Monday, June 22, 2009

Statement on Wind Power Generation in the Adirondack Park

By John Davis, Adirondack land conservationist:

The development of alternatives to traditional forms of electric generation is important to help minimize any future damage that the Adirondack Park may suffer from acid rain and climate change. However, there remain many concerns about negative impacts from some of those alternatives. In the case of wind generation, those concerns include both ecological effects and visual intrusion, particularly in a park setting. Energy conservation and efficiency, and reuse and recycling, are the surest ways to abate pollution problems.

The increased demand for wind energy development in New York State and within the Adirondack Park has been spurred, in part, by federal tax credits along with former Governor Pataki’s call for a retail renewable resource portfolio standard (RPS). The RPS calls for 24 percent of the State’s power to come from renewable sources by 2013.

We are adamantly opposed to the development of any towers on the Forest Preserve, including wind power turbines. Any proposal for towers on the Forest Preserve would be a violation of Article XIV of the State Constitution, the “Forever Wild” clause. We are also concerned with visual impacts of projects proposed on private lands that can be seen from Forest Preserve lands.

Although there are locations throughout the North Country where wind is sufficient to accommodate wind power generation, commercial wind facilities are also inappropriate on private lands within the Adirondack Park. Given the land use policies in the Adirondack Park Agency Act, the Adirondack Park Agency’s Policy on Agency Review of Proposals for New Telecommunications Towers and other Tall Structures in the Adirondack Park (APA’s Towers Policy), Adirondack Park Agency Rules and Regulations, the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, the purposes for which the Park was created, and the Park’s critical importance to regional wildlife habitat integrity and connectivity, commercial wind tower facilities should not be permitted within the Blue Line.

We have learned from working on the re-licensing of hydro-electric facilities throughout the Park, that energy projects have significant adverse impacts on the environment. Ostensibly clean power, in the form of hydro-electric dams, has drastically altered the ecosystems of many of the Park’s main waterways and surrounding lands. Water bypasses, dams, turbines, and fluctuating impoundments have all harmed fish, amphibians, waterfowl and riverine habitat. An Act of Congress in the early 1990’s recognized the negative effects hydro-facilities have on the environment by requiring that natural resource and recreational impacts be considered and mitigated as much as possible when hydro-facilities are re-licensed. While some improvements have been made, once these facilities are in place, it is difficult to remove them.

Vistas and the Park’s other aesthetic resources should remain open and free from development and visual intrusion. This is essential to maintaining the wild character of the Park that generations of visitors and residents alike have cherished. Where development does occur, the visual impacts should be minimized and mitigated so as to make the development blend in with the surrounding landscape. Commercial wind towers, which can rise to over 400 feet and are equipped with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) required blinking red lights, would have negative visual impacts and would not be easily integrated into their surroundings. It is unlikely that commercial wind facilities will be able to fulfill the mandate to be “substantially invisible” found in the APA’s Towers Policy.

We are even more concerned about the effect wind towers could have on wildlife, particularly resident and neotropical migratory bird species and bat species. The Adirondack Park contains the largest remaining habitat for some state and federally listed bird species, and many high altitude areas designated as Bird Conservation Areas could be optimal for wind generation. Construction of wind turbines in these areas would significantly and adversely affect bird habitat. Additional damage to the habitat and biota may also result from the construction of the infrastructure associated with wind towers, including roads and power lines and necessary clearing of the footprint to assemble the structures on site. Each tower needs at least one acre cleared for turbine and blade assembly. In addition, 300 tons or more of concrete are needed to build each foundation.

We are also concerned about the possible ringing of the Park by wind power facilities. Scores of giant wind turbines already pierce the sky above the eastern Tughill Plateau, and hundreds more are proposed for the St. Lawrence Valley just north of the Park. Thorough ecological studies and strict siting criteria must precede new development. Siting criteria should include those appended below.

We expect that individuals will pursue residential wind power generation in the Adirondack Park. These projects will be on a much smaller scale than a commercial wind tower. Thus, they will generally have less dramatic and intrusive impacts on the Park’s ecological, scenic and aesthetic resources. We anticipate fewer problems associated with these mini-tower projects, as long as they are kept out of ecologically critical or sensitive sites and meet the “substantial invisibility” criteria of the APA’s Towers Policy.

The Adirondack Park has already sacrificed some of its natural resources for clean power, through the many hydro-electric dams that impede its rivers. The Park’s natural hydrology has been vastly altered by these facilities. The Park has been producing renewable energy for generations. Instead of once again disrupting the Park’s environment for the installation of “new” energy sources, commercial wind power generation should be pursued in areas that can sustain its development without harming fragile ecosystems or the long-protected wild character of the Adirondack Park. While we would not advocate for any particular location, we recognize that the agricultural lands of New York’s great valleys have been identified as candidates for such development.

Inappropriate areas for commercial wind facilities:
• Designated Parks
• Roadless areas
• Original ecosystems, such as old-growth forests
• Wetlands
• Lands or waters with sensitive or imperiled species
• Wildlife corridors

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, environment, environmentalism, animal rights