By Pamela Atwater
For residents of suburban or urban communities, it is appealing to support industrialized wind projects; they will never be in their neighborhoods. They will be far away, visible only if they choose to visit them. And if they do not like them, then they can choose to visit or vacation somewhere else. Most proponents of corporate wind projects tout the dangers of climate change and then announce the number of homes a wind project will power.
But for the residents of the towns of Somerset and Yates, who were left completely out of the Another Voice column on Apr. 25 by Bob Ciesielski of the Sierra Club, the focus is not on generalized goals but on the specifics. Apex has proposed placing industrial wind turbines larger than any building in Buffalo within 1,500 feet of our homes. They are proposed to be taller than 600 feet, with 50 to 70 of these massive towers along 12 miles of our towns. They will impact every person and every family.
The most serious negative impacts include noise, birds, and property values. Wind projects increase the sound level by 10 to 20 decibels within a mile of the project; the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation says a nuisance-level increase starts at six decibels, and the World Health Organization says this level of night noise is unhealthy. The American Bird Conservancy says the Lighthouse Wind project is one of the worst sited wind projects in the nation because of its location in an international migratory bird pathway. Numerous studies conclude a consistent 20 to 30 percent drop in home values, but Mr. Ciesielski relies on self-serving wind industry studies. Other concerns include the disruption of tourism, hunting and fishing destinations and the possible interference with the future of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.
Wind projects in New York cannot operate without sufficient backup power plants integrated into the grid; these are almost always fueled by natural gas and are not emissions-free. No one really knows whether wind projects have a beneficial impact on CO2 emissions, but much depends on the manner in which they are integrated into the grid. The case of Denmark Mr. Ciesielski cites is unusual, because Denmark relies on abundant hydropower in the Scandinavian countries to balance out intermittent wind power, and has the transmission infrastructure to send excess wind power to other European Union countries.
In New York State the grid operator has written to the Public Service Commission that the lack of transmission infrastructure prevents wind projects in Western New York, where electricity demand is declining, from transporting their power to the New York City metro region where the energy is needed. Worse, New York’s rules require wind-generated electricity to be utilized first, ahead of even zero-emissions power from Niagara Falls. As a result, according to the grid operator, Niagara Falls power is being grounded out to accommodate wind projects. That’s obviously another reason wind provides little or no net benefit to ratepayers (quite the opposite) or the environment.
The Sierra Club got a black eye a few years ago when it became public that they were taking substantial contributions from the natural gas industry to promote gas as a “bridge fuel” to a renewable future. Sierra Club did a mea culpa and an about-face, and now opposes any buildout of natural gas infrastructure. How much money is the Sierra Club getting from the wind industry?
Pamela Atwater of Somerset is president of Save Ontario Shores Inc.