The Steel Winds turbine project in Lackawanna may be at the edge of the water, but it could be just the initial wave of windmills in the area.
Construction has already started on 67 windmills in the Wyoming County Town of Eagle, and there are at least a dozen wind projects in various stages of development across the region that could bring several hundred more to Western New York’s landscape.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said Bill Nowak, the executive director of Green Gold and a member of the Buffalo Wind Action Group, both of which are pushing wind energy.
“Every time I drive past Steel Winds, it’s exciting to look up and see it. It’s nice to see this happening.”
The wind projects that are in development have gone through extensive – and frequently contentious – town planning processes regarding everything from safety to aesthetics.
Residents in some communities have popped up to oppose windmills. Their concerns range from fears that blades will fall to endangering birds; from the “flicker effect” of blade shadows to noise and effects on property values.
Opponents have charged that the industry couldn’t survive without government subsidies, yet there seems to be a land-grab mentality in some areas, with companies seeking wind options on properties.
Wind energy has been looming as a major factor in redefining the region’s rural landscape since the first modern turbines were erected on a hill in the Wyoming County Town of Wethersfield in 2000.
Now, despite opposition, the big windmills are becoming a reality. In Wyoming County, in particular, it could be possible within the next decade to look from most of the major hills to the next ones and see wind turbines.
The High Sheldon wind farm is tied up in a court case but has already received all of its approvals if that is resolved. Only the host agreement with the town government would need to be approved.
The Dairy Hills project in the Covington-Perry area is deep into the approval process, and the Noble project in Wethersfield is starting the approval process. In Allegany County’s Centerville and Rushford, an application has just been filed for a 67-turbine project.
And the GenWy project, on the Genesee-Wyoming county border, could be the biggest of them all with more than 100 turbines projected in a 250- megawatt project. It’s in the beginning stages of development by UPC, the company that’s a partner in Steel Winds in Lackawanna.
Meanwhile, other projects around Western New York are popping up on the list that is used for groups that want to sell their energy onto the state’s power grids.
The Town of Brant, while it hasn’t made the grid queue, is investigating the possibility of building its own turbines instead of seeing outside developers creating projects.
Brant officials would like to see their town experience the same thing that happened in Eagle – reduction or elimination of town taxes.
In Eagle, the town has eliminated its taxes for 2007, thanks to a “good faith” payment of $643,000 from developer Noble Environmental Power. Supervisor Joseph Kushner said no taxes are expected to be levied in the town, for highway or general funds, for the next 20 years, thanks to the wind project.
Kushner said the project has been relatively uncontroversial in his town.
In other places, like Sheldon, the atmosphere surrounding windmills has been less tranquil, with pro-wind and antiwind signs sometimes popping up on neighboring lawns.
Wind projects have been dealt defeats in places like Erie County’s Sardinia and Chautauqua County’s Westfield-Ripley areas, where wind developers gave up the battle in the face of fierce local opposition, although there is a new wind project in preliminary development in the Westfield-Ripley area.
Sue Sliwinski has been a longtime critic of wind turbines and led the fight against them in Sardinia. She said she doesn’t think the people in Eagle know what they’ve gotten into, citing noise and shadow flicker as perhaps the biggest concerns for residents.
“I can see them from my town. The steel-pointed blades glinting in the sun are part of what was once a pastoral view,” she said. “But the problem that I see is living with them, not looking at them.
“The real shocker is going to be when they all get turned on and start to generate the atmospheric pulse and the noise and the things that they do. That’s what’s going to change the environment entirely.”
Robert Boldt is familiar with all of the arguments against wind turbines. But seven turbines have gone up on his farmland in the Town of Eagle, and he says he’s not too worried.
“I believe in clean energy,” he said. “I hear people who are against them . . . I’ve got to see them in operation before I can make a judgment on that.”
He’s already on his way to finding out what the results will be.
By Elmer Ploetz
15 September 2007
Construction crews install new turbines at Noble Environmental Power’s wind farm in the Town of Eagle in Wyoming County. –Sam Kolich/Buffalo News
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