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One farmer weighs pros and cons of wind turbines

Matt Martin/WSKG

Wind turbine company NextEra Energy is considering whether to build a $200 million wind energy project in the town of Catlin in Chemung County. The town board is finalizing the details of a new zoning law that will allow the project to move forward. So local farmers are weighing whether or not to allow the turbines on their property.

It’s a windy day as Dan Teed makes his way up the side of a gravel road. Tall, twirling turbines stand like sentinels on the crest of the hill.

Teed is on a mission. He’s at the Howard Wind Project in Steuben County. He wants to hear the noise from the spinning blades for himself.

“One person said that the tips of the wings are actually traveling at 125 miles an hour,” says Teed.

Dan stands under a single turbine in the middle of an empty field surrounded by a grove of trees. Shadows flicker on the grass with each pass of the blades.

Dan isn't sure what he thinks about the turbines.

"It’s a little scary that you got that much material in the air over you turning and rotating. And there’s no doubt from where they’re talking about putting it, any place on the farm you’ll be able to hear them,” says Teed.

NextEra Energy wants to place a turbine on Teed’s farm as part their proposed project in Catlin.  He wanted to see and hear one in-person before he signs any agreement with the company.

Last May, town officials passed a one-year moratorium on wind farm projects. They spent the past year working on regulations for any project that would be built.

And last month, they extended the moratorium until November. Charlie Tinker, Catlin’s head of planning, explains that creating the zoning ordinance is a delicate process.

“Right at this point in time we are still reviewing the ordinance that the planning board has presented to us,” says Tinker.

Before NextEra Energy can apply with the state to create the farm, Catlin has to have a zoning law in place. That’s what Tinker and the rest of the town board are working on now. For projects, like the one in Catlin, that produce more than 25 megawatts, the state can make any changes it deems necessary to the wind ordinance.

“The state has certain regulations that they have to abide by,” says Tinker.

Under Article X of the state's Public Service Law, the energy company can ask the state to change any parts of a local ordinance governing wind projects that they see as too burdensome or don’t match up to similar laws in other places.

The Catlin ordinance currently states that any turbine has to be 1,700 feet away from any structure. Other wind farm ordinances in the state have a 1,000 to 1,200 foot setback.

Tinker won’t comment on if he thought that part of their law would be changed.

“We’ll just have to wait until to go through Article X to see the response,” says Tinker.

Back on the hillside, Dan Teed discusses the noise with his daughter Sarah. The Teed’s farm isn’t far from Watkins Glen International raceway. And so Sarah isn’t very concerned about the noise from the turbines.

“Its not much different than hearing the race cars up on the track. The track is louder,” says Sarah.

Her father agrees.

“So this would be nothing different. It just might be a little bit more,” says Sarah.

Teed walks back down the hill still not sure if he’ll sign a lease with NextEra or not. He has at least a few more months to make up his mind.