By Gina Muscato
BENTON – The town has caught the eye of wind energy companies looking for potential development sites. No project has been proposed in Benton, but two companies have expressed interest. The situation has prompted town officials to schedule an informational meeting for 7 p.m. Monday at the town hall.
“We decided it’s time to just let people of the town of Benton ask questions or try to inform them of where we stand right now,” said Supervisor Robert Clark, noting that the meeting is not a public hearing. “We’re in the beginning stages. It’s not even a situation where we know if wind production could be effective in the town of Benton.”
In fact, he added, no wind energy company has even requested a special use permit to construct a tower to measure wind speed and gather other data.
However, town officials were approached by one company – Global Winds Harvest – about three or four months ago and have since talked with another – Empire State Wind Energy Co. – about the possibility of harnessing wind power in Benton.
Both companies have offered maps showing where there could be potential in Yates County, including a ridge on Benton’s west side, Clark said.
He noted that town officials have had brief discussions with the companies to seek information and ask questions. They have also visited Tug Hill, Lewis County, and Fenner, Madison County, where wind farms already exist to “try to make ourselves more aware of what’s involved.”
“We were very pleased with the information. It opened up our eyes to a lot of things,” Clark said. “But we have not made a decision at all as to whether we are for or against wind energy [in Benton].”
He added that while he hasn’t made up his mind, he believes generating wind energy is beneficial “in the right place.”
Last month, the Town Board instituted a six-month moratorium on the construction of wind turbines. Clark said the moratorium will give officials time to amend its zoning laws to include regulations on the structures, including set-back requirements.
“We’re very open to things, yet we want our zoning to protect the residents of the town of Benton who might be near the situation,” said Clark, adding that they are looking at other areas’ zoning laws to see what has worked. “[The situation] is very preliminary. There’s been interest shown, and we’re just trying to get our ducks in a row before any problems arise.”
Problems have arisen in the town of Italy, which has been mired in controversy over wind farm development for more than two years.
Two companies – Global Winds Harvest and Ecogen – are proposing plans for roughly 50 wind turbines total in Italy and neighboring Prattsburg. But without any zoning laws on the books, officials in Italy have had to develop new regulations, including restrictions on wind turbine construction.
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