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VN 2/27 - A Lot of Nothing

Recently a farming UPC Wind leaseholder wrote an opinion piece in The Valley News in which he said, “except for Agriculture and a few stores in Cohocton, there is nothing in Cohocton.” Unfortunately, this seems to be the narrow mindset of many local wind power supporters, a view that leaves out a large majority of our Town’s citizens. We appreciate the heritage and contribution that agriculture makes in our community, but we beg to disagree that there is nothing else here. What (or should we say who) else is in the Town of Cohocton? Our article in this week's Valley News opens the question and puts forward a partial answer. What do you think?

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UPC Tax Scam in Buffalo

"One windmill up - seven more to go.

"The first of eight massive wind turbines that will make up the 'Steel Winds' wind farm at the old Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna was completed Monday afternoon as workers attached the three 153-foot-long blades to a tower.

"But Steel Winds has not been without controversy.

"School officials are concerned, and some even upset, that the district is not getting any tax money from the project.

"The developers, BQ Energy and UPC Wind, do not have to pay taxes on Steel Winds because wind and solar energy projects are exempt from paying taxes, according to New York property tax laws.

"In fact, the project is eligible for many millions of dollars in federal, state and local breaks because it is creating a renewable source of energy."

Click here to read the full article in The Buffalo News. For further input about this project, read this report submitted by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and then try to find out what UPC did with it. And how about this recent report from the Public Service Commission (PSC), filled with legal mumbo-jumbo that carefully exempts UPC's "Steel Winds" project from being defined as an "electric corporation" and thus coming under PSC jurisdiction? If people in Cohocton think life is going to be easy with UPC Wind in town, they'd better think about it more than twice.

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VN 2/20 - But what if?

Industrial wind developers use several selling points when they present their proposals to Town leaders and potential leaseholders. The threat of global warming and the goal of replacing dependence on oil with renewable, clean, non-polluting energy sources is brought forward. Then landowners are sold on the idea that they can do the planet a big favor and make easy money year after year for themselves and their community just by allowing wind towers to be erected. All of this is presented as a beautiful, quiet, unobtrusive enterprise that will bless the next generation. No downside in sight…

But what if none of this is really true?
What if the whole thing proves to be a scam — a rip-off of tax dollars and the ecology that our children and everyone else in our community ends up seeing very clearly? Read our article in this week's Valley News, then read through the outstanding response to UPC Wind's SDEIS that Brad Jones submitted to our Planning Board last week. We're convinced that it's time to call a moratoriam on this whole project, at the very least.

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Dynamics of Social Activism

One of the serious liabilities of wind power speculation is that it divides communities that were once quite united. People find themselves in two “camps” arguing for and defending their positions, even when evidence is presented that would otherwise persuade them to change their minds. I recently read an article by Denny Wayman in Light & Life Magazine (exerpted below) that sheds some light on the subject.

“It should not be surprising to learn that social action comes from our social (or group) identity. In primal neurological ways, each of us identifies with a specific group. In fact, this is so primary that group membership, like gender and age, 'is encoded in memory quickly, involuntarily and persistently.’ We have 'specialized neural circuitry to process’ group characteristics and group membership (Sean McLennan, March 2003).

“This biological, neurological, psychological aptitude for belonging to our group means that we share at a deep level the group’s social ideals and definitions. We will 'quickly, involuntarily and persistently’ identify with our group’s view. This psychology works well when we identify with a 'healthy, biblical community.’ However, if our identity becomes defined by a disordered group, then we will share their disordered views.

“It should also come as no surprise that we are most able to bring about change in a group when we are perceived as belonging to it. Since group identity is reinforced by both positive and negative descriptions, a group can become more solidified when a member of another group tries to change something that even the original group considers harmful. A member within the group will be far more effective in bringing about that change.”

Observations like these help explain why members of the YES group are so eager to label those who disagree with them as “outsiders” who don't share the Town's values. Characterizing us in this way helps insulate them from receiving constructive input from people who otherwise would have been received as intelligent and helpful neighbors. By identifying themselves with UPC Wind (“Yes! Wind Power for Cohocton is a group of concerned citizens who support the UPC Wind Turbine Project proposed for our community”), this group has chosen to adopt the developer's views as its own. But what if the developer's views are disordered?

We need to be praying for one another for wisdom, unity, and the ability to open our ears to hear the truth together once again.




Last month the Cohocton Planning Board, as lead agency for UPC Wind's industrial power plant proposal, invited the community to a Public Hearing on the strengths and weaknesses of the developer's latest SEQR submissions, the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) for the Lent/Pine Hill Project and the initial DEIS for their proposed Dutch Hill Project. Citizens were asked to give brief 2-3 minute presentations and offered the opportunity to submit written comments until today's deadline. We posted an initial report about the Public Hearing and followed up with another article. We've just posted the written comments we submitted to the Planning Board in their original form and with supporting links on our main website. Please read our comments and let us and our Town leaders know what you think.



VN 2/13 - The Politics of Wind

It's been 10 months now since UPC Wind first notified the general public in Cohocton about its plans to build an industrial power plant on all of our hilltops, kicking off the mandated State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process. Ever since then the local political scene has been buzzing. Our article in this week's Valley News addresses some of the political dynamics operating in our community. At Cohocton Free, however, we're more interested in the facts about wind turbines than we are in politics. Will they really reduce CO2 emissions? Are they properly sited? Have the SDEIS and DEIS studies been done properly for SEQR? Is the community aware of the whole story? Are we rushing into something we’ll regret later? We’re confident that truth will eventually triumph over half-truths.

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How much power?

In its Annual Energy Outlook 2007 the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that by 2030 wind power will supply 4/10 of 1% of US energy consumption and 89/100 of 1% of US electric generation. Small numbers like these clearly indicate that wind power probably won't be a major player in the energy field for decades to come and certainly not a major source of greenhouse gas reduction. Click here to read an article that provides further political and scientific context.



Warm January Days

Hot day won’t prove warming
by Jonathon M. Hadley

I’m sometimes amused to hear people talk about the weather.

One man, about a month ago, wrote a letter here claiming the 60-degree temperatures were evidence of global warming. I thought I’d research on my own.

Very simply, I looked at record highs for my hometown. The results were intriguing. While alarmists tell us how we’re heating up, I found that for January, the median year of record highs was 1950. That means half of the record highs occurred before 1950 and half after. I then took a look at July. There the median year was 1941. In both cases, of the top 10 all-time high temperatures for the month, nine were in 1967 or before.

I’m not providing conclusive proof. I’m just saying you can’t just look at a warm day and think the world is ending.

We have thousands of people with college degrees telling us that global warming is happening, and that it is man-made. The trouble is, if there were no perception that the sky was falling, these guys wouldn’t be getting a paycheck. Their livelihood depends on it. No science is done without a paycheck, and the people signing those checks will ALWAYS have an agenda.

Instead of listening to their wild predictions, take a look at real data. You don’t hear much that this whole thing is about a 1-to-2 degree rise in average temperature over 100 years. In fact, you only hear a tiny amount of information on what HAS happened. What you hear is what supposedly WILL happen, according to very biased opinions.

My field of employment and interest (gasification for power) would soar in its employment opportunities if the U.S. enacted carbon regulations. I think it’s safe to say that I’m not biased in my opinions.

Hadley works at GE in Schenectady as a senior integrated gasification combined cycle controls engineer in power plant engineering.



VN 2/6 - How Much Noise?

UPC Wind's first project on the US mainland is just coming online in Mars Hill, Maine, and the community isn't entirely happy. The problem: Noise, Too Much Noise. Articles (#1, #2, and #3) have just started appearing in the Bangor Daily News detailing the problems people are having. But as far as UPC is concerned, the whole thing should just blow over, so to speak. They're sure that further testing will demonstrate that the noise of their new 1.5 MW turbines will pass the 45 dB limit they set up in the siting requirements, so it won't really matter whether people are bothered: they'll just have to get used to it, get ear plugs, or sell out and move away.

It's too late for Mars Hill now - the turbines are up. However, it's not too late for the rest of Maine, as this article points out. And it's not too late for us in Cohocton and Prattsburgh if folks will just start to wake up and smell the coffee. Click here to read our Valley News article, then follow the links to read Article 1 and Article 2 in the Bangor Daily News. Polish things off with Article 3, and while you're reading, be sure to browse through the community comments below each article. Then let your local leaders (and us, if you'd like) know what you think.



Energizing the Future

One of the last reports NYS Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi oversaw before his administration was overcome with scandal was issued in December 2005 and entitled "The Benefits of Renewable Energy for New York State." In it he notes the political goal set by the NYS Public Service Commission in 2004 of achieving 25% of the State's electrical energy from renewable resources by 2013 (including, in addition to hydropower, "new renewables" like solar, wind, and biomass). The report indicates that California's goal is 20% by 2010, while New York has already achieved that goal primarily with clean hydropower. It then goes on to investigate the economic ramifications of investing more taxpayer subsidy in "new renewables." Nothing is said about nuclear power, which is clean but uses an ore that is not technically renewable.

Overall, the report is thorough, if somewhat dated. One question that's begged is how the PSC chose its 25% goal. In our real world, this is probably how: it's a round number that rolls easily off the tongues of politicians - increase by 5% over 10 years - not 3% or 4% or 6%, but a nice, round 5%.

Since 2004 much more experience is available from nations that have already invested more heavily in wind power than we have in the US. What's been learned from our European neighbors is that wind power does not displace conventional generating capacity, which must always be available "on line" to kick in whenever the wind dies down. It's difficult, at best, to turn hydropower or nuclear plants on and off and not economical, clean, or easy to run fossil fuel plants on a variably intermittent basis. A factory, office building, or home could never rely on wind power for its electrical needs.

Unfortunately, Mr. Hevesi's analysts focus only on economic speculations that make little distinction between sources of power: to them each MW generated is equivalent, no matter what its source or when it's available to the grid. As a result, sources like solar (which only generates when the sun shines) and wind (which only generates when the wind blows) are simply added interchangeably to the mix with biomass and conventional power. And of the former two, wind is by far the more variable, endlessly taxing the grid's ability to adapt to its intermittent contributions.

The report sagely notes that wind farm projects in the New York, including those "in both Chautauqua and Steuben counties" have run into significant local opposition. It goes on to note: "Prior to its expiration at the end of 2002, a review process for siting generation facilities with a capacity of 80 MW or more was set forth in Article X of the New York State Public Service Law. A renewal of Article X would provide for the disclosure and debate of concerns about construction and operation of larger-scale renewable energy projects, and also, as previously designed, guarantee opportunities for public involvement. In addition to the requirement that those entities applying to construct generating facilities must carry out a meaningful public involvement program, Article X provided for the creation of an intervenor fund for each project. Proceeds from the intervenor funds were distributed to municipal and other local parties to help defray the expenses of expert witnesses and consultants." Contrary to the Hevesi Report's recommendations, however, Article X was not renewed, and localities throughout the state have been left to their own inadequate resources in evaluating the well-funded sales pitches of private wind power speculators.

Looking at greenhouse gas reduction by cutting back on fossil fuel generation, what is needed first are diligent applications of conservation, like New York's STAR program, accompanied by deeper investment in reliable alternative technologies like safe 21st century nuclear power. If we go on slavishly applying ideas that seemed progressive 3 years ago and ignoring the experience of our European brothers and sisters until our beautiful land is littered with hundreds if not thousands of dysfunctional wind turbines, then we'll discover for ourselves the folly of it all: we will have filled our beautiful recreational areas with noisy machinery and ruined our viewscapes at taxpayer expense all for nothing but a clutter of obsolete equipment rapidly depreciating on our hilltops and shorelines. For those with a living hope for our future, there must be a better way.



Public Hearing Behavior

Two weeks ago I posted a news report about the Public Hearing hosted by our Planning Board to receive community input on the Pine/Lent Hill SDEIS and Dutch Hill DEIS. As I indicated, I thought the meeting went well overall, given the level of energy in the community that's been raised by this issue. Many of those who were critical of UPC Wind's intiative(s) had clearly read through the SDEIS/DEIS material carefully and offered specific comments about particular aspects in each report. Others were critical of the one-sided way the process has been handled by our Town leaders so far, a problem that only seems to be getting worse. It was clear from Chris Swartley's presentation on behalf of UPC Wind, for instance, that UPC fully expects the Planning Board to give their final approval within a month so that the permit process can move forward, giving the clear appearance that January 19th's "hearing" was really only for show.

Speakers were asked to the podium in the order in which they had signed in, somehow leaving most of those who spoke on behalf of the project toward the end of the list. Their comments were generally brief, had little if anything specific to say about either the SDEIS or DEIS, and expressed primarily their ongoing support of the project. Several were leaseholders. There were bursts of applause and vocal expressions of support or dismay during and after several presentations throughout the evening, but certainly nothing as loud or emotional as one might experience at a hotly contested a sports event. All in all, the evening actually went better than one could have expected.

However, that was all before last week's Valley News came out. To read the entire page of comments published there by YES! supporters, you'd think the meeting was a shocking display of social disorder on the part of wind critics "that showed their total lack of respect for our entire system of American government" complete with "jeering, and taunting... parading through the gym trying to distract everyone." Those who opposed the project were accused in print of avoiding commentary on the SDEIS/DEIS documents and using the meeting "to call a great-grandfather names and to verbally attack him after the meeting." Another sponsored writer said critics "ridiculed the handicapped... and mocked and made slanderous comments toward local officials." Still another said "their tactics included false statements, bullying, and the threat of lawsuits." And on and on.

Ladies and Gentlemen. My wife and I were among the first of those to arrive and the last to leave. I spoke early on and listened carefully to every speaker. I've been to lots of meetings in my life, and this one was spirited, to be sure, but not at all the way you've depicted it. Let's get real here. This is American democracy in action, not its antithesis. Sadly, many of your comments are such gross exaggerations that they spill over into complete misrepresentations of the truth. It looks like you've become so emotionally entangled in this project that you're becoming false witnesses.

Honestly, can't we do better than this?

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