Stamford supervisor weighs in on wind turbine issue

Thirty-four wind turbines 410 feet in height proposed between Stamford and Grand Gorge

By Julia Green
Mike Triolo’s first term as the Town of Stamford Supervisor comes at a time when a very public and hotly contested issue is on the minds of most, if not all, residents of his town. And yet Triolo says that, despite the controversy of the topic, the wind turbine debate wasn’t the deciding factor in his decision to run for public office.
When the previous supervisor, Pat Ryan, opted not to run for another term, Triolo was approached by “several people” who asked him to consider running. Still, he says, in the ultimate decision to run for office, the looming turbine debate wasn’t the primary factor – in fact, in doing door-to-door campaigning, Triolo found that it wasn’t even the main item on the minds of his constituents.

Not appropriate
“It was not the number one issue on the campaign trail. But I would say, in that phase, there were more people in favor of allowing them than against. Most of the correspondence we got indicated that people were in favor of the technology, but it wasn’t appropriate for this area. Of course, they never really said where it was appropriate. It tends to indicate that it’s ‘not in my backyard.’
“I’ve always said it’s going to be an issue,” he said. “It’s about property rights. People have rights to do with their property what they choose, as long as it doesn’t infringe on other people’s property rights.
Still, the possibility of a portion of a wind farm being constructed on Stamford land was an issue before Triolo’s name was on a ballot.
“They started testing the wind before I held any public office,” he said. “I would guess that probably two or three years ago it became evident that they were at least looking seriously at the region. Then [the company] asked to make a presentation to the board and we allowed them to do that as we allowed the opposition people to do, probably a couple years ago.”
From there, it became clear that Stamford’s lack of law or ordinance could be problematic.
“We spent probably seven or eight months doing the ordinance and got that passed about a year ago, and then we had an Article 78 proceeding that was out there for about seven or eight months before it was withdrawn.”
Triolo and others participated in a few workshops and spent what Triolo estimates was a few hundred hours doing research to compile a file of information from around the world to aid in the ordinance process. During the process, they traveled to see wind farms in other locations in the northeast.
“We talked to people on the street, normal people, trying to get a sense of how it impacted their lives, and did it impact their lives… we asked the question and it turned out that after they’d been there, people viewed them like electric poles. After they’d been there for awhile, they kind of ignored them.”

SEQR process
As it stands now, the process is entering the public comment phase of the SEQR process, on which the Roxbury Planning Board is the lead agency.
“You can’t segment the project because it’s in Stamford and Roxbury. Roxbury ended up with more towers, had the first application and the first approved application, and applied for lead agency for SEQR and got it. We have to make sure on our side that it follows all our laws. We will weigh in on the SEQR process. The Roxbury Planning Board has done a good job keeping us involved in the process. Now it just has to go to the public hearing part of the SEQR process.”
Triolo anticipates that the debate will be heated, and he believes that’s exactly how it should be.
“We only ask that it be a factual debate, and that we strip out the misinformation and that if people espouse a position, let it be based on fact, not what they think the facts are.”
As the town supervisor and as a resident, Triolo has heard some version of all the arguments, both for and against the wind project.
“[In terms of the supporting arguments,] it ran all over,” he said. “It went from green energy and ‘we have to do something about our energy problems’ to the fact that it’s a good tax benefit for the town. Some say the permanent jobs are a plus. Some say construction jobs are a plus for the economy. It ranged all over. The people in favor, I think most of them look at it as a form of alternate energy. Most of them aren’t really so concerned about the payments or even what the tax revenues will be. They’re more focused, I thought, on the ability to generate electric that goes to the grid and people can depend on.”

The future
“They seem to be fairly knowledgeable that it’s intermittent energy but they also seem to believe it’s a form of energy that’s coming of age and will play a part in our future electrical needs.”
Then, of course, there’s the flipside of the coin.
“I think the major negatives were the view shed, the flipside of it being dependable energy, the belief that without tax credits it wouldn’t happen. The major anti-arguments were, ‘they’re big.’ ‘They’re going to clear-cut strips of land.’ There was some concern over the potential for fires. Recently there was concern about transformers catching on fire and oil leaking into the groundwater and the birds and the bats issues. And most of the concerns have to be addressed in the SEQR process, so those concerns are going to get addressed.”
Still, Triolo says he is “amazed” by the amount of misinformation that exists, particularly when it comes to the naysayers, as well as what he refers to as the seeming “lack of desire” to quantify information.
“There was some early concern about these wind turbines catching on fire, and there have been some reported cases, and that was a major contention for some people, but then you try to quantify it and the best I could find was over a period of years it never averaged more than 10 fires a year. And that’s on 68,000 turbines. How do you make a reference to that?”
Triolo also compared the incidence of residential fires with the frequency of turbine fires.
“The insurance company found there were 17 house fires every year per 1,000 homes. When you reference it, homes are generally in more populated areas, so they’re more of a risk to the population than a wind turbine fire, which is in a remote area. With that kind of thing, people didn’t take the time to reference them, and it’s kind of misleading. You take a picture of the fire and it’s spectacular, but you reference it to everyday life and you find it’s a pretty small percentage number. It’s just a matter of getting those real numbers out there and people understanding that some of the hype isn’t exactly what you think it is.”
And, like his constituents, Triolo acknowledges that there are clear pros and cons when it comes to the installation of a wind farm along the Moresville Range.
“I believe in alternative energy,” he said. “Energy and wind power is one form of alternative energy, and so is solar and, though less of a factor, biofuels. This is just one part of a larger energy package. We can’t rely on any single source of energy and we as a region are an energy deficit region, so these 99 megawatts are part of a bigger puzzle. We can’t assume somebody else is going to solve our energy problem.
“But,” he added, “If you still believe this area is pristine and there’s been no development, there’s no way to hide these. They’re just big. That’s probably the biggest downside.”
And, as with any major project, there exists the financial aspect, though such details have yet to be hashed out.
“First we had to make sure there was going to be a project to talk about. Negotiations are just starting on what the real benefits are going to be to the two towns, but we’ll be consulting with experts in the field of electric pricing to get to that. We’ve started reaching out to people already with experience in pricing.”