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Hearing set on rules for wind farms

The Farmersville Town Board will hold a public hearing March 22 on a proposed local law that establishes guidelines and a permitting process for commercial wind-farm projects in the town.

Noble Environmental of Essex, Conn., a wind-farm developer with other projects in the Northeast and local siting or construction already under way in Wethersfield, Eagle and Centerville, is likely to submit an application if the law is adopted.

Several town officials invited Noble representatives to speak at a board meeting in July when the company announced intentions to build as many as 70 wind-energy conversion towers here as part of a 200-turbine production facility that would link the local projects.

With growing advances in technology the Noble representatives said, each turbine in Farmersville could be as tall as 450 feet and generate more than the 1.5 megawatts now being produced in the most modern facilities and sent elsewhere to power the more densely populated communities in the Northeast. They told officials the town could receive as much as $500,000 in annual payments if such a project is built.

A test tower was set up on Dean Roblee's property on Pigeon Hill Road to collect wind data, and Noble representatives began meeting with property owners in an effort to locate more than 70 sites for the turbines. Representatives returned with more details in December, when the board decided to hire Hodgson Russ, a law firm which has written several local laws regulating the wind farms, most recently in the town of Centerville where the law was passed in November.

With about 20 residents looking on, board members combed through a draft of the law during Thursday night's three-hour work session, discussing the terms with Town Attorney James McAuley and Hodgson Russ lawyers Dan Spitzer and Jill L. Yonkers. McAuley told board members that since the town has no zoning, the proposal is a "land-use law" that will offer some protections

"This is a 'maybe' law," said Yonkers, informing the board that wind-power companies will have to put certain items in place and meet the law's criteria in order to have a project approved.

Yonkers said the law's provisions allow the town to hire engineering experts to analyze the developer's studies and an environmental impact analysis before a decision is made determining the project is safe for adjacent property owners.

Board members suggested the lawyers establish setback distances and tentative height limitations in the draft law. Each tower, estimated to reach a 450 foot height limit, would have to be placed 500 feet from any road and from the chosen site's property lines, 750 feet from the nearest off-site residential structure and 1,000 feet from schools, churches and hospitals.

Spitzer said wetlands and views are key issues that can result in a project's denial.

"It depends on, at the end of the day, are you comfortable with what has been submitted?" he said. "A facility will change the town for at least a generation and it depends on your comfort level.

After the meeting, Spitzer said this project would generate more than 80 megawatts and will require Public Service Commission review and a special state agency review for transmission of energy. He said the project currently is listed with the state as generating power beginning in 2008.

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