Wind energy may be coming to the town of Somerset over the next several years.
Apex Clean Energy is in the preliminary stages of looking at the town, Supervisor Dan Engert said. The company first expressed interest in the town nearly two years ago.
At that time, the project was based entirely in Somerset. It now includes the town of Yates in Orleans County.
The first phase involved Apex speaking with property owners in the town to gauge their interest in leasing land to the company. The second, and the current stage in the process, requires Apex to file a public involvement program under New York State’s Article 10, which was initially done in the fall, Engert said. The program outlines how Apex plans on engaging the public, and includes public meetings and an informational website.
“There’s no project, there’s no application,” Engert said. “This is entirely a study right now.”
Article 10, which was revamped in 2011, requires energy companies generating 25 megawatts of electricity or more to go through the state for the siting process, which is how a site is selected. The law also requires environmental impact studies, public safety studies and the consideration of local laws.
Applicants, in this case Apex, are required to pay for both the pre-application and application process. That funding can then be used by impacted municipalities to pay for consultants and experts to assist with reviewing the application.
“The permitting will be done through the Public Service Commission,” Engert said.
The law also allows for two members from the impacted community to sit on the siting board. The Public Service Commission has five sitting members.
If Apex decides to move forward with the project, called Lighthouse Wind, they must file a preliminary scoping statement, which must be done at least 150 days after issuing the PIP, and 90 days before they can make an application. The statement is a declaration that the company is considering making an application to move forward with the project.
The preliminary plan calls for 60-to-70 turbines, which could change, Engert said.
“They file high and scale back,” he said.
There are questions on how the siting process would work, Engert said, noting that it would be the first project sited under Article 10, should it go through.
“There’s never been a fully involved Article 10 process for an energy development project in New York since the law was revamped,” he said.
Questions include how the Public Service Commission interprets regulations which allow for the town supervisor and county legislature to have a say in who represents the town and county on the siting board. In the current process, four names each are submitted, of which two are chosen by the Senate’s president pro tempore and the Speaker of the Assembly.
The regulations, however, don’t address the situation with the Lighthouse Wind project, which involves four municipalities.
“That’s just one of the questions that will likely be raised,” Engert said.
Somerset also has ordinances on the books that govern how an industrial wind project would work in the town.
“Is there any application of that existing law in an article 10 proceeding?” he said. “We don’t know.”
As the process has moved along, Engert said that he’s found that some residents fully support the project, while others are coming out against it.
Cathi Orr, a Somerset resident who moved to the town from Wyoming County to escape the wind turbines there, is leading the charge against the project in the town with a group of like-minded residents from areas impacted by wind energy. Through letters to the editor, a website and a Facebook account, Save Ontario Shores Inc. is making it clear that not everyone supports the project.
In a letter to the editor last week, Orr described some of the less savory impacts of wind energy, as she sees them.
“The negative impacts include, but are not limited to: noise/infra-sound, shadow flicker, health impacts, resonant ground vibrations, interruption of TV and cell phone frequencies, interference with ham radio and radar signals, destroyed rural heritage and scenic vistas and property devaluation,” she wrote.
She also warned of lease deals gone bad in Wyoming County, and the inability of disgruntled landowners to opt out of lease agreements.
“Think again before you sign away your freedom and property rights away,” she wrote.
The group’s website can be found at www.lakeontarioturbines.com, and the Facebook page can be found at www.facebook.com/SaveOntarioShores. The page, created at the beginning of February, has already surpassed 800 “likes.”
Engert acknowledged the “passion” of those against the project. While he’s willing to listen to what those against wind energy have to say, his main concern is the people of Somerset, he said.
The town is also being looked at by a solar energy company, Engert said, although he was unable to give details on who or where the project is being considered. That, combined with AES Somerset LLC and the possibility of wind energy in Somerset makes for a fascinating combination of traditional and renewable resources in the town, he said.
“I’d be interested to know whether or not there’s another town in this great country that has a conversation like the Town of Somerset’s having,” he said. “For that reason, I think it’s exciting for not only our community, but I think it’s exciting for our region. I look forward to the conversation, and I look forward to hearing from the constituents of the town and seeing what direction they want to go.”
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