Wind Farm Buffets Family, Town Relations Clean wind energy sometimes comes at the cost of preserving rural vistas. Choosing between the two has divided residents — and even father and sons — in one upstate New York community.
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Wind Farm Buffets Family, Town Relations

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Wind Farm Buffets Family, Town Relations

Wind Farm Buffets Family, Town Relations

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

From California to New England, wind energy is booming. Consumers and lawmakers are demanding more renewable energy and the result is an unprecedented growth in wind farms.

From a distance, the spinning turbines can seem beautiful, but in some communities, living with them has gotten a bit ugly. Continuing our series Shifting Ground, independent producer David Baron has the story of one family blown apart by the wind.

DAVID BARON: A snow-covered road rises from the Black River Valley onto Tug Hill in Lewis County, New York. This is Yancey Road, home to the Yancey family for generations.

Mr. JOHN YANCEY (Union Electrician, Yancey Road, New York): My parents lived here and my grandfather lived here.

BARON: John Yancey has lived here his whole life. He's 48, and he's not pleased with the recent changes in the neighborhood.

Mr. J. YANCEY: We've got nothing but windmills.

BARON: Windmills surround him.

Mr. J. YANCEY: We're going to start here on north, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven…

BARON: The turbines are white, sleek, enormous, 20 stories tall with blades three times longer than a Greyhound bus.

Mr. J. YANCEY: Forty-one, 42, 43…

BARON: Almost 200 turbines sprawl across an area larger than Manhattan. This is the Maple Ridge Wind Farm, the largest wind power facility in the East. It opened two years ago, and it's transformed the way this rural area looks and sounds.

Mr. J. YANCEY: You will hear that whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.

(Soundbite of wind gushing)

BARON: John Yancey says when the wind comes from the right direction the sound penetrates his house, his bedroom, his consciousness.

Mr. J. YANCEY: I don't sleep.

BARON: Most of the noise comes from the one turbine. It's just across the street. And what makes it especially upsetting, the turbine is on his father's land.

Mr. J. YANCEY: I asked them not to have it installed there, to ask the company to either move it or delete it. But they built it, and now I have to suffer with it.

BARON: John and a couple of his brothers are angry at their father for allowing seven turbines on his land. One brother, Herb Yancey, grows corn and hay on his father's farm. He says the wind towers and their access roads have fragmented the land.

Mr. HERB YANCEY (Farmer, Yancey Road, New York): And now, you have all these little fields with no straight borders on them. Any place made farming a nightmare.

BARON: Then there's their brother Gordon. He owns a nearby inn that's popular with snowmobilers. He used to enjoy an unobstructed view of the Adirondacks. Now, he looks out on the wind towers.

Mr. GORDON YANCEY (Innkeeper, Yancey Road, New York): They've taken away my peacefulness, my serenity, my ability to walk outside on my property and enjoy the quietness of the morning sun, the quietness of the setting sun.

BARON: And Gordon barely speaks to his father anymore.

Mr. G. YANCEY: I feel that he sold the family out.

Mr. EDWARD YANCEY: My name is Edward Yancey. I was born in 1916.

BARON: Ed Yancey's hearing isn't so good. And when I asked him about the turbines that have divided him from his son, it's not clear he understands. But there's a simple reason he agreed to windmills on his land: He receives lease payments of more than $45,000 a year.

Mr. E. YANCEY: It helps out. Helps pay the taxes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BARON: His daughter, Virginia Yancey Lyndaker, sides with her father in this family dispute. She says he would have been foolish not to lease his land for wind towers.

Ms. VIRGINIA YANCEY LYNDAKER (Ed Yancey's Daughter): My theory is if you're going to - they're all going to be around you and you're going to see them and if you've got the property, you might as well partake, because why should you go and say, you know, I'm too important to take money.

BARON: Money, fairness, a sense that decisions were not made democratically — these are the core issues that explain the Yancey family rift. And it's a rift that's split the broader community, too.

Many people here like the wind farm. It's brought jobs and tax dollars. Some consider the turbines beautiful. But resentment has bubbled up because those who have a lot of land and a lot of windmills make a lot of money, while their land-poor neighbors receive next to nothing.

Mr. ARLEIGH RICE (Town Supervisor, Lowville, New York): It has caused friction, family against family or neighbor against neighbor.

BARON: Arleigh Rice is town supervisor for Lowville, New York — one of the three towns that hosts the Maple Ridge Wind Farm.

Wind projects have now been proposed for other communities in the region, and residents of those towns often seek his advice.

Mr. RICE: When I go other places, I just sit down and think how you can benefit everyone.

Ms. DEBBIE YANCEY (Herb Yancey's Wife): Okay. Well, let's do this one. Come up and get a sheet of paper and a marker.

BARON: That question — how to make wind power into something everyone can benefit from — was put recently to an eighth-grade science class at Lowville's middle school. The teacher: Debbie Yancey — Herb's wife, Ed's daughter-in-law. She broke the students into teams.

Ms. YANCEY: Okay, and we're talking windmills, guys, windmills.

BARON: The students came up with several ideas for improving wind farm development. Among them: require that windmills be set back farther from neighboring homes; hold a town vote on whether to allow the project; and don't let wind power companies negotiate deals one-on-one with individual landowners.

Unidentified Woman #1: They have to do it as a community thing.

Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah.

Unidentified Man #1: I hate the wind mills, but the community would get that money.

Unidentified Man #2: And then like, they'd figure out whether (unintelligible).

Unidentified Woman #3: Yeah.

Unidentified Woman #4: Who's to fix things?

Unidentified Man #2: Just coming down on it. I didn't mean to be…

BARON: Go somewhere else, okay. So everybody is kind of all in it together.

Unidentified Woman #3: It's a win-win situation.

BARON: A win-win situation.

But wind power does involve tradeoffs, and they're not always easy. How do you weigh the potential harm to neighbors against the benefit to the planet? Is it worth giving up the view you're used to in exchange for economic gains? Such questions don't just divide communities and families; they sometimes leave individuals internally conflicted.

John Yancey whose so upset about the windmill across the street that keeps him up nights, he's a union electrician. He helped build the wind towers.

Mr. J. YANCEY: They needed manpower. Our union supplied it.

BARON: Did you work on the winds on your dad's land?

Mr. J. YANCEY: Yes, I did. I thought that it possibly would be something that I'd be proud to say that, yes, I helped build this turbine across the road. But now, I'm eating my words.

BARON: And now that the windmills have come, John Yancey says he may go and leave his home on Yancey Road.

For NPR News, I'm David Baron.

NORRIS: And you can hear more stories from the Shifting Ground series at our Web site,

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