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Hilltowns Archives The Altamont Enterprise, December 25, 2008
Setting an example for the nation?
By Zach Simeone
RENSSELAERVILLE In the wake of failed attempts by Shell WindEnergy to line the crest of the Helderbergs with mammoth wind turbines, the town passed a wind-power moratorium, and has begun assembling a wind-power committee.
At its Dec. 15 meeting, the town board appointed Rensselaerville resident Noel Abbott as the head of a team that will help the town draft wind-power regulations before its moratorium expires in May.
As head of the committee, Abbott is responsible for seeking out candidates for the wind-power team and recommending them to the town board. Abbott does not have the power to appoint those candidates to the committee, however.
“The town board has to appoint them,” said Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg. “[Abbott] is the driver, so he’ll get the committee moving and coming up with solutions. The hope is that we can put up something we would own, something that would be a win for the town.”
The six-month moratorium was approved at a Nov. 13 meeting, and filed with the New York Department of State on Dec. 3.
Abbott has a background as an organizational development consultant. While working at United Research in the 1970s and ’80s, he did strategic planning, team building, conflict resolution, and executive coaching for Fortune 500 companies, he said.
“I did solo projects, and I also worked as a member of a team,” Abbott said this week. United Research has since merged with The Mac Group to form Gemini Consulting.
Abbott also teaches yoga at the studio on his property.
Passionate about wind
In November, Abbott submitted a proposal to the town board, in which he volunteered to chair a wind-power committee, should the board choose to create one.
“I’m passionate about wind power, but I avoid the term ‘alternative energy,’” Abbott told The Enterprise. “The term ‘alternative energy’ was coined by the oil and gas companies to basically marginalize what really should be mainstream energy, and has been suppressed for some time. There’s a structure there that’s almost invisible,” he said.
His passion for renewable energy, Abbott said, has to do with freedom and civilization. “Right now, there is a handful of global organizations that control energy production and distribution, he said. “So, as we move toward renewable energy, and owning and controlling it locally, it is really the ultimate democratic tool.”
Meetings, he said, will be open to all who wish to attend.
The committee, he said, will consider both large-scale commercial development, and smaller-scale residential turbines, and help the board to determine what types of installations should be allowed, what types should be encouraged, and what types should be discouraged, Abbott said.
In his proposal, he said that, if the town does end up working with large-scale developers, it should “ensure that it is under conditions of maximum benefit to individual landowners, as well as to all citizens through income from the power generation.”
He also urges the town to familiarize itself with the different models for wind-power systems.
“My intention is for our committee to make recommendations to the town board on zoning laws, policies, and procedures,” said Abbott. “We’ll be interfacing with the work of the planning board, the zoning board of appeals, and with the code enforcement officer, and seeking input from these bodies.”
He also plans to keep an eye on the drafting of regulations in the surrounding towns, to not only aid his committee in its work, but to keep these towns informed on the work being done in Rensselaerville.
“One of the things I’ll be doing is making sure that the surrounding town supervisors know of this work, as it will be applicable not only to anyone who wants to use it locally, but also anyone who wants to use it nationwide,” he said.
The purpose, though, is not to advocate for wind power, but to provide guidelines that can be voted upon by the town board related to the regulations, Abbott said.
“Even though I’m personally in favor of wind as one of the most cost-effective renewable energy technologies, I’m hoping our committee will balance that with property rights,” Abbott said.
“For example, if someone has a perfect wind site, I’m absolutely not in favor of the town trying to force the property owner to install wind, just because it would be a great benefit. Also, there are places in town where large commercial turbines could be installed and have little to no impact on the town. There are people who are against wind because they think it’s loud, or destroys the viewshed, but there may be portions of town where that isn’t true.”
Abbott believes, however, that renewable energy, if implemented correctly can cause a significant economic boom. Excess power produced by the wind power, for example, could be sold. “This is important for the town in a time of such economic challenge,” he said. “It would be a stabilizing effect throughout the community. I hope people will come to understand the connection between renewable energy and the strength of the economy.”
Abbot plans on making sure that the wind-power meetings are short and to the point, he said. “I’ve been an organization-development consultant, and have trained people in effective meetings,” he said. “I’m not a fan of senseless long meetings, which is why I wanted to chair this thing. The output is going to be something like a one-page document of main points discussed, and that will be a format for all of our meetings trim and usable. I also hope that people will be able to go online and see these things.”
Abbot hasn’t recommended any other committee members to the town board yet, but he hopes to have completed the wind-power lineup by the middle of January, he said.
In the meantime, Abbott will continue to teach yoga, while working towards establishing his website, World Energy Voices.
“We’re going to be an Internet-based, global resource for renewable energy and humanitarian solutions,” he said of World Energy Voices. His hope is that the website, www.worldenergyvoices.com, will be up and running by the time President-elect Barack Obama takes office.
In other business at its Dec. 15 meeting, the town board:
Heard from Town Attorney Joseph Catalano that an engineering report from American Tower said the once-questionable cell tower near Pond Hill Road is structurally sound, but there are maintenance issues. “When the power went out here, the light on top of the tower went out as well, and we thought there was some sort of backup system for that,” Catalano told The Enterprise. “But there is an automatic backup system to provide a warning. What happens is, they contact the [Federal Aviation Administration] and let them know the light is out, and the FAA has some internal procedure to alert aircraft. I got word from [American Tower] that they were looking into that,” he said;
Discussed the cleanliness of the town hall’s water supply. “Your well and septic have to be so many feet apart, and ours aren’t, but the water tests say it’s OK,” said Town Clerk Kathleen Hallenbeck. According to Kerri Battle, spokeswoman for Albany County, the well must be 50 feet from the septic tank, and 100 feet from the leach field. If the well is downhill from the septic tank, however, it has to be 200 feet away, Battle said.
A report from St. Peter’s Bender Laboratory said the town hall’s water was “of a satisfactory sanitary quality when sampled from the contaminants examined.” Members of the building department were unavailable for comment on the distance between the town hall’s septic tank and its well;
After complaints from the public concerning an unsatisfactory 2009 budget, discussed the fact that, while the budget has been passed, it is possible to amend a budget. No action was taken;
Unanimously approved its fourth law for 2008 on partial tax exemption on real property for senior citizens and persons with disabilities on limited income. The percentage of assessed property value changes based on a sliding scale linked to income. People 65 and over, with annual incomes of $28,000 or less, get a 50-pecent tax exemption, and at the other end of the scale, those making between $35,500 and $36,400 get a 5-percent tax exemption. Starting on July 1, 2009, the above values increase by $1,000;
Unanimously approved its fifth law for 2008 on partial tax exemption on real property for Cold War veterans;
Scheduled its final 2008 meeting for Dec. 30 at 7 p.m. At this meeting, the board will pay bills for 2008, hold interviews for a certified public accountant, and discuss the upcoming census; and
Scheduled its organizational meeting for Jan. 1, 2009 at 11 a.m.