A 143-foot gray galvanized steel tower rises behind the red barn on Meahl Road in Newstead, as cattle graze on the grass below it, oblivious to the blades rotating in the wind. ¶ The animals don’t know it, but the rotor spinning above them should supply enough energy to turn on all the lights in their barn as well as the lights, furnace and appliances in John and Paula Jendrowski’s household. ¶ The Jendrowskis are among a growing number of small farmers and rural homeowners who have discovered the answer to lower utility costs is blowing in the wind. ¶ Commonly called windmills, small wind energy conversion systems save on electrical costs and provide energy that does not produce greenhouse gases.
From Fredonia to North Collins to Orchard Park, from Newstead to Wilson, wind turbines are popping up throughout the region, and some towns are scrambling to come up with rules to govern their use.
But don’t look for them in highly populated urban or suburban areas. They need areas with wind, and the ability to accommodate a tower that is nearly as tall as Niagara Falls. Municipalities require them to be in open areas where they won’t hit any structures if they fall down, and some towns are looking at restricting them to lots of five or 10 acres or larger.
As homeowners and small businesses try to cut costs wherever they can, the idea of green energy that is free after paying for the infrastructure is appealing.
“You’re now using clean energy that’s basically in your backyard to heat your home,” Jendrowski said.
About 4 percent of the electricity generated in the United States is produced from wind energy, according to the Wind Energy Foundation.
Newstead, which has approved 10 small turbines, instituted a six-month moratorium in April while the town code, which does not address the residential wind turbines, is revised.
“We don’t know exactly what we’re going to do with the law,” said Newstead Supervisor David Cummings. “For some reason, the Town of Newstead is a very popular place for windmills.”
Several residents have opposed wind turbines proposed for Moore and Nice roads, saying they change the character of the neighborhood and generate noise.
A low hum was barely audible beneath Jendrowski’s turbine last week. He said it’s not always quiet, but “we don’t hear it over the leaves of the trees.”
Jendrowski’s wind turbine was approved before he won a seat for Town Board last November.
“I got one because it’s a renewable energy source that’s clean for the environment,” said Jendrowski, who has horses, pigs, goats and chickens, in addition to cattle, on his small farm.
“You might not save a lot today, but what about in five years, 10 years? I don’t see energy costs coming down,” he said.
Incentives from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and federal tax credits make it attractive to erect a wind system in your backyard.
The authority has provided incentives for 220 wind projects, according to spokesman Alan Wechsler, including 46 in Western New York. Fourteen are in Niagara County, 13 in Erie County, 17 in Chautauqua County and two in Allegany County.
The incentives can cut in half the cost of a $60,000 system, the authority added.
Jendrowski leases the structure from United Wind, which contracted with Cazenovia Equipment Company, to install it. He made a $4,000 down payment and owes $79 a month for the lease, plus $16 a month for the utility to read the meter. He said his turbine produces more electricity than he uses today. He will get a credit for the usage on his National Grid bill.
“The program they offered, even with paying the lease, we are probably going to save about 1,000 bucks a year to start out,” he said.
Cazenovia Equipment provides the maintenance for the 20-year lease, and at the end of the lease, Jendrowski will own the system.
“It’s just like leasing a car,” said Ryan Storke of Cazenovia Equipment.
While many people call them windmills, the structures are wind turbines, Storke said. A windmill has more blades to provide high torque to effectively pump water or grind grain at a lower rotary speed. Wind turbines have fewer blades, allowing them to rotate faster, which is more efficient for generating electricity.
The “small wind” turbines, which produce electricity for use at the site of the turbine, are much smaller than turbines at wind farms. Large commercial turbines, like those along the Lake Erie shore and in Wyoming County, can be 400 feet high or higher and generate electricity for the community.
New York ranks 12th in the nation in wind power capacity, with more than 1,000 turbines providing enough electricity to power 364,000 homes, according to the American Wind Energy Association, and nearly 3 percent of the electricity produced in New York comes from wind. New York also is the 15th windiest state in the nation, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
NYSERDA’s website has a list of eligible contractors to take advantage of the incentives, and also a link to a wind calculator that will produce a wind resource report for individual addresses.
Wind is so important to the future of alternative energy that Erie Community College incorporated a wind turbine behind its Green Building Technology Center on Abbott Road across from Ralph Wilson Stadium. The college offers a certificate program in green building technology, training students to install and repair solar, wind and geothermal technologies.
Going with wind energy was an easy decision for Ben and Lori Gehl of Clarence, who recently got the green light for a wind turbine on their 90-acre property that includes their home and Providence Creek Farm. They raise chickens, cattle, pigs, rabbits, goats and turkeys on rotational grazed pastures without growth hormones or routine antibiotics.
“For us, there were a lot of reasons,” Ben Gehl said. “It gives us a set cost, it fixes us in at a certain rate going forward. It eliminates the risk of higher energy bills.”
Bills averaged $200 a month at the farm, and they are looking forward to no more electric bills.
“Part of our mission is to improve the land and community we are in,” he said. “Being good stewards and using our resources is a big part of it.”
Not everyone who wants a wind turbine gets the approvals.
Gerald and Jane Schmidt in Hamburg are still waiting for the Hamburg Zoning Board of Appeals to act on a request for a use variance for a 154-foot tall wind turbine at their Smith Road property. The Zoning Board tabled it, noting that the town is working on revising its wind turbine law to address the individual turbines.
The proposed regulations would require at least a 10-acre parcel and would set a height limit of 140 feet. Hamburg already has laws on its books for much larger, commercial wind turbines as well as cell towers.
“They have the same visual impact as a cell tower,” said Kurt Allen, Hamburg’s supervising code enforcement officer. “They’re about the same scale as a cell tower.”
Gerald Schmidt said he has just over 8.4 acres of land, and the tower that he would put behind his barn would be about 140 feet, plus 10-foot blades on the rotor.
“Our electric budget will be cut just about in half,” he said.
Another Hamburg farmer gained approval last month for two wind turbines on his reindeer farm on Old Lakeview Road, though some Zoning Board members thought the board should wait until the new legislation was adopted.
Clarence has approved four towers and denied one in a residential zone, said director of community development James B. Callahan.
The proposed law would allow the taller towers, with a maximum of 153 feet including blades, in agricultural zones, he said. Shorter turbines, up to 60 feet, would be allowed in residential districts.
“They really look like they belong on a farm,” Callahan said.
Albert W. “Bill” Miller of Aurora wanted to erect a 153-foot wind turbine on his Bailey Road property five years ago, and he finally gave up when he could not get the necessary permits.
“It would have given me about 80 percent of my electrical demand for my house,” he said.
Jendrowski heats his home with oil, and he’s looking to burn a lot less of it this winter by increasing his family’s use of electric heat.
“A lot of towns are going to be struggling with this as are people trying to find ways to save money on energy. I’m not a tree hugger by no means,” Jendrowski said, but he added, “I’d like to see us get off foreign oil by any means we can.”
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