Jordanville Wind - Details

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Jordanville Wind LocationDeveloper:  Community Energy, Inc. / Iberdrola Renewables
Jordanville and Herkimer Counties, NY

The public’s trust was violated by the town boards. Regardless of your support for the Jordanville Wind Power Project, no citizen should accept this kind of behavior from our elected officials.
—Steve Reichenbach

While FORE supports the protection of historic and cultural sites, we also agree with the NYS DEC that "mere visibility should not be considered a threshold for decision making", especially miles away.
—Friends of Renewable Energy

Project Background

The Jordanville Wind project was proposed in the towns of Stark and Warren in Herkimer county in upstate New York. Herkimer county has a population of 62,200 or 42 people per square mile. The county has a median household income of $32,924.

Community Energy, Inc. (CEI) is a subsidiary of Iberdrola, a Spanish energy company which leads the world in renewable energy. CEI is partnered with the large New York utility, NYSEG to offer wind produced electricty as a premium product called NewWind Energy. CEI proposed a wind farm of approximately 70-75 2 MW turbines around the hamlet of Jordanville in 2005. CEI first reduced the quantity of turbines they were proposing to 68, and subsequently reduced them to 40. The turbines were to be sited on privately owned dairy farms in the two towns of Stark and Warren. Jordanville is an unincorporated hamlet in the town of Warren.

New York Context

Other Wind Projects in Lewis, Herkimer and Otsego Counties

The project site is twenty miles from the historic village of Cooperstown on Otsego Lake. It is home to the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Glimmerglass Opera, the Farmer's Museum and many other attractions. The Holy Trinity Monastary, a Russian Orthodox community, has been located in Jordanville since 1935.

The state has seen a wind development boom following New York’s enactment of a Renewable Portfolio Standard in 2004 requiring 24% of the state’s energy come from renewable sources by 2013. New York State has 1260.8 MW of installed wind capacity, with another 21 MW under construction.

Siting and Zoning

The Herkimer County Industrial Development Agency (HCIDA) arranges Payment In Lieu of Taxes agreements for projects such as this. In a PILOT agreement, the developer is exempted of all local property taxes, making predetermined payments to local municipalities instead. Such an aggreement was negotiated between HCIDA and Community Wind, with the developer initially offering $15 million over twenty years.

Renewable energy projects in New York are tax-exempt unless the local government passes a law to allow taxation. Warren had such a law, but rescinded it in April 2007 to allow for PILOT negotiation.

The towns of Stark and Warren approved special use permits in June 2007. They allowed the building of 34 turbines in each of the two towns.

Environmental Impact Statement and Public Discourse

Under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), projects such as Jordanville Wind, are required to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The EIS was prepared by Environmental Design and Research (EDR), one of the largest companies providing such services and a frequent consultant in New York projects. It was accepted by the Town Boards of Warren and Stark. Prior to the acceptance of the Final EIS, two drafts were presented, followed by periods for public comment.

EDR performed a visual impact assessment (VIA) as part of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The first VIA was part of the Draft EIS submitted in Spring 2006. It was expanded in the Supplemental Draft EIS that November. The VIA was updated in summer of 2007 in the Final EIS to reflect some changes in the siting of towers.

The VIA consists of several components. EDR mapped five and eight mile topographic viewsheds for both the full height of the turbine blades and the FAA lights atop the nacelle, which would be visible by night. They found that the project would be screened from the view in 66% of the area within a five mile radius, by either topography or vegetation. These maps were made using a USGS database of the topography and vegetation. They assumed a height of forty feet for the vegetation, which means that although the percentages they give may be accurate, particular places on the map may differ in reality, due to vegetation which deviates from that number. Discounting vegetation entirely, they found that the project was visible in 78% of the area.

The viewshed analysis found that visibility would be highest in the open agricultural areas concentrated close to the project. Although many visually sensitive sights would be screened, the analysis found likely impact on Lake Otsego, the Holy Trinity monastery and the Glimmerglass Historic District, among others.
EDR performed cross section analyses on five representational lines-of-sight. These also assumed a uniform vegetation height of forty feet. The cross section locations were chosen to include areas labeled visually sensitive, including villages, historic sites and bodies of water. The cross section analyses show that visibility would likely be lower than estimated in the topographic viewshed analysis, as structures and other objects not included in that analysis serve to screen the project.

Analyses based on computer models were complemented by a field analysis. Rather than using balloons anchored on the proposed tower sites, as they sometimes do, existing structures such as communications towers and silos were used to reference location and scale. Crews then took photos and notes considering the visibility (or lack of visibility) of the proposed turbines from 85 "representative" sites.

Simulation by EDR
Figure 1: Simulation constructed by EDR

According to the analysts, the visual impact would be lower than indicated by the viewshed or cross section analyses. This is because vegetative and structural screening in fact is more extensive than had been assumed. Still, they confirmed the project would be visible from Holy Trinity.

EDR created a series of simulated photographs from eleven sites chosen from the field analysis. The sites were chosen to represent a variety of angles, directions and distances from the turbines. Photos taken on site were altered to include the proposed turbines using a 3D modeling program called StudioMax. These simulations showed a highly variable impact, depending mostly on distance, but also on weather and light conditions, the extent of screening and the viewer's sensitivity.

The overall visual impact was evaluated by EDR's in-house panel of three registered landscape architects. The panelists looked at photographs with and without the simulated turbines. They rated each view from 1 to 5, with 1 meaning the turbine looked completely compatible, and 5 being the opposite. The rankings of each panelist were averaged to find the compatibility of wind development from each view, and the overall impact on the landscape.

Those composite scores ranged from 1.43 to 3.42, signifying a low to moderate impact. Individual sites, however, ranged from 1 to 5 indicating highly variable impacts. The panelists predicted public opinion of the turbines would be "generally positive" but extremely variable, depending on "proximity to the turbines, the affected landscape, and personal attitude of the viewer regarding wind power."

The SEQRA process is designed to involve some public input through periods of public comment and public hearings. Still, the agency is not required to consider "lay comments." They are only required to credit comments of equal technical expertise to the DEIS. Often times, opposition groups to wind projects in New York do not have the resources available to present comments at that level. In of the Jordanville project, this was not the case. Otsego2000, an organization which came out strongly against the Jordanville project, commissioned several reports that were submitted to the Town Board of Warren as comments on the DEIS.

Simulation for Otsego2000
Figure 2: Simulation constructed for Otsego2000.

One of those studies was a "Viewshed Analysis Visibility Study" performed by David Healy of the consulting firm, Stone Environmental, Inc. While this report affirmed that the DEIS did a "reasonable" job of assessing the visual impact for the area, they went on to perform an alternative fifteen mile viewshed analysis. This considers the impact of far more territory than do the five and eight mile analyses of the DEIS. Stone Environmental also performed the same analysis for a scenario using turbines only 199 feet tall—short enough that the FAA would not require lights.

Stone Environmental's study concluded that the visual impact on historic districts and the Scenic Byway, Route 20 would be "very significant." They further concluded that the project would be visible from beyond the eight mile distance used in the DEIS, and recommended that the Town Board require that the developer extend the area of study to fifteen miles from the project. They also recommended the use of balloons in the field analysis, as has been done elsewhere. Otsego2000 commissioned Xtra-Spatial Productions, LLC to create simulation photographs using the Stone Environmental viewshed analysis.

Another report commissioned by Otsego2000, along with the opposition group Advocates for Stark, was performed by Heritage Landscapes, a firm of preservation landscape architects and planners. This report, the "Review of Jordanville Wind Power Project DEIS Visual Impact Assessment & Cultural Resources Survey," was submitted as comment to the Town Boards of Warren and Stark. The report describes in detail the importance of historic sites and landscape in the area along with the visual impacts and cultural resource integrity impacts that the wind project would have on them. It concludes that the DEIS was "incomplete as scoped and flawed as executed," recomending that the analysis be extended to fifteen miles.

A letter from Otsego2000's lawyers concluded that the concerns expressed by these and other expert comments obliged the Town Boards of Stark and Warren to require further study prior to accepting the DEIS. The letter repetitively stresses the duty of the lead agencies under SEQRA to take a "hard look." This term was widely used by opponents of the project who claimed that the towns were not doing their due diligence. Despite these arguments, the DEIS was accepted as submitted.

A similar pattern followed the release of the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Otsego2000 and other groups such as Advocates for Stark and Advocates for Springfield denounced the SDEIS as "inaccurate and misleading." Again, they asked the Town Board to "send the applicant back to the drawing board." Again, the document was accepted over their objections.

When the FEIS was accepted by the Town Boards of Stark and Warren in June 2007, opponents decided to sue under New York's Article 78. Article 78 suits allow citizens to challenge local and state governments. Otsego2000 began coordinating such a suit soon after the Town Boards' decision to approve special use permits. Individuals who would have legal standing to sue—those who would be most affected by the turbines—were sought out to be petitioners.

The petitioners charged that the towns had kept the public out of the EIS scoping process, that they had failed to take the "hard look" required by SEQRA, failed to consider alternatives or mitigation strategies and broke New York's Open Meetings Law and the Freedom of Information Law. The Judge, Justice Greenwood, ordered the decisions voided, claiming they broke the Open Meeting Law holding closed executive sessions without due reason. He further ordered the towns to pay the legal fees of the petitioners. This ruling sent CEI back to the beginning of the SEQRA process. They decided to try again, this time proposing forty turbines.

The proposal to place several turbines on the hills around Jordanville caused immediate controversy. On one hand there were groups and individuals who were enthusiastic about the projected economic development and environmental promise. A group called Friends of Renewable Energy supported the development, as did The Alliance for Clean Energy New York, and the Sloop Clearwater.

On the other hand, there were other organizations and individuals who were concerned about the impacts to their landscapes, depressed property values and negatively effected tourism.

Otsego200, an organization founded to (successfully) resist a powerline project and a public boat launch in the area, applied that experience to opposing the wind farm. The monks of the Holy Trinity Monastery were also vehemently opposed to the project. An organization called Advocates for Stark was also vocal against the turbines. The Preservation League of New York State listed Holy Trinity as one of the state's seven "most-threatened historic resources."

Night Simulation
Figure 3: Night simulation constructed for Otsego2000.

Otsego2000's research countered CEI's EIS. Where the EIS found low to moderate visual impact, the reports produced for Otsego2000 claimed a high impact. They produced photo simulations showing significant views of the project from Otsego lake. While EDR claimed the project would not be visible from the Glimmerglass Historic District, the researchers for Otsego2000 found that it would be. In comments to the Town of Warren Town Board, Otsego2000 claimed the EIS was inadequate, failed to meet legal standards and that the project would have significant impacts.
Otsegos2000's research and language were apparently persuasive to the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) which incorporated some of their language in their decision to cut nineteen turbines from the project. This meant some landowners previously involved were now excluded from the project and that the PILOT payments would be smaller. Proponents were outraged. The cuts also failed to satisfy opponents of the project. The reduction in turbines served mainly to limit the visual impact of the wind farm on those viewing Lake Otsego from Cooperstown, to the south.

Three residents who opposed to the development, Sue Brander, Denise Como, and Steve Reichenbach, ran to unseat members of the Town Board of Stark. One of them, Denise Como, had her barn burnt down under suspicious circumstances. The police did not have enough evidence to call it arson, but the incident may be a measure of just how tense relations in the area became.

The Holy Trinity monastery is a deeply traditional place. The buildings, habits and routines of the monks are meant to continue a monastic tradition from the 15th century. It is perhaps not surprising that the monks and the nuns from the associated convent had a swift, negative and dramatic reaction to the wind farm. “This has a deep, deep effect, and it’s going to ruin the landscape” one nun said. “Even if you close your eyes, you’ll be able to feel them, to sense them.”

During the summer of 2007, the monks protested the proposed wind farm, holding a service of intercession. Just as Joshua marched his army around Jericho—leading to the walls tumbling down—the monks marched around the site of the planned farm, sprinkling holy water. They also held special prayer meetings with members of the community.

But the the monks did not rely on divine intervention alone to stop Jordonville wind. Calling it their "last earthly resort," they became petitioners in the Article 78 suit, along with Otsego2000 and Advocates of Stark. The suit claimed that the Town Boards of Stark and Warren had broken New York's Open Meetings Law and that the SEQRA process had been pursued insufficiently. A supreme court justice ruled against the town boards, voiding the SEQRA process and requiring the towns to cover the legal costs of the petitioners. The town boards decided against appealing the decision and CEI has decided to start over again, this time proposing forty turbines in about the same location. They would still be visible from the monastery.

The new proposal would have a nameplate capacity of 80 MW, just under the threshold for PSC review. This strategic decision means the project will be subject only to the review of the Stark and Warren Town Councils, which have been more accommodating. Otsego2000 has responded to the Second Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SSEIS), by commissioning another professional comment from Heritage Landscapes. The Holy Trinity Monastery has applied for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, with the support of the NYS Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Conclusions

Although CEI has not given up on Jordanville Wind, its first effort has clearly failed. Despite support among the public and on the town boards, the project suffered administrative and judicial defeats. A ruling that the towns defied Open Meeting Law reinforces perceptions some have that wind companies are pursuing back room deals to foist their projects on local communities. CEI chose to propose the project in an area with a history of well funded and effective campaigns against development that threatened the traditional view from Lake Otsego. They also placed it beside a monastery, a community of people who are extremely resistant to change—people who might have been expected to loudly protest such a massive intrusion on their landscape. CEI's latest effort faces the same opponents, who have been working to solidify their positions. Perhaps the crucial absence of the PSC in this next round will be enough to get the project permitted, but the project will be almost half the original size and at least three years behind schedule.

Full Bibliography

Ackerman, Bryon. "Herkimer County weighs pros, cons of wind power." March 6, 2008. http://www.wind-watch.org/news/2008/03/06/herkimer-county-weighs-pros-cons-of-wind-power/ (accessed June 23, 2008).

Ackerman, Bryon. "Wind farm project gets scaled down again" The Observer-Dispatch (Jun 19, 2008), http://www.wind-watch.org/news/2008/06/20/wind-farm-project-gets-scaled-down-again/. (accessed June 23, 2008).

"EDR Jordanville Photo Simultations." http://www.njwind.com/jordanville/pdf/DEIS%20Figures/05009%20DEIS%20Figure%2012-15%20Visual%20Simulations.pdf (accessed June 23, 2008).

Giordano, Janine. "PSC decision pleases neither side" Richfield Springs Mercury (August 30, 2007), http://www.wind-watch.org/news/2007/08/31/psc-decision-pleases-neither-side/. (accessed June 29, 2008).

Grace, Tom. "Wind turbines would ruin site, group says" The Daily Star (January 8, 2008), http://www.thedailystar.com/local/local_story_008040046.html. (accessed June 23, 2008).

"Jordanville Wind Farm." http://www.jordanvillewind.com/ (accessed June 23, 2008).

"Judge: Towns failed to follow law" Observer-Dispatch (Dec 14, 2007), http://www.uticaod.com/homepage/x1908591041. (accessed June 23, 2008).

"Monk challenges turbines" The Freeman's Journal (July 2007), http://www.wind-watch.org/news/2007/07/20/monk-challenges-turbines-otsego-2000-also-set-to-sue-over-jordanville-project/. (accessed June 29, 2008).

"Monks model challenge after Joshua at Jericho" The Freeman's Journal (August, 2007), http://www.wind-watch.org/news/2007/08/16/monks-model-challenge-after-joshua-at-jericho/. (accessed June 29, 2008).

Nearing, Brian. "Monks gain support in fight over wind project" Albany Times Union (Jan 5, 2008), http://www.wind-watch.org/news/2008/01/05/monks-gain-support-in-fight-over-wind-project/. (accessed June 23, 2008).

Otsego2000, "Resolution for Jordanville Wind Power Project" (August 18, 2006), http://www.otsego2000.org/documents/Resolution8.16.06_000.pdf. (accessed June 23, 2008).

Image Bibliography

Figure 1:  Environmental Data Resources. "Visual Simulations - Jordanville Wind Power Project." <http://www.njwind.com/jordanville/pdf/DEIS%20Figures/05009%20DEIS%20Figure%2012-15%20Visual%20Simulations.pdf> (Accessed August 2, 2008).

Figure 2, 3:  Otsego2000. "Visual Simulations." <http://www.otsego2000.org/documents/PtFlorence-Photos.pdf> (Accessed August 2, 2008).