By Larry Beahan
The Conservation Committee of the local Adirondack Mountain Club met recently and unanimously endorsed Apex Clean Energy’s Lighthouse Wind turbine project at Somerset on Lake Ontario.
We particularly like the project because it will, partially, replace the mammoth 675-megawatt, coal-fired Somerset electrical power plant. The location is excellent, there is ample wind off the lake and power lines that previously fed electricity from the Somerset coal-burning plant into the grid are still there.
The Somerset plant has fallen victim to the high financial and environmental cost of coal. Currently it operates only a few days a year.
ADK has worked for years to close or clean up coal-burning power plants like Somerset. The acid rain that their smokestacks poured into Adirondack lakes rendered most of those forest lakes sadly lifeless. As these polluting, coal-burning plants close and the sky clears, these lakes are returning to their previous abundance. Adirondack fishermen are again reeling in trout and bass in the spring and summer and pike, perch and salmon, through the ice, in winter.
In 2010, the Clean Air Task Force commissioned a study of the health cost of fine particle pollution from the then-existing 500 U.S. coal-burning electric plants. They used the same research methods that the EPA uses in its rule-making. The study indicated that these coal-burning plants caused 13,200 unnecessary deaths, 9,700 hospitalizations and more than 20,000 heart attacks a year. Projecting those figures on to Somerset, that plant alone would be responsible for 11 preventable deaths a year, 19 heart attacks and 170 asthma attacks, presumably mostly in Somerset.
Besides these deadly fine particles and lake-killing acid rain, the Somerset plant was responsible for pouring 3.8 million tons of climate-disrupting greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.
This gigantic electrical power plant also poured tons of money into Niagara County. The Town of Somerset received $1.3 million in 2008 but only $139,000 in 2018.
The Lighthouse Wind project proposes to pay the affected Niagara County municipalities $1.5 million in lieu of taxes and the wind turbines will bring substantial leasing fees to individuals willing to host them on their property.
ADK was admittedly concerned when we read warnings that the projected turbine sites for the Lighthouse project included heavily trafficked migratory bird pathways. We think of ourselves as defenders of wildlife as well as wild lands, fresh air and clean water. So we looked carefully at the Apex Corp.’s posting of slides and a verbatim account of their Oct. 2, 2018, presentation in Lyndonville. This is a readable, well-illustrated and detailed account of their study of and proposed methods of dealing with the environmental consequences of siting windmills at Somerset.
ADK is well satisfied that the Lighthouse wind turbines will not disrupt the population of birds residing in or migrating through Somerset.
Larry Beahan is secretary of the Adirondack Mountain Club Niagara Frontier Chapter.