Their idea — power-generating wind farms — may sound far-fetched. Wayne County, after all, lacks the high slopes of the Bristol Hills and the sea breezes of Long Island Sound, where similar projects have been proposed.
But local proponents say the steep, narrow drumlins form perfect wind tunnels, and one wind energy company recently decided Wayne County was worth a visit.
Wind farm proposals often bring controversy with them. Local billionaire and former gubernatorial candidate Tom Golisano, who believes towering wind turbines would spoil Bristol Hills’ scenery, formed a group called Save Upstate New York to fight their construction. In Yates County, the Town of Italy put a moratorium on wind farm construction after some residents objected to a proposal to build them.
In northwestern Wayne County, signs decrying wind farms dot some lawns. But in Arcadia and Lyons, discussions about wind farms have, so far, gone on quietly; and the buzz has piqued the interest of some businesspeople and government officials.
“I think it would be good for our community,” said Arcadia Supervisor Joe DeSanto, who plans to start seriously investigating wind power after the holidays. “We have people that wouldn’t mind having the wind farms in their area.”
DeSanto said he’s already found one farmer who owns part of a drumlin and is interested in having wind turbines on his property
“The wind is in the air,” quipped Mark DeCracker, president of the Lyons Chamber of Commerce, who invited a representative from a wind energy company to town in October.
DeCracker and others say wind power could save county residents substantial money, but they can’t cite a dollar amount until more research is done.
In DeCracker’s scenario, several towns would form a wind-power authority, akin to a sewer or water authority. Locally generated power could be used here or sold to energy companies, lowering residents’ utility bills.
Even if such forecasts prove realistic and objections to the turbines’ appearance aren’t overwhelming, local wind-farm backers would still face major obstacles.
Margaret Churchill, director of the county’s Industrial Development Agency, said state law would make it virtually impossible to form the authority DeCracker suggested. And before plans for wind farms could get beyond the drawing board, long-term studies would be needed to see if there is enough wind to make them profitable.
Arcadia and Lyons may simply be too far from the Lake Ontario shoreline, where the wind is strongest, for large-scale wind farms.
Local backers haven’t done such studies yet, but they believe in their idea and the benefits they say it could bring to Wayne County.
Wind industry Web sites, such as the one maintained by the American Wind Energy Association at http://www.awea.org
, tout wind power as a way to revitalize sagging rural economies and as an alternative to increasingly expensive natural gas.
“We need alternative power,” DeSanto said. “What’s going to happen when we run out of oil, and how far away is that?”
DeSanto said he often tries to recruit new businesses to the area, only to be stymied by high energy costs.
“Energy costs are a very significant deterrent to doing business in New York state,” said Bob Bechtold, president of Harbec Plastics on Route 104 in Ontario. He said energy is more expensive here than in all but two other states.
Three years ago, Harbec installed a 130-foot wind turbine to defray some of those costs. Bechtold said it will pay for itself in seven or eight years.
DeCracker said that power generated by local wind farms could be sold wholesale to other area businesses and industrial parks, reducing their energy costs and making the area more attractive to businesses.
Another scenario described on the Wind Energy Association’s Web site says farmers cand rent land to a wind energy company; a 250-acre parcel can be rented for $14,000 a year with only two or three acres left unusable for agriculture.
The site also notes the potential benefits for school districts, which are being hit especially hard by rising energy costs.
“I don’t know whether [wind farms are] feasible or not,” said Lyons Superintendent Richard Amundson, who has talked with DeCracker. “I’m very interested in the idea … In this economic climate, you need to explore all your options and see if it’s some sort of viable solution to energy costs for our town, village and school district.”
But wind farm opponents say the turbines’ benefits are exaggerated and outweighed by their costs.
Save Upstate New York’s Web site, www.saveupstatenewyork.com
, lists decreased property values among the negatives. According to the site, the farms are expensive, only profitable because of tax breaks and often abandoned when tax breaks expire.
The site also claims that noise from wind turbines can cause neurological problems and that reflections from the blades can cause seizures and migraines.
But Golisano, who founded the group and owns a home on Canandaigua Lake, has been quoted in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle as saying that he doesn’t oppose all wind power – he just doesn’t want to see it in the Finger Lakes.
And Bechtold called the Web site “a rehashing of a bunch of misinformation.” He said visitors to Harbec are amazed at how quiet the turbine there is.
All of Save Upstate New York’s contentions can be proven false, he said, except one – some people find the turbines (sometimes 400 feet tall) ugly.
Still, DeCracker said, local reaction to the idea has, so far, been mostly positive. One person told DeCracker he didn’t want the scenery ruined, but members of the Chamber of Commerce are interested, and Sergei Bartishevich made wind power part of his unsuccessful campaign for Lyons town supervisor.
The next step could be forming a wind power committee, which would hopefully include representatives from the town or towns, the village and the school district, to obtain more information, DeCracker said.
“The idea with this one is to think outside the box,” he said. “If we can produce our electricity [cheaply], we might become the place where people want to come."