January 6, 2008

Windbearings, by Jennifer Delony

According to one Cohocton, N.Y., innkeeper, "there has been contention" between residents in support of and opposed to [Italy-based] UPC Wind's Cohocton Wind project. She is quick to note, however, that she is not for or against the wind farm, and she recognizes that we need renewable energy and progress happens [as Deng Xiaoping proclaims from billboards throughout China, "Development is the only rationale"]. This reasoned [i.e, following the industry's self-serving reasoning] resident of Cohocton adds that members of Cohocton's construction crew are staying at her inn, and they are "very nice." [Why wouldn't they be -- the problem is what they're constructing. Apparently, the industry believes its own slurs against nonpermanent residents.]

In New York state, this innkeeper's generosity of spirit toward progress [since it means a surge in her business] is not thoroughly pervasive. Wind power projects in New York have well-funded opposition, says Carol Murphy, executive director of the [very well funded, with 65 industry members annually paying up to $25,000 each] Alliance for Clean Energy New York [ACENY]. Ultimately, though, Murphy believes that these groups have not gained traction at the local government level [although they are up against the industry's generosity with bribes and a full-time PR machine, many communities have faced the industry down] and many of their members are not permanent New York residents [how dare they have an opinion or concern for the place!].

"It's people who are second-home owners and who, in some cases, may live there parttime, and they are retired," explains Murphy. "They tend to be a lot more affluent and don't want to look at a wind turbine on their pristine upstate New York property." [This complaint is of course a clear admission that wind turbines are indeed a blight. And it is an attempt to change the subject from the many complaints -- not just the view, but also noise and flicker, water pollution, lights at night, impacts on wildlife, the unreliability and thus minuscule benefit of wind, and more -- to dismissing all opponents because a few of them are "outsiders", which is not only cowardly and dishonest but absurd since the wind companies themselves are the true outside exploiters of the local community.]

Despite the opposition, Murphy remains confident. For every opposition group, she says, there is a group in support of wind power [though most are shams created by the developers]. She adds that one of New York's "premier" wind power support groups, Friends of Renewable Energy in Fenner [actually based in Jordanville, and created by developer Community Energy (which is owned by Scottish Energy which is owned by Iberdrola of Spain)], N.Y., is so proud of the region's wind power that the group is developing new strategies for reaching out to the public. The 30 MW Fenner wind project, which has been fully operational since 2001, is one of the oldest utility-scale wind power facilities in New York.

"The group is raising money for a renewable energy education center, not just about wind farms, but also about other forms of renewable energy because Fenner has become a tourist destination," says Murphy. [Actually, it appears that Murphy's group, the very well funded ACENY, is behind the "Fenner Renewable Energy Education Center" (FREEC), working through their PR agency, Trieste Associates.] "And when other town supervisors, planning boards and citizens want to find out what the impacts of wind might be on their communities, they go and talk to the folks at Fenner." [The importance of highlighting the Fenner facility instead of the many other sites that have more recently gone up is that its 20 1.5-MW Enron machines are fewer and much smaller than those currently being proposed and built, which are 400 feet or more in height, with rotor diameters up to 100 yards.]

With a spring commissioning planned for Cohocton Wind, it is hard not to acknowledge the benefits the project is bringing to the community - from the innkeeper's lodging profits to millions of dollars in payments to the town. Some residents, however, consider the process of listing the project's benefits a distraction from other impacts they perceive as untenable [if there were benefits besides these crumbs from a massive transfer of public money to private companies, there would be something to debate; as it is, these "benefits" are just bribes and do not represent long-term or reliable economic development; there are many ways, in fact, that such payments adversely affect the economic security of communities (e.g., state payments may be correspondingly reduced), and the burden of the giant machines, transmission corridors, heavy-duty roads, and substations -- especially when the tax benefits expire, some in 5 years, others in 10, and the company no longer feels so generous -- may be greater than the crumbs from the company can cover; in addition, the damage to farm fields can be devastating, but leasing landowners are bound by their contracts to keep quiet -- see "What Have I Done?" for the story of one regretful farmer]. Next month, NAW will examine the role that open and transparent communication with stakeholders will have in helping wind power developers understand and accommodate public perception as they continue record-making progress in 2008.

--North American Windpower, January 2008

[Thanks to a concerned wind industry associate for sharing this editorial with us.]

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights