How we look forward to those too-few days of relaxation when we forget our work-a-day cares in some distant locale, perhaps even overseas, maybe Europe.
So why did Martha Frey, on a vacation in England with hubby Andy, have Yogi Berra’s deja-vu-all-over-again feeling?
Well, she WAS sitting in a hearing room. And, up front, experts were debating the merits of wind power.
But instead of Holy Family Monastery’s golden onion domes, they were discussing a wind farm in the context of Alnwick Castle’s turrets.
Frey, whose efforts as Otsego 2000’s executive director convinced the state Public Service Commission to scale back the 68-turbine Jordanville Wind Project to 49 towers, was touring the vicinity around Alnwick – its castle is Hogwarts Castle in the Harry Potter movies – when she picked up a copy of the Northumberland Gazette, the local paper.
Screaming headlines brought her back with a jolt to the issues and debates she’d left behind.
One of Great Britain’s leading wind-energy developers – npower renewables – was proposing an 18-turbine farm at Middlemoor, and the community was in an uproar.
A three-week “inquiry” was on at Alnwick’s town hall. Martha couldn’t resist sticking her head in to see what it was like.
The proceedings were somewhat free-wheeling compared to the more formal public hearings – one person talking at a time, with no response from the public officials – that she had experienced in the Warren Town Hall in Jordanville or the Owen D. Young auditorium in Van Hornesville.
In response to community concerns, the British secretary of state had appointed an “inspector” to convene the inquiry. The topic being hotly debated the day Frey visited was npower claims – unfounded and overstated, the public claimed – of the amount of power that would be produced.
As the public discovered in Cherry Valley and the Town of Stark, npower’s power-production projections were based on the wind blowing 100 percent of the time; there as here, the wind actually blows less than 30 percent of the time, slashing the estimates.
On one side, the company experts held forth; on the other, experts interested in protecting, yes, the viewsheds around Alnwick Castle. The inspector jumped in from time to time with pointed questions.
Whereas turbine foe Denise Como had her Starksville barn torched during her campaign for Stark Town Board, in Alnwick it’s otherwise.
“I asked, ‘Where at the property owners?’” said Martha. “They said, ‘They don’t want to come here; they’re afraid of being attacked.’”
The opponents ranged from Alnwick Gardens, a contemporary landscape being developed by the Duchess of Northumberland under the patronage of the Prince of Wales, to Britain’s National Trust, to the Chillingham Wild Cattle Association, whose herds are the sole survivors of cows and bulls that freely ranged England in olden times.
“There’s a real love of place,” said Frey, “a real sense of place, a real sense of stewardship.”
The issues, in addition to ones familiar here, included a national-security twist – Would the towers interfere with radar? – and economic development – Would turbines popping up along the horizon stall the region’s burgeoning movie-making industry?
The newspaper covered the proceedings breathlessly, extensively and up to the minute, with updates in its morning and afternoon editions throughout the course of the inquiry. Check out www.northumberlandgazette.co.uk
Monday, Nov. 26, Martha Frey was back in her office in Pioneer Alley, awaiting a judge’s opinion on an Article 78 action brought against the Jordanville Wind Project, and seeing if the PSC will reopen its hearing on the project, as requested by supporters.
Next vacation? Somewhere, anywhere, perhaps, where the wind doesn’t blow.
30 November 2007
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