Orleans County’s skyline could look drastically different within the next few years if an international renewable energy company pursues construction of wind farms in the towns of Gaines and Albion.
A $1.6 billion company with wind energy facilities around the world, Airtricity has proposed building 55 to 80 wind turbines on land between the Erie Canal and Route 104 in Gaines and between routes 31 and 31A in Albion, said Gaines Town Supervisor Richard DeCarlo Sr.
Airtricity must conduct additional studies to determine if wind strength and other environmental conditions are conducive for a facility, but a decision should be made by the end of next year, said Joan Brown, Airtricity vice president of development in the Northeast. At that time, the permitting process will begin.
“There has to be sufficient wind to justify the investment,” Brown said. “There are different factors that go into whether or not we would get a permit. We have to do studies that could take years.”
Resembling hand-held fans in appearance, the 400-foot wind turbine towers generate electricity that is 100 percent environmental friendly, Brown said. Unlike the burning of fossil fuels, which emit dangerous amounts of carbon dioxide into the environment – the leading cause of global warming – wind power yields no emissions or by-products, significantly reducing the effects of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.
The towns’ concerns will be addressed throughout the permit process, Brown said. In addition to the impact the farms will have on the community, studies focus on minimizing visibility, noise and issues of flickering when the sun is rising and setting. A 190-foot meteorological tower was erected in northeast Gaines last January to monitor wind strength, and a second may be built in Albion.
The project comes at a time when New York state officials are pushing for alternative energy sources due to high costs of power. Airtricity has already built a 34.5 megawatt wind farm in central Munnsville and is looking to expand. The feasibility of building wind farms in Gaines and Albion will be compared to sites elsewhere in the state, Brown said.
Within Orleans County, the turbines could bring a temporary tax break and increased tourism and jobs. The Gaines wind energy advisory committee established two months ago isn’t convinced, however, said board member Marilyn Miller.
“Noise not only includes the actual turbines squeaking, but there’s also reportedly a low-level vibration that hones around the area,” Miller said.
The blades on the turbines extend an additional 100 feet beyond the tower itself, which could become a problem for migrating birds and Mercy Flight helicopters. Some reports say the “flicker effect” cannot be disguised by drapes, and in most cases, not a single watt of electricity goes to local residents, she said.
Additionally, the blades can reach speeds of 130 to 140 mph. Miller said if there is too much wind, or not enough wind, the turbines will power down and need to be restarted using electricity.
It has yet to be determined if the farms will decrease utility costs, Brown said. Each turbine will be distanced from each other so that they are capturing the most wind possible. They will then need to interconnect with a grid system, possibly the Bates Road substation in Shelby, so that the power generated can be mixed with other energy sources.
Construction of the turbines would take six to 12 months to complete, but that won’t be for another three years, if at all. Brown said the project is “still not a done deal” and that any number of factors could prevent Airtricity from proceeding.
“Who knows what could happen,” Brown said, whose company first began turbine conversations with the county two years ago. “There might be an area that is very windy but not constructable.”
The final decision about whether or not the turbines are built could eventually be in the hands of state officials if a new piece of legislation known as Article X eventually passes, Miller said. Municipalities across New York have been actively opposing the loss of local control.
“They have an energy board which will be deciding for each town whether or not they have energy facilities in them. It isn’t specific to wind energy,” Wind said. “It takes away town control.”
For more information on wind energy, visit www.awea.org, www.airtricity.com or www.stopillwind.org.
By Nicole Coleman
2 October 2007
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding