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Upstate too populated to accommodate huge wind turbines

Do you get wind-power regret once in a while?

Harnessing wind to create power. What a great idea, harnessing a natural phenomenon that’s as ubiquitous as the air we breath. Replace fossils fuels, free us from the Arabs.

What’s not to like?

It’s been five years now since Community Energy/Iberdrola retreated from a 70 Turbine project on a ridge north of Otsego Lake, and since Reunion Power abandoned plans for 24 turbines in Cherry Valley.

Did opponents – this editorial page among them make a mistake?


Short answer: No. Longer Answer: A resounding no.

Some 150 people left their gardening and delayed their bike riding on the sunny afternoon of Sunday, March 18, and entered the windowless Mount Markham High School auditorium in West Winfield to view Laura Isreal’s “Windfall”.

It’s a mistake to call “Windfall” an anti-wind-development film. It’s a documentary, where interview upon interview traces how the people of Meredith in northern Delaware County – home of Hanford Mills Museum – went from pro-wind to worried to no-way, no-how anti-wind.

It’s also a little bit of a horror story, a modern-day “Young Goodman Brown,” where innocent and unsuspecting neighbors slowly realize something awful is about to happen to their rural community. The horror, indeed.

It’s a David v. Goliath parable too. You don’t know at the beginning if the Delaware County Davids will win. Actually, things don’t look too good. Frank Bachler, the seasoned, level-headed and congenial town supervisor is opting for big wind, as is the the town’s power structure.

The antis are pictured as a minority of Young Goodman Browns, out-of-towners lacking an appreciation for how what wind promises might save financially ailing dairy farms. (Cameo appearances include Dan Birnbaum of Oneonta’s Damascene Book Cellar.)

Long story short, as the facts emerge about wind power, the town moves from the pro-wind to the anti-wind column. This is unclear until the end – that’s the drama – when town Planning Board chair Keitha Capouya, after her board’s year of research is rejected by the Town Board, leads a slate that ousts the Bachler claque in the November 2011.

Along the way, we’re reminded of all those issues that were front of mind during the year of Jordanville and Reunion debates:

• The hum, hum, hum, 24-7. ala “Tell Tale Heart,” and its impact on folks living in the community.

• The flicker effect – the footage from the 170-turbine Tug Hill installations is truly alarming.

• Fires in the turbines. 400 feet above the ground. And occasionally, a tower topples.

• The less-than-negligible effect of these small wind projects on our nation’s energy needs – wind power is so erratic that the base providers, coal- and nuclear-powered plants, must still run full tilt.

• The conclusion that these wind farms produce, not power, but tax breaks – The original company depreciates the $1O million turbines over five years, then sells them to the next utility, which depreciates them for the next five years, etc.

• Finally. 25 years hence, the turbines wear out – so long, Meridith, so long, Jordanville – and the utilities depart, leaving hundreds of 400-foot-tall behemoths littering the landscape, to be removed at taxpayer expense.

What a scam, indeed.

This is more than academic. The Mount Markham screening was organized by Protect Richfield, a citizens group resisting Ridgeline Energy’s six turbine Monticello Hills Wind Project. The Town Board has approved a host agreement, but – bravely and wisely – the new town supervisor, Fran Enjem, has declined to sign it pending the resolution of an Article 78 proceeding to halt the project, to be argued March 30 in a Wampsville courtroom.

Audience members included Manlius attorney Doug Zamelis (with mom and stepfather. Maria and Wendell Tripp of Cooperstown). Zamelis, lawyer for the suing neighbors, was able to stop the Jordanville project in its tracks. He’s a scrapper, and a brainy one. Let’s hope he succeeds in this situation, too.

Little’s been heard about it, but Ridge Line also is proposing 6-12 turbines in the Town of Maryland, outside Schenevus. Neighbors there need to start paying attention. A great place to start would be for someone to screen “Windfall” at Schenevus Central School; The future of the community may depend on it.

It’s said there’s enough wind in North Dakota to power The nation, and that’s great. Nobody lives there. And with ultra capacitors like those being developed at Oneonta’s Ioxus, perhaps the national grid can be upgraded so North Dakota power can be distributed nationwide.

But in Upstate New York, no. No wind power. We’re rural, but not deserted; plus, we have so much more to offer the state and nation. In the Great Plains or Death Valley, maybe. Not here.