WAYNE, N.J. – Hamburg Turnpike, a six-mile stretch dotted with strip malls and low-rise office buildings, does not seem like the place for innovation, and many people who live here seem just fine with that.
Robert Burke, who owns the Wayne Auto Spa, thinks otherwise. He has 58 solar panels lining his roof that help power the car wash and oil-changing stations. The furnace runs on recycled motor oil.
But it is his latest proposal that has rankled the residents of Wayne, a town of 54,000 in Passaic County: Mr. Burke is hoping to put a spinning 12-story wind turbine on Hamburg Turnpike.
“If there’s a place where this belongs, it belongs 1,000 feet from where people are living, walking and driving by,” Assemblyman Scott T. Rumana, a lifelong resident and former mayor, said in a telephone interview.
Mr. Burke, who will receive a $50,000 rebate from the State Board of Public Utilities’ clean energy program if the turbine is built, said his plan was in keeping with New Jersey’s environmental initiatives.
When Mr. Burke bought the car wash more than two years ago, he was already looking for opportunities to improve energy efficiency.
“As soon as I walked onto the property for the first time I saw the roof line and said: solar panels,” he recalled.
Six years ago, Mr. Burke installed 20 solar panels on his house in Morristown, about 20 miles west of Wayne, and traded in his Dodge Durango for a Honda Civic hybrid. He prides himself on having used fewer than 10 plastic bags last year.
As for the notion of a 120-foot-high wind turbine at his car wash, he said: “This is a genuine lifestyle decision. I should be consistent.”
For Kim Scott, owner of the Goddard School, a day care center next door, and for many other residents, there is nothing wrong with wind turbines if they are positioned in an open area.
But Ms. Scott said she was concerned that ice could form on the blades, then be hurled into the air. Then there’s the concept of wind turbine syndrome, in which some researchers say the low-frequency vibrations from the spinning turbine can cause headaches, dizziness and anxiety.
“It’s about the children,” Ms. Scott said, referring to a bundle of Internet printouts with material on the syndrome. “Are you willing to take a chance with children?”
Mr. Burke wants to build the turbine – with three 11-foot blades – in front of the car wash where a flagpole now stands. He said he hopes that it will produce 15 percent of the electricity at the auto spa, adding to power already generated by the solar panels. When the renewable energy runs out, the car wash taps into the electric company’s power grid.
“Everybody is for the environment,” Assemblyman Rumana said. “The fact is that there are other aspects of this wind turbine that are negative for the environment. It’s the right technology; wrong place.”
At a contentious planning board meeting this month, many of the nearly 100 people present were either wary or angry about the proposal.
A handful of questions bubbled up from the crowd. Are there studies on whether the spinning blades will distract passing drivers? What if the turbine falls into the road? Could the blades kill birds? How loud will it be?
Mr. Burke and his lawyer, Ken Sauter, conceded that the concerns were fair, but said they were unfounded and challenged the wording used by the planning board as it addressed potential noise pollution.
“Why don’t you have a noise expert?” a board member asked.
“Sound and noise are different,” Mr. Sauter replied.
“Noise has a common objectionable meaning.”
“O.K., do you have a sound expert?”
Debates over wind turbines are nothing new. On Cape Cod, battles over a proposed wind farm of 130 turbines on Nantucket Sound have dragged on for seven years. Supporters of the farm say the turbines are capable of producing three-fourths of the area’s energy needs, but critics fear an end to the area’s pristine ocean view.
Mr. Burke, calling Hamburg Turnpike “a spaghetti mess” of utilities, said: “If aesthetics can keep a wind turbine from this location, then you can’t build one anywhere in the country. We’re not putting these things off the coast of Cape Cod like the Cape Wind project, or sticking them out in Yosemite. It’s a car wash.”
Mr. Burke has his supporters, including Bill Brennan, 41, a law school student and former firefighter who ran unsuccessfully for the Township Council last year for the sole purpose of drawing more attention to the issue.
“I went to the car wash and I saw what they were doing there,” Mr. Brennan said. “I thought, ‘This is something that more people have got to be aware of.’ ”
Everyone can have a say once again when the planning board takes up the issue in May. It expects to hear from an independent expert testifying about the sounds from the turbine.
Mr. Burke says he is intent on getting his proposal approved, even if he needs to take the issue to court.
“Whenever this process ends,” he said, “there’s going to be a wind turbine at the car wash.”
By David Botti
22 February 2008
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding