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Wind project input sought

Apex Clean Energy is offering community stakeholders an opportunity to agree on testing and evidence to assess the potential impacts of its proposed wind energy project.

The process, known as stipulations, allows various stakeholder groups in the community and the developer to agree on which evidence will be presented before the New York State Public Service Commission siting board during the hearings for an electric generating facility application.

Apex spokesman Taylor Quarles said that stipulations allow a developer and stakeholders to “narrow potential areas of dispute.” Quarles added that applications to the NYSPSC for electric generating facilities are thousands of pages long and contain 41 sections, and that for Apex, the process includes more than 20 stakeholder groups.

“Stipulations is a process that involves discussion and consultation with those who have registered for party status regarding the methodology and scope of studies,” Quarles wrote in a statement. “A party’s signature on a stipulation signifies their satisfaction with the extent and methods of the proposed study plan.”

Stipulations is a voluntary process, for developers and stakeholders alike. Each stakeholder can sign on to as many or as few stipulations as they choose.

But first, the stipulations must undergo a 21-day public comment period, which began Monday. Per state requirements, Apex published the nearly 300-page document in local media and has it available at a number of locations, including Somerset Town Hall, Barker Public Library, and the project website, LighthouseWind.com.

Quarles said the stipulations process illustrates the amount of input Apex has sought from the community.

“Stipulations is just one example of the extensive input that we’re seeking from all involved members of the public and stakeholders as we work through the article 10 process,” Quarles said. “And I’m eager to review comments from the public.”

The proposed project, known as Lighthouse Wind, calls for up to 70, 500-plus-foot-tall wind turbines across the towns of Somerset and Yates. Apex has not yet committed to a turbine height, but says they won’t exceed 600 feet.

Quarles said it’s “one of the most exhaustively reviewed wind projects to date.”

But Supervisor Dan Engert, a vocal opponent of the wind project, said the stipulations process shows Apex trying to limit the evidence that’s presented to the siting board.

“A growing body of evidence shows the devastating impact industrial wind can have on people and the environment – especially in lake-shore communities like Somerset,” Engert wrote in a statement. “It would be a shame if the so-called ‘stipulations’ published today are used to prevent a hard look at the major bird migration route passing over Somerset, the visual impacts of 70 new 60 story towers, or the dangers to public health posed by noisy turbines.”

Engert added that the town likely won’t sign on to any stipulations, but instead present its own evidence.

“The town intends to bring peer-reviewed experts to … conduct the necessary studies that need to be evaluated during the proceedings,” Engert said in an interview. “We’re not going to just accept the developers’ results of their own studies. We’re going to conduct a much more fervent review of the impacts of this project in Somerset.”

Engert also called for a three-month extension of the public comment period, saying three weeks is insufficient time for all stakeholders to review the nearly 300-page document and prepare adequate comment.

If Apex declines to extend the comment period, Engert said the town would ask an administrative law judge to mandate the three-month extension.

Though Apex claims to have over 100 signed landowners in support of the project, it has met fervent opposition. Last month, a dozen organizations, including the Niagara USA Chamber, the American Bird Conservancy and numerous local environmentalist groups, formed a coalition against Apex’s wind energy project.

In late January, the Somerset Town Board unanimously passed a series of zoning laws that outright ban large wind energy systems. The laws also ban structures above 200 feet and set turbine setbacks of half a mile from any structure, road or property line.

Engert said Apex’s persistence after the anti-wind laws shows the company’s “intent to trample home rule,” by asking the siting board to waive those local laws.

Under Article 10 of the New York State Public Service Law, a state-appointed siting board has the power to review and permit major (25 mW or more) electric generating facilities. Attorney Benjamin Winiewski, special counsel to the town, said previously that under Article 10, the siting board must consider all “substantive” local laws, but that it could also waive any local laws that would prohibit the project.

“Our local law is written to protect the health, safety and rural character of our town, and there’s no way this project could be compatible with the law,” Engert said.

Quarles said previously that the laws go “well beyond what is reasonable or justified.”

“This is a wind ban, plain and simple,” he said.