SOMERSET – Apex Clean Energy Lighthouse Wind and the Town of Somerset have a long road ahead of them before any final decisions on the proposed wind turbine project are made by the state’s siting board.
Lighthouse Wind is currently in its first stage, the pre-application stage, of the Article X law – a rigorous state permitting system for major electric generating facilities.
Under Article X an electric generating facility with 25-megawatt capacity or more, including renewable energy projects, is permitted by state law and not by local municipalities due to the 2011 revision of the law.
Lighthouse Wind said it is expected to generate 200 megawatts of clean, homegrown energy which will produce enough safe, pollution-free energy to power up to 53,000 homes.
When choosing a location to house the proposed wind project, Apex took into consideration three aspects including wind resource, transmission lines and suitable land. Local wind data showed that Somerset’s quality of wind resource is ideal for the project and the data was confirmed with two meteorological towers in Yates and Somerset.
The Somerset operating facility (the coal plant) serves as a transmission line for the project. With only one burner in use by the coal plant, Apex would be able to easily share and fit on the same double line.
Lastly, with the vast amount of agricultural land, Somerset seemed to be the most suitable place for wind development, according to Apex representative Taylor Quarles.
In 2014, Apex began to go door-to-door having preliminary talks with landowners to see whether they would be interested in the proposed wind project. After receiving both positive and negative feedback, Apex found that the top 10 landowners would be willing to participate.
Since October 2014, Apex has been working on getting a state permit in order to begin construction.
The pre-application stage requires all applicants to file a “public involvement plan” summarizing activities to educate, inform and involve the public in the process 150 days before the preliminary scoping statement is released.
Apex has exceeded its 150 days, during which they’ve held three open houses in both Somerset and Yates, made a website which is readily available to the public, held an extensive outreach, provided updates at town meetings and has opened an office site on Main Street in Barker.
Continuous public involvement in the Somerset/Barker area is taking place with the local hiring of office personnel for their Barker site, officials said.
Step two, the preliminary scoping statement, is currently being done by Lighthouse Wind and is scheduled to be completed by late summer, early fall.
The statement will outline all the details proposed for the 41 different studies being done, looking at areas such as health, wildlife, turbine location and layout and several more. The statement will be submitted to the siting board.
After submission, ample time will be given to the organizations that make up the siting board in order to decide whether the project will pass and construction will begin.
If the project does pass, Quarles foresees several benefits to the community including 10 full-time and well-paying jobs. These jobs include a project manager, a project manager assistant, office secretary and turbine technicians. The project is also said to generate an entirely new source of long-term revenue for schools, governments and property owners.
Developed and constructed with private capital, the project is expected to enter into a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement with the local taxing jurisdictions, which would give the towns $1.6 million per year.
When addressing the height of the turbines, Quarles said that current local law that says a turbine cannot exceed 450 feet was created during a time when that was the maximum height for turbines. With the rapid change in technology, the industry they found that wind is more consistent and stronger at higher elevations resulting in the use of taller turbines for maximum benefits.
Quarles also said that with the proposed 60 to 70, 570-foot turbines only less than half an acre will be used for one turbine, meaning 30 to 40 acres over an approximate 1,200-acre area will be used.
In Article X, four more steps follow the pre-application stage including the application stage, administrative hearing stage, siting board decision stage and, if passed, the compliance stage.
During the final steps of the pre-application stage, Quarles encourages people to come and voice their concerns and ask any questions they may have.