Cohocton Wind Watch: Take time to give wind park proposals thorough scrutiny
Cohocton Wind Watch is a community citizen organization dedicated to preserve the public safety, property values, economic viability, environmental integrity and quality of life in Cohocton, NY and in surrounding townships. Neighbors committed to public service in order to achieve a reasonable vision for a Finger Lakes region worthy of future generations.


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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Take time to give wind park proposals thorough scrutiny

As part of the widespread push for wind power, state and local governments are promoting "model ordinances" for siting industrial wind farms which supposedly establish limits for noise and other potential hazards. These are used to determine where wind projects can be located in communities which are predominantly rural and are often extremely quiet during the evening and night, one of the main reasons why people choose to live there.

Complaints about noise from residents living near wind farms are common. This raises serious questions about whether current state and local government siting guidelines for noise are sufficiently protective. Much research is emerging that suggests significant health effects are associated with living too close to nearby residences. This research also shows that the output of the models used by developers to assess noise impacts may not accurately predict sound propagation. The models are used to make decisions about how close a turbine can be to a home or other sensitive property. The errors in the predicted sound levels can easily result in inadequate setback distances thus exposing the property owner to much noise pollution and potential health risks. Current information suggests the models should not be used for siting unless known errors and tolerances are applied to the results.

A growing number of scientific observations and studies suggest that some people living two miles from industrial wind farms are affected at a variety of levels by a variety of symptoms.

The task of crafting a protective ordinance as well as overseeing the construction and long-term operation of wind farms is monumental. Over the past few years, communities across this country have been learning by "trial and error" how to live with wind power. Currently, the two-year-old Invenergy proposal for a wind farm in the town of Orangeville has been, shall we say, "delayed." This gives us an opportunity to learn from other towns, counties and states so we do not have to make the same mistakes. There is no need for us to learn by trial and error.

If wind turbines are going to be proposed in Orangeville the Town Board has, at best, a long, arduous road ahead. The noise limit must be acceptable to all, working hand in hand with the community and the wind turbine companies. Let our ordinance (zoning) be the gold standard of others. If deemed completely safe, then build into the ordinance the flexibility to assess the actual impact of each turbine , address all complaints and remediation steps for those affected.

Tolerance is different for all people and it is possible for us to address this diversity. At the expense of the wind turbine companies, not that of the taxpayers, we need to add to the decision making process people with expertise. This is a highly complex, technical and scientific matter. Let's not put the burden of decision and zoning on the Town Board and our community. Environmental experts and research scientists will be needed to help make the final decisions on the siting of the turbines.

Nothing is to be trivialized here. This is where we live and want to remain. As a homeowner within a stone's throw of proposed wind turbines it makes me nervous at best not knowing how I may be affected. Just what do we know about the long term effects of these massive turbines? As you pass through Sheldon it leads one to wonder why or how they were positioned. One land owner has two; another land owner has five, etc. This is not only unacceptable; it is irresponsible of the Town Board and of the wind turbine companies. Did anyone really think about anything other than the economic value?

The turbine companies are making millions; the land owners are making thousands; and, the town settled for payment of town taxes (the jury is still out on how long those payments will be made to the town). Is it always about money? Does anyone care about the long-term environmental and health effects of these wind farms on this county? Would it not make sense that until there are scientific and comprehensive studies of the potential siting process that we just put a hold on the production of these facilities? Not only are we destroying the beauty of our countryside but also we are destroying families and communities that at one time lived in a peaceful harmony. Until all these questions have sound answers wouldn't it behoove us to just stop the madness? Let's stop and look around and evaluate what we already have. There are hundreds of turbines in Wethersfield, Bliss, Pike and Sheldon. What are their effects?

Currently, there is proposed state legislation to establish a moratorium upon the siting of wind energy production facilities for a period of 18 months. The bill was introduced Jan. 15 of this year by Senator Alesi. It would also establish a state task force on wind generating facilities as well as any siting and permitting policies. During this period no wind energy production facilities would be constructed and/or commence operation in any municipality in the state. This legislation addresses the fact that there are significant problems arising from wind turbines placed in other New York communities.

On Oct. 30, 2008, the NYS Attorney General announced a Code of Ethics for minimizing conflicts of interests among wind power developers and local officials. Although still not signed by Invenergy (the turbine company proposing wind farms in Orangeville) these new regulations are welcome extra protections for the citizens of Orangeville and all around the state. A critical fact to understand is that just because a power source is an alternative or a renewable one, it does not automatically mean that it is better than any conventional or fossil fuel source. In other words, electrical alternatives should not be given a free pass from common sense scrutiny and the use of scientific methodology to objectively evaluate their merits.

Carolyn Dreyer lives in Orangeville.

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