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Windmill moratorium may be extended six months

SOMERSET -- The Town Board is poised to decide whether to extend its moratorium on windmills for another six months immediately following a public hearing Tuesday.

Adopted last March, following a show of interest by AES Somerset Corp. to build windmills, the moratorium was extended last August. The deadline is fast-approaching for another six-month extension, Superintendent John E. Sweeney Jr. said last week.

"We have been collecting lots of information and want to make sure we do this the right way so that it is beneficial to all parties," Sweeney said.

The hearing starts at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall, 8700 Haight Road.

Currently, there are no proposals to build windmills in the town, although Kevin R. Pierce, president of AES Somerset, said his company is "very much in the conceptual stage" of a plan.

The AES plant burns coal to produce electricity and is looking to windmills to diversify its operation. Two towers have been built on the plant grounds to gather data, such as wind speed and direction.

"We have collected enough wind data that it has kept our interest, but not enough yet for a specific plan," Pierce said. "We've been in kind of a holding pattern with the moratorium."

Pierce said his company plans to have a representative at Tuesday's hearing.

The town will create legislation that addresses both residential and commercial use of windmills, Sweeney said.

"We need to have a local law here where we allow them [windmills] but have some control over these structures and protect our residents," Sweeney said.

"If people are interested in this," the supervisor said, "we certainly encourage them to come out and speak -- pro or con -- and we have both out there. From what I've seen and heard, there seems to be more sentiment for wind energy."

Critics of windmills, especially those that tower 100 feet or more, have surfaced in many waterfront communities across the Northeast as proposals to erect them has intensified in recent years. Concerns raised by opponents include visual pollution and the danger some environmentalists say birds face from whirling windmill blades.

Somerset dairy farmer David Alt said he's been doing his homework on windmills and is "very much" in favor.

"It's relatively new here, but old hat in Europe, where they've been subsidizing power for a long time with windmills. And the general consensus among the people I talk to here in town is that they're for this," he said.

Building inspectors from Newfane and Wilson said they do not have local laws governing windmills and have not seen any proposals, although Wilson's Larry Banks said he has had some inquiries and his town might study the issue.


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