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Lake Ontario wind power developer downplays critics, promises 'windfall' for community

Executives of the company that wants to construct 47 wind turbines near Lake Ontario call the reported level of local opposition to the project exaggerated.

Town officials said the opposition runs as strong as ever, and they will continue to fight the Lighthouse Wind project through the state siting board process.

Paul Williamson, senior development manager for Apex Clean Energy, told The Buffalo News' Editorial Board on Wednesday that the company is willing to divide $1.5 million a year among the six taxing entities — two towns, two school districts and two counties — affected by the project. All of them are on record opposing the project.

Landowners can expect $3,000 to $150,000 a year for leases of turbine sites, depending on the size of their parcels and the number of turbines on a lot, Williamson said.

"The local community gets a windfall," Williamson said. "You could almost say it's a local imperative."

Surveys in 2015 showed two-thirds of property owners in Somerset and Yates opposed the Lighthouse Wind project.

"There have been three election cycles and all 10 Town Board members (in the two towns) are opposed," said Yates Supervisor James J. Simon, who was elected in 2015 as an anti-wind power write-in candidate.

Somerset Supervisor Daniel M. Engert said Wednesday that his town has spent $280,000 since 2015 on lawyers and technical experts to fight the project. Yates has spent over $50,000, Simon said.

Williamson said Apex will file a final application with the state Department of Public Service this year for a network of 591-foot-tall turbines. That will include studies the state required Apex to carry out on environmental issues, which town officials say will be the crux of their arguments against the project in a trial-like hearing before the siting board, perhaps two years from now.

Simon and Engert said the primary grounds for opposition will be the possible health effects of noise and vibration created by the giant turbines and their impact on migratory birds and bats near the lakeshore.

Ellen C. Banks, conservation chair for the Sierra Club Atlantic chapter, told the editorial board the health arguments are "really pretty ludicrous, because hundreds of thousands of people worldwide and many thousands in our country, large numbers in our state, are ill because of the impact of fossil fuels."

The World Health Organization has issued guidelines citing evidence of negative health impacts from wind turbine noise and calling for better studies on the topic.

"We are going to challenge each and every one of Apex's subsidized studies at the hearing," Engert said.

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