The Tompkins county legislature passed a resolution in support of Black Oak Wind Farm (BOWF) on Feb. 4, noting that the wind farm “constitutes a $40 million investment in clean, renewable energy,” is consistent with the County’s greenhouse gas emission goals contained in the 2015 Tompkins County Comprehensive Plan, and that “the Tompkins County Energy Roadmap documents that wind energy has the potential to provide a significant portion of electricity demand within Tompkins County while decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.”
However, residents of Enfield, where the wind farm is planned, objected, saying they have health and safety concerns that have not been addressed. Mimi Mehaffey, of Bostwick Road, said she lives in an earth-berm passive solar house. “Not a day goes by that I don’t wonder what more I could be doing to avert the doom of climate change,” she said. “[But] the health and safety issues with the wind farm are real. Slow down this process, and site the turbines correctly. Please allow the Enfield Town Board to work without interference.”
Mike Carpenter, of the Enfield town board, said that the board was poised to approve the wind farm when “a number of the residents said, ‘This is going to be an issue for us.’” Carpenter added, “I’m not sure the Enfield town board would be able to do anything with the county’s resolution.”
Robert Tesori, whose house at 570 Black Oak Road is the closest to the wind farm site, said the nearest turbine would be 975 feet from his house and 190 feet from his property line. “We are not against the wind farm,” he said. “The law is inadequate. We just want things safe. All we’re asking is, ‘Work with us.’”
Marcus Gingrich, who said he lives “in the shadow of the turbines,” was concerned about the sound the turbines would make. “Noise is a pollution,” he said. Gingrich feared that the turbine noise would cause “chronic sleep deprivation” in his children, leading to “neuronal damage.”
A majority of those who spoke in favor of the wind farm were small investors who support the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions:
“Our investment will never put us in the 1 percent of the power elite,” said Wales Brown. “Windmills don’t make ashes, or smoke, or radioactive crud.”
“We don’t expect to make any money,” said investor David Ritchie.
Cyrus Amrigar, a resident of Caroline, said his family travels to Iowa every summer, where there are giant wind farms. “The sound is really minimal. ... A setback of kilometers is crazy.”
“Get off the anti-wind websites and go have lunch under a windmill. We did,” said a woman from Caroline.
Other speakers noted that the wind farm has offered a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement to the town. “In other communities, like Lansing, you would have people clamoring to get it built,” said Theresa Alt, an Ithaca investor.
Still others said that BOWF has already modified its plans to accommodate the neighbors. “GE turbine guidelines are 1,000 feet [of setback]; Black Oak has increased that to 1,500 feet,” said Gretchen Herman, who lives on Bostwick Road.
In comments after the meeting, Marguerite Wells, project manager for BOWF, clarified: “It’s 1,500 feet on average. We do comply with GE guidelines of 994 feet [for the size of the turbine and height of the tower].” Wells said BOWF is preparing a new proposal to submit to the town that will show the new layout is in compliance with those guidelines.
“One of the things that’s going to prove challenging is that we’ve already moved them as far away from property lines as we can,” said Wells. “So although many people who spoke said they’re not against the wind farm, we’ve sited it as carefully as we can and still have a wind farm.”
In the continental United States there are 50,000 wind farms, said Wells, “and not a single example of a human being hurt by a turbine.”
Legislator Jim Dennis, who represents Enfield along with Dave McKenna, said, “The only thing the measure indicates is that the Legislature supports renewable energy, which happens to be renewable energy in Enfield,” and he noted that the County has no other role in the issue.