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Editorial: Let's talk turbines

The Erie County Legislature’s Energy and Environment Committee is scheduled to consider a resolution today about the potential construction of wind turbines along the shores of Lake Erie. The resolution makes a few valid points before jumping to a premature conclusion: It opposes the construction of any new turbines.

The resolution, introduced by Legislators Lynne Dixon, I-Hamburg, and John Mills, R-Orchard Park, states that it recognizes the decision on turbines will be made by the federal government. It asks that the U.S. and New York State governments, prior to signing off on any plan for wind farms, study the potential environmental impact and “engage in extensive debate with local residents who live in and around any potential construction site.”

“There needs to be more conversation and environmental impact studies before moving forward,” Dixon said when announcing the resolution in June.

We couldn’t agree more that conversation would be good. So why does this resolution – which does not have the weight of law – seek to stop the conversation before it takes place?

Representatives from the Diamond Wind company earlier this year met with officials from the Town of Evans about a possible plan to place wind turbines in the lake, just outside the shorelines. That stirred up discussions among local residents, some of whom are opposed to the idea, and the topic has become a political football. Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, and State Sen. Chris Jacobs, came out opposed to the idea. Sen. Robert Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, sponsored a recent forum about potential dangers of wind turbines.

Dixon, an Independent with Republican Party support, is running for county executive.

Opposition to alternative energy sources seems to play well with political conservatives. President Trump, at a political rally earlier this year, dismissed wind power, saying the turbines are “like a graveyard for birds,” and “they say the noise causes cancer.”

It is a fact that turbines involve bird casualties, but the fear factor is overblown. FactCheck.org says that “annual bird deaths from turbines range from as low as 21,000 to 679,000 – numbers that are well below the billions of estimated bird deaths from cats or the hundreds of millions from collisions with vehicles or buildings.” FactCheck is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

What is more, if bird safety is an issue, a recent New York Times story quoted scientists who say that human-caused factors, including climate change, put many species of birds at risk of extinction. Transitioning from fossil fuels to alternative energy such as wind and solar power is clearly a necessity for the United States. And it would save birds.

The Dixon-Mills resolution mentions concerns about birds as well as about the potential for turbines to disturb the fish in Lake Erie that are a source of food and sport for anglers. Fish are important to our region. Questions about potential effects on fish would need to be answered during the approvals process, which is long and involved.

There is no actual proposal yet for turbines in Lake Erie. No one should endorse or oppose the idea of such a plan sight-unseen. Let the conversation continue.

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