LOWVILLE — Issues raised by Number Three Wind Farm were addressed individually in an order approved by the Board on Electric Generation, Siting and the Environment in a Thursday morning meeting.
When Chicago-based Invenergy’s wind farm project was granted the Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need on Nov. 12 by the Siting Board, the certification placed a number of conditions the company must meet in order to begin construction.
In its Dec. 12 document requesting a rehearing on a number of points, the company had to prove the Siting Board made legal or factual mistakes or that new circumstances should change the board’s findings in order for a rehearing to be granted according to state law.
Rebuttal statements to the rehearing request from the DEC, the Tug Hill Alliance for Rural Preservation (THARP), a grassroots activist group involved in the process, and the Department of Public Service, all questioning Number Three’s facts and accusations, were also considered in the draft order making changes to the conditions approved at the meeting.
“This is the way we operate. A draft order is circulated to the board members and any board member can call and ask questions,” said James Denn, public information coordinator for the state Department of Public Service.
That 30-page draft order sent to Siting Board members last week included re-consideration of each of the wind company’s issues with decisions to either “rehear” each issue indicating a change to the relevant condition, or to deny rehearing, leaving the condition the same.
It is unclear who wrote the report or decided on the actions to be taken. However, Mr. Denn said while board members may have communicated, there was never a full board gathering. Individual points in the draft order were not discussed in the short meeting before the board voted on it.
The order, with the rationale for both acceptance or denial of “rehearing” on each point, is now part of the public record.
— The wind farm will still have to measure, or model, potential sound impact by turbines at a two-meter level, however, the addition of a two-decibel “uncertainty factor,” which made the requirements even more strict, was removed.
“We erred in applying this uncertainty factor given the ambiguity regarding why it is appropriate for the modeling,” the Board’s order said, “To that extent, we grant the Petition.”
— A condition that required Number Three to submit a plan to decrease the impact of the project on endangered or threatened grassland bird species, known as a mitigation plan, within two months of the date the certificate was filed was changed to be within six months of that date or at least 60 days before construction is to begin.
The company’s requests to eliminate some conditions regarding grassland birds including the involvement of the DEC in overseeing the mitigation plan were not honored, although some of those conditions were altered. One condition requires the DEC to consider allowing Number Three to construct the farm before and during breeding season, which was not allowed before.
“Rehearing is granted for the limited purpose of addressing a new circumstance related to the New York Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act [that went into effect in January],” giving the company an opportunity to show the project both furthers the goals of that Act and provides an “alternative mitigation method” for the birds and their habitat.
— The board agreed with Number Three that the Site Engineering and Environment Plan, or SEEP. is only as a guideline with the expectation that the company will “use the SEEP specifications and work with the agencies to ensure their compliance filings meet the agencies’ expectations.”
— A condition requiring a 2.8 mile section of the 4-mile transmission line to be underground was rescinded because the town of Lowville had already waived the local law requiring line burial — a major cost-saving measure for the company.
— Five certificate conditions the board agreed upon were covered in other agreements and were marked “intentionally removed,” while five other conditions the company requested removed were kept in place.
— Number Three had also requested a water well mapping condition be removed, which was not given a “rehearing,” however, there were some language modifications granted for the topic.
“Obviously I’ve read the record and recommendations with care. I find that this is a smart, protective, pragmatic and... consistent resolution on all of the issues raised: noise, upland birds and undergrounding. I commend staff and the parties and I’m going to support this item,” said Siting Board Chairman John B. Rhodes of the Public Service Commission.
While none of the regular Siting Board members were present at the rehearing meeting, all four “alternate” board members and one community member on the board for this project, William Schaab, voted to approve the draft order’s changes to Number Three’s environmental certificate.
Leslie Sheldon, the second community member on the board, voted against the rehearing.
The 105.8-megawatt wind project consists of 31 turbines, 13 in the town of Lowville and 18 in the town of Harrisburg.