By Lenn Thompson, Publisher and Editor
I hope that we can all agree that alternative energy sources are a good thing -- and that they are a large part of our future. Things like solar and wind power can, and will, reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. And they are sustainable. The wind will always be there. So will the sun. We hope so anyway. So these are renewable, persistent sources of energy.
Not surprisingly Shinn Estate Vineyards has already started to use these alternative sources, putting solar panels on top of their barrel storage building. Owners David Page and Barbara Shinn are among the winery owners most committed to sustainability of all kinds on their farm.
While they remain on the grid, solar cells power their tasting room and the bed and breakfast on the property. In fact, the cells produced $260-worth of energy more than the inn and tasting room used last month.
But David and Barbara want to take it a step further. They want to harness the almost-constant North Fork winds to power their winery. And, with both state and Federal agencies offering incentives for investing in wind power, it seems like a great time to do so.
The State of New York has recently passed legislation, with the sponsorship of local State Assemblyman Marc Alessi, that requires the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) to net meter and rebate wind energy projects. Page told me in an email recently that this legislation alone will provide over 50% of the funding for their proposed turbine project.
On the Federal side, the Federal Government, through the USDA, has provided grant opportunities for alternative energy projects on agricultural land. This program is the first of its kid since 1985 and, according to David, will provide 25% of the funding for their wind system.
There is also a 30% tax credit on alternative energy projects like the one Barbara and David would like to undertake.
So, not only can Shinn Estate fund this project somewhat easily, but they will also put $100,000 into the local economy. Seems like a win-win situation right? Not so fast, my friends.
According to David "The problem arises when local government says 'not in my back yard' like they have done here in the Town of Southold, forcing us to go through a long, costly and cumbersome variance process instead of implementing reasonable town code."
The State Agriculture and Markets Commission recommends that turbines be set back 1 1/2 times the height of the tower, which would be 120 feet at Shinn Estate. But, the current Town of Southold code requires that they be set back 300 feet from property lines, which would require David and Barabara to rip out a chunk of established vines. These wines would obviously no longer produce the fruit that leads to the wines that they sell. Plus, they'd have to be replanted elsewhere on the property (with a three-year lag before the new vines produce usable fruit.) So, based on the current, the turbine simply can't happen.
Shinn Estate has been working with local government to create viable alternative energy code and to get a variance for their proposed project. "Town Code should promote the use of alternative energy strategies, not discourage them," said Page.
I asked David for an update earlier this week and while it sounds like things will eventually work out, it's getting expensive.
After paying $150 for a building permit to construct a CO2-free wind
turbine, Shinn Estate was
dissaproved and charged $50 for the dissaproval. Then they had to spend
hundreds of dollars to have a survey prepared for a variance
application. After submitting the variance application to the Zoning Board of Appeals (at a cost of another $400), they were told and told that their variance application would not come up for review
until late August.
David summed it all up by telling me that "The wheels of our local bureaucracy are square."
Not surprisingly, Town of Southold Supervisor Scott Russell sees it a bit differently, telling me in an email "Mr. Page has no real issue here. He appplied for a building permit around March 30 and was issued a denial on April 8 because the code requires that the wind turbine must be set back 300 feet from any property boundry improved with a residence. Unfortunately, his hearing before the ZBA is not scheduled until the August meeting but, the workload at the ZBA is such that any hearing of any kind is generally not heard until a few months after the building permit is denied. It is a good law and a good process."
From the sounds of it, Russell doesn't see the current code or process as a problem, and probably doesn't think that this post is worth writing.
"Mr. Page is someone who simply does not want to wait his turn or wait on line...the timetable for everyone is the same. The real problem here is that Mr .Page does not like to follow a process of any kind and does not really like to wait for anything. He has an unrealistic expectation of entitlement that is simply not consistent with life," he said, adding "I have full faith and confidence that that board will make the right decision here and grant them the turbine application."
Russell admits that the code "in most cases is not perfect" and that the timetable for variance approvals can be frustrating, but he'd like David to be a bit more patient and let the process play out.
"We are just not able to extend to him the special treatment that he seems to think he is entitled to. Only a few years ago, the town code did not even allow for wind turbines anywhere. Now, it is taking him only a few month to get his presumably approved," Russel said.
Page has asked Russell for an earlier hearing, but for now, the folks at Shinn Estate Vineyards are left waiting, watching the wind go by every day.