OLEAN – Wind turbines are promoted as a green, Earth-friendly energy source but the huge windmills have opponents seeing red.
More than 40 people gathered at the Olean Public Library Monday for a wind energy discussion hosted by Concerned Citizens of Cattaraugus County, an environmental advocacy group.
Concerned Citizens invited Bradley E. Jones, a business consultant from Naples, N.Y., to the meeting to talk about wind power problems in the central Finger Lakes Region. Mr. Jones is part of a group fighting two wind farms near his home.
Small towns in Western New York and Pennsylvania have been besieged by offers from companies to build wind farms in their communities. Three projects are being considered or are under way in Cattaraugus County.
Mr. Jones said wind farms are financed by investment banks because federal and state wind energy subsidies and tax breaks guarantee the turbines will make money even if they don’t produce a lot of electricity. Utilities are required by law to buy electricity from wind farms. These wind farms make money because of government policies, not because they make economic or common sense, he said.
Mr. Jones said the promise of green, pollution-free energy from wind farms is also an illusion. He said the 400-foot wind-turbine towers kill up to 1,000 birds per tower per year, cause noise and sun flicker that harm human health, and actually waste energy because the wind farms need to be tied to the electrical grid to meet their own energy needs.
Electric motors turn the turbines so they always face into the wind. To do that they need the constant electricity provided by hydro power and coal-fired electric plants.
Mr. Jones said it also takes a typical wind farm with 60 turbines seven years to make up for the amount of fossil-fuel energy needed to build the wind farm in the first place. Mr. Jones is also concerned that federal energy policy allows wind farms to sell the “carbon credits” they earn for not burning fossil fuels to other industries such as coal-burning electric plants.
The policy makes money for the wind-farm operator while allowing the coal-burning plant to continue polluting because they can use the carbon credit to avoid plant improvements that protect the environment.
State Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, is a proponent of wind energy as part of an overall energy policy. She attended the meeting at the request of Concerned Citizens. She said she realizes wind energy can never replace traditional forms of electricity production but believes New York needs to diversify its sources of electricity production.
She said Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the Democratic-controlled state Assembly are in favor of more wind energy as is a majority of the Republican-controlled state Senate.
But Sen. Young said she is concerned that an energy bill called Article 10, backed by Gov. Spitzer, would take control for siting new wind farms out of the hands of local governments.
The bill, still being considered by the Senate and Assembly energy committees, would create a state siting commission that would approve the placement of wind farms. The siting commission’s power would supersede that of local town boards and planning boards.
The state has created similar siting commissions in the past to deal with controversial projects such as the low-level nuclear waste siting commission that toured sites in Allegany County in the 1990s.
Sen. Young said she’s only for wind farms if local communities want them. She fears that if it’s established, the siting commission would force communities to accept wind farms they don’t want.
“I do support wind energy but I think there are some problems with the Article 10,” she said.
Sen. Young urged those concerned about the Article 10 law to write to Gov. Spitzer. People can write to Gov. Spitzer by addressing their letter to Gov. Eliot Spitzer, State Capital, Executive Chamber, Albany, NY 12224.
In order to generate the peak amount of electricity, wind turbines need sustained winds of between 20 and 27 mph. But sometimes there is no wind. Because of that, wind turbines cannot replace traditional sources of electricity such as coal-fired steam turbines, Mr. Jones said. Denmark led the world in wind farm construction 20 years ago. But even at their peak, Danish wind farms only produced 20 percent of the country’s energy.
“We need a stable, reliable source of electricity,” Mr. Jones said. “We’re not going to turn ourselves into a Third World country and only do our laundry when the wind is blowing.”
Gary Abraham, an environmental attorney and member of Concerned Citizens, said in Europe, where wind turbines have been used for a generation, the demand for stable sources of electricity has meant that wind farms are only a component of an overall energy system.
“In Europe, where these have been used for years, they haven’t dispensed with a single coal-burning plant,” Mr. Abraham said.
Mr. Jones said Germany just decided to take energy subsidies away from wind farms and give the money to coal-mining companies.
Sen. Young said wind farming can provide some of New York’s energy, but the state needs to draft new policies to control the growth of wind farms while protecting the rights of citizens.
“In the Senate we have been trying to negotiate this Article 10 bill with the governor,” she said. “If you’re going to have wind farms, you have to apply some common sense.”
By John T. Eberth
14 August 2007