SOMERSET – Emotions are riding high surrounding a large wind-energy project being considered for the Town of Somerset and a smaller, contiguous piece of the Town of Yates in Orleans County.
“I am finding out that with wind energy – you either love it or you hate it,” said Somerset Supervisor Daniel Engert.
Richard Weller, who grew up in the town, loves it.
“It’s outstanding,” said Weller, who lives with his young family on Lower Lake Road. “It’s our duty as keepers of the Earth to make sure we do the right thing … You have to keep an open mind. We’re here for a short time, but we have to think of the folks who come after us.”
Cathi Orr, who moved to Johnson Creek Road last year, is just as passionate in her opposition.
“It breaks my heart to see what this does to people living around these wind projects,” said Orr, who fled her Wyoming County farm due to its proximity to an industrial wind farm. “I have been through this – this personally happened to me. And I have many good friends who can’t afford to get out (of Wyoming County).”
In what is being called the “Lighthouse Wind Project,” Apex Clean Energy is considering constructing a wind-energy project that ultimately could provide power for up to 59,000 homes. The renewable energy firm, based in Charlottesville, Va., is studying the feasibility of constructing a 201-megawatt, industrial wind-energy generation project in an area that hugs the Lake Ontario shoreline. The resulting power would be delivered into the New York State electrical grid.
But Engert pointed out that the town is charting new territory with the potential project, which must follow the state Public Service Commission’s Article 10 siting process for electrical generation – the first wind-energy project in the entire state to do so. He said the application for an earlier project elsewhere in the state was withdrawn.
In the meantime, Engert said recently the town has concurrently been approached by a “fairly substantial solar-energy company that is looking at Somerset,” but that he was “not yet at liberty to discuss names.”
The Somerset Planning Board awarded Apex a permit last Oct. 2 to erect a 60-meter tower on private land to collect meteorological data. Apex officials earlier cited a rough estimate that the project could consist of around 67 turbines capable of producing 2.75 to 3.3 megawatts.
Apex representatives have been talking to landowners for about a year, particularly along the Route 18 corridor, to gauge public interest, and held an open house Oct. 13 in Somerset to introduce the general public to the project.
This was not an application, but merely confirmed the company’s interest, said Engert.
While stressing that this is a potential “economic development project under consideration by a private company,” Engert said that as town supervisor, he welcomes comments from local residents who stand to be directly impacted by the potential project.
He added, however, that he does not give the same consideration to the opinions provided by out-of-towners – many of which could be politically charged, he maintained.
“I have heard from people from all over Western New York and even Central New York on this, but the biggest and most important voice in this matter is my constituents’ voice,” he said. “That’s the one I’m most concerned with. Not to diminish the others’ concerns, but they are following this from afar.”
Not only has Orr been a very vocal opponent, but she has helped organize Save Ontario’s Shores (S.O.S.) to rally others in Somerset and Yates to fight the project. She sold her farm in Orangeville, Wyoming County, in June 2013 and purchased a 75-acre Somerset farm in January 2014, only to find out months later that she may be facing a wind project again in her new home.
She listed a number of reasons why she will fight the project.
“There is loss of property values, there are health issues and being kept awake at night by the noise,” she said. “There is the infrasound noise and vibration created by these turbines, as well as the regular noise of the blades. There is the sound of the huge disc brakes, because the wind speed must be kept at 27 to 35 mph to produce electricity, which all contributes to something called ‘wind turbine syndrome.’
“These towers are connected overhead and underground by high-voltage electric lines that give off microwaves,” she continued. “And for what? Less than 2 percent electricity worldwide gathered. This is a failed technology in Europe and must be backed up by fossil fuel, so if it can’t produce the capacity needed, gas or coal-fired plants must augment the wind power.
“And, the project is also planned for one of the greatest migratory flyways in North America – millions of birds pass through here each year,” she added.
Engert said of Orr, “I respect her opinion. She was very much opposed to the project sited in Wyoming County, but that was pre-Article 10, so it was an entirely different process. She is very skeptical of wind energy and that’s her opinion and it will be considered.”
The supervisor said only two other Somerset residents have expressed their opposition to the potential project, “while I’ve had dozens of calls and emails from residents in favor of it.”
One of the residents who contacted Engert to show his support was Weller.
Weller has worked for 20 years in the cable industry.
“I’m in full support of this,” he said. “The wind is a never-ending resource with minimal impact on the environment. This would be huge for this town, not only in bringing jobs, but for the tax income to both the town and county.”
Weller said he has a brother in Brentwood, Calif., “where there are hundreds of acres of wind farms. I think it would be crazy not to at least give it a shot here.”
He recalled pulling over to the side of the road in Wyoming County a couple of years ago to get a better look at a wind farm.
“I think they’re beautiful,” he said. “I was a couple of hundred of feet away and I couldn’t even hear them. I don’t know who is for them or against them here, but I’d suggest that people take a ride down there and see for yourself.
“I know there are some who want to keep this a farming community, but that would be a shame (to oppose it),” he said. “It’s hard enough to keep a farm afloat and maybe this would help the farmers (who could lease their land for turbines). I think there are more pros than cons to this.”
Dan Fitzgerald, New York project manager for Apex, said public input will continue to play a role throughout the permitting process.
“We will talk to many stakeholders – for wind energy and against it,” he said.
He said the company will continue to look to residents to “help shape our studies and plans” for months – and years – to come.
“The next step is the preliminary scoping statement, which we can submit after March 31 – when we feel comfortable with it,” he said. “We’re looking to shareholders to help shape that, so that we will look at the facts together and make a determination on this project for this area … We’re making an outline of what studies will be done and how they will be performed, working with the public and with the regulatory agencies.”
Engert also added that while Somerset has had a law on its books permitting wind energy projects for several years, town attorneys are currently researching whether the local law is applicable when it comes to a state-sited project. The Town of Yates has a local law in place that is open to wind development, as well.
Apex has noted Somerset’s history of power production and existing high-voltage power lines.
Engert acknowledged that, noting that energy generation has been the niche in the town since the 1980s, when Kintigh Generating Station, a coal-fired plant, was built by New York State Electric and Gas. The plant became AES Somerset and is now Somerset Operating Company.
He said, “It is still a 675-megawatt coal plant, although it’s not operating full time. It’s market-driven.”
The town has been searching for ways to offset the sizeable income lost by the reduction in payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement the coal plant had with the town, school district and Niagara County for several years. Last month, the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency voted unanimously in favor of a one-year PILOT extension for the county’s largest taxpayer.
Engert urged residents to visit the town’s website at www.somersetny.org and read his holiday 2014 newsletter, and learn more about the Article 10 siting process by visiting: http://www.dps.ny.gov/SitingBoard. To learn more about Save Ontario’s Shores, call 795-3571 or visit: http://lakeontarioturbines.com/. Apex has established a website for the project at www.lighthousewind.com.
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