SOMERSET – The developer of a proposed wind power project near the shores of Lake Ontario has signed a state-mandated code of conduct, but that didn’t satisfy opponents, who kept up a steady stream of objections last week.
The Lighthouse Wind project, proposed by Apex Clean Energy of Charlottesville, Va., calls for the construction of as many as 70 turbines in Somerset and the adjoining Orleans County Town of Yates. Counting the length of the propeller blades atop the masts, each turbine would be as much as 620 feet high, according to the company.
Mail-in surveys of property owners in each town last year showed opposition levels were as high as 67 percent in Somerset and 65 percent in Yates. Somerset has been actively opposing the project from its early stages, while Yates voters dumped their supervisor and a councilman in favor of wind power opponents in November.
Pamela R. Atwater, the president of Save Ontario Shores, a citizen group opposing the project, said she is not sure Apex would have signed the code of conduct if opponents hadn’t publicized its failure to do so. “I think they were shamed into it,” she said. “Why should the citizens have to do the research to determine what leases have been signed in the counties?”
Somerset Supervisor Daniel M. Engert complained that the towns were left out of talks between Apex and the state over the terms of the code. He asserted that Apex may be “astroturfing” the process by supplying supportive letters to the Department of Public Service website without disclosing the real authors or their possible interest in the project. He demanded an investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office.
The company replied that it is complying with all the state’s rules. “Wind development for energy is a good thing, and we were disappointed to see the supervisor and his counselor (former State Attorney General Dennis C. Vacco) disparage our efforts to be part of the renewable energy initiative that is growing across our great nation,” an Apex statement said.
The code of conduct is intended to force the disclosure of conflicts of interest, such as the names of local officials who are leasing land to the developer. In Somerset, it was already known that the mother of Councilman Gary R. Alt, as well as a Planning Board member and a code enforcement officer, have signed property leases with Apex.
Meanwhile, four state legislators signed a letter to the Public Service Commission, asking for a delay in the project’s approval until the Pentagon and the Federal Aviation Administration respond to a request for studies of whether the turbines will interfere with radar or flight patterns for planes based at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. Such interference might make the base vulnerable to being placed on the next Pentagon closing list, said the letter from Sens. Robert G. Ortt and Michael H. Ranzenhofer and Assembly members Jane L. Corwin and Angela M. Wozniak.
But Apex development manager Taylor Quarles said the company received a positive phone call Feb. 23 from a Defense Department siting clearinghouse. He said the message was that “the project presents no impact whatsoever to flight operations at (the base).”
Revisions to state law in recent years have taken away from local governments the power to approve or reject wind projects. The responsibility now lies with a seven-member siting board, comprising five state agency officials and two local residents, both of whom were chosen in Albany from nominees submitted by the towns.
They are Cathie Orr of Somerset and former Yates Supervisor Russell Martino, both Apex opponents. Orr replaced Atwater’s husband, Barker Board of Education President Randall B. Atwater, who was found ineligible because he is an elected official.