PITTSFIELD – The head of the Green Berkshires environmental advocacy group says wind turbines shouldn’t be at the forefront of the renewable energy portfolio in the county.
“We should think of wind turbines as the last thing, not the first thing,” Eleanor Tillinghast told an audience of more than 50 students and residents at a forum at Berkshire Community College on Tuesday.
Tillinghast is the executive director of Green Berkshires, an environmental research and advocacy nonprofit that encourages public awareness of the region’s environment and which “challenges large-scale threats to the region’s natural, scenic, and public resources.” Tillinghast and Green Berkshires unsuccessfully challenged the development of a $45 million wind farm in Florida.
Currently, there are three “wind farm” projects being developed in the Berkshires, including the 20-turbine project in Florida and Monroe, a 10-turbine project on Brodie Mountain and a 5-turbine project in Savoy. In addition, there are single turbines at Jiminy Peak and at the Williams Stone Company in Otis.
Over the course of her 45-minute discussion, Tillinghast discussed a host of reasons why she was against wind power in the Berkshires, saying that the amount of electricity generated in Western Massachusetts would be negligible even compared to nearby areas in New England such as Maine.
“You’re never going to be able to offset [coal] with an intermittent and unreliable source like wind,” Tillinghast said, adding that the students present would be paying for more expensive methods with their futures. “[We’re spending] $47 million that will be paying for less than 14/100ths of one percent of Massachusetts’ electricity.”
The real winners of wind energy, she said, were companies such as British Petroleum, Chevron, Shell and General Electric, who received millions in federal subsidies to develop wind facilities. But with countries like China paying workers just $4,100 a year to build turbines, “there are virtually no permanent jobs” created in Massachusetts by wind power, Tillinghast said.
“People think tourism stays – it’s as ephemeral as everything, you have to take care of it,” she said.
Quoting a September 2010 article from the Casper Journal in Wyoming, Tillinghast said that Natrona County state representative Mike Gilmore soon regretted having the turbines in his town.
“The jobs really didn’t materialize, and the taxes aren’t coming along either,” Gilmore said in the article. “We’ve devalued our own property.”
Finally, Tillinghast discussed the public safety implications of wind turbines, saying that malfunctioning turbines could send javelin-like chunks of ice – or even steel, in the event of a cataclysmic failure – flying at distances of up to a mile away.
Even under the best of working conditions, Tillinghast said that the turbines produced a grinding noise that affected residents up to 1.25 miles away. Citing a July 2010 article from Audiology Today, Tillinghast listed several health issues suffered by people living close to the turbines, including sleep deprivation, irritability and even vertigo.
Yet Tillinghast’s presentation did draw some critiques. “I think a lot of opinion was presented,” said Lenox Town Manager Gregory Federspiel, who attended the event. “I don’t know if everything that was stated could be backed up with facts.”
Federspiel said that for example, a recent test at Lenox Mountain showed that wind velocities could reach 8 meters per second. “That is in the excellent range according to her charts there,” he said.
“Certainly [Tuesday] we didn’t get balanced viewpoints,” Federspiel added. “We got a particular viewpoints, and she’s entitled to that viewpoint, but there are other viewpoints to be shared.”
Tyler Fairbanks, CEO of EOS Ventures, LLC, said that while he wasn’t at Tillinghast’s lecture, many of the concerns she presented varied from company to company. He said that working with General Electric, the “vast majority” of components were American-built, and that even many of the impermanent jobs lasted for years due to the length of development.
Other concerns, such as far-flung ice, were worked out by General Electric, while he said that noise complaints weren’t “statistically significant.”
“I think we can all find a reason ‘why not,’ ” Fairbanks said. “That’s hypothetical, but does good science show that these turbines are hazards? We’ve go to let good science carry the day.”
Tillinghast’s solution was instead of wind power, to intice reduction of energy use. She said that over a three-year period companies such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. were saving as much electricity through internal practices than Massachusetts was through sweeping energy efficiency programs.
“We should be working with the companies to reduce their electrical use,” Tillinghast said. “It’s a smarter use of our public funds.”
Tillinghast helped found the Conservation Commission at Mount Washington, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, and the environmental stewardship initiative called Save the Housatonic.