Up until January 2003, under Article X of the New York State Public Service Commission, there was a review and approval process for construction and operation of  electric generating facilities of 80 megawatts or more.  Unfortunately, Article X expired this year, and as yet the legislature is still working on its replacement.  This has set the stage for the two windmill companies, Global Winds Harvest and Ecogen, to come into Prattsburgh and begin construction on separate projects that together will be capable of generating almost, but not quite, 160 megawatts of electricity.

            It would appear that each company was being careful to set up a project that would escape the scrutiny of Article X.  By planning 53 towers of 1.5 megawatts each, Ecogen and Global Winds Harvest would technically not have been accountable to the Public Service Commission, but of course they could not be sure that new legislation would set the same limits.  It is possible that when new approval processes are put into place the limit will be 70 megawatts or less.  This is one reason the companies are scrambling to get their projects going -- so that they can begin constructing before a new review process can be put in place.  It is also why they would have been extremely upset if the Prattsburgh Town Board had acceded to the wishes of the more than 500 citizens who signed a petition urging “the town to institute a moratorium on consideration of all wind projects until the community has had a fuller opportunity to completely explore all the issues and fully participate in the decision making.”

            After speaking with someone in Energy Chair Paul Tonko’s office it is my understanding that both companies will now have to go through a SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) Review instead of an Article X Review, which actually had a provision requiring developers to provide funds and an avenue for local people to voice their concerns.  The SEQRA Review is not necessarily going to be as intensive as a review under Article X.

The wind projects planned by Ecogen and Global Winds Harvest are huge.  Unlike a nuclear plant, which is in one spot with specific dimensions, the wind “farms” will spread out over thousands of acres of land, and that makes it harder to grasp the enormity and the impact on people, wildlife and the hills of the Finger Lakes. The representatives have been less than forthcoming about the size of the projects.  At the beginning they did not tell us how tall the towers would be.  They suggested we look at “similar” projects, but then we found out that the towers at the “similar” projects were smaller than the ones planned for this area.  Now we have learned that Ecogen is planning to build towers in Avoca, Wheeler and Cohocton.  Perhaps Ecogen was worried that if they had unveiled their plans all at once the public response would have been much more vocal – much sooner.

            If Ecogen and Global Winds Harvest truly wanted the people in Prattsburgh, Italy and the surrounding towns to understand the complexity of the project they would have come up with a full scale model, showing the hills of the Finger Lakes and the placement of the proposed towers, as well as the proposed access roads through the wooded and farm areas.  If the model towers were built to scale with lights on top, people would have a much better understanding of the effect of the lights on the surrounding hills and valleys.

            They have not done that, and I believe there are many misperceptions.  One of my neighbors was glad to hear about the access roads because she assumed it meant she’d now have more trails to ride her horses.  I don’t believe the property owners who’ve leased their land intended to make their land public pathways, but that is the misperception.  I also don’t believe that the owner of the horses is aware of the flicker effect from the windmills.  If she were, she would be sure to keep her horses far from the turning blades.

            Another neighbor was fairly sure he wouldn’t be affected by the 600watt strobe lights because he thought his trees would block them.  Unfortunately most trees are not four hundred feet high.

            Even if a scale model were built, there is no way to demonstrate how noisy the wind towers will be.  We probably won’t know about that until they are built, because there are so many variables.  From the research I have done it would seem that the noise in Prattsburgh will be the worst possible scenario due to the terrain that allows sound to travel, as well as the lack of background noise that presently exists.  Interviews with people who live 1500 feet away from existing wind towers have not been very encouraging to read.

In a joint statement issued on September 16 by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assembly Energy Committee Chair Paul Tonko concerning the Governor’s Power Transmission Legislation, the two legislators say,


“We urge the governor to work with the Legislature in developing a comprehensive energy policy that encompasses proper planning and public involvement and that provides both economic and environmental efficiencies”.


I would urge all legislators to listen to these words, apply them to the situation in Prattsburgh and demand that the SEQRA process for both companies be as intensive as the law allows.  Please keep in mind that the Town Board in Prattsburgh has declined to get involved in the planning of the wind towers. There are no setback requirements other than the ten foot one that applies to any other structure.  There is no limit on height.  This means that once the companies have SEQRA approval they can come into town and put the wind towers wherever they choose.

 Even if the Prattsburgh Town Board was willing to set guidelines for the projects, the whole thing really is beyond their scope. Before the projects proceed further, the entire situation should be looked at from the point of view of efficiency and environmental impact.  Just how much electrical energy will the state of New York receive from the wind towers and at what cost environmentally and economically?  A wind factory should not be allowed to intrude upon the residents of Prattsburgh and surrounding towns unless there is comprehensive study and planning by the residents, landowners and the people who are elected and appointed to serve our interests. 

                                                                        RUTH MATILSKY


CC:  Senator John R. Kuhl, Jr.

        Congressman Amo Houghton

        Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver

        Assemblyman Jim Bacalles

         Energy Chair Paul Tonko

         Naples Record

         Democrat and Chronicle

         Corning Leader

         The Courier

         Daily Messenger