LOWVILLE — Judges in the state Article 10 approval process for large energy projects made recommendations that would require Invenergy’s Number Three Wind Farm to do better in a number of project areas to secure the coveted Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need before construction can begin.
“The recommended Certificate Conditions... are designed to ensure that the Project’s impacts are minimized and avoided to the maximum extent practicable, that the Project will be constructed and operated in compliance with all applicable State and local environmental and public health and safety laws and regulations,” the document states.
While back-and-forth negotiations throughout the past year resulted in a number of changes and conditions agreed upon by the wind farm and various parties to the process, if the state Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment accepts the recommendations made by Presiding Examiner Maureen F. Leary, administrative law judge for state Public Service, and Associate Examiner Molly T. McBride, administrative law judge of the DEC, Number Three still has significant work to do, especially relating to noise control.
Noise from turbines can be made by mechanical components, a “whooshing” sound in certain weather conditions from acoustic pulsations and the controversial “infrasound,” which is less “heard” and more sensed as a constant due to vibrations and pulses, the document said.
Number Three had disputed the negative impact of the noise on health and referred to it instead as an “annoyance,” setting a 45-decibel limit.
“WHO 2009 and WHO 2018 along with the positions of Department of Public Service staff and Department of Health provide the Siting Board with a sufficient basis in the record to reject Number Three Wind’s position that wind turbine noise at levels below 46 dBA is not associated with health impacts.”
Based on the World Health Organization’s findings, the judges recommend a 40-decibel long term limit outdoors, 30 decibels indoors and a short term, eight-hour, outdoor limit of 42 decibels for residents that do not participate in the project and 50 decibels for those that do.
Number Three had not set an indoor limit.
The judges also noted that the wind company arrived at its plan based on faulty information gathering.
In order to verify the results of Number Three’s modeling assumptions, the Public Service Department did some modeling of its own.
“The Public Service staff modeling results showed that 34 non-participating receptors [residents] exceed the short-term design goal of 45 dBA with levels as high as 48 dBA... combined with the Maple Ridge and Copenhagen facilities, 68 receptors [residents] exceed that design goal with levels as high as 51 dBA.”
As a result, they recommended the Siting Board require Number Three to re-model the noise impact of its project, taking measures at both about 5 feet (1.5 meters) and 13 feet (4 meters) above ground and calculate the cumulative impact of existing turbines from the Copenhagen and Maple Ridge wind farms on residents.
Citing a lack of key details in the Number Three proposed sound monitoring process, the judges advised adding a condition requiring Number Three follow post-construction noise monitoring and complaint procedures recommended by Public Safety based on the precedence of Cassadaga and Baron Winds wind farms that have passed through the Article 10 process.
Judgments were also made on the potential harm the wind project could cause to protected species of protected grassland birds and bats.
Number Three could be expected to file a final Endangered or Threatened Species mitigation plan within two months, including methods to “fully avoid impacts” on the threatened Upland Sandpiper and Northern Harrier grassland bird species, or, if it can prove avoiding impact isn’t possible, steps it will take to minimize impact and provide value to the species.
The DEC had suggested to avoid impacting the birds, the company should move nine turbines and all infrastructure from the birds’ habitat area, create an 820-foot buffer around the occupied habitat during breeding season with no construction from April 23 to Aug. 15.
Recommendations require the company to monitor its impact on any endangered or protected species over the life of the project and make changes to decrease it as necessary, including the number of animals, especially the birds and bats, killed because of the turbines throughout its 30-year duration.
Referencing DEC staff testimony given earlier in the summer, the judges wrote “wind turbines are currently the single greatest known source of mortality for several bat species in North America,” and that “post-construction fatality studies in New York State revealed that most turbine-caused fatalities are to migratory tree bats.”
The judges recommended the siting board accept the agreement the DEC and Number Three reached in June to institute a “curtailment” program to guard Northern Long Eared Bats, a protected species in the project area.
Under the program, turbines use will be limited when wind speeds are below a certain point between July 1 and Oct. 1, beginning 30 minutes before sunset and continuing until 30 minutes after sunrise when temperatures are greater than 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Although flicker, or the shadows, cast by the turning turbine blades in the right conditions, has been often cited by the grassroots Tug Hill Alliance for Rural Preservation and other county residents as an issue, the judges did not recommend the 30-minutes per day limit on operations causing flicker.
Instead, they followed the precedent set by the Baron Winds project requiring Number Three to either temporarily “curtail” wind turbine operation in response to complaints to keep flicker under the 30-hour annual limit or “to provide physical mitigation measures.”
Among previously agreed upon certificate conditions minimizing the project’s visual impact, Number Three had disputed being required to use or consider installing the Aircraft Lighting Detection System, subject to FAA approval, which would turn the red lights on based on radar detection of aircraft.
The judges, however, agreed that it would be an important tool to decrease the visual impact of the project at night and should be examined.
With regard to removing the wind farm, or “decommissioning” it, after it has run its course, the judges found Number Three’s plan to be insufficient and recommended a number of conditions before certificate approval.
In the revised plan, Number Three would estimate the cost to remove all wind farm components and restore access roads without including income from salvaging or re-selling the materials and provide an irrevocable letter of credit to cover the total costs.
Every five years, those amounts will be reconsidered and the letter updated, if the recommendations are followed.
Turbines that have not been working for over a year should be removed by the company automatically, the judges said.
Issues including invasive species, plants and forests, wildlife excepting birds and bats, ice throw, turbine collapse, electric and magnetic fields and compliance with state energy policies were among those that were judged to have been sufficiently addressed by Number Three and various experts via documentation or testimony already provided.
Certificate conditions, in some of these cases, were already agreed upon after previous proceedings.
The 254-page document was filed online Aug. 22, on the state Department of Public Service’s site dedicated to the project.
Recommendations for 138 certificate conditions and 32 additional documentation packages verifying the completion of those conditions clarify steps the wind company must take if the siting board follows the judges’ advice.
In July, the siting board chairman informed Number Three that the extensive changes to the project amounted to a revision. A 45-day extension to the pre-set 12 month timeframe to the Article 10 process that would have ended in September was put in place and the company was required to submit $75,000 in additional intervenor funding.