Town Board weighs expanding alternative energy codes

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | A proposal for a wind turbine on the Chase Bank property in Mattituck is currently before the town.
RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | A proposal for a wind turbine on the Chase Bank property in Mattituck is currently before the town.

With two alternative energy proposals to consider, Southold Town Board members agree it’s time to take another look at its code regarding the placement of solar panels and wind turbines in town.

Currently, the town has two separate regulations dictating the use and location of alternative energy structures.

Solar panel arrays are permitted only as a secondary use to an existing business or residence, while construction of wind turbines is limited to agricultural land only.

During their Tuesday work session, town planner Mark Terry asked board members if they would consider allowing solar panels as a prime  agricultural soils larger than 20 acres.

Reaction to that idea appeared mixed.

“The next think you’d know people stop farming and haves acres of solar panels,” board member Louisa Evans said.

Councilman Bill Ruland agreed. “It would certainly seem that electric isn’t an agricultural use, which may be counterproductive to preserving farmland,” he said.

In addition to urging the town to revise its code, Mr. Terry said LIPA was once again interested in using the Cutchogue landfill as a site for a photovoltaic solar power system.

Last year, the board discussed installing solar arrays at the landfill at the request of LIPA, which targeted the property for its open space and southern slope. The panels were a part of an incentive program that would feed power into the grid and save the town and taxpayers money on electric, according to LIPA. However, the town’s bid was passed up for larger projects elsewhere on Long Island.

The result of the conversation was to locate these large facilities on Light Industrial zoned property, Mr. Terry said.

In a separate presentation Tuesday morning, Ryan Gilchrist, a consultant with Urban Green Energy of New York City, requested that the town also reconsider its laws on wind turbines.

Two years ago, Urban Green Energy was hired by Chase Bank in Mattituck to install a 40-foot wind turbine in its rear parking lot.

While that project is still before the Planning Board, Mr. Gilchrist told members that new technology makes wind turbines more viable in all areas of town — not strictly farmland.

“Right now the code is pretty narrow,” he said.

During his 25-minute presentation, Mr. Gilchrist explained that his company’s redesigned turbines were roughly 30 feet shorter than traditional turbines, making them quieter and less hazardous to wildlife.

He compared the noise level to that of raindrops and rustling leaves.

But board members questioned the pitch.

“The rustle of leaves and the rain is on and off, a wind turbine is constant,” Ms. Evans said.

Members also voiced concern about aesthetics and quality of life issues, such as shadow flicker — the strobe effect created by blades rotating in the sunlight.

“The development of our technology and other new technology has addressed these concerns,” Mr. Gilchrist said.

Supervisor Scott Russell said it comes down to striking a balance between preserving farmland and moving forward with alternative energy developments.

“We can’t accommodate code change for a specific site,” he said. “This is the technology available. It is certainly worth exploring.”

Members agreed that finding a way to expand the use of wind and solar energy within the town is in line with the comprehensive plan and directed the code committee and the Planning Board to evaluate the laws before moving forward.

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