For a preview of a giant wind farm, cross the border into NY, or just grab your binoculars!
TEXT AND PHOTOS BY EDEN MUIR, FRELIGHSBURG, 2009/12/26. Over the last two years a giant industrial wind farm has been built in upstate New York, just southwest of Hemmingford, Quebec. Eastern Townships residents can now conveniently visit the sprawling American project and form their own opinions about the wisdom of installing these huge machines in this part of southern Quebec.
Wind farm projects are often presented as a purely local issue, affecting only the immediately surrounding countryside and towns. In fact, on a clear day, the turbines in Ellenburg, New York, can be seen from Frelighsburg, 100 km (60 miles) away! If 400-foot high towers were erected in the Bedford area, they would be visible from all over Missisquoi County, from Dunham, Saint-Armand, St-Jean, and even Montreal.
On a recent drive around Ellenburg, NY, the extensive wind farm appeared to be completed and fully functional. Any scars caused by excavation, tree clearing and access road construction had largely healed. That day, all of the turbines had rotated to face into a strong westerly wind. Their giant rotors were spinning at an impressive speed, reaching, one would assume, something close to their maximum power-generation capability. In late 2009, the Ellenburg wind project is as new, tidy and mechanically perfect as any wind farm you are likely to see.
One of the disconcerting visual aspects of modern wind farms is the way the towering turbines are painted in a kind of neutral putty colour to obscure their sheer size. There are absolutely no markings, labels, or any other indicators of scale. You can stare at one of these wind towers for ten minutes and still not be sure if it is 250, 350 or 450 feet tall, unless a vehicle, or a person appears beside the tower. In fact, the towers are taller than the Statue of Liberty.
At one house we stopped to speak to the owner who was working in her front yard. A few hundred feet behind her house was a tower, its spinning rotor creating a strong whooshing sound each time the blade passed the stem tower, compressing the air between them. The owner cheerfully claimed that she was not at all bothered by the turbine, and that she didn't really hear it. She mentioned that the wind developer made substantial donations to the municipal government for community projects.
Obviously, people's reactions to wind farms are subjective and varied. Some see the towers as sleek and futuristic harbingers of a green era to come. Others believe that these industrial mega-towers should never be located in areas of human habitation.
A modern industrial wind farm must be visited to be comprehended. Only by being there can you appreciate the enormous scale of the project, and witness the eerie and repetitive whooshing sounds of the blades. Some claim the decibel level is insignificant and lower than that of a library; others find the noise unnatural and intolerable.
What we found most disturbing was the overall transformation of a pleasant rural countryside into an industrial zone. The calm and balance of the verdant landscape had been replaced by a jarring mechanical agitation with giant triple-blade assemblies, the size of jumbo jets, spinning in the sky all around us. Everywhere you looked there was this bizarre combination of unnatural motion and sound. There was no escape from it until we finally call it quits, turned the car around and headed back across the border into Quebec.
A trip to Ellenburg, NY is an essential experience for any resident of southern Quebec who wants to have an informed opinion on the topic of industrial wind farms. There are some geographical and landscape similarities between upstate New York and the Bedford / Stanbridge Station / Pike River area. There are also many importance differences: our economy is stronger, our farmland is richer, our existing electricity supply is cheaper and cleaner; in fact, it is so abundant that we export it. Most important, we do not have the famous strong winds that help to justify the Ellenburg project. So before we rush to sign up for a "green" mega project, we should all take the time to visit and study Ellenburg so that we fuly understand the consequences for our landscape, our local culture and our quality of life.