A wind farm near Syracuse, New York.

In January, we took a detailed look at Wisconsin’s new law creating uniform statewide standards for wind farm siting. The rules, assuming they survive a challenge from Gov. Scott Walker, would provide a common set of ground rules for wind developers, potentially avoiding messy fights at the local level.

A different approach to the same problem is taking shape in New York. Earlier this week, Columbia Law School released a draft ordinance (PDF) that, among other things, outlines specific setback rules for wind turbines. Rather than seeking a uniform state standard, the draft is intended to offer recommendations and provide a template for municipal governments to build their own policy around wind farms.

Columbia’s recommendations include a maximum turbine height of 500 feet, a setback distance of 1.5 times the tower height to residences of non-participating property owners, and no more than 45 decibels of audible noise.

That would effectively create a maximum setback of 1,500 feet, which is comparable to Wisconsin’s 1,250 feet.

Columbia reached their recommendations by studying similar ordinances around the state, and discovered the same patchwork of laws that create moving goalposts for wind developers in the Midwest.

The biggest difference, though, is that Columbia’s draft ordinance is only a recommendation, and whether it succeeds in creating uniform standards will depend entirely on whether it is adopted by local governments.

“Obviously,” Columbia’s Michael Gerrard told the Watertown Daily Times, “we don’t have the power to dictate anything to anyone.”

Photo by Wayne Surber via Creative Commons

Ken Paulman

Ken is the director of the Energy News Network at Fresh Energy and is a founding editor of both Midwest Energy News and Southeast Energy News. Prior to joining Fresh Energy, he was the managing editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio. He started his journalism career in 2002 as a copy editor for the Duluth News Tribune before spending five years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he worked as a copy editor, online producer, features editor and night city editor. A Nebraska native, Ken has a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree from the University of Oregon. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.