A little over a year ago our family was approached by Global Winds Harvest, a company planning to build windmills in the towns of Prattsburgh and Italy. The representative said that Global Winds Harvest wanted to put one or more windmills on property we own on Route 53, and they would be willing to pay us $3000 per windmill per year for the use of our land. The windmills would serve as a clean source of energy to make electricity.
It sounded great to us. We could make money on a cute little windmill that would sit in a corner of an unused field, and at the same time we could call ourselves good environmentalists. While we were mulling over the first offer, another company called Ecogen came along and offered us the same deal. While it still sounded good, we began to think that maybe we ought to know more about the potential impact of the windmills.
Doing the research has been a little unsettling because this project is a lot more extensive than we’d thought. The impact on our property and on our town will be enormous. We have learned that the “cute little windmills” will be 300 feet tall, with the blades having a radius of 110 feet, making the total height over 400 feet. This is as tall as some of the tallest buildings in Rochester, and there are going to be over a hundred built. Because the windmills are so tall, the FAA has indicated that they will probably need the maximum amount of lighting, which includes flashing and steady strobe lights. Citizens all over the two towns will see and hear the windmills, whether they have them on their own property or not. Whereas in other places, windmill farms have been built in open fields, far from places where people live and play, in Prattsburgh they will be in the woods behind our homes.
People who favor windmills as a clean source of energy have told us that we should be willing to live with light pollution. They also have told us that we should be willing to put up with the steady humming noise, interference with television reception, the dead birds, and the clear cutting required to build 35 to 50 foot wide access roads. The company representatives have told us that we shouldn’t be concerned about interference with the water table. It “probably” will be all right. And when we mention the drop in property values that will inevitably happen to homes that are in sight and sound of the windmills, we are told that there are studies that show this is not a problem. I’m not sure how anyone can say that a noisy 400 foot high windmill with flashing lights on the property next door will not be an impediment when selling a country home, but perhaps that’s an indication of how gullible the windmill companies think we are.
But aside from our quality of life concerns about strobe lights blocking the night sky, windmill noise being ever present and the very real suspicion that our country homes will be worth less now that the country is more like the city, there are safety issues, and also the feeling that the people who are signing up are not getting the whole story about what the presence of windmills will mean to the future of their land.
According to the “Handbook for Permitting of Wind Facilities” prepared by the National Wind Coordinating Committee” there are potential concerns about “blade throw” and “falling ice.” The Handbook states that it is possible for a piece of the blade to break off and be thrown up to 1500 feet. The windmill companies are planning to erect the towers 1000 feet from homes and as close as 160 feet from property lines. This means that people’s backyards will not only be polluted by light and noise, but will be threatened by flying pieces of broken blades, especially during ice storms. The windmill advocates claim that blade throw doesn’t happen that often, but people also said the Titanic would never sink.
We’ve been told that there are tax advantages for the two towns. However, it is not clear just how much of the taxes paid by the windmill companies to the county and the state will come back to our town of Prattsburgh. No one can tell us who will pay to repair roads that will inevitably be ripped apart by equipment that includes cranes capable of lifting 150 tons. In addition to this, we learned at a meeting in Prattsburgh that home owners who sign contracts will need to take out their own insurance, because no matter what waivers they sign, they can still be sued if there is injury or property damage caused by a windmill on their land. When one considers that those who sign contracts will also have to pay taxes on the money they receive from the windmill companies (putting some farmers in a higher tax bracket and possibly disqualifying them from receiving government subsidies), the $3000 a year per windmill no longer seems like such a great deal.
The two representatives, as well as the Town Boards, have been down playing many of our concerns, and the windmill representatives have given us conflicting information. It is important to remember that money is what is fueling the windmill project. The bottom line is that Ecogen and Global Winds are proposing this project because they want to make a lot of money. This is the first windmill project for Ecogen, a Buffalo based real estate development company. I believe their last project was a shopping mall.
It is uncomfortable to find myself against a project that touts itself as being environmentally friendly, but I keep thinking that these windmills are not going to make a significant change in the energy situation and they are going to change the nature of country towns. Many of us are already convinced that it is necessary to come up with alternative forms of energy to decrease our dependence on coal and foreign oil, but what most of us don’t want to face is that we need to make serious changes in how we live and what we consume, if we want to help the environment.
Solar energy is quiet and not invasive, but its use will force businesses and individuals to re-examine our use of energy. Commercial wind towers will not encourage businesses and private citizens to cut back on electricity and will never provide us with all the electricity we need unless there’s one on every block. The irony is that wind towers will help escalate our demands for electricity. They will interfere with our shrunken wildlife habitat and contribute to the loss of the last few areas in the Northeast that are free from light and noise pollution.