ORANGEVILLE, N.Y. — Like many Wyoming County residents, it was the simple beauty of the land that attracted Linda Makson.
In 1973, after years of saving, she and her husband Paul bought 24 acres in Orangeville and built the house that they live in to this day. Through all that time, they developed as little of their land as possible, preferring to keep it natural and a haven for wildlife.
"We chose to live here. We have a little land; we're naturalists," Makson said.
But the environment was changed in 2014, when Invenergy erected its 75-unit Orangeville Wind Farm.
Now, the Maksons are surrounded by turbines. Some stand at just over a quarter-mile away — the minimum setback from neighboring homes established in Orangeville town law. In some places, Linda Makson can see four turbines by looking out a single window. And she laments that acres of old forest was razed to make room for the project.
“Every window I look out, I see a turbine. There isn't any getting away from them,” Makson said.
Gone are the days when she could step outside, to garden or just sit, and hear only the sounds of the woods: birds chirping, wind rustling the trees. Now those sounds are masked by the whir of the turbines. When there's a steady wind, the noise is constant.
“Before they went up, it was not an issue to go outside and take coffee and just literally sit and enjoy the evening," Makson said. "Now you do that and you're surrounded with noise and turbines, whishing away and roaring away. Why would you want to do that?”
"It's like Niagara Falls some days," she added. "It doesn't go away unless the blades stop turning. You can feel it in the house; it vibrates.”
The Maksons are not alone. Dozens of families who were adamantly opposed to the wind farm nevertheless watched the turbines go up — and now deal with the noise and ugliness they bring. Some also experience occasional shadow flicker and the vibrations from infrasound, sound waves with frequencies too low for the human ear to register.
"During the summer, we can't even sit on our decks because of the noise," said Steve Moultrup, who lives more than a half a mile from the nearest turbines.
Moultrup says the noise isn't as bad it as was at his home of more than 30 years ago near Buffalo-Niagara International Airport. But at least there he could enjoy quiet between landings and take-offs.
“The problem is it's continual. … With the wind turbines, it doesn't stop," he said.
Mary Nevinger, who lives about 1,500 feet from the nearest turbines, said six to eight families left Orangeville because of the turbines.
For people like the Maksons and Moultrups, the reality of living near turbines illustrates why they fought the project for years.
Opponents mobilized and formed Clear Skies Over Orangeville as early as 2006, two years after the company began soliciting large landowners to sign contracts.
But they ran up against powerful interests. Many landowners stood to benefit from Invenergy's lease payments. Even large landowners without contracts have saved small fortunes thanks to property tax abatements.
“It was very divisive because it's a pretty close-knit community and a lot of people are related to other people," Nevinger said. “You had people who had permission to hunt on farmers' properties and didn't want to speak against it.”
“It really pits neighbor against neighbor," she added.
CSOO filed two lawsuits, in 2010 and 2012, against the town over the project. The first suit claimed several town board members had signed contracts with Invenergy or had close family members who had signed contracts. The second suit found fault with state environmental reviews of the project, claiming the project would violate the town's noise ordinance.
Both suits were thrown out by a New York State Supreme Court judge.
“Many people on the town board, either they or their family members were slated to benefit," said Mary Kay Barton of Castille, where proposed wind projects were fought successfully. "They just didn't have the manpower to change the base of the boards to stop it from happening.”
Nearly 60 Orangeville residents filed a lawsuit against Invenergy in State Supreme Court in 2014, claiming loss of quality of life and reduced property values because of its wind farm. That lawsuit is still pending.
“We're hoping the lawsuit will do something for us," Nevinger said. "I was never in it for the money.”
Orangeville Wind Farm's critics acknowledge they do receive one benefit from it. Invenergy's Payment In Lieu of Taxes has reduced their town taxes considerably. But they say a bigger town tax bill would be a small price for freedom from the noise and blight of the turbines.
“I would just as soon as give that up when I look at the property that has been sold in Orangeville since they went up," Moultrup said.
Some question whether they are truly getting a good deal on their taxes, because wind energy is so reliant on state subsidies to be profitable (though all sources of energy receive some form of subsidy). Others point out the high cost of energy in New York. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, New York has the eight-highest cost of electricity of any state, at an average of 14.47 cents per kilowatt-hour.
Wind farms “don't make sense without the tax credits. ... Taxpayers are funding this garbage and these corporations are taking us to the cleaners," Barton said.
Now that the project is up, people like the Moultrups, Maksons and Nevinger have only two options: endure the turbines or leave.
But this corner of Wyoming County is their home, and they were here long before Invenergy.
"We could walk away, but why should we be forced out of here?" Makson said. "This is where I choose to live.”
FROM THE EDITOR
As part of the US&J's ongoing coverage of the issues surrounding Apex Clean Energy LLC's proposed commercial wind energy project in the Barker-Lyndonville area, reporter Tim Fenster has been talking to people who live near existing wind farms in New York state, to get a sense of the "pros" and "cons" of wind energy generation that's more than speculative.
On Sunday, we launched a two-part series on the question, focusing first on those who have had positive experiences residing near commercial/industrial wind energy installations.
Today's report airs the views of those who say their lives were disrupted by an installation.