Towns em­broiled in fight over tall wind tur­bines

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OBITUARIES - By Ge­orge M. Walsh

Clean en­ergy and en­vi­ron­men­tal in­ter­ests usu­ally go hand in hand. But in western New York, they are bat­tling over plans to build dozens of wind tur­bines that could be among the na­tion’s tallest, ris­ing 600 feet above the scenic shores of Lake On­tario.

Apex’s pro­posal to plant 70 pro­pel­ler tur­bines amid the farms and towns east of Ni­a­gara Falls is still in its early stages, but it has al­ready gen­er­ated thou­sands of pages of com­ments, stud­ies and le­gal doc­u­ments con­sid­ered by state reg­u­la­tors.

Wildlife groups are con­cerned the tur­bines could dis­rupt a ma­jor fly­way for mi­grat­ing birds. Lo­cal law­mak­ers worry about flight op­er­a­tions be­ing com­pro­mised at a nearby mil­i­tary base. Res­i­dents fret about po­ten­tial health threats from noise, which are still be­ing stud­ied, and say views could be dom­i­nated by struc­tures taller than any sky­scraper in up­state New York.

“There’s noth­ing this size on land,” op­po­nent Pam At­wa­ter said of the tur­bine tow­ers pro­posed by Apex Clean En­ergy. “We’re not even re­ally talk­ing about aes­thet­ics or any­thing like that. But of course it’s go­ing to have an im­pact. The ter­rain here is flat. You can see for miles.”

It’s a de­bate play­ing out as rapidly im­prov­ing tech­nol­ogy for tow­ers and tur­bines al­low the wind in­dus­try to move on to in­creas­ingly taller struc­tures.

Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion records show that the vast ma­jor­ity of the hun­dreds of pro­posed tur­bines the agency is re­view­ing for air safety would stand at or just below 500 feet. But two other projects in New York — one in cen­tral New York, one in the north­east cor­ner — have sub­mit­ted plans for a com­bined 70 tur­bines from 640 to 656 feet tall, and there are sev­eral projects with tow­ers top­ping 600 feet in the works in Texas and Kansas. The tallest tow­ers in the world now top 700 feet and op­er­ate off­shore in Europe.

Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia-based Apex, a ma­jor na­tional wind farm de­vel­oper, said it hasn’t set­tled pre­cisely on the tur­bine size for the project named Light­house Wind, but noted that taller ma­chines of­fer greater yield.

“Cur­rently in New York the tallest wind tur­bine is just un­der 500 feet,” Apex de­vel­op­ment man­ager Tay­lor Quar­les told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “But cer­tainly the trend in the in­dus­try is to go higher as the con­sis­tency and wind speed, es­sen­tially the qual­ity of the wind, does tend to in­crease with el­e­va­tion.”

Seventy tur­bines is the high end of its pro­posal, he said, and it may re­quire only 50 or 60 of the larger ma­chines to achieve the project’s goal of gen­er­at­ing 201 megawatts of elec­tric­ity, enough to power 50,000 av­er­age New York homes.

“There is this phase where what used to be the off­shore type of size is now mi­grat­ing on­shore for more wind re­sources,” said Yates Town Su­per­vi­sor James Si­mon, a wind farm op­po­nent. He said that makes peo­ple in his com­mu­nity and the neigh­bor­ing town of Somerset, es­sen­tially, “guinea pigs.”

At­wa­ter notes that “they’re de­signed for off­shore use, so there is no place you can go and no one who can tell you what the im­pact’s go­ing to be.”

Re­tired truck driver Howard Pierce, whose home in Yates is across a street from one bound­ary of the project, said he isn’t wor­ried about en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues as much as the pay­ments landown­ers will get for leas­ing to Apex.

“The No. 1 in­dus­try in our town is farm­ing, and the wind farm would give th­ese farm­ers a steady in­come ev­ery year,” Pierce said. “This would not de­pend on the com­mod­ity prices.”

JOED VIERA/THE UNION-SUN & JOUR­NAL VIA AP, FILE

In this Aug. 25 photo, peo­ple gather to protest the in­stal­la­tion of wind­mills in Somerset, N.Y. A bat­tle of clean en­ergy vs. the en­vi­ron­ment is play­ing out in western New York over a plan to build dozens of wind tur­bines that could be among the na­tion’s tallest, ris­ing 600 feet above the scenic shores of Lake On­tario.

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