You’re busy, we understand, but this isn’t a little project you can ignore. It will affect you, it will change the entire look and feel of North East, it’s huge and there’s a good chance you don’t know much about it. So let’s talk, right here. We’ve written down some of the questions people have asked us, probably some of the same ones you would ask, with the simplest answers possible so you can figure out why many of us are concerned and trying to get this information out to everyone.
Q. Like you said, I’m busy, just give me the short version. What’s this all about?
A. A wind developer from Texas, Pioneer Green Energy, approached a number of farmers and other landowners in North East Township and asked them to lease their land for the purpose of putting up industrial wind turbines. This process began about 2 ½ years ago. During that time they had discussions among themselves and with township supervisors, working out details of the project. Although there has been some limited coverage in the Erie Times News and the North East News Journal, very few actual details were made known to the public. This, we’ve come to find out, was by design.
About one month ago, there was a notice that a proposed public ordinance was going to be presented along with zoning of WE or Wind Energy, showing where in the township the turbines could be built along with details of things like setback requirements from property lines and buildings. This was the first real opportunity for anyone, outside of the small group directly involved, to see what was being proposed.
It’s HUGE! The overall project and the turbines themselves are on a scale like nothing North East has ever seen. If it goes forward, it will dramatically and permanently change everything about North East and yet, the public has had virtually no knowledge of it or input into it. We’ve been kept in the dark.
Q. What do you mean by huge? I’ve seen those windmills on Sidehill Road, they look fine to me.
A. Those little windmills on Sidehill Road are like toys in comparison to what they want to build, it’s like comparing a fishing boat to an aircraft carrier. The utility scale, industrial wind turbines they’re proposing are 500 feet tall! They’re not little or cute, they’re spectacularly out of scale with anything in North East and they want to put up as many as 50 or 75 of them, for starters. They will tower far over the buildings and trees, they will dominate the skyline. When taken as a whole, North East will no longer be known for grape vineyards, wineries and farms, we’ll be known as the town with those gigantic wind turbines. There will be no place in the township you will not see these things, the view of the ridge will be terribly transformed.
Q. If they’re so huge, why are the farmers and landowners signing leases to put them on their land?
A. One word, money. The wind developers have told them they can make anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 per turbine per year. Whether they will really make that much is open to question, but what isn’t questionable is they think they will, so they are willing to destroy sizable portions of their farms and any other land they own to build these turbines in hopes of a big payoff. Sadly, they’re also willing to build these, not caring what their neighbors think or how it will affect anyone else, and the effects on everyone else can be, like the rest of this project, huge.
Q. Would farmers really want to destroy their farms, can’t they have turbines and continue farming? Is construction a big deal?
A. The promise of limited damage to their land and a quick return to farming is what developers always say, it’s part of the pitch and with a promise of a big payoff, landowners are eager to believe it. Unfortunately, actual experience in town after town, shows things don’t go quite so smoothly.
Think about what is involved. The construction requires a lot of heavy equipment, bulldozers, excavators and shovels of all kinds to clear a path for the access roads on the farm which need to handle the heavy trucks and cranes to follow. The access roads often cut diagonally across fields because the oversize loads can’t negotiate tight turns.
At the actual location of the turbine, a hole about 50 feet in diameter and 30 feet deep is filled with close to 30 tons of reinforcing steel and then filled with 25 truck loads of concrete to build a base for the turbine. The base alone weighs over 400 tons, 800,000 pounds of steel reinforced concrete.
Then you need a crane. The crane arrives in pieces on 14 tractor trailers and is assembled in place because the boom is so long. It’s big and wide and moves on tracks, but only limited distances. It doesn’t maneuver around things, you make room for it.
Then come the parts of the actual turbine. The tower, over 300 feet tall by itself, comes in multiple pieces, each an oversize load that has to make its way to the site over local roads and then on to the farm to where it will be built. The turbine is brought in, then each blade, each a huge load that needs direct access to the site, no tight turns, just a straight shot. Sorry about those grape vineyards and fruit trees, they need to go.
Then after the whole turbine is built, trenches have to be dug for the power lines, once again, crops get dug up and destroyed.
Repeat this process for each and every one of those 75 wind turbines and you’ll begin to understand what the land will look like afterwards. If you’re growing something like corn, you can prepare the land and plant the following year with some loss due to the actual turbines and roads that must remain, but grape vineyards and fruit trees?
The promised payoff makes it easy to overlook the reality, but once it gets started, it’s too late to say no.
Q. Well, it’s their land, can’t they do what they want with it?
A. If you live out in the middle of nowhere on a 50,000 acre ranch, you have a lot of leeway to do anything you please. When you get closer to other people, you need to keep those other people in mind, it’s the neighborly thing to do. Even though we’re closer in a township like North East, most people don’t interfere in other people’s business, you do what you want as long as you don’t violate some local zoning laws or any other laws, but there’s a point, if things get out of hand, when you finally ask your neighbor, “What the heck are you doing?” These wind turbines are one of those times.
Neighbors don’t do this to neighbors, certainly not without having an open public discussion where everyone’s concerns and questions are answered, long before the project gets this far along.
Q. I’ve hardly heard about this. Why did it take so long for the project to get out in the open?
A. Great question! Wind developers found some years ago that these huge turbines were not popular and very few wanted them in their community. If they kept everything quiet until the last possible minute, residents didn’t have time to learn about what was going on and the project would get approved before anyone could object.
Once that tactic began to work, it was repeated over and over and if you look at other communities around the country, it’s the same story, before anyone knew the size and scope of the project, not to mention the negative effects, turbines were going up.
Q. I understand the developers want this and the landowners, too, but what about the local officials?
A. This is puzzling. In the supervisors meetings this past month, this project, the ordinance and the zoning were introduced almost as though it was a done deal, kind of a “Here it is, here’s what we’re doing.” Any other project most of us are aware of, on anything approaching the size and scope of this one, would be introduced at a public meeting long before it had gone this far. The pros and cons would be listed, how the community would benefit and architectural and engineering drawings would show everyone what to expect. The developers, if they were proud of their project, would be out front selling it to the community and the supervisors and planning board would be carefully examining the issues and ask the public for input. That’s how it should be, but it’s not what happened.
Even if developers wanted to keep this quiet to the last minute, you would expect the supervisors to hold a public meeting early on. Why have the township officials asked for no input? If they did, who did they ask? In those early meetings, who took part? What was discussed? What decisions were made? By whom? How were the lines for the wind energy zones drawn? Who decided on their location? What criteria were used? Township officials are our representatives and need to look out for the interests of all of the residents of the township, not just a few, especially when the decision will have an impact on everyone else, in some cases, a major impact. Like we said, very puzzling.
Interesting, too, is the ordinance they presented is almost a perfect copy of an ordinance written by an assembly of pro wind energy groups, making it really easy for developers to go ahead with almost no protection for the community.
And for those of you outside the current WE zone, there’s no guarantee it will not expand or that no variances will be issued. If they build them at all, they may build them all over.
Q. What impacts are you referring to? What should I be aware of?
A. The list is long, but here are a few:
The immediate visual impact is a big one, it dramatically changes the impression you get when you look at North East, monster wind turbines don’t blend in or fit in, they stick out and make the entire countryside look completely different. Even many supporters think they’re ugly.
Loss of property value is huge. Trying to sell a home near a wind turbine cuts your potential buyers to a tiny fraction of what you might have otherwise. Even before turbines go in, a realtor has to disclose the possible construction to any potential buyers and most will just look elsewhere until they know what will happen. You may literally lose tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars because of the project. Even in locations further away, many buyers don’t want to see them from their house. If it’s a choice of similar properties, the home with a turbine nearby or within sight of one will lose.
The turbines need a light on top, white in the day, red at night. Think of the nighttime view of 75 blinking red lights on the tops of those towers.
Shadow flicker from the blades when the sun is on the side opposite of you. During sunrise and sunset, the shadow can extend a long way, especially when you have a turbine 500 feet tall. These moving shadows can have a very visually disturbing effect because they can last for some time.
Noise. Turbines make a variety of noises, some higher pitched like a jet engine and some low frequency that you hardly hear, but you can feel. These noises happen whenever the turbine is moving and vary with wind speed and direction. The huge concrete base can transmit vibration through the ground.
Both the noise and flicker can cause real health problems, some severe and constant headaches being common, but developers like to say, “You’ll get used to it.”
Potential disturbance and pollution of ground water. Wells are often disturbed because of the construction.
Bird kills. A surprisingly large number of birds are killed by the blades, especially hawks and eagles who look at the ground in search of prey. In a migratory flyway area, like we have in North East, the problem is much greater.
Bats are killed in large numbers, even if they just get close to the blades. The change in air pressure can cause trauma to their lungs.
Satellite TV, cell phone reception and Doppler radar are all impacted by the blades.
The construction process is noisy, damages roads, may go on 24 hours a day, blocks traffic, it’s an enormous project.
All of these points require a long discussion on their own, but this gives you an idea of what needs to be considered before a project like this is built.
Q. Have there been any environmental impact studies? Have they looked at the water issues, noise issues, wildlife issues or anything else?
A. The developers say there’s no problem with any of these things, but we haven’t seen a single study to back up that claim. It’s the old “Trust us, really, it’s fine.” We prefer to “Trust, but verify.” We think you would prefer that, too.
Q. That loss of property value sounds serious. What do they say about that?
A. Same as before, they say, “Trust us, there’s no problem.” Like we said before, we prefer something more substantial.
Q. But aren’t green energy projects good?
A. Green energy is the current buzzword, especially since the government is throwing so much money at it. Of course, with wind energy, without huge government subsidies, these turbines would not even get built in the first place, they produce high cost, unreliable, intermittent energy.
People may say, they’re better than coal or other conventional power plants, but wind turbines don’t replace any of those power plants. Since wind energy varies with the wind, not with demand, there has to be enough conventional capacity to continue producing all of the electricity the turbines produce since they may not be producing any when it’s needed.
Since turbines don’t replace any power plants, they’re just adding more generators to produce the same amount of electricity, the utilization of each power plant is lower and increases the cost for any electricity that is produced. Electric rates go up.
Q What’s the rush? Why can’t this stop until everyone gets a chance to find out more?
A. There’s no good reason to hurry. Of course, the developers are worried the tax credits and subsidies may run out and they also worry you may find out more and oppose the project.
We think everyone should have a say and if it’s a good project now like they say it is, it will be a good project if it stops for a little while until you can take a closer look. If it can’t stand closer scrutiny, it should stop immediately.
Q. So why build them in North East, what’s in it for the rest of us?
A. We can’t get an answer because they don’t have one. Some communities get a tax benefit, but the supervisors, when asked, said that hadn’t been decided yet! We’re on the verge of passing an ordinance for the benefit of only a few. The electricity isn’t for North East, it just goes into the grid. The rest of us don’t get paid, only the landowners do. All of us pay a heavy price, but the developers like to say, we’ll just have to get used to it.
Q. I don’t want to get used to it, I want to ask more questions, what do I do?
A. Come to the next planning board and supervisors meeting on Monday, May 6th at 7PM in the township building. Get more information, ask questions, form your own opinions and bring a friend. You can’t sit this one out. It’s too important.