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Town, wind company spar over property-value rules

Human impacts, News, Wind turbines Add comments

A new but long-simmering front has opened in the push-and-pull struggle between wind companies advocating the status quo and communities uncertain about how to deal with reports they hear from elsewhere that suggest industrial-scale wind farms have unintended consequences, including chronic noise impacts and reduced property values.

This may not be the first time it’s bubbled to the surface, but it’s the first one I’ve noticed: the Hammond, NY Town Council is considering a ordinance that would require wind farm developers to compensate property owners who see drops in their land values because of the presence of wind turbines. The proposal also requires the company to buy out any property owner who objects to living near a turbine. Iberdrola Renewables says these provisions in the rules “would eliminate any possibility” for a planned wind project in town. While large studies of property values have found no clear correlation between distance and price, they may not be as definitive as the industry would like to believe — there have also been widespread reports of unsellable homes and some fairly detailed reports from real estate professionals suggesting that home values can be reduced in close proximity to wind farms. In Ontario, a wind company bought several homes after neighbors complained about the noise.

“We feel the draft…is unworkable as it stands now,” said an Iberdrola spokesman.  Ibedrola senior counsel Mark Epstein wrote a letter to the board, stressing that property values are not threatened and so the proposed rules are unneccessary, and expressing surprise they would be adopted without Ibedrola “having the opportunity to discuss … fully documented evidence.”

While rural councils are often brought on board by energy company experts with strong opinions about the validity of the way things are done elsewhere, initial comments reported in the Watertown Daily Times are not promising for the company’s view: Town Supervisor Ronald W. Bertram said he’s in favor of it: “Personally, I believe it’s vital in protecting the citizens of Hammond.” Given the evidence Iberdrola Renewables has presented to the town showing property values aren’t affected, Mr. Bertram said “I don’t understand” the company’s objections.  Wind committee chairman Ronald R. Papke concurred, saying “If there aren’t any negative effects to property values, then they are no worse for wear if this agreement is included.”

Ibedrola points out the uncertainty that the proposal would create: “The idea that a landowner could force the company to purchase their property renders the economics of development in Hammond completely unpredictable and unworkable,” Mr. Epstein wrote.

I suspect that this is the first salvo in what is likely to be another ongoing battle of the wills between companies who feel that such regulatory provisions are unnecessary and communities intent on assuring that their residents are not unduly affected by wind farms.  I don’t know enough about wind farm financing to know whether the cost of having to buy a few homes would add significantly to the overall cost of a project (especially if they can presumably be resold at a similar price, or at a reasonable reduced-for-quick-sale price). What is clear to me is that these fears are certainly rampant in rural communities, thanks to at least some documented bad experiences in other towns, and if the companies wish to have a clearer path toward developing new projects, they might be well served by developing a system by which they can accommodate such concerns, rather than dismissing them out of hand.

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