We have an obligation to protect our environment and all species living within it. We also have an obligation to protect the economic interests of the region. Siting multiple wind projects in Northern New York has the very real potential of damaging the environment, tourism, safety and the jobs created by Fort Drum and the millitary. Site wind turbines in areas that don’t adversely affect tourism, tax revenue, the environment and jobs. Not in Northern New York. The cost is far too great.
This media company and editorial board have been accused of being anti-wind. We are not anti-wind.
We are very much pro-sustainable energy in the right place within an economic reality. The planet’s climate is changing and warming due to human influence. For humans to last longer than several generations, we need to stop being a virus to the planet and start a symbiotic existence. Reducing our emissions from fossil-based fuels is critical.
In the years I have read and then worked at the Watertown Daily Times, I’ve observed our support for hydro, biomass, nuclear and wind. Yet we hear from the wind industry that our newspaper is the most anti-wind publication in the country.
Wind must be part of a balanced, sustainable energy portfolio. Like all projects, however, good wind development should meet several criteria.
Proper siting, appropriate incentives, meaningful job creation, effects of cumulative impact and environmental benefits are critical concerns.
Build projects in an appropriate location that does not have a negative impact on the existing local economic base. Building projects in the Tug Hill on less-productive farms and scrub land makes sense. Projects within the viewshed of tax-revenue-producing second homes in the eastern basin of Lake Ontario and the Thousand Islands of the St. Lawrence River, however, affect tourism and decrease home values.
That impact on tourism and tax revenue is well recognized by New York state. An executive order dictated by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo mandates that projects off the coast of Long Island must be beyond the view of residents. No such protection has been granted for upstate, only the downstate elite.
Local payment-in-lieu-of-taxes programs that accept steep discounts against real property taxes is just another subsidy on top of breaks offered by the state and federal governments. That subsidy comes on the backs of local taxpayers who are giving up tax revenue for much-needed school improvements and critical infrastructure.
Wind PILOTs work when projects pay at 100 percent of the property tax level. Our improverished commmunites should not subsidize foreign-owned companies beyond the subsidy paid from national and state income taxes.
Build wind farms that do not jeopardize the safety and efficacy of large employers. The proposed wind projects in Northern New York have a material and demonstrated impact as a cumulative whole on Fort Drum and the Montague Weather Station.
Fort Drum is the state’s largest single-site employer. The direct annual economic impact is measured in the billions. It is home to the 10th Mountain Division, the most deployed unit in the U.S. Army.
Wind turbines impact the base radar operations by creating significant blind spots. These blind spots render training areas inaccessible by helicopters, make areas unsafe and affect mission readiness. A base that cannot adequately fulfill the mission of training soldiers is a base that will be closed in upcoming Base Realignment and Closure rounds.
The fixed-wing drone operation from Syracuse also is at risk. Drone warfare is a crucial strategy within modern geopolitics and creates significant opportunities for skilled labor.
Without control and visibility into flight space, our airspace is no longer viable for drone operations. That means that drone operations in Northern New York also are at risk for relocation or closure.
The economic activity of the military in our area dwarfs that of the proposed wind projects. Why are we putting that at risk? Why are we trading billions for millions? Why are we trading 10,000 or more jobs for less than 100?
The proposed wind projects have the same impact on the efficacy of the Montague Weather Station. This facility provides advance warning of storms coming across Lake Ontario and also provides real-time weather updates for municipalities from Oswego to Boston. With prevailing winds coming across the lake to the East Coast, this station is a crucial link in the weather and safety network.
Wind projects do not create local permanent jobs in a meaningful number. Communities are asked to sacrifice space, live in view of industrial towers and accept shadow flicker and low-frequency noise in exchange for a handful of jobs.
Our rural area needs continued economic investment to create meaningful job opportunities. Providing millions of dollars of PILOT subsidies for a handful of jobs is a poor trade-off.
There are benefits to the landowners who can now improve the return on their land investment. Simultaneously, the decision to welcome commercial wind into a local community tends to rend the community apart.
I have never seen an issue as divisive in local communities. Siting boards need to understand that these projects are incredibly adversarial. Recognize that impact by assigning significant weight to local opposition or support in the ultimate siting decision.
Finally, environmental issues are often overlooked. It is odd to think about the environmental impact of a project whose objective is to help the environment by weaning out dependence on fossil fuels. There are three ways that wind power exacts a terrible price on our fragile environment.
Wind does not blow consistently, yet the demand for electricity is ongoing. When the demand is strong for power and the wind is not blowing, power must come from somewhere.
It tends to come from underutilized power plants that burn fossil fuels. The very fuel that wind is trying to supplant ends up supported.
In Northern New York, none of our wind projects has reached end of life. We do not know the cost of decommissioning or the impact of metals, solvents, lubricants and chemicals leaching into our water table from hundreds of towers.
While wind companies have allocated funds, the decommissioning model is untested and thus carries a high degree of risk. There is increasing evidence, especially given the growing groundswell of opposition to commercial wind facilities, that the short towers of 20-year-old technology will give way to replacement towers that are twice as high as the ones they replace.
Our avian environment is also materially affected. Eagles nest in siting areas.
The Eastern Great Lakes Basin and the Tug Hill Plateau are important flyways for migratory birds. Commercial wind can disrupt flyways and kill birds.
We have an obligation to protect our environment and all species living within it. We also have an obligation to protect the economic interests of the region. Siting multiple wind projects in Northern New York has the very real potential of damaging the environment, tourism, safety and the jobs created by Fort Drum and the millitary.
Site wind turbines in areas that don’t adversely affect tourism, tax revenue, the environment and jobs. Not in Northern New York. The cost is far too great.
John B. Johnson is chief executive officer and co-publisher of the Watertown Daily Times.
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