In response to “The Powers that Be”

Mark, in your My Own Words section of the Fall ’03 issue of  Life in the Finger Lakes you solicited readers’ thoughts on new wind power technologies as a legitimate option for an alternate power source. I am in strong favor of investigating this energy source as a real contender to traditional fossil fuels or nuclear power. The eastern United States is behind the curve when compared to the Midwest and western states as well as Europe in harnessing the wind’s energies. Western New York is even behind counties to the east, in central New York, in taking advantage of this real potential power source.

I know of two such wind farms, south of the Thruway, just east of Syracuse. The first is the Madison Wind Farm in Madison County. It has seven windmills, each towering 300+ feet in the air. Its seven windmills went on line in 2000 supplying electricity from wind speeds of as little as a few miles an hour.  In this mostly agricultural area of central New York, the addition of this wind farm has sparked the side benefit of tourism and marketing in the form of t-shirts, tours and postcards.

The second wind farm is located outside Canastota and is visible from the Thruway on clear days. This farm has 10 windmills and can generate power enough to supply a small city. On a recent trip we traveled past the windmills which provided an extra thrill for my 7- and 5-year-old daughters who were excited to see the turbine blades rotate up close as we traveled by. Rather than an eyesore, I think these modern machines are a contrast to the rolling hills, yet they accent rather than take away the beauty of upstate. The quiet whoosh of the rotor blades are soothing in comparison to the sounds of any urban area.

A third project is under review to build a wind farm off the shores of Lake Ontario, near Oswego. I would think that would be a welcome alternative for the local residents as opposed to the existing nuclear plant there.

At a time when many small farmers upstate face difficult financial decisions about the future, wind farms may provide an alternative for some to selling out to developers ready to build another housing subdivision with rows of identical “pop-up” houses. I would think that there are several feasible sites within the Finger Lakes region for such projects. And the thought of redefining upstate as a producer of a viable, clean, renewable energy source is equally appealing, with the potential of reclaiming New York State jobs and economic prosperity north of New York City.

— Tom, Victor

Hi Mark,
In your Fall 2003 issue you asked for input on the subject of wind turbine power. I’m a native of Chautauqua County in western New York, and I’ve been in the Finger Lakes region for the past seven years, but from 1988 to 1996 I lived in Tehachapi, California, which has several large “windfarms” (as we called them) located in the mountain passes off Highway 58, so I can give you some insight into what it’s like to live in the midst of many wind turbines. I love nature, but I also love electricity. Windfarms are a way to have both, if things are handled well.

I can’t speak for the current state of the windfarms in the Tehachapi area, but during the time I lived there I thought the wind turbines were an asset. While Tehachapi has many spectacular mountain views, the windfarms were located mainly in the hilly “shrub” areas that are naturally quite bare of vegetation, definitely not the case with the hills in the Finger Lakes. The hilly areas of Tehachapi were scenic, but we’re not talking “take your breath away” territory.

The majority of the wind turbines near Tehachapi were the tall, single pillar structures with the multiblade impellers, but there were also a few of the Darrieus or “eggbeater” type of generators. Most of the wind turbines operated automatically, since they have their own electronic “brain.”

At the time, tours weren’t available to the the general public, i.e., as a regularly scheduled event, but my husband did tour one of the farms because he “knew someone who knew someone“ who worked there. I always thought he was fortunate to have had that opportunity. I suppose insurance liability issues are the determining factor in how “open” a windfarm is. Whether or not farms are open to the general public, I think it’s important for farm operators to be accountable and honest with the community about their enterprise. That would benefit all parties involved.

Of course long before any construction takes place the local wind conditions must be extensively surveyed to ensure efficient windfarm operation. Believe it or not, you can actually have too much wind. You definitely want well-managed, solvent concerns running a windfarm. Regular maintenance needs to be done on the structures because broken-down, long-idle wind turbines would have great eyesore potential in any location. During our time in Tehachapi it was rare to see a turbine out of commission for long periods of time, but it did happen sometimes. Although safer and more efficient than a nuclear power plant, a windfarm is more land-area intensive than an equivalent capacity nuclear power plant. This is probably a windfarm’s greatest drawback. Then there are possible unintended consequences, such as the impact windfarms can have on the safety of birds and bats during migration.

The Tehachapi windfarms generated substantial amounts of energy (over one billion kilowatt-hours, or 41 percent of the state’s wind-derived electric energy in 1995), and they also provided much curiosity. I commuted back and forth from Tehachapi to Edwards AFB fives days a week and I always saw cars and RVs pulled off the highway with people taking photos and videos of the turbines in action. Never underestimate the possibilities of tourism!

Perhaps this sounds a bit goofy, but to me, when the wind turbines were up and running, they looked like a bunch of kids in white jumpsuits doing constant cartwheels in the hills. And to anyone who asked me what I thought of the windfarms I would say: “I’d rather have a windfarm than a nuke plant in my backyard, any day!” And that was well before the time of 9/11 and its additional nuclear concerns.

— Mary, Hemlock

I took some photos down at the lake in our yard of a rare Chanterelle, Cantharellus Cibarius. The big mushroom is 8 inches across. I located a myco­phile on the net who identified it for me. He says it’s the best specimen he has ever seen.

— Dan, Honeoye

Yours is an all inspiring magazine for this near 70-years-young emigrant from Honeoye Lake. It rekindles old memories of childhood days of endless exploration of the mysterious wonders of the Bristol Hills “old growth” terrain. One idle note about the fall cover; in addition to the interesting composition, it is a good display of advanced poison ivy growth.

— James, Hillsborogh, New Jersey

This digital picture can’t even come close to adequately describing the northern lights show we were given at no charge in our own humble backyard on October 30.

— Tim and Tracy, Greece

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