Wind Power: What You Need to Know

As the cost of energy continues to rise, wind power has emerged as an alternative resource and lessens our reliance on conventional power sources. Technological advances, federal and local programs, and credits and tax incentives have dramatically reduced the cost of producing wind power and have provided an impetus for commercial wind projects.

Although not without controversy, wind power projects can also provide substantial economic benefits to a community. A number of these facilities are presently operating in New York and many more are on the horizon.

Wind power projects can be large or small. For example, a single household-size turbine can provide energy to a single home or farm. While much larger “Wind Farms” can consist of multiple turbines ranging in heights of upwards of two hundred feet and are designed to produce energy for sale in power markets. Because Wind Farms generally require larger amounts of land, they are more prevalent in rural areas. Project developers will commonly look to secure an option to lease from the owner(s) of the real property before proceeding with the proposed project.

A landowner approached by a developer with a proposal to lease part of the landowner’s rural property needs to be cognizant of a number of issues before entering into such an agreement. Questions should include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Does entering into a lease or option to lease trigger a default in the landowner’s mortgage?
  • How much land is being leased? Will the landowner still have use of the unleased land for agricultural purposes? Can the amount of leased acreage be reduced?
  • Does executing a lease or option to lease affect the ability to transfer the subject property in the future? How many times and for how long may the lease be renewed?
  • Upon the termination or discontinuance of a lease, is there a satisfactory decommission plan to provide for the removal of any equipment and restoration of land?

The Municipality has the responsibility for regulating the existence and operation of wind power facilities..

  • First, it must be determined whether the Zoning Code permits wind power projects. Many municipalities have no Zoning Code or have a Code which does not address such projects. In either case, municipalities should be pro-active and adopt local laws to address the issue before it arises.
  • Adopting a local law with appropriate land use controls will assist the municipality in addressing environmental and safety concerns that are commonly raised with wind farm projects. These include location, compatibility with other permitted uses, aesthetics, noise, height and setback requirements.
  • Upon receipt of an application to develop a wind power project, the local municipality must complete an in-depth evaluation of the environmental impact of the proposal as part of its review process under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). The review process typically takes several months and requires input from numerous local and federal agencies. SEQRA mandates that every potential environmental issue of a proposed project be considered, evaluated and its effect mitigated as necessary, before a project proceeds any further.

By being pro-active, municipalities can ensure that the development of wind energy power is done in a manner which balances all of the competing interests that will ultimately benefit the community. We can help you work through these issues. To discuss this further with Dan Bryson, please call him at 585-324-5714.