ENFIELD, N.Y. — A community-owned wind farm in Enfield planned to begin construction next year is set to provide a significant portion of electricity to Cornell University and increase New York State’s renewable energy usage.
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However, some residents living near where the turbines are set to be erected say they are concerned for their safety.
What’s the proposed project?
Black Oak Wind Farm, LLC., plans to have seven 2.3 megawatt wind turbines built by General Electric, in total producing 16.1 megawatts, on approximately 1,000 acre parcel of land. All electricity produced on the farm, which is enough to power about 5,000 local households, have been purchased by Cornell.
Once completed, Black Oak will be New York State’s first community-owned wind farm, meaning state residents and companies are able to invest in the for-profit energy company. Marguerite Wells, vice president of the board of managers and the project manager, said the about 150 investors have put in $3 million into the project. The entire project is estimated to cost around $40 million.
The construction is expected to begin Spring of 2016 and will take approximately nine months to complete, Wells said. According to Black Oak’s site, it would require as much as 300 acres of solar panels to produce the same amount of energy from the farm’s seven turbines. Wells added that once construction is completed, it would require minimal manpower to maintain the turbines.
The project has been approved by the Enfield Town Board by a unanimous vote in January of this year. Black Oak would pay approximately $133,000 in payments in lieu of taxes which will be split among Tompkins County, Town of Enfield and two school districts.
“[The Enfield Town Board] have been very supportive and I think this is going to be a good thing for the town and I think they do too,” Wells said.
Why some Enfield residents say they are concerned
However, there are some Enfield residents expressing concern about the project.
Ken Donley, a resident of Enfield living near the intersection of Cayutaville Road and Black Oak Road, said he is one of “about 150” community residents who are against this project.
Donley described himself as a “huge environmentalist” and “pro green energy”. However, regarding the Black Oak Wind Farm, he said that he is “110 percent for [the project] being done in a responsible manner and in compliance with industry standards, and this project is far from that.”
One of Donley’s worries is the distance of wind turbines from residential properties. He said he is concerned that a turbine may collapse and fall near his home or that a piece of ice would fling off a turbine’s wing.
Black Oak says it is taking necessary precautions
According to Town of Enfield’s Wind Energy Facilities Local Law, a wind turbine has to be located 450 feet or 1.1 times the total height, whichever is greater, as measured horizontally from the center-point of the turbine to the closest edge of a residence.
Considering that turbines at Black Oak will be 483 feet from the base to the tip of the blade at its highest point in rotation, a turbine can be built just 531.3 feet from a place of residence. If it were to fall, then it could land less than 50 feet from a house.
In response, Wells said her company has already taken further precautions than what the town has suggested by following General Electric’s guidelines on the safe distance between a turbine and a home.
According to GE’s guidelines, a turbine placed where icing is possible should be 1.5(Hub height + rotor diameter) distance from an object in concern. For Black Oak’s turbines, the industry standard safe distance is approximately 985 feet, but Wells said all turbines that will be built on the farm will be a 1,000 feet or further from any place of residence.
Resident worries about safety
Jude Lemke is another Enfield resident living on Connecticut Hill Road who is against the wind farm project. Like Donley, one of Lemke’s main concerns is the possibility of the wind turbines damaging her property.
Lemke said that even though the turbines may be 500 feet or more from her house if one were to fall, there’s still a possibility the turbine could damage other parts of her.
“We bought this property because it had nice woods behind it that we could walk in. I’m not going to be able to walk back there because it’s not going to be safe anymore once they put that wind tower up,” she said.
Lemke moved from California to Enfield this past June when she purchased her Enfield property originally as a summer home. But after accepting a job here, she decided to settle down.
However, Lemke said if the wind farm does get built, she will put the Enfield property back on the market. She said this move will be a “significant economic impact for me because there’s no way I’m going to recover what I just spent on that property.”
‘A good neighbor agreement”
Donley said at any time during or after the construction he feels his or his family’s life is being negatively impacted by the wind farm, he will take legal action.
“If there were to be any collateral damage to myself, my property or my family, I would take things to the fullest extent of law and pursue legal matters,” Donley said.
In addition, Donley said he would reject an offer of $500 by Black Oak, which he described as an “agreement that we basically agree to accept $500 fee to offset our dealings with inconveniences and the negative lifestyle changes.”
On the other hand, Marguerite Wells said the $500 was part of a “good neighbor agreement.”
“We went around the project neighborhood, offering people what we call a good neighbor agreement,” she said. “[It] acknowledges the project may cause some nuisances, and that as good neighbors we want to share revenues with the people most affected… It was freely offered, we have no obligation to do so, and no one is obliged to sign it, either.”
Donley and Lemke voiced several other concerns, including how the noise of the turbines were going to affect their lives and the potentially dangerous effect the flickering shadow of spinning rotors could have on people with neurological disorders. (Many other residents spoke to the Ithaca Voice about their concerns but declined to be interviewed on the record.)
In response, Wells said that the effects the turbines will have on people’s lives will be minimal. She noted Black Oak’s Environmental Impact Statement, which was accepted by the Enfield town board, and research conducted by third-party consultants that concluded the wind turbines won’t noise greater than 45 decibels and that homes won’t be subjected to more than 15 hours of shadow flicker a year.
Despite Wells’ attempt to reassure concerned residents, a divide continues to exist between Black Oak Wind Farm and a number of people living near the proposed construction site.
There will be an opportunity for the two groups to communicate at a special town board meeting on Dec. 17, 7 p.m. at the Enfield Community Building. Wells said the meeting is open to the public and that it will include an informational session as well as Q&A with the residents.
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