CHERRY VALLEY—A developer’s proposal to construct 27 wind turbines on a blustery ridge in this rural New York town has spurred opposition from some residents, who worry that their historic landscape and quiet lifestyle will be irreversibly altered.
The proposed location for the Cherry Valley turbines, a hill called Cape Wykoff, is located on a 9,000-acre tract listed on the National Register of Historic Places that was part of an 18th-century land grant to John Lindesay, who established the settlement of Cherry Valley in 1783.
Located about 60 miles west of Albany, the small town of 1,266 people is perhaps best known as the site of the 1778 Cherry Valley Massacre. In one of the Revolutionary War’s most notorious events, Tories and Mohawk Indians killed 32 civilians and 16 American soldiers and burned almost the entire town.
“The Indians and George Washington marched on these hills, and here we will have concrete monsters put on them,” says Conrad Fink, a summer resident for 27 years. “Pollution is not just of the water and the air. There’s sight pollution and noise pollution as well.”
The futuristic-looking turbines will loom at least 200 feet tall and produce a steady woosh and hum with every turn of their 100-foot blades.
Massachusetts-based Global Winds Harvest, Inc., and its supporters say the wind farm will bolster Cherry Valley, providing both clean energy and a steady source of revenue. The company says it will pay property owners $3,000 a year for every turbine on their land, and the town and school district would get a payment, in lieu of taxes, of $2,500 a year per turbine for 15 years. At 1.5 megawatts per turbine, the project would generate 40.5 megawatts of electricity each year and cost roughly $30 million to build.
“We’ve got an energy source that’s 100 percent clean and totally renewable, and we’re never going to run out of it,” says Erich Bachmeyer, a Global Winds project manager. “We feel the benefits far outweigh having to look at wind turbines.”
New York state law gives wind- and solar-energy projects a 15-year tax exemption on improvements to the land they use. Municipalities and school districts can opt out and tax at full value, which the Cherry Valley-Springfield Central School District did in May.
Global Winds initially wanted to build 43 turbines on two ridges in Cherry Valley, but scaled back the proposal after realizing that few landowners on the second ridge were willing to lease their property.
Some locals feel Global hasn’t offered the town or property owners enough money to compensate for the wind farm’s considerable visual impact. Others are angry that the company quietly talked with town officials for more than a year before making its plans public. “They’ve had the option to be community-minded, and they haven’t, which increases suspicion,” said Lynn Marsh, a local property owner and founding member of Advocates for Cherry Valley, a citizens’ watchdog group that opposes the turbines.
More wind farms are being developed nationwide as consumers call for an alternative to pollution-producing fossil-fuel power plants. Last year, about 1,700 megawatts of wind-generated energy was produced in the United States—about a 60 percent increase from the previous year, says David Wooley of the American Wind Energy Association.
New York State has three wind farms and several more in development. The state government has spent about $7.6 million on wind projects since 1998, and that figure will likely increase to $20 million by 2005, according to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Experts estimate that wind could supply New York with 5,000 megawatts a year, about 10 percent of its energy consumption, but the state’s wind power now amounts to about 41.5 megawatts, only one percent of demand, says Tom Collins, state Energy Research and Development Authority spokesman.
New York’s existing wind farms were built almost entirely without opposition, and locals have learned to coexist with and even enjoy their giant, spinning neighbors. In Cherry Valley, most newcomers don’t want the quiet and beauty that drew them to the area to change. But natives who have witnessed the decline of the local dairy industry welcome a project that might bring new business, jobs, and revenue.
Edward Harvey, a longtime resident who has signed a land-lease agreement with Global, said altering the landscape is a small price for clean energy. “I like the principle of it,” he says. “They will change the view, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. They’re impressive.”
Some locals worry that the wind farm will hurt the area’s nascent cultural tourism. Cherry Valley serves as a gateway to many Western New York attractions, including historic Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Glimmerglass Opera.
The wind farm would be visible from U.S. Route 20, a historic roadway that bisects New York on its path from Massachusetts to Oregon. The part of Route 20 that stretches from Albany through Cherry Valley to Cazenovia was one of New York’s earliest roads—the first and third Great Western Turnpikes. The quiet two-lane road winds past hills dotted with dairy farms, roadside ice-cream stands, and dozens of antique stores. Proponents of the Cherry Valley wind farm say the turbines will increase tourist traffic by luring curious motorists.
Officials in the nearby town of Madison, which became the site of New York’s first wind farm in 2000, say the presence of seven giant windmills has been beneficial.
Bonnie Stone, who, with her husband, Carl, leased 120 acres of their Madison dairy farm to PG&E National Energy Group for 15 years, can see and hear the turbines from her front yard but says the noise doesn’t bother her. “They look like a piece of art,” says Stone, who, when she received a call from a concerned Cherry Valley resident, told him to come and see how good a neighbor a wind farm can be. “Get your doubters on a bus, and bring them out here to let them see for themselves. They’re beautiful.”
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