On a trip to Sidney last week I noticed some new lawn signs had sprouted up at key intersections along the way. These weren’t the usual signs for politicians running for office or a closeout sale at a retailer. The newest signs are the international “NO” style; the type with a big red slash over the thing which is banned. Once I passed the second of these signs I was able to discern what the banned thing was under the red slash; wind turbines.
Let’s reminisce about the red slash over electric-tower-signs which sprang up in the mid-2000s. The protest that time was the New York Regional Interconnect (NYRI) project. The idea then was to erect towers for a 1200 megawatt power line covering over 110 miles from Marcy, New York to New Windsor, New York. It was hard to find anyone in favor of this power line.
Up until last week, our most recent red slash signs dotting the landscape were against fracking for natural gas. However, unlike the earlier defeated NYRI project, the fracking issue brought about a great deal of debate and divisiveness. Both the opponents and the proponents of fracking were quite vocal and they added to the roadside reading with their respective signs in either red slash or green colored signs encouraging “clean natural gas energy” as the savior to the plight of the rural farmer.
If the commotion surrounding natural gas fracking is any indicator, here’s what we can expect from the Town of Guilford wind turbine project; bitter feuds between neighbors, new faces running for town office as single-issue candidates, over-flow crowds at raucous town board meetings, some attempts at local ordinances limiting heights of man-made structures and weights of vehicles on town roads. And, don’t forget the cottage industry of making lawn signs for and against wind turbines.
An interesting twist this time is the environmentalists and the clean energy folks are usually on the same side of any given topic. However, the turbine issue has the supporters of clean energy – those who were against fracking – preparing to oppose clean energy wind turbines. In reality, the opposition people aren’t against wind-generated energy, what they don’t like - in true NIMBY fashion - is the location; the bucolic hills of Guilford.
To be fair, we aren’t talking about the wind turbines like the ones we see to our north in Madison County. Those wind towers gently turning in the towns of Fenner and Madison are approximately 200 feet tall. The proposed towers for Guilford are reportedly a lofty 600 feet in height.
To put the height of these turbines into perspective, the tallest building in upstate New York is the 44 story Corning Tower in downtown Albany which tops out at 589 feet. Any single one of the proposed Guilford windmills will be the tallest structure in New York this side of Manhattan. Closer to home in Chenango County a tree taller than 100 feet in our local woods is a rarity, with most of our forests averaging 50 - 60 feet to the treetops.
It was almost twenty years ago when the people of Madison County were divided over their wind farms. Now, nearly everyone has grown accustomed to seeing the enormous blades across the Madison County horizon. Once they were erected and put online, the people’s lives north of us haven’t been turned upside down by the wind turbine’s presence. In fact, local governments have become comfortable receiving annual payments, which help keep an individual’s tax payments low.
Certainly, there are questions and concerns about the Guilford wind farm project. Hopefully, someone associated with the project will answer the many questions surrounding the scope of something this monumental. And, conversely, those opposing should state their concerns and have their questions answered. We can only hope this will happen without too much shouting.
Here are some of the questions I’ve heard murmured around town; why do the turbines have to be so tall? How was this site selected? What are some of the dangers? Where does the electrical power go and how does it get there? Do the land owner’s taxes go up for having multi-million dollar structures built on their property? What happens to the turbines if they don’t work as expected or the company goes out of business? If there aren’t property taxes, how much is the payment in lieu of taxes? Who gets the PILOT money? Who can explain to me in layman’s terms Article 10 of the NYS Public Service Law?
Thinking back to the emotions of the fracking debates, we learned many downtrodden Southern Tier farmers would have likely become millionaires if the natural gas began flowing. This leads to one more question; how many people will oppose wind turbines only because of their jealousy they don’t own any land or enough land in the proposed area?
This project will likely become reality for a couple of reasons; metropolitan New York City needs energy which will soon be doubtful because nuclear power plants are scheduled to go off-line, and the other reason is the state has invested $1.5 billion in wind energy and the Governor wants wind and solar electric powering New York State at 40% by 2030. In the end, no matter what the locals wish to happen, the decision to approve or deny wind turbines, just like fracking, has probably already been made at the State of New York level.