After 15 years of contentious planning, an industrial wind turbine facility is being installed in Chautauqua County’s Township of Arkwright. Travelers along the New York State Thruway can observe this icon of the Anthropocene rising above the forested farms and homes just to the east of the highway. It is these rural hosts of the turbines upon which depends the success of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s 50/30 plan for wind industrialization.
A Chautauqua coalition of unwilling hosts, environmentalists and taxpayers has worked for two years in presenting their concerns to the Legislature. Starting March 28, 2018, by unanimous resolution, the county now prohibits its Industrial Development Agency from negotiating any further PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) agreements with wind industry developers for facilities over 5 megawatts.
The wind industry, which is more heavily subsidized than all fossil fuel sources, is mostly foreign-owned. Their bird- and bat-killing turbines cost $2-3 million apiece. Their installations create habitat fragmentation throughout rural neighborhoods, farms, clear-cut forests, and wetlands in grids of 100-plus turbine factories worth half a billion dollars. The PILOT agreement for the Arkwright project, announced prior to the recent legislative action, provides for annual payments of only $57,000 to the township, $80,000 for the county, and $60,000 for each of the three school districts in the industrialized zone.
This project, in addition to at least two others proposed, has a negative Chautauqua County- wide environmental and tourism impact exceeding 80,000 acres. Yet for town and county taxpayers the PILOTs offer almost no revenue to mitigate the lost values. These enabling agreements, indexed to the low number of full-time jobs created by the wind industry, are poor vehicles for community support.
In Arkwright, where the 500-foot-tall turbines are placed 1,000 feet from homes, the paltry PILOT will not offset property devaluations due to loss of environmental amenities, including subjugation to harmful turbine noise, shadow flicker and blinking lights.
Residents closely follow the fierce debate over the industry’s claims to greenhouse gas reductions. Rural residents in the sacrifice zone find themselves squeezed between an invasive industry unwilling to pay taxes, and Gov. Cuomo’s Article 10 law, which suspends home rule by removing local governments’ permitting and regulation of the wind industry.
Congratulations to the Chautauqua County Legislature for standing with Article IX of the state Constitution in protection of the welfare of its constituents.