Cohocton Wind Watch: Another view on wind energy
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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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Another view on wind energy

We hear a lot about “wind farms.” To me the word “farm” invokes a sense of nurturing and growth, rebirth and serenity. A “wind farm” is a location for very large industrial electrical generating devices. The impact on the environment is extensive and irreversible. It is not benign or “free.”

“Wind farm” ads on TV always show large, open plains with no trees. These are excellent locations for turbines. There are no forests or extensive, diverse wildlife habitats to be destroyed forever. Forest fragmentation does not exist without trees. TV will probably never show us an aerial view of a wind turbine installation in our forests.

Mountains in the ridge and valley topography were formed by the violent upfolding of the earth’s crust. As we proceed up the side of our mountains, the soil becomes thinner and the percentage of organic matter increases. On ridge tops the soil is often so thin that we wonder how anything can grow. Yet trees, shrubs, herbs and grasses do grow. The organic matter formed from dead leaves and woody plant parts act like a great sponge that absorbs and holds water, slowly releasing it to the fissures in the rock and soil. These fissures act as conduits for water to reach underground aquifers that feed our wells, springs, creeks, and rivers. Remove the trees and shrubs, expose the ground surface to increased sunlight, and the organic matter decomposes at a rapid rate. The sponge is lost.

Remove the organic matter from the top of our ridges, break-up and/or cut away at the turned-up layers of rock and soil and you destroy the conduits to the aquifers. Soil percolation is decreased. Surface run-off is increased. Water available to wells and springs diminishes and flooding of streams and rivers is increased along with soil erosion and sedimentation.

A G87 two megawatt turbine stands 404 feet high. That is as high as a forty-story building. The tower base is tubular in shape and more than thirteen feet in diameter. The base anchor is fifty-two feet in diameter and eight feet deep and uses 330 cubic yards of steel re-enforced concrete.

The National Pollution Discharge Elimination System is NOT a saving grace in its protection of upland wetlands, springs, streams, and the watersheds they charge. It is a very broad guideline that has entirely too few personnel to adequately police. It is ultimately up to supervisors in each and every township within the commonwealth to formulate regulations and guidelines needed to adequately protect their own resources. In many jurisdictions, township and county regulations do not exist either because of apathy (it won’t happen here), the lack of guidance from the state, or pressure from advocates of the “wind” industry.

It is generally true that in the U.S. private landowners have the right to hold and develop land as they choose. However, there is NO right to adversely affect the property, safety or well being of others. We live in a society; not alone on an island.

For decades, professional foresters have been preaching the ills of forest fragmentation. It destroys deep woods habitat, interferes with wildlife corridors, and exposes sensitive forest litter and humus to decomposition from increased sunlight. The loss of shade increases the rate of soil moisture evaporation. The creation of “forest edge” increases the likelihood invasive plants like mile-a-minute weed, Ailanthus, and Japanese barberry.

To assemble a G87 tower, a minimum of one acre of land must be completely cleared. In most terrains, more area is required. Some companies use as much as five acres for each tower.

The companies tell us the finished roadway is fifteen feet wide (thirty feet on curves). They don’t often tell us they must clear fifty to sixty feet to get their equipment to each site and bury the wires. In many cases, avoiding wetlands, making cuts and fill require a much wider right-of-way. Although the extra area is seeded, in most cases, grass establishment is slow and spotty due to extreme soil compaction At the very best, grasses will never capture and hold as much water in the soil as tree and shrub roots. Nor will the green foliage of grass create as much oxygen as the same land area in trees and leafy shrubs.

The industry says it must install ten turbines to be cost efficient. This will destroy at least thirteen acres. Every ten generators require a sub-station covering two acres. Then, too, there is the roadway system required to get to the location. A one-inch rain on fifteen acres will produce a run-off of 407,314 gallons of water. What happens to that run-off?

Alternative energy has its place. Turbines on our wooded mountain tops are not it.

As a professional Forester, I prefer to follow the example of Fernow, Pinchot, and Rothrock and be an advocate for the forest and its wise stewardship rather than succumb to popular fads, inefficient, unproven technology, and political initiatives whose effect is not reversible in our lifetime.

By Benjamin G. Tresselt, Jr., Consulting Forester

Forest Leaves
Volume 18, Number 2
Autumn 2008

[Published by School of Forest Resources, The Pennsylania State University}


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