SOMERSET – A survey taken by the Town of Somerset showed that about two-thirds of town residents are against a plan to build a large number of wind turbines near the shore of Lake Ontario.
The question now is: Does that make any difference?
State law has taken away localities’ ability to say yes or no to wind-power projects. Instead, a siting board comprising five state officials and two local residents makes the call, and the residents are chosen by the Assembly speaker and the State Senate majority leader.
Apex Wind Power, a Virginia company, has yet to tell the state Public Service Commission where it wants to place the turbines, how many there would be, how tall they would be and what type of equipment it would use. The company said several months ago that it might like to erect 67 to 70 towers, with a maximum height of 600 feet. Supervisor Daniel M, Engert said that means Apex can’t exceed those numbers, but it could scale them back.
Engert said, “I think people made their decision based on the worst-case scenario.”
The town mailed surveys to every property owner, and Engert said 56 percent of them were returned, so he’s confident the results are an accurate reflection of residents’ views.
The results posted on the town website show 67 percent of respondents oppose the siting of 60 to 70 large wind turbines in the town, while support for the idea was 29 percent.
If the project were reduced to 30 to 40 turbines, opposition was 64 percent, support 32 percent.
If the turbines “were set back far and away from residences and lot lines of non-participating landowners,” 61 percent were opposed and 35 percent in favor.
If the turbines’ height were limited to 495 feet, opposition was 62 percent, support 29 percent.
Money made a bit of a difference. If the turbines produced a significant property tax decrease, opposition dropped to 56 percent, with support rising to 39 percent. A hypothetical about a significant electric bill reduction showed opposition at 55 percent, support at 40 percent.
In view of the results, Engert said, “I will do everything in my power as town supervisor to oppose the siting of commercial wind turbines in Somerset.”
He said the town’s “strongest play” against turbines is to strengthen its local law, which currently limits their height to 450 feet. State law says the siting board must take local laws into account, but can override them if they are “unreasonably burdensome.”