COPENHAGEN – WHOOSH, WHOOSH, WHOOSH. Wind turbines are a pretty sight for some driving through Lewis County, but it’s not much of a joy living under one.
Strobe-like light flickers, 600-foot towers at the edge of their property and upwards of a constant 41-decibel ambient sound from the coming wind turbines are what Rebecca and David Sheldon say they have to look forward to in 2019.
The couple, with two young children, were just about finished building their home, a yurt, when they were stopped in their tracks upon learning there would be several wind turbines popping up very close to their property.
Mr. Sheldon grew up in Copenhagen, and felt the responsibility to continue caring for the family farm on Number Three Road. He moved his family there in 2010, briefly moved to Pennsylvania, and moved back again permanently in 2015. To their horror, over the course of those years, the wind industry in Lewis County erupted, developing Deer River, Copenhagen and Number Three Wind Farms in addition to the largest wind farm in the state, Maple Ridge, just down the road.
“When we first moved here, we totally supported wind power, but we didn’t know a lot about it, and I think that’s the case with a lot of people,” Mrs. Sheldon said. “When we heard about it, we thought, ‘OK, let’s just look into this’ and the more we found out about it and the side effects of living next to it, we found it to be a horrific industry.”
From there, the Sheldons’ opinions started to change, and in the midst of building their home.
“We still didn’t have a full understanding until we were halfway through our building project. We learned about Number Three Wind’s plans and had to stop everything,” Mrs. Sheldon said. This was in the summer of 2016.
Suddenly, the pair was questioning whether they should finish the home. Not only for the fact of the turbines’ destined locations, but also for the future of their children.
“We thought, ‘Is this the community we will want to raise our children in?’ We’re essentially the factory floor of an industrial power industry,” Mrs. Sheldon said.
What’s more, the news of the turbines came as a surprise. The Sheldon family had to find out on their own. Neighbors had signed off to have the turbines built on their property years ago, and perhaps didn’t know what they were getting themselves into.
“We don’t want to sound spiteful because we understand where our neighbors were coming from with the economic need to take in the turbines, and they were involved years ago and told that everyone was signing off on the turbines, so they may as well too. But if they had researched it, they may not have come to the same conclusion years ago,” Mr. Sheldon said.
Marguerite Wells is the Number Three Wind project representative. She said landowners are getting benefits from the turbines.
“The 100 or so landowners who lease with us get paid $700,000 (total lease payments) annually for the turbines to be on their property,” she said.
Those 100 landowners span across two towns, and their lease payments vary based on number of the turbines on their land. Mr. and Mrs. Sheldon were taken aback by the notion that their neighbors didn’t even mention it to them that these wind turbines would be so close to their property.
“We didn’t know if we wanted to be in a community where neighbors didn’t talk to neighbors about 600 foot windmills being built as close as legally possible to someone’s property line without any mentioning of it,” Mrs. Sheldon said. Her family felt betrayed.
UNHAPPY OPEN HOUSE
Upon learning the fate of their property, Mr. and Mrs. Sheldon attended an open house on the Number Three Wind project, where Mrs. Sheldon left in tears.
“I had to walk out crying after seeing the plans,” she said.
They learned the physical effects turbines would cause, such as flicker and sound disturbances.
“When the sun moves behind the windmill blades, it creates a strobe effect, that is the flicker,” Mr. Sheldon said. The land the Sheldons are building on is already windy and loud, but with the addition of the turbines, an average night at about 15 decibels will increase to a decibel level in the 40s.
However, the bigger concern with the wind farm expansion in the area is the economy, the future of residents, and issues like radar access and Fort Drum’s fate.
“Most people are excited, it’s a huge economic opportunity,” Ms. Wells said.
Mrs. Sheldon agrees, but says the economic opportunity is not for the people, but for the wind farms.
“These companies are coming in and taking taxpayer money and making billions. We shouldn’t be welcoming them with open arms,” she said.
Mrs. Sheldon suggested the wind turbines could contribute to Fort Drum being decommissioned.
“There are already black holes on the radar at Fort Drum,” her husband added.
He uses the Montague weather radar religiously, needing it as a hay farmer and distributor. Mr. Sheldon said, “The weather is vital for hay, and when we had the biggest thunderstorm of the summer, we lost thousands of dollars of hay because the radar was showing nothing, even right up to when the storm was upon us.”
Earlier this year, the National Weather Service recognized that the wind farms in the area were interfering with Doppler radar, both for Fort Drum activity and public storm warnings.
“It’s up to the people who live here to protect Fort Drum,” Mrs. Sheldon said. “It’s not just Lewis County that will suffer, it’s all of the north country.”
Additionally, the area would potentially suffer with fewer homebuyers wanting to live under and among the turbines.
“Would people be willing to live beneath a wind turbine?” Mrs. Sheldon said.
Property value is also a concern. If the Sheldons decide to leave, they might have a hard time selling that land to someone when it is surrounded by turbine nuisances.
“We’ve been put in a tough spot at no fault of our own,” Mr. Sheldon said.
Moving is not an easy choice for the family, as it is their heritage.
“We want to keep the farm for the kids but will they remember what it was like to run and play before the wind farms? And is that what they want to inherit?” Mrs. Sheldon said. “We want to stay here, but not if the wind farm comes and we have two giant wind turbines in our backyard.”
A DIFFERENT VIEW
Ms. Wells, however, says the area is excited about the wind farms.
“Ask around, the majority of people are very excited for the wind farms. They hold down local tax rates and hold down the schools. There are $900,000 a year in local tax payments,” she said. “Number Three is a great resource and the community is interested in the wind projects.”
Mr. and Mrs. Sheldon see the wind companies as one-sided, saying the only information about the wind farms is coming from the wind farm representatives, and the meetings are run by those representatives. The Sheldons suggest a small handful of people like them are being directly affected by the turbines.
“The ploy is to lay it out like it’s a publicly supported project,” Mrs. Sheldon said. “We’re inviting these companies into the community indefinitely. When they lie, the information they present is one-sided and they mislead people to think everyone supports it. That’s who you’re inviting into the community, and they will be here as long as the windmills are. They’re not going anywhere once they’re built.”
So the Sheldons are fighting back while they still can. Mrs. Sheldon started the group Tug Hill Alliance for Rural Preservation to “reach out to anyone who cares about Fort Drum and Tug Hill or is concerned with the wind industry.”
The goal of the organization is to let people know that there is an avenue for their voices to be heard against the wind industry in the area.
“We don’t have to accept it. People think that the wind farms are coming and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Mrs. Sheldon said. She is trying to prove voices of retaliation can be heard.
She is interested in accessing intervenor funding, which is money set aside with each wind farm project for people who want to learn and research the adverse side effects of the turbines. The Tug Hill Alliance for Rural Preservation will seek party status in the Number Three and Deer River wind farms and voice their opinions on the seemingly one-sided issue.
“I question if the decision-makers are doing their due diligence and researching the pros and cons. Something of this magnitude needs serious debate,” Mr. Sheldon said.
“Even if you just don’t like looking at the turbines, come out and say it,” Mrs. Sheldon added. “Lewis County needs a voice and a seat at the table.”
Changing the minds of people keen on the idea of green energy might be a challenge.
“The wind farms certainly play a part in reaching the New York state mandate to have 50 percent renewable energy. The air is cleaner and the power rates are lower,” Ms. Wells said.
However, electric rates for wind power are significantly higher than fossil fuel, hydro or nuclear generation costs. Part of the reason is that the state’s electric utilities are required to extract a fee to support the state’s new clean energy standards; that fee is shared with alternative energy producers.
“People want to believe in wind power like we did; it makes you feel good. But getting free wind is different from harnessing that wind power,” Mrs. Sheldon said.
Her family remains in limbo as to if they should finish construction on their home or not. The looming sight of the crane assembling the Copenhagen wind farms is seen in the distance from their yard, serving as a reminder to keep fighting against the expansion of wind farms for the sake of the area.
Ms. Wells said on behalf of the Number Three Wind project that all public input is welcomed. Anyone interested in learning more about the Tug Hill Alliance for Rural Preservation can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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