There is no formal proposal to install wind turbines in Lake Erie waters off Western New York. But nearly 100 people showed up at an Erie County Legislature meeting on Thursday anticipating or fearing that day is coming soon.
Clean energy advocates pressed legislators to be open-minded about wind energy use. Though there are currently no freshwater wind farms in the United States, a six-turbine project is expected to be installed eight miles off the Lake Erie shores of Cleveland.
What has been informally introduced by the California-based Diamond Generating Corp., a subsidiary of Mitsubishi, is much larger. It would involve the installation of 50 wind turbines off the shores of the Town of Evans. Residents and public officials there have mounted an energetic campaign against any wind farm proposal off the shore of the town's 12-mile waterfront.
Wind energy advocates showed up by the dozens Thursday to decry a resolution by legislators Lynne Dixon and John Mills that preemptively opposes the construction of a Lake Erie wind farm.
Will Kempton, a published wind farm expert and professor with the University of Delaware, said a 200-megawatt wind farm could save seven lives a year.
"People actually die, you know, if you don’t reduce the amount of dirty energy that is produced," said Kempton, who was asked by the wind energy industry to appear at Thursday's hearing.
Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello referred to the "devastating environmental impact" such a project would have on the lake, leading to that county's bipartisan opposition to such a project.
"These industrial wind turbines are nothing but an investment scam," he said, referring to state and federal money these industries would be in line to receive. "The only green involved here, folks, is money."
Opponents referred to the stirring up of toxins on the lake floor and the harm and displacement of fish due to the noise and vibration of the wind turbines' installation and operation. They recounted Lake Erie's polluted past as a "dead lake." Now that the lake is rebounding, they said, nothing should set back that progress.
Proponents said that due to the shale bottom of the lake, wind turbines would not be hammered into the lake floor. Instead, companies would need to use new, innovative methods that would rely on giant "gravity" foundations that would sit on the floor's surface. Kempton also said that fish actually cluster around turbine structures and are popular spots for fishing charters.
Clarke Gocker, director for policy and strategy at PUSH Buffalo, also referred to recent state climate law that requires the state to transition from fossil fuels by 2050 and to meet zero emission targets by 2040.
The wind industry is interested in offshore wind farming because wind picks up speed as it moves across the water, creating more potential energy. Because wind energy is considered pollution and emissions-free, Brian Smith, associate director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said local governments should not shut the door on green energy and green jobs due to "misinformation and fear."
"Give wind a chance," he said.
Dixon and Mills reasserted their opposition to the project, adding their voices to that of Rep. Chris Collins and State Sen. Chris Jacobs. But Energy and Environment Chairman Timothy Meyers said the Legislature has no reason to weigh in on the matter yet since no formal wind farm proposal has been brought forward by anyone.