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 Clean Energy’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 for 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 the area.
“There’s nothing this size on land,” opponent Pam Atwater said of the turbine towers proposed by Apex. “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 allows 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 — 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 said 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 neighboring Somerset, essentially, “guinea pigs.”