Advocates say wind turbines create “clean energy,” heating hundreds of thousands of homes that then don’t need to use fossil fuels for heat and light.
Opponents say wind turbines are obtrusive nuisances, ruining neighborhoods and marring scenery, and that building them in pristine areas creates the same the negative impacts any major construction project would.
Both those advocates and opponents would call themselves environmentalists.
Differences over windpower is splitting the environmental movement, not just around Otesgo Lake but throughout New York State, where Gov. George Pataki’s administration put generous tax credits in place, seeking to provide 20 percent of the state’s energy needs from renewable sources by 2020.
In this context, the Natural Resources Defense Council – its board members include such prominent environmentalists as Robert Redford and Laurance Rockefeller – has invited representatives of a range state environmental groups to New York City “in the next couple of weeks,” said Ashok Gupta, director of the NRDC’s Air and Energy Programs.
The goal, he said, is to develop a unified position that fulfills the needs of both factions.
“Even people opposing certain wind projects,” Gupta said, “aren’t opposed to wind.”
His comments exemplified the positive face the NRDC is seeking to put on a seeming what seemed like a win-win proposition that’s become increasingly controversial at several sites around the state. In all, 50 wind projects have been proposed in New York State, 3,200 turbines in all.
“I wouldn’t say any are particularly controversial – or not controversial,” said Jenny Powers, the NRDC spokesperson.
News reports suggest otherwise, showing environmentalists pitted against environmentalists from Johnsburg, where 10 turbines are planned near the Adirondack Park, to a project on Wolfe Island in the St. Lawrence River, which has divided the community of Cape Vincent. The towns of Ellenburg and Clinton, near Plattsburgh, are being sued by concerned citizens determine to halt windmill proposals.
The Long Island Power Authority, concerned about the uproar caused by a proposed 177-turbine wind farm in Nantucket Sound, off Cape Cod, scaled back its plans to 33 smaller turbines, but even that has met opposition.
That caused Republican gubernatorial candidate John Faso to tell Newsday the need for renewable energy and siting concerns must be balanced. The Democrat, Elliot Spitzer, has yet to raise concerns about wind power.
A report in the technology section of the New York Times stated, as long ago as 2003, that “the new generation of wind turbines are bigger, a fact provoking controversy almost everywhere utilities have proposed to put them up.”
As of Wednesday, Aug. 30, details about the prospective meeting were few.
Gupta and Powers said they weren’t sure when or where the meeting would be, or who would be invited. Gupta thought the participants would be below the level of the NRDC’s president, Frances Beinecke, and her equivalents in the other organizations.
They said Katherine “Kit” Powers, an attorney who is the Northeast regional director of the NRDC’s Energy Project, is the point person, but she declined to talk about her plans, hanging up the phone.
Martha Frey, executive director of Otsego 2000, which is concerned about the impacts the Jordanville project will have on the famous views in the Glimmerglass National Historic District, said she had not been contacted by the NRDC concerning any prospective meeting.
The NRDC is a $60 million operation with a staff of 300 and offices in New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco and a 35-year record of environmental activism.
Locally, the division in the environmental community was brought into focus this summer in a series of e-mails between Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, an environmental organization in Poughkeepsie, and environmental activist and author Robert H. Boyle, a former Clearwater member now living in the Town of Springfield near Community Energy’s proposed 75-turbine Jordanville Wind Project.
Responding to an e-mail from Brian Hugick, a science teacher at Owen D. Young High School, Van Hornesville, Clearwater’s Education Director Manna Jo Green e-mailed her membership, urging them to send e-mails supporting the wind project. She was unaware that Hugick family members stand to benefit financially from hosting a windmill.
That prompted Boyle, who co-wrote “Dead Heat: The Race Against the Greenhouse Effect,” with Michael Oppenheimer, to demand the Clearwater board of director repudiated Green’s action.
In his reply, Gregg Swanzey, Clearwater’s executive director, declined to do so, asking Boyle instead: “Can we be more proactive in identifying viable wind sites and be united in our support for their development?”
By Jim Kevlin
1 September 2006
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