MEDINA – A crowd that joined a GCC class in filling three classrooms to hear industry and local views on a proposed wind farm in Yates and Somerset asked enough questions to point both sides in a wide-ranging discussion.
Wednesday’s panel on the Lighthouse Wind proposal offered that both Apex Clean Energy, the firm pursuing the 200-megawatt project, and groups like Save Ontario Shores, which has risen up to oppose it, can’t know exactly how or what the project would bring to the area.
From Apex’s point of view, expressed by Senior Development Manager Dan Fitzgerald and Development Manager Taylor Quarles, is that questions about Lighthouse Wind will be answered in the next year, by meteorological towers’ data collection and continued work to sign up land leases for 600-foot, three-megawatt turbines.
Fitzgerald said what’s not in dispute is the clean, “inexhaustible” energy source waiting to be harnessed.
“We have a strong wind resource here in Somerset and Yates … and that’s why we’re here, Fitzgerald said, “and transmission lines in the area, to get product to market by electric lines. There’s a big highway to get product to market.”
Save Ontario Shores President John Riggi and Great Lakes Wind Truth Founding Member Suzanne Albright said uncertainty about health, environmental and economic impacts will remain until the project is either in the ground or buried.
Save Ontario Shores emerged out of those concerns. They feel the answer to their questions is a better one – why?
“You will hear (from Apex) how there aren’t any impacts, and we’ll talk about how there are,” Riggi said. “The challenge is whether you really want to take that risk with your health, your property values, and your children’s health?”
Both groups were given a chance to present their stories before the class presented questions from a crowd of more than 100 residents. Fitzgerald and Quarles sought first to explain their company and its growing industry.
“The technology has improved, but remained in agricultural areas,” Quarles said. “(Health-wise) there’s more than 360,000-megawatts nationwide, they’ve been extensively studied by academic institutions and there’s no epidemical evidence linking (turbines) to human health problems.”
Fitzgerald said municipal agreements are coming but not yet determined for incentives to host communities, a decommissioning plan, and for road usage during construction. He estimated a $1 million annual impact for the local economy and disputed that residential property values would decline from turbine’s proximity.
Riggi and Albright were given the same opportunity. They focused on issues like infrasound and shadow flicker, and questioned the economics and environmental benefits of large-scale wind projects.
“The wind is intermittent, you can’t predict it and it’s unreliable,” Albright said. “You have to have a fossil fuel, nuclear or hydropower back-up. Nowhere has a traditional power plant been successfully shut down because wind turbines were put in.”
Riggi said for all the issues that may be minimized, the scope of the project can’t be undersold. He said the turbines are large enough to effect the view, atmosphere and homes of the region, and favors the micro-turbines that are becoming more prevalent on Orleans County’s farms.
“This is 60-70 600-foot tall turbines,” he said. “The noise and light pollution, we agree it exists, they are trying to minimize it … but why should we try to have it where people are living?”
The dozen student-screened questions posed to the panel ranged from the use of generated power, wind speeds to how construction will effect road conditions. The last was the most critical for the future of the project – is there enough interest from landowners?
Riggi said his group’s assessment of the leases found Apex will not be able to secure enough land to build out the project, with only a third of the needed acreage accounted for. He believes that may cause the target area to be expanded, or in his preference, the project to be abandoned.
“If they don’t get the land, they can’t put enough turbines up and this project will go away,” Riggi said. “That’s our sincere hope … we don’t like what their company does, what it stands for and we don’t want them here.”
Fitzgerald and Quarles, who said they’ve found many “enthusiastic land owners” in the two towns, were more bullish on their progress.
“We are still looking to sign up landowners … any time we develop a wind energy project, its an elaborative process, we’re learning from stakeholders, what land we have,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re constantly refining and modifying. We’re looking to make this a good business. It might be too small … but things are looking to be on track.”
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