It’s quite clear that the most contentious local issue over the past year is the proposed development of wind power on many of the area’s scenic ridges and mountaintops.
No other topic in recent decades has pitted neighbor against neighbor and created so much heated debate about freedom and infringement.
And it’s an issue that’s not going to disappear any time soon.
We all favor the development of alternative energy sources so we can cut down on the use of oil without having to resort to nuclear energy. And, yes, if we had created a national mission to develop solar power after the energy crises of the 1970s we wouldn’t be having such discussions today. But we didn’t.
Solar and wind appear to be the cleanest and most energy-efficient energy sources. Solar power is very costly and we should have been spending as much developing it as we have been devoting to Iraq. But we didn’t.
It costs about $25,000 just to equip a house. Imagine the investment to make it a major national energy source. And then there’s the political commitment, which also has been lacking with the oil companies wielding so much control in government.
Huge solar panels, however, are not something we would have to worry about in this region, where we often go days at a time without seeing the clouds disappear.
What we have around here is wind. But the idealistic, pastoral vision we once might have had of Dutch boys playing along the dikes with wooden windmills churning in the background, or mountain ridges adorned with them for miles as if pickets in a giant fence, no longer exists.
That vision has been corrupted by the realities of what those large-turbine contraptions mean for the people who live _ or could live _ near them.
When you drive on state Route 12 on the Tug Hill Plateau, just the other side of Lowville, they suddenly appear on the ridge to your left. At first you think, that’s cool, some windmills. Miles farther down the road, as you pass the 98th one, you can actually feel why it’s the largest wind farm in New York state.
Then, you start to wonder what it’s like for all the homes and farmhouses nearby, not to mention flying creatures. A recent study found that about 450 bats and birds were killed by the windmills over a five-month period.
Much of the land was bought or leased from farmers who were struggling with their small operations or had already called it quits. They needed the money, but many of them now have regrets.
Several wind-energy firms have proposed projects in this region over the past few years. A couple have been in the town of Cherry Valley; one in Jordanville; and a few more in Delaware County, where the mountainous terrain attracted developers.
The trouble was that hardly a local town was equipped with regulations to govern windmill development. Whether friendly to development or not, planners and town boards began scrambling to come up with ordinances to restrict, welcome or ban the wind turbines.
Until the proposals arrived, almost as if on a storm sheer, most rural Delaware County residents likely favored alternative energy. But Tug Hill is one thing; the farm down the road is another.
Suddenly, those big windmills were industrial wind turbines and people started talking about swooshes, shadows and debris, not to mention the general corruption of the landscape.
Let’s face it, how many of us would want a huge windmill within sight of our homesteads? Right. Just the people willing to cash in on the sale or lease. For the rest, an industrial turbine might be better than a power plant, but we live out here in these rural hills to stay away from such environmental eyesores.
But there’s more to this debate than a bunch of NIMBYs crying over their scenery. Wind farms should be built _ they are a viable alternative energy source _ but where there are no people living. It’s not like all the windy mountaintops in the country have been populated.
Unfortunately, the battle has begun and you see town residents who may be united on any other issue thrust apart by their stances on windmills. Police have been summoned to board meetings, and criminal mischief has been reported by or against one side or another.
The result is that it looks like the day will come when you’ll see big windmills in some Delaware County towns. But, first, there’ll be a lot more fighting.
Meanwhile, our nation and its people gulp down energy, as our leaders stumble toward an alternative energy solution _ or lack thereof.
Cary Brunswick is managing editor of The Daily Star and can be reached at 432-2047 ext. 217 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
9 June 2007
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