“Ashfield has the most privately owned, commercially viable land in Franklin County, so we’re going to be the epicenter of the wind ‘gold rush.’” – Ashfield resident Harry Dodson
ASHFIELD – Initially an advocate for the potential benefits of electricity generated by wind power, with further study Mount Washington resident Eleanor Tillinghast underwent a sea change. Speaking to an assembly of some 90 area residents on July 8 at Ashfield Town Hall, she explained her conversion.
“I started off very much in favor of wind power . . . ” she said, noting that she first became skeptical while attending an informational meeting in the Berkshires outlining a wind power proposal. “Listening to questions and answers, my environmental research antenna got activated. The more research on wind power I did, the less enamored I became.”
Tillinghast is president of the board of Green Berkshires, a nonprofit group formed in 2004 and intent upon preserving the heritage and landscape of Berkshire County. Board members include botanist and author Pam Weatherbee and George Darey, chairman of the state Fisheries and Wildlife board.
Green Berkshires’ interests range from the cleanup of the Housatonic River and the proposed development of Greylock Glen to three ongoing proposals for wind farms in that county.
Tillinghast’s opposition to wind turbines in populated areas is based upon studies ranging from reports of ill health effects in households neighboring the devices to “alarming” numbers of birds and bats killed by the blades. In opening remarks, she said that the wind power industry advertises that turbines will improve air quality.
“I want to disabuse you of this; this is something that’s been parroted by the wind industry,” she said.
In her view, the energy wind turbines bring to the overall electrical power structure, or grid, is marginal.
According to Tillinghast, because wind energy is unreliable as a resource and can fade with little notice, coal-fired or nuclear plants remain idling, ready to resume full power to create electricity.
“Wind turbines in Ashfield are not going to be addressing Massachusetts’ power needs to any great degree,” she said.
According to her math, if the town were to install 20 turbines, the devices would meet less than 16/100th of one percent of the state’s electrical needs.
Tillinghast noted that Germany, twice the size of New England, has 21,000 wind turbines producing seven percent of the country’s electricity. She cited a Der Spiegel editorial that described the ubiquitous turbines as “a highly subsidized destruction of the countryside.”
According to Tillinghast, the state has 34 tax subsidies for wind turbines and therein is where substantial profit can be found. She cited a quote from Ed Feo, a wind energy attorney for Millbank, Tweed, Hadley and McCloy, who in 2004 estimated that “two-thirds of the value of wind projects is in the tax benefits to the owners.”
Tillinghast said that these tax benefits, or credits, can be sold to other companies as financial assets and, according to her, there are big players in the tax credit business, among them Shell Oil and British Petroleum. According to Tillinghast, NextEra (formerly Florida Power & Light), a major installer of wind turbines, paid no federal taxes for two years in a row due to tax credits.
Tillinghast cautioned that, in her estimation, real estate values of dwellings located near wind farms can plummet as much as 20 percent.
Some fledgling studies suggest that homeowners living within earshot of the rhythmic thumping associated with turbines are exposed to a health risk.
Tillinghast said that symptoms range from sleeplessness and headaches to vertigo. the Berkshire county resident provided a letter from Wendy Todd, who lives proximate to Mars Hill, a wind turbine facility in Maine.
She wrote a five-page letter to the residents of Freedom, Maine, who were considering the installation of wind turbines. Although originally in favor of the devices, Todd wrote that the “burdensome” noise could be heard up to a mile away.
“All property owners 3,200 feet or less from the site have heard the turbines inside their homes,” she wrote. “Those who are closest have been woken up by them and have noise levels inside their homes that make concentrating on anything quite difficult.” (Freedom voted in favor of constructing the turbines.) Opponents to wind turbines also remark on a “strobe effect,” fluttering light created when the sun is low in the sky.
If the operation of turbines is potentially unhealthy to human beings living nearby, as Tillinghast says, it can be deadly to birds and bats. In a six-month 2009 study of 86 turbines located on Wolfe Island, Canada, it was found that 600 birds and 1,270 bats had been killed by the blades. In a 2004 study of 44 turbines at the Mountaineer Wind Energy Center in West Virginia, at least 1,364 bats were killed in a six-week period.
Another facet to Tillinghast’s argument is “forest fragmentation.” The facilities require some two acres for each turbine, mandating wide roads to accommodate the initial transport of the blades and tower. Because the installations are often constructed on ridgelines, she said, a permanent swath across the existing forest is created.
As an adjunct to the lecture, Ashfield landscape architect Harry Dodson displayed computer simulations of the potential appearance of from five to 10 turbines on the Ashfield skyline.
At present, the town has been approached by two wind energy developers interested in the altitudes of Ridge Hill, less than a mile from Main Street, and the Leue family property, in the neighborhood of Sanderson Academy, off Rte. 112.
According to Dodson’s computer simulations of a 10-turbine site at Ridge Hill with a blade height of 425 feet, the devices would be partially visible from the Town Common, fully visible at the Edgehill Golf Course and, according to Dodson’s calculations, at least two devices would be within 1,000 feet of Ashfield Lake. In simulations of the Leue property, the turbines would be seen from Sanderson Academy and from the neighborhood of the Goshen Stove Works.
Dodson, a co-founder of the Franklin Land Trust, also noted that the facilities display red strobe or flashing lights after sundown.
“And we live in a place that treasures the night sky,” he said.
Due to Tillinghast’s outspokenness against wind power sites in rural areas, skeptics have suggested that she’s in the pay of the fossil fuel companies.
“First of all, I’m a volunteer,” she said, speaking from her home. “I don’t have any investments in any energy companies. I don’t have any connection to any energy companies. I’m very careful about that.”
Tillinghast stressed that she was not entirely opposed to wind turbines. She also explained that there are significant profits and jobs to be found in energy conservation. During a June discussion at Dodson’s office, she noted a calculation made by Green Berkshires. If every Bay State home had one additional energy-saving light bulb, it would more than offset the conceivable 156,700 megawatts that the three proposed Berkshire County wind farms may generate.
Clear Sky Energy of Barnstable is the firm interested in potential wind power at the Ridge Hill site. Project Manager Park Pappalardo told the assembly that he disputed some of Tillinghast’s assertions and would address them at a later date.
“Right now we want to work with the town . . . to see if there is a good resource on the hill,” he said. “We’re talking about something that may not happen.”
Speaking for her family, Helene Leue suggested that Dodson’s simulations were premature. She explained that the wind potential at the Rte. 112 site hadn’t yet been determined and that the computer images were “not based on any proposal.”
“It’s just a fantasy,” she said. “It’s not based on anything that our family, or ECHO (For Sustainable Development) has put forward.”
Soon after ECHO Executive Director Eduardo Suarez said that the war in Iraq was being fought over oil, a resource that wind power could, in part, supplant. He said that Ashfield residents should consider how their resources could be harnessed.
“We can only do that with your help,” he said. “We cannot do this if you’re fearful.”
“There are huge divisions and strife created by these turbines,” Tillinghast told the assembly. “It will divide your community . . . I hope you can take the experiences from other communities and work around them.”
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