Wind farms creating an environmental divide
MATTHEW CAVANAUGH FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE The closest house sits 1,650 feet or just over 0.3 miles from a Hoosac Wind turbine.
Advocates fear voices opposing wind projects from within the movement will derail efforts to slow climate change and establish renewable energy sources
FLORIDA — Timothy Danyliw is the type of guy whose truck has a “No farms, no food” bumper sticker, who owns a T-shirt proclaiming “Renewable energy is American security,” and who moved into a weathered, wood-framed house in the Berkshires for a quiet life amid nature.
His friend Larry Lorusso, a river guide and photographer, is much the same. His car runs on biodiesel, he’s a fan of solar panels, and he heats his home with wood gathered from the forest around his house.
Yet these men, whose lifestyles embrace the environmental ethic, have found themselves at odds with environmental leaders who say that wind power is good for them — clean, sustainable energy that reduces dependence on fossil fuels and lowers greenhouse gas emissions.After watching bulldozers create access roads and clearings into 75 acres of wilderness, and living with the low roar of the industrial-sized turbines erected on ridges above their homes, Danyliw, Lorusso, and some of their neighbors have other ways to describe wind energy.
“It’s similar to smoking,” Danyliw said. “Smoking used to be advertised as good for your health.”
When the Hoosac wind farm was built on the ridge behind Timothy Danyliw’s house, he said, he began experiencing health problems.
“Carbon footprint, big time,” added Lorusso.
Such descriptions echo the rhetoric long used by the green establishment to fight power plants and other development, and it’s causing consternation among environmental and political leaders who have embraced wind power as a key component of renewable energy agendas. In November, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin warned in a speech that attacks on wind projects from within the environmental movement threaten efforts to slow climate change and achieve energy independence.
“If we let those voices that are our own divide us, we will continue to be the [energy] laggards rather than the leaders,” Shumlin said at an event hosted by the New England Clean Energy Council, a trade group. “The stakes have never been higher.”
Many environmental leaders say their support for renewable energy projects depends on proper planning and construction, but their arguments for industrial-scale wind power can sound similar to those used by companies drilling for natural gas: America needs the energy, it’s domestically produced, and it’s cleaner than many alternatives.
Sue Reid, Massachusetts director of the Conservation Law Foundation, a Boston-based environmental advocacy group, said wind projects need to be responsibly sited, but they are essential to cutting pollution that contributes to climate change.
“You need to get energy from somewhere, right? So, no energy source has zero impact, but comparatively speaking, wind has far fewer impacts than fossil fuel generation,” Reid said.
“They’re not even in the same ballpark, and you can’t disregard that context when looking at any wind project.”
Massachusetts, with ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gases, has aggressively pursued wind energy and other renewable sources. Installed wind energy generation has more than doubled over the past two years, to 103 megawatts, and Governor Deval Patrick wants that to increase to 2,000 megawatts by the beginning of the next decade. State officials estimate that’s enough to power about 800,000 homes.
But the projects have stirred opposition from Western Massachusetts to the Boston suburbs to Cape Cod, where residents have long fought the offshore Cape Wind project, which they say will mar views of Nantucket Sound and damage marine habitats. In Scituate, Falmouth, and Kingston, residents have complained that noisy turbines close to their homes cause headaches and dizzy spells, and interrupt sleep.
Timothy Danyliw (left) and his friend Larry Lorusso talked about their opposition to the Hoosac Wind Farm, citing health issues and the destruction of nature.
Research is still ongoing into the health effects of living near wind turbines.
In response, the state has undertaken noise studies while developing regulations, including acoustic policies, siting guidelines, and monitoring practices, to help communities decide whether wind energy is right for them.
Along the road southeast from North Adams toward the town of Florida, the 334-foot-tall wind turbines of the state’s biggest wind farm peek above tree tops lining Bakke Mountain and Crum Hill, overlooking Route 2. From the road, the blades can be seen spinning methodically, appearing silent and innocuous.
Atop the ridge, it’s obvious why Oregon-based Iberdrola Renewables, the project’s developer, chose this site. The wind tugs at clothes and tightly cinched hard hats, rushing through the swirling turbine blades with the sound of an airliner passing overhead at 30,000 feet.
“Good place for a wind farm,” Iberdrola spokesman Paul Copleman said as he toured the project with visitors.
The 28.5 megawatt Hoosac Wind Power Project broke ground in 2011, and began operations in December — roughly a decade after it was first proposed. The 19 turbines are capable of producing enough power for an estimated 6,000 homes
Florida and neighboring Monroe own some of the land the turbines sit on, meaning the towns will collect millions in lease payments and other revenue over the next few decades. Some residents like the wind farm, seeing it as step toward energy independence and a cleaner environment, not to mention a needed source of revenue for these small, rural communities.
But ask others living along the base of the ridges. They’ll talk of how land was bulldozed and blasted. A shift in the wind, they say, will send the turbines’ jet engine-like noise streaming down.
The closest house, on Bliss Road, sits 1,650 feet or 0.3 miles from a turbine.
Lorusso, who guides visitors on river rafting trips, said he recognizes that wind power proponents are puzzled by opposition to projects like Hoosac, which they view as a clean, renewable, and endless resource. But Lorusso sees the turbines as interlopers in a wilderness landscape where “the sounds of civilization are few and far between” and the moon lights up a “cosmic sky at night.”
“It doesn’t make sense to me to wreck nature in order to save nature,” Lorusso added. “It was a natural place. It was beautiful, and it has been wrecked now.”
Environmental advocates say they remain frustrated by what they see as a “not in my backyard mentality,” despite a widely recognized need to reduce the use of fossil fuels. But even the environmental establishment has struggled to balance benefits against risks, particularly when renewable technologies threaten other priorities, such protecting birds or marine life, said Salo Zelermyer, an environmental attorney at the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani LLP and former senior counsel for the Department of Energy.
“What you’ve seen is that a lot of environmentalists, while talking a good game about wind and solar, have often times opposed large-scale wind turbine development,” Zelermyer said. “What you have left is actually a very small sliver of sources for energy to turn your lights on.”
Lorusso’s friend, Danyliw, a semi-retired photographer, moved to the Berkshires five years ago, seeking a quieter life. But soon after the wind turbines started operating, he said, he began experiencing headaches and ringing in his ears.
Danyliw, who originally favored the Hoosac project, said he was once a big supporter of wind power. He pointed to his T-shirt depicting men raising a wind turbine, a la Marines raising the American flag at Iwo Jima. Today, he says, he wears the shirt ironically.
“I still believe that renewables are a great idea, but you can’t destroy people’s lives,” he said. “This is like a highway came down and my house is stuck in the median. I chose to live in a quiet place, a healthy place and [Hoosac wind farm] took that away from me.”