After visiting two wind turbine sites to see and hear for himself the machines in operation, Supervisor Sean Walter says he is looking favorably on a plan to erect a wind turbine on Riverhead sewer district property off Riverside Drive.
On Monday, Walter and Councilman George Gabrielsen visited Fenner, in upstate Madison County N.Y. – located between Utica and Syracuse – to observe the operation of the 20 wind turbines operated by Canastota Windpower, a subsidiary of Enel GreenPower, which is part of the European energy conglomerate Enel.
The G.E.-built turbines, built by G.E. in 2001, are larger than the 750 kw turbine being discussed for the Riverhead sewer district. They stand on a 700-acre site known as the Fenner Wind Farm.
The supervisor and councilmen were both impressed by the noise they didn’t hear in the vicinity of the wind farm.
“If you stood under the windmill you heard the noise,” Walter said in an interview Tuesday. “If you stood 1,000 feet away, you couldn’t hear it at all. The sound of the turbines was completely overshadowed by the 25 mph winds that were blowing up there on Monday,” he said.
“I was pretty impressed,” Gabrielsen said. “When you get right up to them, they didn’t actually make that much noise. I was surprised,” he said.
A week earlier, Walter drove to Atlantic City with sewer district superintendent Michael Reichel to observe the operation of a five-turbine installation at a municipal sewer facility there. He said he couldn’t hear the turbine sounds due to the noise of the sewer facility itself. Walter said he wanted to observe wind turbines operating in a flat, open area. That led to the drive to Fenner.
The supervisor said if the Town Board decides to move forward with the turbine, it will ask the New York Power Authority to “oversee” the project for the town.
“I am leaning toward going forward with it,” Walter said. He said he’s had a hard time making up his mind about it.
“If we do we will do it with NYPA,” Walter said. “They will build it, they will GC the job, and they will finance it at an interest rate of .5 percent,” he said.
The supervisor said he likes the idea of the public energy authority overseeing the project because of its expertise and objectivity. He said he was not totally comfortable relying solely on a private company’s advice. The town had hired a consultant to conduct a feasibility study, which is now being concluded at the site.
“NYPA thought we were being overly optimistic on our estimates of wind velocities,” Walter said. That would affect the amount of energy generated and therefore the payment period, he said.
“If the math works, it seems that this will be a good thing for us,” he said.
“I wouldn’t put anything in the Riverside Drive neighborhood that I wouldn’t put in my own neighborhood,” Walter said in an earlier interview.
Area residents have spoken out against the plan, expressing concerns about noise and light flickering caused by the rotation of the giant blades.
Wind power in general and the Fenner Wind Farm in particular are not without detractors.
An opposition group called National Wind Watch publishes a website where it aggregates news and information about the “adverse effects of industrial wind power,” which include noise and health impacts, according to documents published on the site.
But regulators and lawmakers have looked favorably upon wind energy.
“Wind energy development is an important component of New York’s clean renewable energy initiative,” according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
The state Public Service Commission, which has regulatory oversight of the facilities, says it is committed to promoting green power and renewable energy, including wind power.
Residents of Fenner got a scare in December 2009, when one of the 187-ton turbines suddenly collapsed. Canastota Windpower shut down the remaining 19 turbines while it investigated the cause of the collapse and rebuilt the fallen tower. The windfarm was powered up again last August, though the cause of the collapse had not been ascertained, according to media reports. The turbines have since operated without incident, according to the PSC, whose investigation remains open.
It was the second collapse of a 1.5 mw G.E. turbine in upstate New York that year. In March another collapse resulted from improper wiring that caused the rotor blades to spin out of control during a power failure, according to a PSC report on its investigation into the incident.
Councilman John Dunleavy has been the lone voice of dissent on the sewer district turbine plan. He said he is concerned the turbine will have a negative impact on the value of homes near the plant.
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