By Dan Shapley
Gannett News Service
The wind energy company that has proposed building wind turbines in rural Herkimer County is relying heavily on support from communities in the Lower Hudson Valley for funding.
Community Energy convinced many downstate towns, businesses and individuals to subsidize electricity produced from what would be its first wind farm in New York. The Jordanville Wind Project would have as many as 75 wind turbines on private land that would generate enough power for as many as 60,000 homes.
People paying extra for wind power are supplying some of the capital for the project, which has stirred up controversy reaching all the way to the Hudson Valley.
In 2003 and 2004, the company sold, at a premium, the 30 megawatts of energy produced by 20 wind turbines standing on farms in the Madison County town of Fenner. That wind farm is owned by the Italian energy company, Enel. Community Energy’s promise to local buyers at the time was that their money would go toward the building of new wind turbines.
To that end, the new wind farm is funded “in part” by the Hudson Valley’s energy purchases, company spokesman Paul Copleman said.
“Community Energy’s model has always linked our renewable energy sales to the development of new wind farms,” he said.
The Pennsylvania-based Community Energy was purchased in May by Iberdrola, Spain’s largest energy company. The purchase won’t change Community Energy’s strategy, Copleman said, but it will give the company access to more capital as it aims to build wind farms across the country.
In recent years, it has built facilities in Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but the Herkimer County wind farm would be the company’s largest.
Leases on farmland where wind turbines are built would help keep farmers afloat, while producing energy without air pollution. But there is concern about noise and the alteration of scenery, particularly pastoral and historic landscapes. Some also are concerned blasting and chemicals that may be used to suppress dust on access roads could taint water.
Officials in the towns of Stark and Warren are reviewing a draft environmental impact statement prepared by Community Energy. Hearings were held during the summer.
The Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, based in Poughkeepsie, purchases power marketed by Community Energy from the Fenner farm. Its policy is to support wind turbines, if sited as well as possible, even if they have some negative environmental impacts. To generate electricity without generating pollution that causes acid rain, lung illnesses and global warming is worth some compromise, Environmental Director Manna Jo Greene said.
“Historic resources and viewsheds are extremely important, but unless we’re willing to stop using electricity, we can’t keep generating it by unsafe nuclear power and unsafe fossil fuels,” Greene said.
Clearwater gave what Greene described as “conditional” support for the Jordanville Wind Project. Hundreds of members then wrote in support of it.
Clearwater learned of it from a member who knows one of the landowners that will be paid to rent turbine space, Greene said, adding Clearwater will study the environmental impacts more thoroughly.
Clearwater’s endorsement drew the ire of Robert Boyle, who lives near Cooperstown, and other opponents.
Boyle was a founding member of the Hudson River Fisherman’s Association, which became the environmental group Riverkeeper. He was a prominent voice in the successful fight to prevent the construction of a hydroelectric-pumped storage power plant on Storm King Mountain. That historic battle lasted decades and was waged largely because opponents didn’t want to see the view of the mountain diminished.
Boyle is vehemently opposed to the Jordanville proposal, and has called on Clearwater to “repudiate” an endorsement he said was based on weak research.
“This enormous project, seven miles long and 3.5-miles wide, about half the size of Manhattan Island, threatens to obliterate sensitive headwater streams and wetlands affecting both the Susquehanna and Mohawk Rivers, as well as degrading local groundwater supplies,” Boyle wrote to Clearwater, “to say nothing of other adverse impacts.”