When a large-scale wind turbine project was proposed for the town of Allegany several years ago, I wrote a column arguing against it. My main objection was simply the profound effect the huge turbines would have on the quality of life in the Chipmunk and Four Mile areas, places where people had purchased or built homes with the expectation that they would live their days in a relatively undisturbed, country setting.
Town officials who were in favor of the project — and the not-insignificant revenues that would have resulted — were willing to turn their backs on a group of taxpaying residents. I argued that if a neighbor were somehow marring life for others along a stretch of road in the town, say with careless excavation or logging that caused damaging water runoff or a failed septic system leaking profusely, the town would act to stop the problem.
Yet, in the case of colossal wind turbines, town officials are willing to see them erected on hilltops in a manner that devastates the country setting. Some people living both in Allegany those years ago and today in the towns of Freedom, Farmersville and everywhere the Alle-Catt wind farm is proposed worked all their lives to be able to enjoy their rural homes among the woods and ridges of Cattaraugus, Allegany and Wyoming counties.
Six-hundred-foot wind turbines will destroy that lifestyle for someone.
Paul Bishop, the senior planner on the Cattaraugus County Planning Board, touched on this very issue Thursday when he suggested the industrial scale turbines do not seem to be in keeping with the county’s 2016 Comprehensive Plan, which emphasized the rural character and natural beauty of the county.
Indeed, as necessary as developing renewable energy sources are for New York state and the nation, it’s clear that rural areas are bearing the brunt of hosting large-scale wind farms. Clearly, an abundance of open land is required, but it doesn’t go unnoticed that developers seem to see an easy mark in Western New York, where landowners are eager to benefit financially as the result of lease payments — and town officials are enticed by the attendant revenues.
Meanwhile, wind farm developers are eager to benefit from payment in lieu of taxes agreements, while also collecting federal subsidies that were put in place to encourage renewable-energy development.
Elsewhere in New York state, a new wind project will be developed several miles off Montauk Point, Long Island, causing an already stressed and shrinking Long Island fishing industry to complain it must bear the brunt of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s stated goal of assuring that 50 percent of the state’s energy needs are powered by renewables by 2030.
The fishermen point out that, of course, the turbines will not be visible from Long Island’s beaches — certainly not from the multimillion-dollar beach house decks and patios of the rich and famous.
Again, it’s clear that wind energy plays an important part of the nation’s energy future, as a combination of wind and solar vies to contribute more and more to the U.S.’s electricity needs, supplementing the energy generated by plants that burn fossil fuels, particularly our abundant natural gas, which burns cleaner than coal.
For anyone who needs to see more evidence that wind energy is viable, look no further than Texas, that symbol of oil and gas production which also leads the U.S. in wind energy production. Of course, Texas also has vast tracts of open, windswept land on which turbines look like tiny pinwheels in the distance.
Worldwide, wind energy leads the way in renewables. According to National Geographic, from 2000 to 2015, cumulative wind capacity around the world increased from 17,000 megawatts to more than 430,000 megawatts. In 2015, China also surpassed the EU in the number of installed wind turbines and continues to lead installation efforts.
So wind is important as the world develops renewables in the face of climate change. It’s just unfortunate and unfair that rural Americans with less resources and political clout — like those in the towns of Freedom and Farmersville — often have to lose so much as part of the solution.
(Jim Eckstrom is executive editor of the Olean Times Herald and Bradford Publishing Co. His email is jeckstrom@ oleantimesherald.com.)