SOMERSET – Orleans County’s representative on an Article X siting board for the Lighthouse Wind project remains a mystery, but their locally-nominated colleague has been changed to someone well-versed in the battles over wind energy.
Cathi Orr found out late last week she – and not Randall Atwater as previously reported – has been appointed by State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan as one of two locally-nominated members of the siting board.
Orr is an interesting choice for the siting board, having a deeply personal experience with another wind project in Wyoming County.
She moved to Niagara County in 2014 from her home of more than two decades after founding Clear Skies over Orangeville and leading an unsuccessful charge to stop the 58-turbine Orangeville Wind Farm.
“I wouldn’t have left if it wasn’t for them,” said Orr, who is part of a class-action lawsuit filed by Orangeville residents against Invenergy.
In relocating her horse farm to Somerset, Orr thought she had moved away from wind energy, but leapt back into the issue when she heard a 200-megawatt wind energy system was being considered along the lake country north of Barker and Lyndonville. She was a founding member of Save Ontario Shores, which like the Orangeville group has opposed the siting of a wind energy system in the local area.
While the state’s siting process for energy projects has changed since the Orangeville Wind Farm was approved at the town level, Orr said her earlier experiences will have a significant impact in how she takes on her new roll.
The siting board consists of two local representatives and the leaders of the state’s Public Service Commission, Energy Research and Development Authority, Empire State Development, Department of Health and Department of Environmental Conservation. None of those five have lived through the construction and operation of a wind energy project, Orr said.
“If you haven’t been there, you don’t get it,” Orr said. “If you lived through it, it’s not remembering what you read (in a study). It’s knowing the noise and all the negative impacts.”
Orr said she lived through a year of construction for the Wyoming County project, which became operational in 2014. A combination of roads worn by the movement of heavy equipment, noise and concern over possible negative health impacts spurred her to leave a 100-acre farm surrounded on all sides by more than a dozen nearby towers.
“I’ll look at the facts, but it’s in my heart, I went through it,” she added later. “My research comes from leaving and coming here, and trying again to warn people. There’s a tremendous amount of people who have done research. I will give them an accurate view of what happens.”
Orr lives east of Barker and about three miles south of Lake Ontario. It’s near the edge of the survey area outlined in Apex Clean Energy’s filings with the Department of Public Service, but Orr isn’t certain where turbines would be located.
She’s not optimistic about the siting board siding with Somerset and Yates, whose residents and town councils have opposed the project in surveys and resolutions, respectively. But Orr said that having the odds not stacked against her efforts locally has been a boost.
“We have a very invested town board, they’re trying to do what the people want,” Orr said. “I hope (the state) gives us a fair voice.”
No action on Yates rep.
Orr’s selection came month after Atwater was announced as Flanagan’s choice. She wasn’t certain why the switch occurred and believes he would have been a good representative of her town.
There’s been no visible progress on selecting the second local representative. A Feb. 3 letter from State Sen. Rob Ortt and Assemblyman Steve Hawley urged Public Service Commission Chairperson Audrey Zibelman to take an active role in securing the appointment of one of the four candidates offered by the Yates Town Council and Orleans County Legislature.
The decision between Russ Martino, Jeff Oakes, Cindy Hellert and Glenn Maid currently sits with Gov. Andrew Cuomo following Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie passing on the authority in January. The lack of an appointment frustrated Ortt and Hawley, who had worked to ensure a representative from each town by suggesting the Yates candidates to Heastie and the Somerset candidates to Flanagan.
Developer gets extension for replies
Apex Clean Energy will have until Feb. 29 to file its reply to the hundreds of comments logged by Department of Public Service in response to a preliminary scoping statement for the Lighthouse Wind project.
The wind energy developer was originally granted an extension that would have ended Thursday to make its reply, which follows the extension for public comments to a 50-day window that ended in January. According to James Muscato, an attorney representing Apex, more time is needed to “provide Lighthouse with the time necessary to ensure it provides responses consistent with the requirements in article X.”
More than 300 letters and 1,000 comments have been made to the DPS, Muscato said in a letter sent to Public Service Commission Secretary Kathleen Burgess a week before the Feb. 11 deadline.
“Many of these comments – as well as the motions of several intervening parties to strike or require supplementation of the PSS – sought considerable amounts of additional information, maps or additional details and analysis,” Muscato said in the letter.
Burgess granted the request.
Yates reviewing wind energy laws
The Yates Town Council has taken a step toward improving its wind energy local laws by appointing a citizen-led advisory committee to review and suggest amendments to current codes.
Yates Councilman John Riggi participated, as a member of Save Ontario Shores, in Somerset’s revision of its wind energy laws. He said the Yates committee will meet Feb. 27 with the intention of having an amended law available for a public hearing in March.
Riggi said Somerset is likely to vote on its revised wind energy law at its next meeting.
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