Western New York Counties Considering Restricting Wind Turbines

Published December 2, 2019

Responding to a growing number of health complaints from local residents, members of the Chautauqua County, New York Board of Health are considering a range of proposals to regulate or limit new industrial wind turbines.

Chautauqua is New York’s westernmost county, bordering Lake Erie.

Multiple Options Considered

At a meeting of the board in October, three options were raised for consideration. One proposal would impose a moratorium on construction of industrial wind turbines until there have been further studies on the health effects of the turbines on nearby communities.

A second proposal would have the county Board of Health send a letter to towns stating its concerns about wind towers and asking officials to consider implementing local laws to govern the turbines. A third option the Board of Health is considering is to regulate wind turbines through the county’s sanitation code, which would entail writing a local regulation and then getting approval from the state Department of Health.

Although the Board of Health took no action at the meeting, some board members expressed concerns a simple moratorium on new turbines would not protect people from the effects of existing wind turbines.

During the meeting, Board of Health President Tom Erlandson said other counties prevent industrial wind facilities from being built within a mile and a half of the nearest home, yet some wind turbines in Chautauqua County have been built within a few hundred feet of homes.

‘Wild West of Wind Turbines’

People’s concerns about wind turbine placement are being ignored, says health board member John Tallet, according to media reports.

“It is the Wild West of wind turbines,” said Tallet during the meeting. “Stick them where you can. If people complain, it still doesn’t stop them from building them.”

Until more is known about the health effects of wind turbines, it might be best to impose a moratorium on new installations, says Dr. Robert Berke, another Board of Health member.

“We suggest the best practice is to have a moratorium until we have better information to show,” said Berke at the meeting. “The second thing is that towns begin to look at what they are offered and to have guidelines before they go ahead with these things, setting setback guidelines and decibel levels.”

Christine Schuyler, the county public health director, says the county’s sanitary code could be used to regulate industrial wind installations as public nuisances until or unless further regulations are approved.

Schuyler suggested the Chautauqua County Legislature consider adopting a temporary countywide moratorium, giving the Board of Health the time it needs to develop language for the sanitary code and allowing individual towns time to implement laws governing industrial wind development within their jurisdictions.

Primary Health Concern: Noise

The effect of the noise from wind farms is the primary health concern, says Berke.

“Is there evidence that sounds over ‘X’ decibels are injurious to your health?” said Berke at the meeting. “If there’s evidence of that, then it behooves us to delve into our sanitary code [so] that [noise] is abated in this county, and it’s obviously abated by separation and distance.”

Multiple studies have found industrial wind facilities can affect the health of people living near the installations, says physicist John Droz, founder of the Alliance for Wise Energy Decisions.

“There are numerous studies that have concluded industrial wind energy can have serious detrimental health effects, with the primary causal agent being infrasound,” said Droz.

Blown Away in Local Elections

Elsewhere in western New York, in the November 5 elections a coalition of organizations opposing the proposed 106-square-mile Alle-Catt wind project took majorities on the boards of supervisors in two towns slated to host the project’s turbines, and the supervisor’s position in a third host town.

Project developer Invenergy has proposed erecting 116 600-foot-tall turbines within the jurisdictions of the towns of Centerville, Farmerville, Freedom, and Rushford.

Under the state’s siting law, known as Article 10, developers of wind and solar projects must comply with local laws. Earlier this year, the four towns’ boards of supervisors adopted laws favorable to the project, as requested by Invenergy.

The boards’ actions spurred the groups Freedom United and Farmersville United successfully to run candidates opposed to Alle-Catt, in the November elections. Based on the winners’ statements, Invenergy will probably face new restrictions on its proposed industrial wind development, beginning January 1, 2020.

Ginger Schroder of Farmersville won a seat in the Cattaraugus County Legislature. Schroder says she and several other new county legislators will try to deny tax breaks to wind-power developers by the county’s Industrial Development Authority.

Expects Further Backlash

An increasing number of communities are likely to impose restrictions on new wind facility development as the costs of wind power become more apparent, says Craig Rucker, president of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT).

“As New York moves forward with Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo’s unachievable goal of 100 percent renewable energy in 30 years, we will see more and more communities rise up in protest,” said Rucker. “Political elites in New York City and Albany are happy to install these unsightly and unhealthy facilities in distant rural communities, with the elites’ attitude being ‘Let the rubes deal with them.’

“Sooner or later, the high cost of intermittent energy will reach the cities, where there will be an ugly backlash,” said Rucker.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and a senior policy analyst with CFACT.