Here in Rock County we've seen the destruction wind developers can bring to a community. Before a single turbine has been erected, family relations have been shattered, neighbors have stopped speaking to one other, and many of us worry about being able to stay in the homes we've worked so hard for. The green these developers are after isn't environmental. And they don't seem to care who they hurt in order to get it. They are secretive, they don't give us straight answers, and they have turned life as we know it in our community upside down. So when people say "The wind is free"-- for those of us who have been living with the threat of 40 story industrial wind turbines forcibly sited 1000 feet from our doors-- there's nothing free about it.
THE WIND ISN'T FREE This week, the story of the down side of industrial wind farms has gone national. As reported in Newsweek, the Washington Post and the New York Times: from a distance, a wind farm doesn't look so bad. But when you look closer, when you are forced to live inside of one, it's a different picture. This video was recently made by a resident of the town of Byron in Wisconsin's Fond du Lac county. It's a good picture of what happens when wind developers have their way and put turbines too close to our homes, all the time assuring us they won't cause us any trouble. There is a place for wind energy, but 1000 feet from our homes isn't it.
A bitter wind; Huge windmills on farmland disrupt tranquility, split town and families
August 16, 2008
by Helen O'Neill
in New York Times
John Yancey leans against his truck in a field outside his home, his face contorted in anger and pain.
"Listen," he says.
The rhythmic whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of wind turbines echoes through the
air. Sleek and white, their long propeller blades rotate in formation,
like some other-worldly dance of spindly-armed aliens swaying across
Yancey knows the towers are pumping clean electricity into the grid, knows they have been largely embraced by his community
But Yancey hates them.
He hates the sight and he hates the sound. He can't stand the gigantic
flickering shadows the blades cast at certain points in the day.
But what this brawny 48-year-old farmer's son hates most about the
windmills is that his father signed a deal with the wind company to
allow seven turbines on Yancey land.
Yancey lives with his wife and children on Yancey Road, on the edge of
the Tug Hill plateau, about a kilometre from the old white farmhouse in
which he and his seven siblings were raised.
Horses graze in a lower field. Amish buggies clatter down a nearby
road. From the back porch are sweeping views of the distant
But the view changed dramatically in 2006. Now Yancey Road is surrounded by windmills.
Yancey and some of his brothers begged Ed Yancey to leave the family
land untouched. But the elder Yancey pointed to the money -- a minimum
of $6,600 a year for every turbine. This is your legacy, he told them.
John Yancey doesn't care.
"I just want to be able to get a good night's sleep and to live in
my home without these monstrosities hovering over me," he says.
For a long time he didn't speak to his father. He thought about leaving Yancey Road for good.
The Tug Hill plateau sits high above this village of about 4,000, a
remote wilderness where steady winds whip down from Lake Ontario and
winter snowfalls are the heaviest in the state.
For decades dairy farmers have wrested a living from the Tug --
accepting lives of wind-swept hardship with little prospect of much
Then, a few years ago, change roared onto Tug Hill. Overnight it
seemed, caravans of trucks trundled onto the plateau and for a couple
of years the village was ablaze with activity.
Today, 195 turbines soar above Tug Hill, 122 metres high, their 40-metre-long blades spinning at 14 revolutions per minute.
The $400-million Maple Ridge wind project, the largest in New York
state, brought money and jobs and a wondrous sense of prosperity. But
the windmills also came with a price -- and not just the visual impact.
"Is it worth destroying families, pitting neighbour against neighbour,
father against son?" asks John Yancey, whose family has farmed Tug Hill
for generations. "Is it worth destroying a whole way of life?"
Similar questions are being asked across the country as more small
towns grapple with big money and big wind. For many, the changes are
worth it. With rising oil and gas prices and growing concerns about
global warming, wind is becoming an attractive alternative.
The Maple Ridge project produces enough electricity to power about
100,000 homes. Other wind projects are going up all over the state. T.
Boone Pickens is talking about building a $10-billion wind project in
the Texas panhandle. Everyone, it seems, is talking about wind.
Yancey understands its seduction. An electrician, he knows as much
about the turbines as anyone. He helped build and install the ones on
Turbines have their place, Yancey says, just not where people live.
And he accuses the wind company of preying on vulnerable old-timers like his father.
In the front room of the little house where he moved after retiring
from farming, Ed Yancey, 92, says he doesn't feel preyed upon. He feels
"It's better than a nuclear plant," Ed Yancey says. "And it brings in good money."
Ben Byer, a 75-year-old retired dairy farmer, feels the same way.
"It sure beats milking cows," he says of the seven turbines on his land.
But Byer, who is John Yancey's uncle, understands the lingering
resentments the windmills fuel between those who profit and those who
don't. The wind company signed lease agreements with just 74 landowners
and "good neighbour" agreements with several dozen more, offering $500
to $1,000 for the inconvenience of living close to the turbines.
Byer's 47-year-old son, Rick, lives higher up on the plateau in a small
white house with a two-seat glider parked in a shed. The glider is Rick
Byer's passion. He flies on weekends when he's not working at the
In order to launch, the glider has to be towed by truck down a long
rolling meadow across the road. When the wind company began negotiating
with his father to put turbines on his "runway," Rick Byer delivered a
"I told him if he allowed turbines in that field he would lose a son."
The son's rage won out, but Rick Byer still seethes at the forest of
turbines that sprouted across from his home. Now he speaks out in other
area towns where windmills are proposed.
Like most of their neighbours, the Yanceys and Byers had a hard time
believing the wind salesman when he first rolled into town in 1999.
"No one thought it would happen," John Yancey says.
At first local officials were skeptical too. But they listened, and
learned, and they started hammering out agreements with the wind
company, Atlantic Renewable Corp., and its partner, Zilka Renewable
Energy. (The companies have changed names and ownership several times,
and the Maple Ridge Wind project is now jointly owned by PPM Energy of
Portland, Ore., which is part of the Spanish company Iberdrola SA, and
Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy LLC, which is owned by the Portuguese
conglomerate Energias de Portugal.)
Eventually officials from Lowville, Martinsburg and Harrisburg, along
with Lewis County legislators, negotiated a 15-year
payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement that gave the three jurisdictions
$8.1 million in the first year.
Martinsburg, with a population of 1,249, got the biggest municipal cut
because it hosts the largest number of windmills -- a total of 102.
Martinsburg supervisor Terry Thiesse, who has a windmill on his land,
says the municipal budget went from just under $400,000 to more than
$1.2 million with the first wind payment in 2006.
The school district, which serves all jurisdictions, received $2.8 million in 2006 and $3.5 million in 2007.
Wind finances are a source of great confusion for many locals, who
assumed they would get free electricity once the turbines were
installed. In fact, the energy is sold to utility companies and piped
into the grid.
Though the wind itself is free, companies have enormous startup costs:
a single industrial wind turbine costs about $3 million. In New York,
companies benefit from the fact that the state requires 25 per cent of
all electricity to be supplied from renewable sources by 2013. They
also get federal production tax credits in addition to "green"
renewable energy credits, which can be sold in the energy market.
In this context, the annual payments of about $6,600 per turbine are
relatively small. But for some cash-strapped farmers, they're a big
"It's the best cash cow we ever had," booms retired dairy farmer Bill
Burke, who has six turbines on his land. Burke, 60, is a school board
member and county legislator, who also works part-time for the wind
Burke sold the last of his herd in 2004. Without the income from the
turbines, he says, he might have had to sell his 100-year-old farm,
too. He has no regrets about grabbing his "once in a lifetime chance at
Not everyone agrees.
For many, the realities of living with windmills are more complicated
than clean energy and easy money. People have mixed feelings about the
enormous scale of the project. They question what will happen when the
15-year agreements expire. There are concerns about the impact of
turbines on bird and bat populations. Some accuse lawmakers of getting
too cosy with wind developers -- allegations that prompted New York
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to launch an investigation into two wind
companies and their dealings with upstate municipalities. (The
investigation does not involve Maple Ridge.)
Such concerns have prompted some towns to pass moratoria on industrial
turbines in order to learn more. Malone and Brandon recently banned
"It seemed like the cost, in terms of how it changed the community, was
too high," Malone supervisor Howard Maneely said after visiting
On Nefsey Road, which runs parallel to Yancey Road, Dawn Swenedoski, a
sixth-grade teacher, finds a certain beauty in the windmills.
But she is sympathetic to her neighbours' concerns. The Amish farmer
across the road hates how the towers have disrupted the sense of
tranquility that lured his family from Maryland in the first place. And
Swenedoski, who sees the windmills only in the distance, understands
John Yancey's annoyance at living with them up close.
"It's hard when change is for the common good, but some people suffer more than others," she says.
No one understands that better than the Yanceys, struggling to patch
fractured family relationships, even as they struggle to come to terms
with the turbines.
High on Tug Hill sits the Flat Rock Inn, a popular gathering point for
snowmobilers and all-terrain vehicle riders. Twenty years ago, Gordon
Yancey carved out this chunk of land with the help of his father,
creating kilometres of forest trails and camping areas, set around a
2.5-hectare pond and a small rustic inn and bar.
All around stretch windmills, kilometres and kilometres of them. Yancey chokes up just looking at them.
"Dad taught us such respect for the land. For my father to be part of
this . . ." His voice trails off and he shakes his head and walks away.
This particular weekend is a busy one for Yancey's inn, which is
hosting a huge watercross event -- in which snowmobiles roar across the
pond, their speed keeping them from sinking. People come from all over
to race their machines across the pond. Campers roll in to watch. There
are campfires and barbecues, screaming engines and squealing children.
In the distance, Rick Byer's glider floats above the turbines. On the
ground, Gordon Yancey bellows race results through a loudspeaker.
Patriarch Ed Yancey talks about the old days -- before snowmobiles and
turbines. John Yancey works an enormous gas grill turning 50 sizzling
chickens on spits.
All around the windmills spin. John Yancey looks up from the grill
occasionally and grimaces. Right now, no one else seems to care.