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Somerset passes controversial wind power law

SOMERSET – The Somerset Town Board passed a law Wednesday that the developer of a proposed wind power project in the town said would make that project illegal.

Supervisor Daniel M. Engert denied that, but it was clear that the new law at the very least would keep wind power out of the areas nearest the Lake Ontario shore, while imposing new costs and burdens on wind development elsewhere.

Apex Clean Energy of Charlottesville, Va., is proposing to erect as many as 70 wind turbines in Somerset and the neighboring Town of Yates, in Orleans County. The turbines would be as much as 620 feet tall, counting the length of the propeller blades, according to the company.

But the Lighthouse Wind project, as Apex calls it, is solidly unpopular with residents. Both towns mailed surveys to property owners, and the results were 67 percent opposition in Somerset and 65 percent in Yates.

But numerous property owners in the towns have signed leases with Apex, which will pay $15,000 per year for every turbine eventually built on their land.

Wednesday, Councilman Gary R. Alt abstained on the otherwise unanimous vote on the wind law because his mother signed a lease with Apex.

The 54-page wind law bars wind power development in Somerset’s local waterfront revitalization area, Town Attorney Michael J. Norris confirmed. That area is generally east of Hartland Road and north of Lower Lake Road. The waterfront area west of Hartland Road is the location of a coal-fired power plant, and wind development is barred there, too.

Taylor Quarles, Apex development manager, insisted that the law effectively bans the project everywhere in Somerset through its definitions of terms. He contended that it bans not just turbines, but necessary auxiliary facilities including service roads and power lines to transmit the electricity.

“The clean, renewable energy could never get to the grid,” Quarles contended.

Engert said, “That’s their argument to make. We disagree with that. We adopted a local law to protect the health, safety and welfare of our residents.”

He said an outright ban would have been legally unreasonable. .

A siting board will rule on the project.

Norris said the law requires wind developers to pay for a baseline study of the health of residents who want to take part. Developers would have to pay reimbursements to property owners whose land values fall because of turbines within two miles, and sets rules for decommissioning unused windmills.

Quarles said Apex still intends to file its final application, including specific turbine locations, this summer.

A second proposed law, barring Apex from receiving a property tax break, was withdrawn for study, Engert said.