CLINTON, N.Y. – Blades have begun to turn on 121 wind turbines here and in neighboring Ellenburg, a 35-minute drive northwest of Plattsburgh. Saturday, they turned with a soft whush, whush, whush.
“Whush, whush, whush, all day long, all night long – I moved here because it was so peaceful and quiet,” groused Allen Barcombe as he pointed to the nearest tower, jutting up 400 feet into the sky behind his house.
A mile away, Bill Linendoll, an unemployed logger, stepped outside his mobile home and looked up at a turbine looming on a hill just across the road. He shrugged.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “You don’t hear much. Don’t hear them inside the house at all.”
In these dueling opinions there’s a lesson for Vermonters arguing over the benefits and impacts of wind development: The debate doesn’t end when people can see and hear for themselves.
The New York turbines, in two projects developed by Noble Environmental Power, are the first of nearly 400 expected to go up in five towns on a windy plateau just south of the Canadian border.
When completed, the development about 90 minutes from Burlington will represent the largest concentration of wind turbines in the eastern United States.
In contrast, proposed projects in Vermont are tiny, involving 20 or 30 turbines at most.
The New York projects will have a combined capacity to generate 629 megawatts of electricity, though their average production will be about a third of that since the wind blows erratically.
But for the people of Clinton and Ellenburg, the effects are more direct and personal than the benefits of renewable energy: Property taxes are expected to decline 25 percent or more; the landscape of everyday life has been altered dramatically.
‘Aren’t they majestic?’
Many townspeople and the local governing boards enthusiastically welcomed the wind developers.
Sandy LaBarre, former highway superintendent of Ellenburg and a longtime resident, was one of the supporters. She works for Noble now, coordinating traffic and highway issues, but her enthusiasm for the turbines bubbles over with genuine feeling.
Her face lit up as she spotted turbines turning on a Saturday drive through town. “Aren’t they majestic?” she grinned. She thinks the new, low taxes in Ellenburg might attract so many new residents that the town might need to rewrite its zoning laws to better guide development.
The views of at least some critics have hardened.
Barcombe, for example, was an opponent of the project from the start. He turned down Noble’s offer to lease a small part of his 40 acres to place two towers. He had returned to the home of his youth on No. 5 Road in 1996 after working for many years as a power plant operator in Rochester, N.Y. He and his wife, Gail, built a home and a barn for Al’s horses.
He wanted nothing to do with big machines in his backyard. Construction of the wind farm only proved his worst fears of a mechanized landscape and new noises, he said.
“If I’d known what was coming, I never would have built up here,” he said.
Barcombe lives in among the densest concentration of the towers, though none can be located closer than 1,000 feet to a residence. Nine of the smooth, white metal towers taller than the Statue of Liberty punctuate the view from his backyard. Another 15 are spread across the fields in front of the house.
Each tower is topped by three 123-foot-long blades. Saturday, they turned lazily and quietly in a light breeze. What noise they made was slight enough to be drowned by a passing car, voices in conversation or the barking of a dog.
Inside, with the TV on
Barcombe and others said the noise increases when the wind picks up and the blades turn faster, or when the wind direction rotates the top of the tower so the blades face a home.
“There’s times I can hear them when I’m inside with the TV on,” said Cindy Recore, a house painter relaxing on her front porch down the road from the Barcombes. “It throws people off when the come up here on a day like this. They think, ‘These things don’t make a lot of noise.’ ”
That’s exactly what Dick Decosse thinks – the turbines don’t make enough noise to bother anybody. He operates Dick’s Country Store on Route 11, the commercial center of town.
Like Barcombe, Decosse has a view of nearby turbines from his bedroom window. Four of the towers stand on land he leased to Noble.
“You don’t really hear them,” he said. “I suppose if you get close enough or at a certain angle, you can hear them if you want to. The cooler in my store makes more noise than they do.”
“We haven’t had anything here for so many years. We just didn’t have the resources people were looking for,” he said of Clinton and its village, Churubusco. Wind is that resource, he said.
“From my view, the turbines will be an economic benefit, and will let us keep the rest of the town just as it is,” he said.
More wind development is on its way. This summer, Horizon Wind Energy expects to begin roadbuilding to install 89 more turbines in Clinton and 20 in Ellenburg.
By Candace Page
Free Press Staff Writer
7 May 2008