LOCKPORT – Area residents are debating any number of issues involving the proposed Lighthouse Wind Project.
A presentation on Thursday stripped many of them away to place a focus on the research that’s still needed.
Backed by a pair of experts in the sound and health effects of wind turbines, Apex Clean Energy Senior Development Manager Dan Fitzgerald greeted the scrutiny of the Niagara County Board of Health.
The session didn’t address issues such as the project’s desirability, land use or economics involving the project that would place industrial wind turbines the towns of Yates and Somerset.
While it’s been more than a year since the developers first reached out to municipal leaders and landowners, much of the work needed to determine the shape of the project is ahead for Lighthouse Wind.
Fitzgerald said that’s the point of the state’s Article X process, which regulates major energy projects.
The preliminary scoping statement released Nov. 23 came with only a small share of required research needed before an application for the project is submitted in presentable form. Fitzgerald said many of the studies will be completed between now and next summer.
“We’re at a crucial point,” Fitzgerald told the board. “Right now, it’s a concept.”
As a result, the information Apex and the project consultants provided was from studies largely outside of the 20,000 acres of rural Orleans and Niagara counties eyed for the project.
The consultants included Robert O’Neal of Epsilon Associates and Dr. Christopher Ollson, of Ollson Environmental Health Management.
There was a lot to learn from past projects, which Ollson said include several providing the model of what not to do, along with studies like a 2014 Health Canada report that asked thousands of people living within 1,000 feet to 10 kilometers of tower sites on the health impacts they’ve felt.
“Are there issues living around wind projects?” Ollson asked. “There certainly can be … noise has a threshold beyond which you don’t want to be (within).”
He noted that the specific siting of turbines has a major impact.
“The earlier projects were set a lot closer to homes, with higher decibel levels,” he said.
In the case of Lighthouse Wind, Fitzgerald said a standard would be to locate turbines the greater of either 1,500 feet away or to where the overnight sound levels don’t exceed 45 dBA at non-participating properties.
The tips of each turbine’s three blades would peak at nearly as high as the smokestacks at the Somerset plant where the system is intended to hook into the grid.
But Apex’s standards for the project aren’t for noise occurring at a point hundreds of feet in the air. It’s what the non-participating resident would experience within his or her bedroom.
The health officials were told the stated setbacks would protect against sleep disturbances and impacts from prolonged noise exposure.
“The concern about ‘as they get bigger, what happens with noise?’” Ollson said. “It (should not be) with how high they get. What’s important is making sure sound levels are low enough to get good nights’ sleep,”
Thursday’s meeting followed a November presentation to the board of health by members of Save Ontario Shores, a group opposing the project.
Cynthia Hellert, an SOS member at the meeting, said she didn’t pick up any new information. Her group has asked the board of health to issue regulations strengthening baseline measurements for wind turbine projects.
“This study would rule out pre-existing conditions of residents in the area, their exposure to environmental elements that could elicit symptoms similar to those reporting annoyance, sleep disturbance, illness, etc. in the proposed area of construction and operation,” Hellert said after the meeting.
Board members had many questions of their own relating to the potential network of dozens of 500- to 620-foot wind energy systems — a figure that Fitzgerald offered at the prodding of a questioner.
The board agreed following the presentation to draft a letter calling for the most thorough studies possible to be performed.
So far, Apex has constructed two meteorological towers and a sonar unit for wind measurement, and O’Neal said they’ve monitored six points for sound data.
When it came to infrasound – the lowest end of the noise frequency spectrum and a major source of residential concerns – O’Neal said the overall sound profile that turbines would produce is already present from the noise the wind already generates.
“Infrasound already exists in the environment,” O’Neal said. “There’s low frequency infrasound out there today and there will be in the future with or without the wind farm.”
That doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be a localized increase in noise.
O’Neal said the modeling for how much is produced will begin with an initial layout of turbines.
The plans will likely be altered by the data that comes back on the cumulative noise levels, based on an assumption that has wind blowing directly from each site to the residence involved.
Fitzgerald said the timing and depth of studies will likely result in a final application next summer.
A similar presentation has not yet been requested by the joint board of health serving Orleans and Genesee counties. Apex representatives said they expected one to be called in the future.
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