The people of a western New York community are confronting developers, the state, and each other over plans for a major new wind energy project.
Just last week, the developer brought in stakeholders for a get together behind closed doors, but a provision of state law may mean local elected leaders, and voters, have no say in what happens in their backyards.
“To me, it’s mesmerizing to see the windmills,” says Floyd Koerner, landowner.
Floyd Koerner is looking forward to seeing his cornfields sprout wind turbines. He’d get about $12,000 per turbine and he’s hoping to host three of them.
“We’re getting up to the age where it where close to retirement and it will be a nice nest egg to be able to help us through the golden years,” says Koerner.
“People are opposed to this,” says Pam Atwater, Save Ontario Shores. “They don’t think it’s appropriate.”
Pam Atwater’s home is near where some of the towers could go and she dreads it. Apex is planning on 50 to 60 turbines, possibly more than 600 feet tall, which would dwarf the biggest of the local silos… Or even the skyscrapers of downtown Rochester.
“It’s going to change the nature of the area to be more industrial than rural,” she says.
Molineaux: “What do 50, 60, 600 foot tall structures do to the character of that landscape?”
Taylor Quarles, Apex Clean Energy development manager: “Certainly, it’s undeniable that turbines have a visual impact.”
Apex says “Lighthouse” represents a chance for the community to join Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan, the “50 by 30” push, to have 50 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2030 and to benefit from payments to the towns and rent to the farmers.
“I think they see it as actually complementary to agriculture and complementary to their view and vision of the land and allowing these farms to stay in these families,” says Quarles. “Whenever I talk to someone about wind energy, I encourage them to drive down to towns down 77, down to say the Town of Sheldon for example, and talk to the landowners.”
News10NBC took that encouragement and drove down to Wyoming County, where the Orangeville Wind Farm has been in operation with 58 wind turbines since 2014.
“It’s been a living hell,” says Linda Makson.
Paul and Linda Makson of Warsaw say the benefits to local communities don’t make up for what’s happened to the landscape or the noise.
“Sometimes it’s, as we heard today, a surf-type sound,” says Paul. “And sometimes it’s like a jet taking off from an aircraft carrier or on a runway.”
“In the fall, this was spectacular, the colors,” says Linda. “Of course now, it’s just garbage.”
“The wind turbine project is toxic,” says Jim Simon, Yates town supervisor.
In Yates, Town Supervisor Jim Simon was elected, as a write-in candidate, because he opposes Lighthouse and the town board has passed resolutions and zoning rules to limit tall turbines.
“It isn’t all about money,” says Simon. “It’s about the values of the community.”
But the decision on whether Lighthouse goes ahead belongs only to a seven member New York State “Siting Board.”
Under Article 10 of the state Public Service Law, for a proposed energy facility over 25 megawatts, the board can ignore any local rules it considers “unreasonably burdensome.”
“We were all stunned, to think that we were not going to be able to, that the town itself was not going to be able to make a decision about this,” says Kate Kremer, Save Ontario Shores vice president.
The state Public Service Commission says, “Direct public involvement is a fundamental, deeply ingrained aspect of the siting board’s review process.”
“At this point, they are still a little bit up in the air,” says Quarles. “I think folks, understandably, are really looking for more information. So, I am eager to get that to them.”
The 50 to 60 towers of the Lighthouse project would crank out 201 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 53,000 average homes, and less than one-third the capacity of the Somerset Power Plant which is already there.
Apex estimates it could take thousands of turbines to meet the state’s “50 by 30” goals, which activists say means the debate over “this” project, in “this” location, is just a beginning.
“What we are talking about in New York State is taking these huge structures and spreading them out all over the state,” says Kremer. “So, many of the beautiful vistas that you have are going to be gone.”
Apex Energy plans to formally apply later this year to build the project. If it’s approved, the turbines could start going up in late 2019 and be finished in 2020.
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