Wind power is coming.
Three wind farm projects are in the works in Chautauqua County, with one under construction and two others proposed and under review. The projects, run by different energy companies, involve erecting dozens of wind turbines that will generate electricity for the region.
Arkwright Summit Wind Farm, the project under construction, is set to be operational sometime in 2018, said Jeffrey Nemeth, associate director of development at EDP Renewables. His company began initial construction on the wind farm this year and plans to start putting up turbines next year.
“It’s taken a lot of years,” Nemeth said. “I really can’t thank the community enough.”
The wind farm is being built near the town of Arkwright, about 20 miles northeast of Chautauqua Institution. The other proposed wind farms – the Ball Hill Wind Energy Project and the Cassadaga Wind Project – would be built in nearby towns such as Charlotte and Villenova.
Many see the wind farms as beneficial for the area, both as a source of clean, renewable energy and an economic driver. Some residents, though, point to health and environmental risks associated with wind turbines.
That said, the wind projects in the county are moving forward, whether through construction or environmental review processes.
Wind farms, or systems of turbines connected to an area’s power grid, can generate significant amounts of clean, renewable power, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The department oversees environmental reviews of wind projects in the state.
“The primary benefit of wind farm projects is the generation of electric power from a clean, renewable source,” said DEC spokesperson Erica Ringewald.
If all three wind farms are built, their capacity would be more than 300 MW, or megawatts, at a given moment, according to the projects’ websites.
Those projects would add to the state’s sizeable wind energy presence. New York has the 13th largest wind power capacity – 27 operational farms with a combined capacity of over 1,800 MW – in the country, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
Wind farms also fit into the state’s energy plans. In 2014, Gov. Andrew Cuomo started an initiative called Reforming the Energy Vision, which sets goals such as having 50 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable resources by 2030.
“Renewable energy is an important part of any energy portfolio,” said Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan. “I support that.”
Though no wind farms are currently operational in the county, the Arkwright wind farm, with 36 wind turbines planned, will power about 31,500 households, according to its website.
Most of Chautauqua County’s electricity comes from outside the county via other power grids, Horrigan said. The county also has several solar power projects, he said, and a former coal-fired power plant in Dunkirk is being converted to run on natural gas.
Wind farms like Arkwright aren’t approved overnight. That project began 10 years ago and was accepted by the town of Arkwright in February 2016 after its environmental permits were approved, Nemeth said.
“The landowners have been wonderful and very instrumental in making sure this project got built,” he said. “Many of them are excited to see this done.”
Some residents, though, aren’t happy about the wind farms. Joni Riggle, who has lived in the town of Charlotte for 35 years, would see turbines 2,200 feet from her property if the Cassadaga project comes to fruition.
In the past year, Riggle spoke out at town board meetings regarding the projects. Her main qualms are that turbines are unsafe for the residents near them and that they require fossil fuels to operate, she said. Specifically, she believes infrasound from the turbines causes adverse health effects for nearby people, a claim supported by some studies.
“I’m all for being a steward of the earth, but we’ve got to go back to the chalkboard and find something that works,” Riggle said.
The environmental review process for wind farms in the state is overseen by local towns, the DEC and the state’s Department of Public Service. When reviewing wind projects, the DEC considers the benefits of renewable energy against the potential impacts of the projects on wetlands, streams and wildlife, Ringewald said.
Both the Cassadaga and Ball Hill projects are still under environmental review and are subject to different laws and review processes, she added.
The projects offer several economic benefits to the area. The Cassadaga Wind Project, for example, would provide short-term construction jobs and long-term operational jobs, said Kevin Sheen, senior director of development and public relations at the company EverPower. The project would also generate tax revenue and payments for local towns, school districts and the county, he said.
Though the county doesn’t have a direct say in the wind projects, Horrigan said, it is involved in agreements for PILOTs, or payments in lieu of taxes. Essentially, the energy companies make payments to local governments through agreements overseen by the county’s affiliate Industrial Development Agency.
“People are passionate on all sides of energy,” Horrigan said. “We will always have trade-offs, but I think a balanced portfolio is in the county’s best interest. We need cheaper, low-cost, reliable energy to create the job opportunities to power our homes and businesses.”
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