Meet Russ Cary, farmer, conservationist, and a key figure in the success of the Fenner Wind Farm. Mr. Cary is also Supervisor of the Town of Fenner, located between Syracuse and Utica. On the wind farm project, Mr. Cary had plenty of cooperation and some resistance from local farmers and residents (video: “Interview at Fenner Wind Farm in N.Y.”).
When the Fenner Wind came on line in 2001, it needed customers for its electricity. In early 2003, Croton became the first New York community to sign on as a Fenner customer. Since then almost 60 villages, towns, cities and counties in New York have followed Croton’s lead. Cumulatively, these public customers have bought over 31 million kilowatt hours of wind power.
The Municipal Wind Buyers Group, put together by then Croton Mayor Bob Elliott and Community Energy, won an award from the USEPA and Energy Department for fostering renewable energy. But Croton, in turn, was only following leaders like Supervisor Cary.
Fenner plans a 2 acre visitor’s center, the Fenner Renewable Energy Education (FREE) Center at the foot of one turbine tower, while fundraising is underway for this non-profit educational venture.
In 1998, the Town of Fenner (population 1,680) was first approached by Bill Moore, an energy entrepreneur, who sought permission to install a few meteorological towers to measure wind speed, direction, and duration.
Mr. Moore told the Town that he wanted to investigate whether Fenner had the potential to produce enough wind power to pay for the installation of a wind farm. The ideal wind speed for a wind farm is 27 miles per hour averaged over a 24 hour period.
Mr. Moore’s company was testing the wind conditions in dozens of sites. The meteorological towers would test the wind at 3 heights above the ground. The “met towers” would be lattice antenna-like structures 50 meters tall held in place with guy wires.
This National Renewable Energy Lab map shows the likely average wind speed in regions in the US. Note the dark high wind spots near New York’s Finger Lakes region.
As Mr Cary told us during a tour of the wind farm this summer, Fenner residents learned some interesting facts about their local wind. Most surprising, the met towers showed that that predominant direction of the wind was from the southwest, where New York’s Finger Lakes lay, rather than the northwest, where Lake Ontario generated so much winter snow.
The most critical information that Mr. Moore’s towers relayed was that Fenner’s winds blew at an average of 18 mph. This wind speed made the town’s plateau one of the most desirable sites for a wind farm.
By 2000, the Town was far along in the environmental review process. Several underlying principles guided Mr. Cary and the town board members. First, the wind towers should be located on as many different land owners’ properties as possible as this would spread the benefits and any disadvantages around. Second, the towers and their access roads should have as small a footprint as possible. Third, the agricultural uses of the existing land had be conserved and any zoning change to allow the wind farms should not threaten the small farms that were the area’s predominant land use.
To accommodate the installation and protect the surrounding agricultural uses, the town created a new zoning overlay district of about 1,600 acres. The entire wind farm is located within this new district, which allows tall, smooth-skinned towers and properly buried high-voltage power lines.
“You can’t deny that wind towers have a visual impact,” said Mr. Cary. Of course, the steam plumes also have a visual impact. As Mr. Cary pointed out, the plumes hover over the cooling towers of the Nine Mile II nuclear power plant in Oswego miles away and are clearly visible from the Fenner plateau.
Supervisor Cary also described how, as a result of the Fenner project, future wind towers now need a shadow impact study to make sure the towers and their slowly turning blades do not cast unwanted or intermittent shade on any residences, commonly called the “flicker factor.”
Each wind tower, its small ground station, and access road take up less than 1/4 acre. Each tower sits on a large concrete pad as a stabilizer that has been covered with local topsoil.
Cattle, sheep, horses and dairy herds can and do graze right up to the pad on which the towers sit.
About 6.6 miles of buried high voltage transmission line connects the towers to the grid, further reducing the visual impact and increasing safety.
A total of 20 wind towers operate at Fenner. In lieu of property taxes, the Fenner Wind Farm is making 15 annual payments to the Town, after which time the towers will be subject to normal property taxes.
Payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) by Fenner Wind to the Town thus far have enabled the Town to both cover the expense of monitoring the towers and their maintenance, and have provided enough income to allow Fenner to acquire better snow removal equipment and build a modest municipal building.
The Fenner Wind Farm represents a property value of $41 million dollars in 2007 compared to a total town valuation of $100 million. In other words, after the PILOTs expire, the wind farm will go on the tax roll as developed property.
When the installation does become taxable property, in one fell swoop, the wind farms will increase the property tax base by 40% in the Town of Fenner.
The need to plow the access roads in the winter has benefited local farmers who can now reach fields in mid-winter for spreading manure that previously were blocked by snow drifts.
The 20 turbines at Fenner generate enough electricity to power about 7,000 homes, i.e. about 30 MW. Each 1.5-megawatt windmill is over 320 feet tall at top of its blade and weighs 187 tons, including the tower, blades and generator.
Each 115 foot turbine blade is made of balsa wood and composite and weigh 7.5 tons. The tip of each blade contains a lightning rod. Mr. Cary says these towers actually draw lightning strikes that might otherwise have hit local farm buildings. Each tower has 3 blades.
The towers are smooth monopoles that originally would have had plaques stating Enron was the manufacturer. The Town insisted the towers bear no commercial advertisements.
PS: One big change in Fenner has been how many motorists become mesmerized by the slowly turning windmills, exit the Thruway spontaneously to drive toward the scattered towers, and then can’t find their way back to the highway from the farm roads. So if you go, bring a map! Also see the Fenner Wind Farm brochure.
Editor’s note: The author is a former Village of Croton-on-Hudson Trustee who served three terms from 2001 to 2007.