BLISS – Stanley Marsh didn’t answer immediately when asked whether the wind turbine in his backyard was noisy.
“You hear anything?” he asked. Birds chirped and an electrical buzz was coming from a streetlight that wouldn’t shut off, but noise from the turbine, perhaps 1,000 feet away, was undetectable.
The region’s newest wind farm, a collection of 67 turbines perched atop 265-foot-tall towers, officially opened Sunday. More are on the way.
Noble Environmental Power built the $260 million Noble Bliss Windpark in Wyoming County. By the end of the year, the company is scheduled to add another 84 towers in Eagle, the town where the hamlet of Bliss is located, and the adjacent town of Wethersfield.
Three more projects – Villenova in Chautauqua County, Farmersville in Cattaraugus County and Centerville in Allegany County – are in the development stage.
All told, there are 62 wind energy projects proposed statewide, according to the New York Independent System Operator, which monitors the state’s energy production.
Among the other projects in the development phase are an 18-tower expansion of the Steel Winds project in Lackawanna and Hamburg, and projects in Ontario, Genesee and Orleans counties.
“I’m excited to see it,” said Bill Nowak of the Wind Action Group, which has long championed the wind power potential in the region.
Wind turbines are becoming more visible, but they still have significant opposition, said Marion Trieste of GEOS Global, whose company promotes public education on wind power.
“We do have sites where the public is very supportive and embracing, and there’s a significant number of projects where that is not the case,” she said.
Nowak says change is difficult.
“Once it starts and people see the situation and experience them, it quiets down the discomfort some have [but] certainly not for everybody,” he said.
Since the beginning of April, when most of the turbines in Bliss began operation, a handful of complaints have been voiced, according to Eagle Town Supervisor Joseph Kushner.
“We’ve had three or four complaints about noise,” he said. “We had one person complain of shadows.”
That person, Town Board Member Jim Barber, said he saw shadows from the turbines for 20 to 25 minutes early in the morning when the blades first started turning, but that he hasn’t seen any for the past three or four days.
It’s a minor annoyance, he said, adding that Noble Environmental Group has promised to look into possible remedies.
Barber, who gets a small payment from Noble for an easement on his property that the company didn’t end up using, said there are noise issues with the turbines, but they are sporadic, depending on which way and how hard the wind is blowing.
“It’s kind of like the sound of a jet going overhead at 30,000 feet,” he said.
Marsh, a retired farmer, said he also has heard that sound at times, but that it isn’t a bother.
The company will begin taking noise readings shortly to see if they are within the decibel range permitted by the town, Noble spokeswoman Sherry Grugel said.
The company also has heard from a few residents “who called to say, ‘we don’t like the looks of them,’ ” Grugel said.
Marsh is one of 47 landowners in town with turbines on his property. He’s been told to expect about $6,000 to $7,000 per year for 20 years for each of the four turbines on his land.
But it’s not just the people with turbines on their land who are benefiting. People who signed up for the wind farm but whose property was not used also have received a payment.
And, because of the host agreement Noble negotiated with the county, every town property owner has had his or her town tax— which was $10.25 per $1,000 of value – forgiven. Given the payments anticipated in the future, that’s likely to be the case for the next 20 years.
The town budget of about $450,000 is roughly half of what the town received in payments as part of its host agreement, supervisor Kushner said.
“We also picked up a special one-time-only payment of $240,000,” he said. “So this year, we’ll be getting about $1.15 million.”
The town is setting aside some of the revenue for the future, “but when all is said and done, we’ll have about $350,000 to do what we please with,” Kushner said, adding the town is considering giving all residents paid trash pickup.
Concerns about declines in property value have proven unfounded, he said. In fact, people are moving in and demand for housing is solid.
“We were averaging one new home a year if we were lucky the last couple of years,” he said. “We’ve had 10, 11 homes built over the last two years. ”
The turbines may take some getting used to, said Brian Lester, 27, who purchased a home in Eagle less than two years ago.
Lester, who has no turbines on his land but who gets a small easement for transmission lines at the edge of his property, said they are a little noisier than he expected but “it hasn’t bothered me too much.”
By John F. Bonfatti
19 May 2008
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