Apex has done it again. As with the Lighthouse Wind and Galloo Island Wind projects, Apex’s Heritage Wind project in Orleans County is proposed in an environmentally sensitive area. (See my prior commentary on this issue: Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, Dec. 4, 2018.) The impending disaster for birds and bats would be hard to detect and, other than removal of turbines, impossible to repair.
On Dec. 9, 2021, Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) reviewing the proposed Heritage Wind project issued a decision that ignores the massive number of birds migrating through the project area. The ALJs’ decision favors the developer, Apex, and recommends that New York tolerate a grave risk to birds. The recommendation signals that Heritage Wind is on the fast track for approval.
Fortunately, the ALJ decision is not final. The Office of Renewable Energy Siting can disregard the ALJs’ recommendation and require additional protections for migrating birds. The Heritage Wind project has multiple community and birding groups as well as one federal and two state agencies either opposed to the project or with substantial objections. The substantial impact to migrating birds was stated in an extensive letter by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and testimony by staff at the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.
The Heritage Wind turbines would rise 675 feet into the air near Western New York’s massive wildlife complex made up of the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge (INWR) and two wildlife management areas. The 2011 Comprehensive Plan for INWR describes the 19,000 acre Tonawanda-Iroquois-Oak Orchard Wetland Complex: “The refuge and neighboring State lands represent the largest contiguous land area in northwestern New York that is nearly free of agricultural and urban development.” It is an Audubon designated Important Bird Area (IBA) and a New York State designated Bird Conservation Area (BCA), providing nesting and migration habitat for many birds.
The birds, bats and raptors drawn to “stopover” in this oasis of diverse habitat twice a year during migration would face unparalleled dangers from the Heritage Wind project. Birds and bats traveling along the migratory route do not know they will be risking their lives simply by ascending from or descending into this wildlife complex.
New York’s climate goals require that the build-out of renewable energy be balanced against the need to protect wildlife. The Heritage Wind project electric generation would occur in a region of New York state with 90% zero emissions electricity. Transmission from here to downstate, where renewable electricity is needed, is impossible because local regional and bulk transmission lines are bottlenecked. For that reason, this project will have little impact on carbon dioxide reduction. In fact, the emissions caused by extracting the raw materials, manufacturing and transporting turbines from abroad may never be offset by the meager offset of emissions in the upstate power grid.
We call on Governor Hochul to utilize solar panels in highway medians, retail buildings and parking lots to offer benefits without substantial negative environmental impacts as the model moving forward, especially in Western New York with its highly decarbonized grid. The final ORES decision will indicate whether the state is genuinely committed to protecting the environment in its push for large scale renewables.
Kate Kremer is the vice president of Save Ontario Shores, Inc.
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