An outpouring of negative criticism against Airtricity’s plans to build 55 to 80 wind turbines in the towns of Gains and Albion emerged at an oppositional meeting Saturday evening at the Quality of Life hall.
A crowded room of residents listened to guest speaker Jerry Borkholder, a Hamlin resident serving on the Wind Tower Committee who has spent hours researching the 400-foot turbines, as he spoke of the negative impact they have had in communities around the world.
He called on residents of Orleans County to become informed and take action before it is too late.
“Your job is to make sense out of something that, on the surface, makes no sense. … If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Borkholder said. “Wind developers lie. They mislead. … They are very close lipped about what they are going to do.”
The biggest problem with wind turbines, he said, is that they do not work. Problems with intermittency, when the turbines shut down from too much or not enough wind, have yet to be ironed out. A “back up” natural gas powered generator is needed to restart them, thereby negating the claim that they are 100 percent green.
Additionally, the turbines reach peak capacity at night when the wind blows the most and the majority of homes aren’t using electricity.
They are most efficient off-shore, he said, where they operate at 90 percent efficiency and are miles away from people. It is a profitable investment for wind energy companies because the state now offers tax incentives.
New York officials aim to have 25 percent of the state’s energy needs met with green energy by 2013. Borkholder said the state is already the greenest in the nation at 18 percent. If the state is successful, utility costs, which are already among the most expensive in the country, could increase 10 fold, he said.
“Green energy costs more,” Borkholder said. “The only ones they make sense to are the ones who are making money. … The money they’re making is all yours and mine.”
Turbines could have a direct impact on the area’s wildlife, he said. The blade tips move at speeds of 120 to 180 miles per hour, killing birds and bats instantly, which could effect the mosquito population and the incidence of disease.
Those with turbines in their communities also complain of shadow flickering when the sun is directly behind the blades. The low frequency vibrations and whooshing sounds are constant and have been known to cause Vibroacoustical Syndrome, nausea, dizziness and sleeplessness, Borkholder said.
In Orleans County, Airtricity has already signed leases with landowners for 5,500 acres of property at the price of $6,000 to $7,000 per turbine, per year, said Albion resident Chris Appleton, an amount he considers ridiculous for turbines worth approximately $5.5 million.
The $1.6 billion company also built a 190-foot meteorological tower in northeast Gaines last January to study the wind strength there and may put up a second in Albion.
Borkholder said Airtricity proposes building 500 feet from the roads and 1,000 feet from residential homes. Germany, Spain, Canada and a number of other countries who have experience with turbines, 1 to 1.5 miles are deemed an adequate distance, he said.
“Can you imagine waking up in the morning, looking out at a 400-foot tower in your backyard?” Borkholder said.
Once built, the turbines will not bring free or reduced electricity, Borkholder said. If anything, they could decrease property values and cause utility costs to rise by up to 40 percent.
The turbines are often sold from one company to another because the American dollar is weak, making them attractive financially, he said. The community needs to ask what will happen to the turbines a few decades into the future, when they are in need of repair, when the blades break and land a few hundred feet away.
Borkholder said the final decision about whether or not to allow Airtricity to continue will be made by the town board, not a public vote. In Gaines and Albion, advisory committees have been appointed by the boards to research the turbines and make a recommendation.
Two of the five board members in Gaines have had to recuse, or disqualify themselves from voting because they have signed leases with Airtricity, leaving the decision in the hands of only three representatives.
“Our town board has gone out of their way to keep the information from the people. I assume your town board isn’t any different,” Borkholder said. “You have to be on your toes. … The more you know, the less desirable they are.”
The only real tool residents have in the fight against turbines is pressure. Borkholder said concerned residents should make their opinions known to their local leaders – by signing petitions, writing letters and attending board meetings.
Taking a stand against wind turbines worked in Stafford, NY, Gaines resident Jason Gotte said, and his hope is that it will work in Gaines and Albion. He encouraged residents to actively research the issue themselves, reminding them that they are far from powerless.
Troy Nesbitt, a member of the Hamlin Preservation Group, told residents to heed the warnings of those who are now unhappily living with wind turbines in their communities.
“You folks are not alone in this fight, it’s happening all over the world,” he said. “I know at times it seems overwhelming. You have to keep reminding yourself it’s worth the struggle.”
By Nicole Coleman
21 October 2007