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January 10, 2013

 

Wind turbine impact on radio project uncertain

County, TCI meet to examine possibilities

WindBob Ellis/staff photographer
Steve Johnson, right, construction manager overseeing the county’s new emergency communication towers, and Jim Weich look on as the first tower goes up in November in a field off South Hill Road in Cortlandville. County officials are trying to determine how the project would be affected by wind turbines that have been proposed for the area.

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

Cortland County officials and representatives of United Kingdom-based TCI Renewables took steps Wednesday to better understand whether a proposed wind farm would impact the county’s $14 million communications upgrade.
TCI Operations Director Brett O’Connor and Project Manager Gareth McDonald listened to concerns from county Communication Advisory Board officials about the possibility of wind turbines interrupting radio signals.
TCI’s consultant, Comsearch, was represented through a conference call during the meeting and said repeatedly that it is not likely the turbines would interfere with the radio system. Comsearch officials said the radio system is built to withstand interference from things like highway traffic and other moving objects so it is unlikely the turbines would pose a greater problem.
But the county’s consultant, Federal Engineering, cautions that no models exist to accurately represent the interference caused by wind turbines.
TCI has proposed building 44 wind turbines on land in Homer, Solon, Cortlandville and Truxton by 2016. The time frame for completion has been pushed back from the initial hope for a 2014 or 2015 construction date because of a contentious environmental review process. The county has many questions about possible environmental impacts associated with the project.
The biggest concern is that the proposed wind turbines could interrupt radio signals, resulting in lack of communication on the upgraded radio system the county expects to be online by April.
The county wants these questions answered and wants TCI to offer mitigation measures, before it passes the draft Environmental Impact Statement on to the public for review.
TCI is proceeding with trying to get its document to the public, despite having lost standing on the state interconnection queue which would allow the project to ultimately connect to the power grid. A lengthy reapplication process might be necessary and the future of the project is unknown at this point.
McDonald said Wednesday that TCI will prepare more firm answers on mitigation efforts in coming weeks. The county’s consultant, Federal Engineering, would then give a recommendation about whether those mitigation measures would be sufficient and whether the proposed wind farm poses a significant risk to the radio system.
In an informal talk Wednesday at the Cortlandville Fire Training Center, officials hashed out questions such as what the exact distances between turbines and radio towers would have to be to ensure no interference.
The closest distance between one of the proposed wind turbines and a radio tower is 314 feet — but actually about 150 feet, when the span of a blade is taken into consideration. According to Comsearch, the safe distance should be about 100 feet, which would give the county leeway of about 50 feet.
But the project manager for Federal Engineering, David Muniz, said there are no good models that take into account the type of impact a large moving structure like a wind turbine, would have on the radio system.
Muniz said TCI’s mitigation proposals in the event of interference, such as preparing backup towers for the county to locate equipment on, would be viable but need to be refined. Each mitigation measure must be clearly documented and take into account the latest information provided by TCI, since the plans have evolved, he said.
Communications Advisory Board Chairman and Legislator Kevin Whitney (R-Cortlandville) wants TCI to commit to a performance bond that would cover the cost of any mitigation measure. Whitney wants to eliminate “finger pointing” in the event the radio system is put up in a few months and works perfectly and then communications break down after wind turbines are erected. He said committing TCI to a bond that would pay for fixing any interference problems could be one way of addressing that.
But Whitney is concerned that there is no way to accurately predict whether the turbines will impact the radio signals.
“Nobody has a model you can hang your hat on and say this model said this and it is guaranteed,” he said.
Failing that, Whitney said, the county would not know any problems exist until after the turbines are built.
“I’m afraid we’ll bring this system up and everything will work great and then we’ll bring the wind turbines in and ... all of a sudden there’s this perception the radio system is not working to the same level that it used to,” Whitney said.
The county Agriculture, Environment and Planning Committee this morning was set to discuss various deficiencies that county legislators still think exist in the draft environmental impact statement. The county might pass that on to the public for review in February if TCI addresses all the deficiencies.
Wednesday’s meeting was the first of its kind between TCI, Motorola and Federal Engineering. It is unclear if they will hold future meetings.

 

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