SOMERSET – A public hearing on proposed amendment of the town’s wind energy conservation law drew so many people that it had to be moved from the town hall to the nearby Barker Jr./Sr. High School cafeteria. Forty people spoke at the hearing, the speakers almost equally in favor or against the amendment.
Some attendees wore yellow T-shirts declaring “No Wind Turbines.” Others, in support of Apex Clean Energy’s proposal to place up to 70 wind turbines along the Lake Ontario shore in Somerset and neighboring Yates, wore patches declaring “Fear Not the Wind.”
The amended law would affect every future wind energy project in the town, not just Apex’s Lighthouse Wind project. The law would supersede Somerset’s current wind energy conservation law, would require an extensive application process for any wind developer and require them to provide studies on environmental impacts to bats and birds.
The 54-page proposed law restricts any wind energy systems from being built in residential or business districts or within the boundaries of the town’s local waterfront revitalization program.
The revised law was created with the help of an ad hoc committee that included town officials and residents appointed by the town and Apex.
Residents who spoke in favor of the revision voiced concerns that Apex’s proposed project would have negative impacts on property values, quality of life and local wildlife.
Many of those who spoke against it worry that the legislation would have negative economic impacts on Somerset in the future.
Roy Plummer, a former principal at Barker Jr./Sr. High School, said he moved to Somerset to enjoy the area’s natural views and water activities. He supports the revision and says if Apex builds Lighthouse Wind, the school district should be reimbursed for any disruptions in learning time that construction would cause. He also would want Apex to be compelled to remove outdated turbines.
Former town supervisor Richard Meyers spoke against the revision, asserting that having a clean energy generation station would make the town more attractive to potential developers.
Meyers said that when representatives from Verizon Wireless visited the town several years ago to scope locations for a large datacenter, they told him they initially didn’t want to get out of the car after seeing AES Somerset, the coal burning power plant in town.
“[Companies like Verizon] look for sustainable energy sources,” Meyers said. “They said that if there had been a wind farm in town, it would have been a better choice.”
Yates resident Brett Ewald, who owns a nature tour company called Birds of WNY, is in favor of Somerset’s revised law. He’s concerned about the impact of wind turbines on local bird populations, especially birds of prey.
“Tour groups from Buffalo and Rochester regularly come through the area to see birds, and while they’re here they eat in local restaurants and purchase supplies in local stores,” Ewald said.
If there is a dip in the local raptor population due to deaths from wind turbines, other biological concerns could result, he said.
“If the predatory birds die off, there will be an increase in the rodent population, which will negatively impact the population of turkey and other wild game,” Ewald said.
Cathi Orr, a farm owner who moved to Somerset after selling her Wyoming County farm due to an industrial wind farm being built nearby, also is in favor of the revised law.
“Niagara Falls is thirty miles away, and it can produce clean electricity much more efficiently than a wind farm, and it’s not at the mercy of when the wind blows,” she said.
Brian Scrutin, a representative of Millwrights Local 1163, said he and the organization are opposed to the revised law and in favor of Apex’s project.
“We’ve talked to Apex, and they will be using local labor for the project,” Scrutin said. “By passing this amendment, you’re not being good stewards of the town.”
Taylor Quarles, development manger for Apex Clean Energy, said the amended law is effectively a ban on wind energy in the town.
“It’s clear to me that this law is targeting the Lighthouse project, but also targeting any other future wind projects,” he said. “Within the restrictions placed through this amendment, there are ten or fewer possible locations to build in town, and only if every landowner participated.”
With the conditions listed in the amended law, it would not be possible to connect turbines to each other or the local power substation, Quarles added.
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