Opponents of wind turbines say project could threaten Falls air base

Wind turbine opponents gather for a 2016 press conference at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. 

Apex Clean Energy announced Thursday the company no longer plans to submit its application for a 47-turbine wind farm in Somerset and Yates, amid circulating rumors that the Virginia-based company is pulling out of the project altogether.

Apex did not say why it will no longer submits its application for the proposed Lighthouse Wind project this year. Last October, Apex said it planned to submit its application in the first half of 2019. An Apex spokesperson did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

The company has also closed its Barker office. However, in a post to the Lighthouse Wind Facebook page, Apex wrote that it is keeping open a single "consolidated Western New York development office" on North Main Street in Albion.

"Lighthouse Wind permit application will not be prepared for 2019 submission. Project and permitting updates will be made as soon as the information is available," Apex wrote in the post.

Supervisor Daniel Engert, a longtime opponent of the project, said the news of the supposed project pullout reached him late April 5. He said the reports originated with residents who hold leases for proposed turbines, their friends and relatives, and others with "business interests with Apex."

Apex representatives have not addressed the rumors, Engert added.

"Last week, I was advised by very reliable residents that Apex was shutting down the Lighthouse Wind project,” Engert said in a press statement. “In response to the information I was receiving, I reached out to Apex officials for confirmation of the status of the Lighthouse Wind project. I was disappointed, but not surprised, that Apex would not provide the Town of Somerset with any update.”

Engert said some leaseholders received word that Apex will pull out of the project unless "the state will allow the overrule of local laws," but that their leases "will remain in place for two years."

In January 2018, the Somerset Town Board unanimously passed a series of zoning laws that ban all wind turbines over 200 feet, among numerous other restrictions that would in effect ban industrial-scale wind turbines from the rural, lakeshore community. Apex is calling for 47 turbines — 39 in Somerset and eight in Yates — standing at a maximum blade height of 591 feet.

However, state public service law gives a siting board the power to review and permit major (25 megawatts or more) electric generating facilities. The siting board consists of five members of the governor’s administration and two local representatives of the area where a project is proposed.

The siting board has the power to waive local laws, but also must take them into account. Speaking about a separate wind energy project in 2017, Public Service Commission Chairman John B. Rhodes said energy projects must "accommodate the concerns of local communities."

The Lighthouse Wind project has starkly divided residents. Supporters point to the revenue the town would receive from Apex, as well as the importance of converting the energy grid to renewable sources to stave off climate change.

Opponents argue the turbines would change the community's rural character, hurt property values and Lake Ontario-related tourism, harm the health of residents living nearby and kill scores of birds along a major migration route. However, industry and some environmental groups dispute that turbines kill substantial numbers of birds, harm human health or lower property values.

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