League of Women Voters hosts debate on benefits, detriments of wind power in Chautauqua County
By DAMIAN SEBOUHIAN
OBSERVER Staff Writer
In light of the controversy surrounding the growing number of wind power projects in Chautauqua County, the League of Women Voters hosted a debate on the topic at the Jamestown Community College North County Center in Dunkirk.
Dr. Mark Twichell, of the group Preservation of Agricultural Land Serenity (PALS), urged caution and called for further investigation regarding the use of wind power, while David Alecea, regional organizer for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, spoke glowingly of the benefits of wind power.
About 50 area residents attended the debate, with several adding their input during the audience participation portion.
Twichell structured his presentation by deconstructing the credibility of the primary claims made by the wind power industry and its supporters — namely that wind power is safe, builds community cooperation, is economically fruitful, and is clean and green.
“When we (members of PALS and other concerned citizens) attend meetings at the county or townships, we feel that we are part of a separate reality because the facts that we present are apparently unrecognized,” Twichell said. “When we hear the wind industry and its supporters say, ‘Our product and its application is clean,’ we see increased carbon dioxide emissions at home and abroad. This is an inconvenient truth. When we hear the wind industry say, ‘Our product and its application is clean,’ we see noise pollution, both of the audible and the inaudible variety.”
By “inaudible” Twichell meant what he called infrasound, part of the “spectrum of noise called low frequency noise,” which, according to Twichell, is not measured by the industry.
“The wind industry refuses to include a full spectrum measurement of the noise it creates,” Twichell said. “They have steadfastly for four decades, ever since this issue became a public health concern in 1980 when the very first industrial wind turbine was put up in North Carolina, they’ve known about this. They refuse to consider it. Their position is what we can’t hear can’t harm us.”
Twichell called for more investigation of infrasound followed by appropriate regulations.
“Instead of regulation we see violation of the World Health Organization for audible noise. Not only are they lying to us about the sound we cannot hear, but they’re not dealing with the audible noise as measured by decibels. In New York state there is a list of decibels for rural communities. The first thing the wind developer says when he comes to your town is, ‘Can’t we jack up that decibel limit a little bit? How about 35 at night. We know you’re used to 25 or 30, but wouldn’t 35 or 40 be OK?'”
While David Alecea did not address the infrasound aspect of the possible noise pollution created by wind turbines, he focused on other points.
“All the peer reviewed research that’s out there shows that there are no negative health impacts from wind turbines,” Alecea said. “They have been conclusive in that. They’ve tested things like ear pressure. They found no connection with sleep disturbances. What the studies have found is annoyance. People are annoyed by wind turbines. The annoyances are linked to financial benefits and what they thought of the process. If you receive some funding, you’re less likely to complain about the project. If you think the process was fair, that you had a say, that you had the ability to speak about the turbines, you’re less likely to be annoyed.”
Twichell argued that wind turbines and wind farms have caused a rise in bat and bird deaths.
“In Scientific America, about a year ago, they came out with the fact that for bats in North America, the leading cause of mortality is wind farms,” Twichell said. “I thought it was white nose disease. But it’s wind farms by far.”
Alecea acknowledged that with any kind of human development, there is bound to be an impact to the natural world.
“They’re going to kill some birds. It’s going to happen,” said Alecea. However, he stressed that vulnerable habitats should always be taken into consideration when determining where to locate a wind project. “There have been cases where Sierra Club has opposed a wind project, particularly in California where (such farms are) going to put a strain on raptors. In other cases there are mitigation measures put in place that will help minimize the impact on wildlife.”
Twichell argued against the claims that wind power is economically beneficial to communities.
“When they say they are cost competitive, we look at $160 billion in subsidies, and you can look that up. We thank Enron for the production tax credit and as commented by Warren Buffet, a highly respected investor: ‘there’s no reason to invest in wind energy technology because it makes no sense.'”
Twichell added that wherever wind farms are erected, property values go down.
Alecea did not dispute the decrease in property value argument, but elaborated on tax credits, explaining that all large industries are given the same production tax credit as wind farms.
“This is something that’s standard,” said Alecea. “Power plants are expensive; whether it’s a gas plant or a wind farm, if they were taxed at the regular property value your electricity bills would be two to four times as much just for those taxes. So years ago, New York decided on this PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) system for all of our power plants. Whether it’s a coal or a gas plant, the communities get some benefits. The cost is held down a bit so we can all turn on our lights and be able to afford it.”
Alecea championed wind power as the energy of the present and future for New York state.
“What I see with wind energy is a real opportunity to move New York into a 21st century economy,” Alecea said. “We’re already seeing it happen. As of this January there are 115,000 New Yorkers employed in the clean energy industry. Over 500 of those jobs are here in Chautauqua County.”
Alecea used Sheldon as an example of a success story town.
“In Sheldon, New York they had a wind project that was built there (about 10 years ago). That project paid about $800,000 in taxes to the town. The town used to take in $600,000 in property taxes. So they’re making more property taxes and the town supervisor, being a fairly conservative guy, eliminated all the town property taxes. No one in that town has been paying town property taxes, which is huge in New York.”
Alecea explained that New York state “has set a target of getting 50 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2030. Wind is the cheapest technology out there in terms of power generation in the U.S.”
Alecea mentioned other areas around the county and the globe that are embracing wind energy and other renewable energy sources.
Iowa’s goal is to be 100 percent wind energy powered by 2020.
Texas is at 30 percent wind and “has actually gone to days where it’s at 100 percent,” Alecea said.
“Costa Rica has been 100 percent renewable for 90 days straight once. We can’t shift to 100 percent overnight. We can get there over the long-term. This is a place to start.”
Perhaps the strongest, most emphatic argument against the way the wind industry is conducting its business came from a member of the audience.
Jill Casey of Arkwright identified herself as a former member of the Sierra Club and an advocate for the environment, but posited that when it comes to wind energy, “there’s a couple of fundamental flaws. There is no required economic impact study as part of the review process. I think we would benefit from that.
“If the data is assumed to be accurate, then there’s a decrease in property value for a limited payment to the host community. We have to find out where that balance is. For those who could lose property value, the short time payments to our community may in fact not make up for the loss of property values and therefore revenue received to the school, the town, the county. We don’t measure that as part of the process to permit the projects and we absolutely should.”
Casey called for more transparency from the industry and the state when communicating with local governments about instituting wind projects.
“We have never received a single written correspondence from our township about the (Cassadaga Wind) project.,” Casey said. “There is public notice that you can go to town hall meetings, but never once did they send out a newsletter or an email or a postcard to talk about the development process. That area could be vastly improved.”
Finally, Casey argued that Western New York doesn’t even need wind energy, considering the power of the Falls.
“We have enough electricity from one of the cleanest sources,” Casey said. “Hydro. We have Niagara Falls generating hydroelectricity at levels much greater than this region needs. We shouldn’t have to bear all the burden of electricity production. Our energy policy should be locally driven. If we need more electricity down state, we should generate more downstate. it’s cheaper, it’s better for the grid, it’s greener.”
For more information about the Sierra Club and wind energy go to https://niagarasierraclub.com/renewable-energy/.
For more information about the Chautauqua County League of Women Voters, go to: http://www.lwvchautauqua.org/.