Monday, August 18, 2008

Wind farms apparently have downsides, too, especially in upstate New York

Several of my recent posts have sung the praises of wind farms, focusing on their benefits for rural communities in particular. Now, today's New York Times features an exhaustive report on the downsides of these whirring towers, at least as they are playing in upstate New York, the so-called "North Country." The headline is "In Rural New York, Windmills Can Bring Whiff of Corruption," and in it, Nicholas Confessore tells of a "modern-day gold rush" -- but in an industry that has not sought to site the turbines in affluent places downstate, like Long Island. One aspect of the story are feuds that have arisen among neighbors and families in this area near the Canadian border where the lease options are very valuable in the context of low incomes.

Confessore also tells of an investigation by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo into allegations that companies have "colluded to divide up territory and void bidding against each other for the same land."

Here is an excerpt that paints a vivid portrait of the socio-economic situation in the North Country, including rural restructuring:

The industry’s interest in New York’s North Country is driven by several factors. The area is mostly rural, with thousands of acres of farmland near existing energy transmission lines. Moreover, under a program begun in 2004, the state is entering into contracts to buy renewable energy credits, effectively subsidizing wind power until it can compete against power produced more cheaply from coal or natural gas.

Confessore quotes one local official who explains that some landowners are using funds generated by the leases to hold on to family land.

The print edition story is accompanied by various photos by Christine Muschi for the New York Times. I especially like the one that juxtaposes the clothesline, a quintessentially rural image, against the ultra-contemporary wind turbines. The caption for this photo on the story's multi-media feature is a long one that notes several additional problems some see with the wind turbines, including noise and the vertigo experienced by some who live near them and see their shadows.

Who'd have thought wind turbines would become the latest, "not in my backyard" phenomenon?

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