By Scott Malone
LOWVILLE, New York (Reuters) – From the front of the Flat Rock Inn, a restaurant and campground on a gravel road, owner Gordon Yancey can see more than 100 windmills spinning, part of the electricity-generating wind farm that surrounds his property in upstate New York.
The sight and sound of them burns Yancey, 47, who grew up on a nearby farm and considers Lowville, 300 miles northwest of New York City with a population of 3,500, too crowded to live in.
“The noise, it’s all a matter of opinion, who it is,” Yancey said. “People who come from the city, who come from noisy areas, they don’t think the noise is bad at all. Anybody that’s from out in the country, that’s used to it being quiet, thinks the noise that they give off is horrendous.”
To a city dweller’s ears, the whoosh of the windmills’ blades is comparable in volume to an idling car engine.
With 185 windmills up and 10 to go, the Maple Ridge Wind Farm is the largest in the northeastern United States. It raises strong emotions, pro and con, among local residents.
For some locals – particularly those who are paid at least $6,600 a year for windmills on their land – the farm is a welcome addition to the local economy, expected to pay about $8 million a year to the governments and school districts of nearby towns, including Lowville.
But others here and elsewhere in the northeast complain about the noise and the changes the 260-foot (79.25-meter) tall towers bring to the bucolic view.
Wind farms have caught the attention of electric utilities because they don’t burn fossil fuels. That means they release no carbon dioxide and the don’t face volatile fuel bills.
U.S. wind farms are currently capable of generating enough electricity for about 2.5 million American homes, according to trade group the American Wind Energy Association, which predicts that will rise by 50 percent by the end of next year.
To meet that goal, developers are building new facilities, such as Maple Ridge and another hotly opposed planned wind farm off Cape Cod, a popular Massachusetts vacation spot.
When Maple Ridge is complete, it will have 195 windmills, each one 260 feet high, stretched out in a 12-mile (19.31-km) band along a ridge between Lake Ontario and the Adirondack Mountains.
There are about 100 homes on the land the wind farm occupies, which Maple Ridge operations manager Scott Alexander acknowledged causes some tensions. “It presents challenges,” Alexander said. “We’ve got neighbors.”
As developers begin to build wind farms in more populous areas, they’re running into public opposition. In this part of New York State – dairy country in the foothills of the Adirondacks – the town of Malone this year passed a law banning commercial wind farms, though residents and farmers are allowed to install single units for their own use.
“You go south out of Malone, you’re looking at the Adirondack Mountains,” said Howard Maneely, town supervisor. “We don’t need something to cut off the aesthetics.”
OPEN ARMS OUT WEST
The largest wind farms in the United States are in the west, home to wide open farmlands. Many farmers have met the developments with open arms, enjoying the extra income that leasing space for the base of towers provides.
“This area is a large wheat producer and open agricultural area, so the wind farms have been put significantly outside of town,” said Hal Thomas, public works director for Walla Walla, Washington, near to the Stateline wind farm, the nation’s largest, which straddles the Washington-Oregon border in the Pacific Northwest. “There’s no impact on residential areas.”
Not all residents of Lowville oppose the farm. Town Supervisor Arleigh Rice said it has provided a boost to the local economy and said residents will adjust to it.
“We’ve been isolated here for so long that any progress is a problem for some,” Rice said.
Robert Siemienowicz, 72, a lifetime area resident who has four turbines on farmland he owns – but does not live on – outside town also viewed the wind farm as a positive.
“We have to look out for people besides ourselves,” said Siemienowicz, who can also see the windmills from his house in Lowville. “I was always taught that you’re supposed to leave the woodpile a little bigger than you found it.”
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