sPower director stresses benefits of wind energy

The residents of Seneca County are smart, engaging and passionate in their advocacy of their families and their community. During my frequent visits to Seneca County on behalf of sPower and our Seneca Wind project, I’ve had an opportunity to meet and hear from many of them.

Several of the people I’ve heard are fierce opponents of the project — and not at all shy about telling me so. Yet, despite our obvious differences, I appreciate their point of view and I admire their passion.

I’m passionate, too, and feel strongly about the value of clean energy.

A wind turbine is built hundreds of feet in the sky so it can capture faster and less-turbulent wind. Electricity is created when the wind turns three propeller blades around a rotor, which is connected to a shaft that spins a generator. Turbines can power a single facility, or they can be connected to an electricity grid for the widespread distribution of renewable energy, which ours will do.

Wind is among the cleanest energy options available. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “Harnessing power from the wind is one of the cleanest and most sustainable ways to generate electricity as it produces no toxic pollution or global warming emissions. Wind is also abundant, inexhaustible and affordable, which makes it a viable and large-scale alternative to fossil fuels.”

When we consider the dramatic spike in deadly storms around the country, it is clear climate change is not an academic or theoretical concern. I believe my generation has a responsibility to do our part to address climate change. Wind energy is not the only answer, but it is unquestionably part of the solution.

It also contributes to improving air quality. According to a study published last year in the journal Nature Energy, by displacing emissions from fossil fuel plants, wind generation avoided more than 1.6 million tons of emissions of air pollutants between 2007 and 2015. This has helped prevent more than 2,900 premature deaths and resulted in more than $28 billion in public health benefits.

That’s probably why, to me, the sight of wind turbines is a pleasing one.

As I’ve heard, many of you disagree. Because I don’t expect to change any minds about the beauty of wind turbines, it is all the more important to me that sPower builds relationships and partnerships for the benefit of Seneca County.

It’s what we’ve done in the other localities where we have wind farms. We hear from residents who appreciate the economic and philanthropic benefits our projects have brought to their communities. This experience is consistent with a 2018 national survey conducted by Berkeley Lab of neighbors of 250 existing wind farms across the country, which found that more than 90 percent of neighbors held a positive view of the nearby wind farm.

Here in Seneca County, our project will provide up to $56 million in payments in lieu of taxes to be shared among schools, townships, the county and the state over the 30-year life of the project. We don’t know how exactly new money will be invested, but I’m sure there are unmet needs that can be addressed with new revenue.

For example, three local school districts in the county will receive more than 50 percent of the payments from the project. From what we’ve learned in our conversations with school officials, these districts could reduce or eliminate school fees, add safety and security features or even build new facilities for the children of this community.

Meanwhile, we’ve been meeting with community partners to find ways to support Seneca County’s ongoing efforts in education, workforce, economic development and social services. We’re finding this is a generous and creative community, and we’re excited to become a part of it.

Perhaps most importantly, we know that we need to keep listening. We need to hear all of your questions and concerns, take them seriously and address them honestly.

That doesn’t mean that we will agree. Just as some of you won’t be convinced that turbines are pretty to look at, I won’t waver in my belief that wind energy development is essential for the future of our nation.

But our different points of view can contribute to a healthy, mutually beneficial conversation, and I look forward to having those for the foreseeable future.

Gordon Gray is director of wind development for sPower.