ITHACA, NY – On Thursday, dozens of people attended a Tompkins County Legislature meeting to discuss the Black Oak Wind Farm project. While no new information was revealed or changes made to the project, the discussion did provide insights into people’s attitudes about the project.
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For some more background on the project, check out our previous coverage:
Below are six key takeaways from Thursday’s meeting:
1 – Black Oak opponents aren’t against wind power
Some people have criticized opponents of the wind farm as “NIMBYs,” that is, those who say “not in my back yard.” For at least some who are speaking up against the wind farm, they say that they don’t necessarily mind the wind turbines in their “back yards” — so long as they’re certain that they are a safe distance from their homes.
Enfield resident Robert Tesori, whose home would be located around 900 feet from one of the turbines, told the legislature on Thursday, “We’re not against the wind farm. We’re not trying to kill Black Oak. We just want to feel safe.”
Another Enfield resident, Dawn Drake, echoed his remarks, saying “We’re not against green energy, we love our land. We just want piece of mind.”
Mimi Mehaffy, also an Enfield resident, pointed to her own history as an environmentalist. Mehaffy said that she was an adopter of solar power and had worked to help fight fracking in Tompkins County. Still, she had concerns about safety of the wind farm and urged a slowing of the process to ensure due diligence was done.
2 – Investors say ethics, not economics
At least half of the people who spoke in favor of the wind farm on Thursday disclosed that they were also investors in the project. Black Oak is New York’s first community-owned wind farm.
Almost all of them, however, said that they invested in the wind farm for ethical, not monetary reasons. Most said they expected little monetary return but that they believed investing in the wind farm was a way to help reduce reliance on fossil fuels and combat climate change.
Several speakers made impassioned pleas for the sake of future generations. Mary Alice Kolver of Caroline asked opponents of the wind farm to think about every five year old they see, not just their own children or those in their community, but the challenges that every child of the next generation will face in the wake of climate challenge.
Referring to her own small investment in the project, Legislator Dooley Kiefer said she didn’t expect to see any return. “It’s not going to happen in my lifetime, but I believe in the community wind concept and I wanted to be a part of it,” Kiefer said.
It was clear that for many supporters, the wind farm could stand as a symbol that Tompkins is embracing a greener future and doing its part to offset climate change.
3 – Questions on the validity of anti-wind science
Several people, including a few legislators, questioned the scientific sources being used as evidence by the wind farm opponents.
Several speakers, some of them academics from Cornell, encouraged people to steer clear of the “anti-wind” websites and go actually visit a wind turbine in person to assuage their worries.
Marty Hiller of Ithaca urged those who were concerned about safety issues to consider the line between “fear” and “danger,” suggesting that it’s natural to be afraid of major changes to your environment, but that alone does not make them dangerous.
Legislator Anna Kelles said that as a scientist herself, she felt it was important to establish causality and to establish that scientific information is properly sourced.
“No one study is the end result. We do meta-analyses for a reason and we evaluate studies together. So far, what we have is that the impact is not statistically significant,” Kelles said.
Legislators Carol Chock and Dooley Kiefer also mentioned that they had done a great deal of reading on the issue and said that they had found issue with the age and the sourcing and of some anti-wind studies.
4 – The wind farm debate is causing a rift in the community
Several who spoke acknowledged a rift forming in the Enfield community between those who support the wind farm and those who don’t. One Enfield woman said she doesn’t discuss the issue with her family members because some have signed on with the wind farm’s Good Neighbor Agreement and others have not.
Although it was never explicitly spoken, there’s also an undercurrent of tension between Enfield and the rest of Tompkins County.
Legislator Mike Sigler pointed out a pattern that’s been observed before. “It doesn’t go unnoticed that the Enfield residents here are the ones opposed to the project,” he said. Most who spoke for the project were from other municipalities.
Mimi Mehaffy drew a parallel between Enfield’s situation and that of other small rural towns that often become the sites of mining operations or gas pipelines and storage facilities. “I expected better from the Green revolution,” she said.
Another Enfield woman suggested that if you took all the Black Oak investors out of the room, the picture would look very different in terms of how much support there was for the wind farm.
Krys Cail, of Ulysses, suggested that if this same development was proposed in a more upscale neighborhood like Cayuga Heights, people would not be so gung-ho about moving the project forward.
Several who spoke in favor of the wind farm offered a counter to this line of thought, saying that they would gladly welcome wind turbines in their neighborhoods, if they had the option.
Jonathan Comstock of Caroline refuted the idea that Enfield was chosen because it’s a poorer rural area. He suggested that the environmental impact of a wind farm is much less than other energy sources.
“It’s not like we’re saying, ‘Where can we put this toxic waste dump?,’” he said.
One supporter said that Caroline had examined the idea of having a wind farm years ago and would have loved to have one, but the simple fact is that the wind conditions on Connecticut Hill in Enfield are the best option for wind power in Tompkins.
5 – The wind farm is up to Enfield…
Several who spoke said they felt that the resolution from the legislature was unhelpful, at best. Mike Carpenter, who is on the Enfield Town Board, said he wasn’t sure what the resolution would be meaningful to the actual debate taking place in Enfield.
Others echoed this idea, saying that the legislature should essentially leave the issue alone and give Enfield time to sort it out on their own terms.
For their part, most of the legislators agreed and reaffirmed that the resolution was only a symbolic one and that people who are invested in the issue would need to continue working with the Enfield Town Board to come to a decision.
6 – …but it’s only a small piece of the energy puzzle
Martha Fisher of Enfield, who summed up the whole issue as “a big hairball,” said that regardless of what happens with the wind farm, it was important to start pursuing other methods of energy generation, like solar power.
Others who spoke also brought up personal responsibility, saying that everyone should be looking at ways to conserve energy.
Legislators Anna Kelles and Martha Robertson echoed those sentiments. Kelles said that while technologies like wind and solar are great, they aren’t enough by themselves.
Robertson said, “We can’t save the planet for our kids and grandkids by doing business as usual.”
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