In communities around the Mohawk Valley, the benefits and concerns of wind farm development have become hot topics of debate.
And though most people agree the projects produce clean energy, their impact on the local economy can be more difficult to quantify.
During the construction phases, dozens of jobs can be created by these towering turbines that have popped up in Fairfield and Norway and are being considered in Litchfield.
But after the project is completed, most of the jobs disappear.
Municipalities considering wind farms are left to decide: Are short-term construction jobs and a few permanent jobs worth it for the other effects of the developments?
“Wind projects can be a significant contributor to economic activity,” said Eric Lantz, a research analyst for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab. “But if you live in a moderate-sized town, it’s probably not going to revolutionize your area.”
Wind developers and supporters point out that in addition to the jobs, there are other economic benefits. Workers spend money in the community, and the developer contributes thousands of dollars to property owners and local governments through lease and tax agreements.
“There’s a lot of jobs and economic impact that goes into each and every project,” said Paul Copleman, spokesman for developer Iberdrola Renewables.
But people who oppose the projects say there are too many concerns with wind projects – such as one proposed in Litchfield – including the noise from the turbines and the potential effects on the quality of life and property values.
“The jobs are temporary,” said Patricia Christensen, spokeswoman for the Litchfield United group. “It’s not worth the aftermath effect that’s going to happen to the area.”
In the Herkimer County towns of Fairfield and Norway, all 37 turbines of the Hardscrabble Wind Farm now are up and running, and commercial operation is expected to begin in February, said Paul Copleman, spokesman for developer Iberdrola Renewables.
Meanwhile, the town of Litchfield is considering extending a moratorium on wind projects through March 2012 – despite NorthWind and Power proposing a farm of eight to 12 turbines on Dry Hill.
In Oneida County, the town of New Hartford is in the early stages of reviewing wind laws in case a development is eventually proposed there.
If municipalities are weighing whether they want to host a project, they probably should discuss job creation with the developers, Lantz said.
“A big piece is whether those jobs do come from the local community,” he said. “If they want to think about jobs, officials should ask questions about where those jobs are going to come from.”
During the year of construction that would take place in Litchfield, there would be 60 to 100 construction jobs on the site and additional jobs produced for quarries and other suppliers, said Patrick Doyle, the president and founder of Albany-based NorthWind and Power.
Three or four permanent maintenance and operation jobs also would exist in Litchfield or nearby, he said.
Doyle said he would attempt to use companies that are local and within the state as much as possible, and he would advise the construction businesses to use workers from the area.
“Why would we fly somebody in from somewhere else if qualified people are here locally?” he said.
The Leitz Truck Corp. in Frankfort did work for the Hardscrabble Wind Farm – delivering supplies for about three months, company manager John Leitz said.
“It did help our business,” he said.
But in general, Leitz believes the federal assistance given to wind projects is a waste of taxpayer money, and he’s uncertain what type of job impact such a development really has.
“Short-term, yes,” he said. “Long-term, no idea.”
The construction at the Hardscrabble Wind Farm, which began in the spring, resulted in an average of 174 people working at the site per day, Copleman said. At the peak, there were 315 workers on site, he said.
Going forward, Iberdrola will employ six full-time technicians on location for the length of the project’s operation, Copleman said.
Copleman was unable to provide a breakdown of the number of construction jobs that were local, but he said the company usually aims to use local companies and local labor as much as possible for aspects of the projects such as equipment, gravel and fuel.
The towers and blades for the turbines were manufactured in the United States, he said.
Hardscrabble Wind Farm also will result in financial benefits for landowners through lease agreements and almost $600,000 per year in payments to local governments and school districts, Copleman said.
Sheila Salvatore, who leads Save Sauquoit Valley Views, a citizens group that opposes the Litchfield project, seriously questions how significant the job impacts there would be.
Salvatore doesn’t think the number of jobs would be enough for the project to make sense for the area because of concerns such as sound from the turbines and the potential long-term effects on the community.
“Across the nation, people are learning the fallacies of industrial wind power,” Salvatore said. “We are against industrial wind development locally for many of the same reasons: It is an unreliable, inefficient energy source that is highly subsidized with our tax dollars, for which we see nearly nothing in return.”
Litchfield currently has a moratorium in place through March that prevents NorthWind and Power’s proposed project from moving forward while town officials still are developing their wind-regulation laws. A public hearing on whether to extend the moratorium through March 2012 is scheduled for Feb. 8.
Litchfield leaders still are focusing on developing their wind ordinances, town Deputy Supervisor Kate Entwistle said. Once those are finalized, they would start concentrating on their recommendations – such as using local companies – for a potential developer, she said.
Entwistle said she generally supports the idea of a project in the town even though she believes the construction work would primarily be the extent of the job effect.
“The potential definitely would be with short-term jobs,” she said. “But at this point, I don’t think we should shun any opportunity given to our town as far as employment goes.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding