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Yates pushes wind law wider

YATES – Wind turbines in the Town of Yates are required by a new law to be located even farther away from homes and the Lake Ontario shoreline.

Town Supervisor Jim Simon, part of a four-vote majority on the measure Thursday, said pushing setbacks – the distance separating a turbine’s base from protected areas and structures – came after a review of wind setbacks and noise ordinances elsewhere.

“Since the Lighthouse Wind project was introduced in 2014, the Town Board has worked to learn as much as possible about the impacts and benefits of these industrial-scale projects,” Simon said in an email to The Daily News. “The amendments reflect that continuing effort and in particular, the recommendations of two agencies well-placed to balance impacts and benefits.”

A 2016 Wind Energy Facilities Law set the setbacks in Yates at no less than 1,800 feet or 4.5 times the height of the turbine’s blade at its maximum height. Those figures are now 2,460 feet – a half-mile – or six times the turbine blade’s apex height – with an added buffer of no less than three miles from the town’s lakeshore.

That would cover nearly the entire area covered in the initial plan for Lighthouse Wind project, a 201-megawatt wind farm proposed in Yates and neighboring Somerset in Niagara County.

Simon noted that the law’s most prominent changes come from two sources.

• The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s regional office had issued a non-binding opinion recommending no wind turbines within three miles of the shoreline to avoid possibly severe impacts on avian flyways and habitats.

• The Vermont Public Service Board requires a setback of no less than 10 times a turbine’s maximum blade height to mitigate noise impacts from turbine operation.

Lighthouse Wind’s developers, from the earliest stages of public awareness of the project, have stressed that existing regulations would limit the placement of turbines in relatively open or unused areas. Apex is seeking to establish a network of turbines running from Route 63 in Yates into Niagara County, running north of the villages of Lyndonville and Barker and south of the lakeshore.

Simon has led a Town Council whose opposition to the project was reaffirmed by a unanimous vote Thursday. He said the restrictions are meant to impact wind power beyond the current proposal.

“All the changes to the law based on science research … it’s not (the town council’s purpose) to figure out where (Apex) could develop things, but they could come up with smaller turbines or go the southern portion of the town if they had the right land leases,” Simon said. “Apex has never given us the exact locations (it is looking at).”

Officials from Apex Clean Energy, the town and other stakeholders continue to operate in the “stipulation phase” of the state’s Article 10 energy siting rules.

According to Simon, the Town of Yates intends to send a formal letter to Apex Clean Energy asking the Virginia-based firm to “reconsider the viability of the project” in lieu of the new law.

Simon says the Town Council doesn’t see the new law as the final word on its wind energy policies. He cited the potential addition of a “tall structures law” to preserve the town’s residential lakeshore and agricultural base.

“Laws are organic and should reflect values of the people and this is a further encapsulation of that,” Simon said.

“We are called to protect the health, safety and welfare of our citizens for current and future generations and to preserve the rural, agricultural and leisure-based character of our community,” he said.