By Ted Waddell
LIBERTY October 14, 2005 Some folks think the proposed Liberty Wind Project is a lot of hot air, while proponents contend it will help stave off the ever-increasing cost of the world's dwindling supplies of fossil fuel, help save the environment and improve a stagnant local economy.
On Tuesday, representatives of Citizens Energy Corporation of Boston, Mass., and their project consultant, Sustainable Energy Development (SED) from Ontario, NY, held a public forum at Liberty High School to present an overview of the project and field questions from the audience.
Tod J. Hynes, Citizens' director of alternative energy, presented an overview of the proposed project: if constructed, the wind farm would consist of 10-15 wind turbines on tall towers, generating 20-30 megawatts (MW) of energy.
"The project is in its nascent stage with a current focus of finalizing site location within northwestern Liberty and initiating wind studies," stated the corporation in a published one-page informational flyer.
At present, two potential hilltop locations are being considered: property between Fox Meadow Road and Benton Hollow Road or between Benton Hollow Road and Revonah Hill Road.
"It's in the early stage we haven't even started the permitting process," said Hynes, adding they have been awarded a small grant from the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) to begin the study, noting the project is "a two-way process between the town and the company."
Brian O'Connor, Citizens' communications and policy director, reminded the audience of the oil price shock of the late 70s, when in today's dollars, crude oil was selling for $80 a barrel.
"They were raking in the dough," he said of profits rolling in to the giant oil companies.
Citizens Energy Corp. is a non-profit energy company founded by Joseph P. Kennedy II during the late 1970s to provide low-cost heating oil to the poor.
It uses revenues from successful commercial ventures to make basic needs like heat more affordable to those less fortunate, he said.
Citizens Wind is the for-profit wind energy development division of Citizens Energy with a stated mission "to become a leading wind developer in North America with long-term ownership positions in windpower projects."
"We're a different kind of company," said O'Connor. "We are looking for ways to make life's basic needs more affordable. . . . The cheapest energy is the energy you don't have to buy."
According to Kevin M. Schulte, vice president of SED, windpower is one of the fastest-growing energy sources in the world, recording an annual growth rate of 20-30 percent over the last four-five years.
"It's the most economical form of energy," he said. "Eight thousand MW of new windpower were installed in 2004.
"It is a renewable and responsible energy source," added Schulte.
Then the public had its say.
Sarah Welton and Lena Hyzer live on Elk Point Road.
"We're 'anti' against it, forever," said Welton. "The terrible noise, the cutting of the trees . . . five acres of trees for each windmill, that's a hell of a thing to do.
"We're quiet people, and we want to leave it quiet," she added.
Later on in the program, Hynes demonstrated to mostly disbelieving ears a decimeter to refute claims that windpower generation creates excessive noise levels.
Schulte said the typical wind turbine generates about 90-95 decibels at the site and, at 500-some feet from the source, approximately 50 decibels, falling off to 40 or less decibels at 80-1,000 feet "less than the ambient noise in a rural area."
"This town is in terrible condition, and I have nothing against windmills," said Evelyn Miller of Liberty. "If I could have one in my own backyard, I'd have one . . . [but] I think they need a place where there's less people.
"I think a great place to put them would be in Monticello [at the landfill site], where they would not be disturbing anyone," added Miller.
Gene and Julie Burns and their neighbor Barbara Zweck live on Revonah Hill along Benton Hollow Road, near one of the proposed sites for the Liberty Wind Project.
"We don't want to be bothered," said Zweck.
Gene Burns' take on the preliminary site selections?
"It seems like you people are making a lot of problems for yourself. . . . It's a beautiful spot up there, and property values are going to plummet.
"We don't want to see it, period," he added. "I'm not against alternative energy, but to put it in her [Zwecks] backyard would be ridiculous."
Dolores Baker lives on Benton Hollow Road, and she didn't want anything to do with selling her land to a windpower company.
"I can't be bought!" she shouted.
Malcolm Brown, one of the founders of hydro-powered public radio WJFF of Jeffersonville, showed up as "an evangelist for the gospel of renewable energy."
"I think it's time we as a family, the whole human family, continue to develop energy production modes that aren't fossil-fuel dependent, because the other is so damaging. . . . It's important to stop doing business as usual," he added.
No gas-guzzling Hummers for Brown and Anne Larsen, his wife and WJFF co-founder. They drive a 2000 Honda Insight and a '03 Honda hybrid that get them down the road at 50-64 miles per gallon.
According to Schulte, "There's been a lot of negative press based on not ample facts about windpower and how it works" articles that in his opinion frequently overlook the "benefits to society, the environment and the local economy."
"Our goal for this project is to have the smallest environmental impact we can and the most local benefits," he added.
For more information about the Liberty Wind Project, contact Tod J. Hynes, director of alternative energy, Citizens Energy Corporation, 88 Black Falcon Avenue, Center Lobby Suite 342, Boston, MA 02210; call 617-338-6300/617-951-0477 (direct); fax 617-542-4487; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.