Our Wind Farm Story
By Pam Foringer
It was almost 23 years ago when we built the home we hope to retire in. While we were looking for land to build on, we searched high and low for a piece of property we could afford. Our funds were limited and so were the parcels of land in our price range. We looked at the 3-acre parcel that seemed so desolate a number of times. We drove by in the early spring and tried to picture what it would be like atop this barren hillside in the cold, snowy months of a “Fenner winter”. The one thing that we did know was that in the summer months there was a magnificent view to the west and the sunsets were incredible. We wanted the piece and quiet of the country and this seemed like our best bet. So in April 1981 we started to clear the property and construction began on our new home. During the construction many of the contractors joked about how windy it was up here and told us we ought to put up a windmill. My husband even did a little research on small-scale windmills but never seriously considered erecting one as the cost was high and it would take years to break even.
During the first couple of years we planted over 1500 pines in the 2 acres behind our house. We hoped to be able to cut our own Christmas tree in a few years and eventually we’d have our own little animal sanctuary where deer could have shelter and the birds my husband loves to watch would flourish. And indeed we did cut our 1st Christmas tree about 7 years later. We only cut trees for about 3 more years before they were beginning to tower over us and it was time to let nature take its course. Over the years the Mother Nature has had a hand in changing the landscape. Trees have grown and trees have fallen due to several storms that involved high winds or the phenomenal icing, that though beautiful to look at, has done major damage. We have quite a lovely little forest out back now. The pines have grown to somewhere between 20 and 30 feet but they are dwarfed by the giant towers that now dominate the landscape no matter what direction we look. Never in a million years did we expect to be surrounded by these towers that passersby find so mesmerizing in their short 10 or 15 minute visits.
Let me tell you how this all began. It must have been about 5 years ago when we noticed the construction of a test tower directly to our south in the farm field next to our house. Soon rumors of the “Wind farm” began to swirl. Eventually town meeting started to take place and more information was forthcoming. We were never given a chance to vote on whether this project would actually become a reality. Most of our neighbors and I use the word loosely as we live on a road that has only 8 houses, I should probably say, the other residents of the town of Fenner seemed rather excited. They felt this was the best thing to happen to our township in years. My husband and I were concerned about the alteration of the landscape and what affect this project would have on us personally. There were a few other families that like us would be surrounded by towers and they were also concerned. The developer met with a group of 5 families a number of times to explain the plans and to reassure us that there would be very little change to the landscape. We were told they would only remove trees where absolutely necessary and all the cables and wiring would be underground. He reiterated that noise would not be a problem. The placement of the towers was explained to us and he even sent us computer renderings of what they would look like from our homes. We worried about our property values and how this would affect our appraisals. My husband and I never really considered selling our home because of the project; we have too much time invested to just pull up stakes and leave. But in this day and age you never know what circumstances can force you to relocate so we wanted to protect our investment. We were told the developer would extend a contract to us that would protect our property values for a period of 3 years from the time the project became operational. Basically if we decided to sell, and were forced to sell at a lower price due to the impact of the wind farm, the developer would pay us the difference. We received paperwork and sent it off to our lawyer to verify that it was an appropriate means of protecting our property values. He explained that it looked fine, there was certainly no harm in signing it but it really did nothing for us UNLESS we decided to sell and unless we indeed sold at a lower price. Although my husband and I were not planning to sell we signed the contract and waited for the developer to stop by and pick the copies up, as he said he would. Days passed and it seemed like he had dropped off the face of the earth, we were told he was off to work on a new project. I emailed him to let him know the copies were ready. We later found out that the developer had sold the entire project to another company. We still have the signed papers in an envelope but the time period has since passed. We have not pursued the subject any further. I don’t know if any of the other families have benefited from their contracts or not. One family has sold and moved away, I do not know the circumstances of their sale. We have had no contact with the other families; I have been told that one of the other families is in arbitration.
As the project began we knew we had been “punked” as the young people say these days. The number of workers and amount of construction equipment was staggering. We saw many hedgerows disappear as they cleared the way for access roads. That summer the dust covered every surface in my home, the only way to avoid it was to keep the windows closed. We have no air conditioning; we’ve always relied on the breeze to cool our house on hot summer days. How ironic, to find relief from the sweltering heat, we would have to use a air conditioner that uses much more power, just the thing that facilitated all these changes to our peaceful country existence.
The crane used to lift the turbine as it is placed on the tower is something to see, and of course people flocked to the site to watch the progress. Every time the crane had to be moved it was a major undertaking, as it didn’t even fit on the roads. The huge tracks it made as it moved slowly across the farm fields like a giant snail could be seen through out that summer. Caravans of trucks came loaded with 100 ft rotor blades. It was a very hectic time as these workers went about their daily duties and the towers inched their way toward the sky. In the autumn of 2001 the project went online and most of the workers moved on to their next job.
Not a day went by that I wasn’t asked by a friend or coworker what it was like now that the wind farm was up and running. So I’m sure you’re wondering how things have been since the project was completed. Well, as I sit in my kitchen and type this on my computer I hear the constant hum of the blades, its early November, a brisk day and of course the windows are closed so that muffles the sound a little. In the summer, with the windows open there is nothing to block out the humming or the grinding sound that the turbine makes when it is being turned. For those that haven’t seen a wind tower up close, they are about the height of a 30-story building and the unit on top is the size of a small travel trailer. Because the wind constantly changes direction the blades have to be turned to catch the wind. Now you know, there isn’t a little man with a crank that lives in the bottom of each tower who turns the blade at the appropriate time. It is all monitored by computer and done mechanically, imagine turning a 24-ton object perched on top of a 200 ft tower. That takes a bit of force and at times the sounds that are emitted are rather eery. Depending on the weather it can sound like a grinding noise or at times the shrieking sound of a wild animal. In the winter the noise always seems much louder, perhaps because of the starkness of the season and lack of foliage to muffle the noise. Anyway, when people tell you that the wind towers are virtually noiseless, they haven’t lived a couple of football fields away from one 24/7. It has been 3 years now, I must say I will never get use to the view that greets me every time I drive home from work or the grocery store or any journey that takes me out of the Town of Fenner. On sunny days the towers are a bright white, a huge contrast to the beautiful blue sky. When it is gray and rainy they take on a gray color that almost, I repeat, ALMOST makes them disappear into the gloom of the day. In the heavy fog that frequently blankets our road they are virtually invisible, not even the red blinking lights can be seen. But regardless of whether you see them or not, you still hear them, even when they are not operating. When the brakes stop the rotors because it’s too windy, you hear a clunking and a grinding that sounds like a freight train’s cars bumping together. And when it’s time to start them again you can at times liken it to the roar of a jet engine.
We have some absolutely gorgeous sunrises and sunsets in Fenner. As the sun slowly rises to the east of our house it usually bathes our bedroom wall with it’s rays, unfortunately, we now get a strobe effect that can drive you absolutely crazy. It’s commonly called the “flicker factor”. As the sun shines through the rotors it creates a shadow pattern that you would liken to a strobe light. Because of the close proximity of 4 of the towers to our house we get this light show at various times of the day as the sun travels from east to west. Most of the time I have to close our shades to prevent this from giving me a migraine. And speaking of light shows, if this one during the day isn’t enough, we get the nighttime show as well. Each tower has red blinking lights on top of the turbine so unless the shades are closed in the bedroom at night there is a constant red light blinking in perfect view as we lie in bed. We have always enjoyed watching the night sky but now as we drive toward our road what you notice immediately is a huge cluster of blinking red lights.
In the past we would see thousands of Canadian geese as they made their way to the local swampland for a well-needed rest during their long journey north. The snow geese whose migration pattern brought them directly over us have since found a more convenient route; at least I haven’t seen them since. Proponents of the wind farm would say it’s not so but after 20+ years I think we can vouch for the fact. Our surrounding cornfields used to be full of geese this time of year, not anymore. It didn’t happen overnight but slowly the numbers have dwindled, is that just a coincidence?
That brings me to the next point of contention, traffic. We moved to the country because we liked the seclusion and not having to worry about constant traffic. If you check with our town supervisor he would tell you that the traffic has increased 10 to 20 times from what it used to be. Madison County and the Town of Fenner encourage people to visit the wind farm. Imagine my surprise when a coworker that had been to our county seat in Wampsville, NY brought me a brochure for the Fenner Wind Power Facility and there on the front was my house. My husband and I had no idea that the brochure had our house prominently displayed on it, we were neither asked or notified it would be part of the promoting of the wind farm. Of course we could not stop that anymore than we could stop the traffic. The thing that amazes me is the stupidity of some of the drivers. I can’t tell you how many times I have crested a knoll on our road to find a STOPPED vehicle just on the other side, sometimes the people remain inside the car but many times they are standing in the road and seem to be oblivious to the fact that this is not only dangerous to themselves but also to people just trying to get to their homes. I’ve even encountered a tripod set up in the middle of the road while some amateur photographer snaps pictures. One of the biggest shocks I got was the first time I came home to find a tour bus parked across from our house and the entire busload of senior citizens leaving the bus to go look at a rotor that is stored on some town property located across the road from our house. Since then I have seen more than one tour bus and numerous school buses. The increased traffic has not been good for our country roads that are already in need of repair. The town is supposedly receiving some form of compensation from Canastota Windpower, the owner of the project but I have yet to see it go into the upkeep of our roads at least not the one I live on. We’ve read in the newspapers how good this is for our local economy, I would like to know who locally is benefiting other than the select few who have towers on their property and the individuals who have a weekly ad in our local paper advertising the sale of Wind Farm T-shirts, key chains and bumper stickers.
Some people look at them as modern art; I personally prefer to see my modern art in a gallery. Everyone is shocked to find out we don’t get our power for free. It seemed like the right thing to do considering the disruption the project had caused. I understand that those who want to purchase “Green Power” pay a premium price for it. You may have noticed that your electric company has given you a choice of purchasing units of green power. We are already paying outrageous prices for gas now if we want the option of wind power we must pay more for that too. Someone is benefiting from this project, but many of us are paying in ways that have no monetary price. My family and I will continue to live on the property we call “home”, we’ll watch our trees grow knowing they’ll never be tall enough to block the view of the tower that looms just the other side of them. I wonder what these towers will look like in 20 years, lets hope they are not rusting giants!