A spokesperson for one of New York largest environmental reform organizations sang the praises of wind power before an audience of about 40 people at the Dormann Library Tuesday evening.
Jason K. Babbie of the New York Public Interest Research Group said the cost of wind-generated electricity has dropped enormously since the early 1980s, making it a viable alternative to electricity from fossil-fuel-driven plants.
At the same time, Babbie conceded, the issue of wind power remains controversial, with the impact on wildlife and property values requiring further study.
Babbie also urged members of the public involve themselves in the environmental review process that, under state law, must accompany any wind farm development.
Even as wind farms stir public opposition – a project proposed for the Town of Prattsburgh has been hit with a law suit – Babbie maintained wind power is an environmentally-friendly alternative to fossil fuel-generated electric power. Coal and natural gas-driven power plants continue to have negative environmental impacts, notably in the release of carbon dioxide, soot and mercury. The plants have also been blamed for acid rain, which has depleted marine life throughout the Adirondacks. Twenty-five percent of Adirondack lakes have no marine life due to the acidity of their waters, Babbie said.
Meanwhile, in spite of the steadily increasing cost of electricity, New York’s consumption of electricity continues to grow annually, Babbie warned.
Wind power development at the same time continues to improve in efficiency and in the mitigation of negative environmental impacts, he continued. Wind turbine design has reduced the level of noise and improved the efficiency of newer wind turbines. Babbie also said wind turbines’ impact on bird populations is diminishing, although he conceded several New York region bat species are at high risk from the spinning blades.
And the cost of wind power continues to drop. Once valued at 37 cents per kilowatt hour in 1982, wind power’s per-kilowatt-hour cost is projected to drop to 4 cents by 2020.
Babbie was joined by two local officials in answering audience members’ questions: James Grace of the Steuben County Cornell Cooperative Extension and Jennifer Fais of Southern Tier Central Regional Planning and Development Board. Fais indicated wind power companies’ interest in Steuben County is growing. “We’re trying to help communities get ready when they knock on your door,” she said.
The regulation of wind turbine site plans also remains largely a local matter, according to Grace. “It’s up to your elected officials,” he said.
Greg Heffner, director of the county Planning Department, added communities do not need zoning regulations to control the siting of wind turbines – many of which are 400 feet tall. Communities may insist on site plan reviews of “tall structures,” Heffner said.
Babbie noted economic development agencies may negotiate alternative property tax payments from wind companies, prompting one unidentified resident to complain the companies should be required to pay industrial property taxes.
James Sherron, executive director of the Steuben County Industrial Development Agency, said payments-in-lieu-of-taxes are a principal tool to attract wind farm companies to Steuben County.
“If we charged them the full tax, they couldn’t do it,” Sherron said.
By Rob Price – The Courier-Advocate
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