Difficult to find answers to questions about turbine impact
As I am going door to door talking with residents I am finding that the main concern of many revolves around the proposed Heritage Wind Project. I have researched the use of wind turbines in the town of Barre, my hometown, and I want to share my findings.
I would also like to share that I am informed and involved in all of the topics that are currently being discussed by the Barre Town Board like cannabis sales, tiny homes, water districts/new water tower, and many others. (I currently serve on the Town Planning Board as an alternate, and have attended most of the Town Board meetings the last few years).
I first contacted the Niagara Power Authority to determine the need for an additional power supply in our area. I spoke to a representative, who told me that we have plenty of power to balance the power on the grid. To get the wind turbines running, the Niagara Power Authority would need to slow down power production to allow the wind turbine project to come on line, and the grid would cover the power when the wind isn’t turning the turbines.
Next I checked with the National Weather Service to see how turbines would affect the weather predictions in our area. The representative said he was not allowed to talk about it.
When I contacted Penn State to discuss the production numbers that Heritage Wind released to the Town of Barre and how to interpret them, I was told the wind turbines are a low production value. When I asked the expert from Penn State what the setbacks should be from homes, she quickly said, “I would want to see them at least a mile from resident’s homes.” When I asked if we could get something in writing she just as quickly said, no, that she was not allowed to.
Speaking with the representative from Penn State got me thinking about residential safety and setback distances from the wind turbines during the winter months. I found a formula for determining setbacks for ice throw, a method for defining wind turbine setback standards and I contacted the professor at the University of Buffalo to apply the numbers and calculate ice throw distances. Although Heritage Winds paid the professor $50,000 to coach the Barre Town Board on changing the wind ordinance, I received no response. I called at least five times for assistance in determining ice throw for a 700-foot wind turbine with a 500-foot sweep, but I received no call back. I also reached out to the professors that wrote the paper with no response.
With no answers from the professor, I decided to research other areas in the United States with wind turbines like the ones proposed in Barre. I found that the Texas Wind Research Institute is the only place in the United States with a working 700-foot wind turbine. I contacted the Research Institute and asked how our Town Board should evaluate setbacks for the 700-foot turbines. The director transferred me to a Texas A & M professor who was also a wind advocate and lawyer.
The Texas A & M professor advised me to look at safety protocols for the turbine manufacturer and repair crews. Her logic is to evaluate the distance the crews are required to wear personal protective gear for their safety and apply that distance to safe setback estimates. At her suggestion, I reached out to the turbine company that Heritage Wind plans to use with both phone calls and emails, but I got no response. When the Barre Planning Board asked our Town Board to look into this matter, the request was ignored. They also ignored the Research Institute director’s written statement that he felt the setbacks should be at least 2,500 feet from homeowner property lines.
Next I decided to investigate how Barre citizens feel about the wind turbines. When I looked at the latest public survey for the comprehensive plan in Barre, wind turbines were mentioned in the opening statements as a concern, however, there were zero questions on the survey that related to wind turbines. The Town Board has totally ignored the fact that no survey of Barre citizens has a majority of its citizens in favor of wind turbines. With little public support, the town board is blatantly disregarding the needs or desires of its citizens.
Next I calculated the project’s cost. I used information from Heritage Wind’s open house where I was told that each turbine was rated to produce enough power for 250 homes. If we calculate that there are 33 projected turbines times 250 homes, we get a total of 8,250 homes. If you assume that each home has an average electric bill of 100 dollars times 8,250 times 12 months =$9,900,000. If you multiply that amount times 20 years, you get 198 million dollars.
Funnily enough, this is the same amount NYSERDA is offering to give Heritage Wind from funds they took from us. These projections also assume that turbines are running 24/7, however, wind turbines typically run 30 percent of the time. I additionally assumed the whole electric bill including the delivery charge, but I should have lowered the estimates to kilowatts of energy. When I contacted NYSERDA with this information, I was told that it was interesting but probably a coincidence. When I tried to get a response from Heritage Wind, I was told they would get back to me, but I have yet to receive a response.
I do believe in the science of global warming and the importance of reducing our carbon emissions. In order to do this, we must use our financial resources effectively. NYSERDA is supposed to invest our money into new ideas for clean energy that are cost effective. They should not be financing projects like wind turbines that are not going to produce any more energy than we already have.
Although some will cite tax savings as a benefit of wind turbines, they do not offset the visual impact, and negative health impact to residents. Additionally, wind turbines cause property values to decline. I also wonder who will pay for inevitable well water damage with all the blasting and construction of these massive towers.
With the current numbers and what the Town Board has mentioned of a 50% Town (only) tax savings, the average Barre household would see a total reduction in Town taxes of less than $393 per year (under the assumption that the Town Budget does not increase, which it has every year in the many recent years).
One pro I can count on is when flying, the flashing lights at night from the wind turbines and the sheer height during the day will make it easier to find our homes from 10,000 feet.
If you feel led to respond to this editorial, please include in your response if you have a financial interest in the wind project.
Dr. George McKenna