Wind Farm entered into, among other things, the following new agreements:

* A Transmission Line Easement agreement, dated September 18, 2015, with Michael McArthur to permit the wind farm to run a transmission line over property at 192 Griffin Road, Newfield, NY 14867;

* First Amendment to Option, Lease and Easement Agreement, dated September 19, 2015, with Douglass Everhart to include 153.22 acres of Enfield Tax Parcel 13.-2-6.22 and 122.05 acres of Enfield Tax Parcel 13.-2-52 in the original option, lease and easement agreement;

* First Amendment to Option, Lease and Easement Agreement, dated September 20, 2015, with John Rancich to include 50.9 acres of Enfield Tax Parcel 18.-2-1.5 in the original option, lease and easement agreement;

* An Option Agreement and Lease and Easement Agreement, dated October 15, 2015, with Peter DiStefano to grant the wind farm an option to place a turbine at 279 Harvey Hill Road, Ithaca, NY 14850;

* A Memorandum of a Purchase Option Agreement, dated October 21, 2015, with Sean Burns for a 5 year option to purchase a 50 foot wide strip of land 616 long as subdivision of 143 Griffin Road, Newfield, NY 14867; and

* A Memorandum of Option Agreement and Lease and Easement Agreement, dated October 26, 2015, with John and Kathy Straight to grant the wind farm an option to place a turbine at 144 Cayutaville Road, Newfield, NY 14867.

 

On November 18, 2015, a large number of residents who live in the area where the Black Oak Wind Farm is to be located attended the monthly Enfield Town Hall Meeting to voice their concerns about the wind farm. Following that meeting, the Town Board announced a Special Town Hall Meeting on December 17, 2015 to discuss the wind farm concerns in more detail. The December 17, 2015 Special Town Hall Meeting was well attended. Some news reports estimated over 150 people were in attendance. The meeting was moderated by Community Dispute Resolution Center mediator Jeff Shephardson and five topics were addressed:

* The impact on real estate values,

* Noise and health concerns,

* Ice-throw and setbacks,

* Black Oak’s “Good Neighbor Agreement”, and

* Roads and construction side effects.

At the beginning of the meeting, Marguerite Wells, the Black Oak Wind Farm project manager, confirmed that Black Oak Wind Farm intends to propose certain additional changes in the placement of the substation and at least one tower, and that they believe the Town Board will require the project sponsors to revise its Environmental Impact Statement and that the Town Board will require another public hearing before the project can proceed. After a brief review of the history of the project, she turned it over to the moderator to solicit feedback in each of the designated areas. See below for an outline of the local residents’ concerns in these areas.

At the December 28, 2015 Town Board Meeting, Ann Rider, Michael Carpenter and Michael Miles discussed the December 17th meeting. Vera Howe-Strait and Virginia Bryant were both absent from the meeting. Both Mr. Carpenter and Mr. Miles expressed interest in reviewing the wind energy laws further to determine if they should be amended in light of potential health and safety concerns. The Board agreed to form an Advisory Committee to help with the review. It is made up of three parties who object to the current laws, three parties who support the current laws and two Board members. There was discussion regarding whether any amendments to the law would grandfather the Black Oak Wind Farm with Mr. Carpenter and Mr. Miles both suggesting that Black Oak would not be grandfathered under the existing law if they concluded that larger setbacks and noise limits were required from a health and safety perspective. Ann Rider did not appear to agree with that conclusion and suggested that the Board might be open to a lawsuit from the Black Oak Wind Farm if they were not grandfathered. Both Mr. Carpenter and Mr. Miles indicated that health and safety trumped any concerns about potential lawsuits. The Board members also suggested that a time limit be put upon any deliberations to amend the town laws in order to bring certainty for all parties as quickly as possible. A three month deadline was suggested.

Since that meeting, the Wind Farm Advisory Committee has been formed. You can follow the proceedings which are open for the public to attend by going to the wind farm advisory committee. Also, be sure to sign up in the top right hand corning of website for notifications of upcoming meetings. You can also submit your comments and concerns to the town of Enfield. townofenfield.org.