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Wind energy forum brings hundreds

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CAPE VINCENT — It was standing room only in the Recreation Park on Tuesday night — with “BP Go Home” protesters occupying one side and green-shirted Voters for Wind filling the other.

Sandwiched between an audience of 300 people and local lawmakers from Cape Vincent and Lyme was Richard F. Chandler, representing BP Wind Energy, who was grilled by town officials for nearly two hours in a comment-heavy question-and-answer session following a brief presentation on the project.

Members of both town councils and planning boards spoke in unison, criticizing BP’s “back-door approach” to the $300 million project and the developer’s new 124-turbine layout that is in clear violation of local zoning laws.

There will be no wind turbines in the town of Lyme — only a transmission line — under BP’s new proposal. And although the configurations are preliminary, Mr. Chandler, director of business development for the project, said the turbines would not exceed 500 feet in height.

BP is pursuing a speedier approval process under Article X that would also allow a state siting board to overrule what it deems as unreasonable local laws. Article X of the 2011 Power NY Act imposes a 12-month deadline for the consideration of electric-generating facilities of 25 megawatts or higher.

Not only is the state seeking to expedite the siting of energy projects, it is also pushing for a $675 million investment in renewable energy.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, in his recent “energy highway” plan, calls for $250 million in state renewable energy funding to leverage $475 million in private investment, with a goal to create an additional 270 megawatts of energy.

The Cape Vincent Wind Farm is mentioned in the plan as one such potential project, with a listed minimum and maximum capacity of 285 megawatts.

However, Mr. Chandler said the size of the project has not been finalized and reiterated his past statement to the state Public Service Commission that the wind farm could be as small as 200 megawatts.

Several Lyme and Cape Vincent officials also took offense Tuesday night that the developer had come up with its own wind turbine setbacks.

“Our zoning law is not up for sale and not negotiable,” said Cape Vincent Planning Board member Paul L. Docteur. “We will defend our zoning law to the end.”

Mr. Chandler said BP “factored in” several standards — including Cape Vincent’s wind laws and those from other wind projects in the country — to come up with its own “reasonable” guidelines that “address health and safety concerns” and “exceed industry standards.”

BP’s setbacks include: 1,500 feet from Route 12E, 1,000 feet from County Route 6 and nonparticipating property lines, 650 feet from roads and a quarter-mile from residences.

Both Cape Vincent and Lyme’s setbacks are considerably stricter.

Cape Vincent requires turbine setbacks of six times the total height of the proposed structure from the nearest residence, the nearest project boundary line, boundaries of adjacent towns and any road and property line.

Although no turbines are proposed in Lyme, its zoning law puts turbines half a mile from roads, nonparticipating property lines and a mile away from Route 12E.

In response to Lyme Town Supervisor Scott G. Aubertine’s question as to why BP sought the state’s approval when Lyme’s zoning law allows for transmission lines, Mr. Chandler said the developer is treating the wind farm and transmission line as one project.

Also on Tuesday, about 20 anti-wind residents and Article X protesters rallied in the streets of Cape Vincent before Tuesday’s meeting advocating for municipal home rule on the siting of renewable energy projects.

“It’s a tsunami as far as this community is concerned,” said Cyril C. “Butch” Cullen, a member and past chairman of the Cape Vincent Planning Board.

What made matters worse, Lyme and Cape Vincent officials have said, was BP’s lack of interest in communicating with the local representatives and stakeholders who do not have a wind lease with the developer.

Mr. Chandler said BP plans to hold several public sessions, starting with a Nov. 10 open house, to share its plans with the public.

Local officials pointed out the newfound willingness to reach out to the community does not come voluntarily, but in response to the state’s demands.

The state Public Service Commission recently rejected BP’s “inadequate” public involvement program plan — the first step in the Article X process — for its proposed wind project, telling the company to broaden its outreach efforts and submit a revised plan.

The PSC also recommended that BP publish a tentative schedule for public meetings and filings for its project application under Article X.

The next big step for BP in the pre-application process is to submit to the state by Feb. 17 a preliminary scoping statement with a description of its facility and proposed impact studies, among other items, Mr. Chandler said.

The new turbine layout map will be available at BP Wind Energy’s office on Esselstyne Street and BP, by next week, will provide more information on its new project website at www.capevincentwindfarm.com.

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