Four years after announcing plans to build a major wind power development near Lake Ontario, Apex Clean Energy this week unveiled its map of 47 turbine locations: 39 in Somerset and eight in adjoining Yates.
Each would be 591 feet tall.
Opponents, including both town supervisors, vow to fight the Lighthouse Wind project, whose final approval – or disapproval – will come from a siting board comprised mainly of state officials. Only two local members will sit on the board.
Landowners who signed leases for possible turbine sites have said Apex will pay $15,000 a year for each turbine. Other landowners have signed easements for power lines to connect the turbines to the power grid.
The Niagara County Town of Somerset and the Orleans County Town of Yates have passed laws to effectively ban the construction of wind turbines, but state law allows the siting board to overrule local laws.
"I can firmly predict, from numerous calls, texts and emails, that this (announcement) will increase and intensify opposition by leaps and bounds," Somerset Supervisor Daniel M. Engert said.
Critics of Lighthouse Wind contend the turbines would be ugly, impose noise and vibration on nearby residents, harm tourism and the rural character of the towns and kill migratory birds.
"Two town election cycles have resulted in 10 out of 10 board members against the project," Yates Supervisor James J. Simon said. "Multiple surveys have shown 60 to 70 percent opposition (among the towns' residents). The Erie, Niagara and Orleans county legislatures have passed unanimous resolutions against this project, and the recently formed POWER Coalition (Protecting Ontario’s Waterfront, Environment, and Resources), representing 12 diverse, major environmental organizations, opposes Lighthouse Wind."
The Charlottesville, Va., company said local taxing jurisdictions could receive up to $1.5 million a year in payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOTs, if they would cut a deal.
"Lighthouse Wind can help revitalize the region by bringing the renewable energy industry to Western New York," said Paul Williamson, the project's senior development manager. "Lighthouse Wind desires to be a constructive partner with the host communities, by increasing the tax base and bringing investment that may be best used for local needs."
"It's not gonna happen. Period," Simon said. "Both towns, both school districts, and both county industrial development agencies have said they will not support the project with a PILOT agreement. No PILOT, no project. We will require full taxation if we are forced by the New York State siting board to allow this project to be built."
Tuesday's meeting in Lyndonville High School was held after a state administrative law judge earlier in the day rejected a motion from the towns that the company had violated state siting law by going public with the map before sharing it with the towns.
"The claims that developers are hiding information demonstrate a misunderstanding of the complex nature of creating a project with so many intricacies," Williamson said. "We will continue to provide information to the public in a number of ways so they may better understand the process."
“In the media, Apex has been rudely dismissive of our concerns and characterized us as misinformed. People are very knowledgeable about what this project would mean to our community,” said Pamela Atwater, head of the anti-Apex group Save Ontario Shores. "Just look at the New York State Department of Public Service website and you’ll see an overwhelming number of substantive comments expressing opposition to this project."
"Will Gov. (Andrew M.) Cuomo allow deep-pocketed out-of-state corporate developers to come and trample the home rule of peaceful New Yorkers who simply want to maintain their community's character and history?" Engert asked. "We shall see, but not without a fierce fight from Somerset."
His town has spent more than $260,000 in fees for lawyers and expert witnesses in the past four years.
"It is a profound waste of taxpayer funds to continually cultivate discord and attempt to obstruct the people's right to know and be informed," said Williamson, the senior development manager for the turbine project.
The turbine map shows a widely scattered project. In Somerset, 18 of the turbine sites are north of Lake Road, which is Route 18, the major east-west road in the town, and 21 are south of that road.
Of those south of Route 18, 14 are west of the Village of Barker, which in the center of Somerset, and five are east of the village, four of them clustered in the town's southeast corner.
In Yates, six of the eight sites are north of Route 18 and two are in the town's southwest corner.
Simon, the Yates supervisor, said the Apex map doesn't tell the whole story.
"To place dots on a map representing turbine locations without also indicating access roads, power lines, substations and other critical infrastructure, and to control the question-and-answer period with only written questions is part and parcel of their ambivalence toward the towns of Yates and Somerset," he said.
"The project is being designed with full consideration to safety and operations with minimal public and wildlife conflict, and use of available lands," Williamson said. "The current layout uses the land in the most efficient way and it would not be possible to achieve all of the pre-stated design goals if the project were condensed into a smaller area."
The turbine towers will be 345 feet high, but with the 246-foot length of the rotors on the propellers, the height of each installation becomes 591 feet.
The total output of the 47 turbines would be 197 megawatts, down slightly from the 201 megawatts in the original draft proposal.
The company said it intends to file its formal, final application with the state Department of Public Service between February and April 2019, after field studies are completed. After the siting board process is completed, the turbines would take nine to 12 months to build. Apex hopes they will be operational in 2022.