DECISION: Board to consider laws to restrict wind energy development at Jan. 10 meeting.
The Somerset Town Board will consider on Wednesday a series of zoning laws that would all but ban development of large-scale wind energy systems as well as structures more than 150 feet tall.
The town board will meet at 6:30 p.m. at 8700 Haight Road, Barker.
Under the proposals, commercial-scale wind turbines could only be located in an industrial zone, of which the town has few.
Industrial wind turbines also could not be placed within 1 mile of any village, hamlet, school, church, cemetery or historic site, or within 3 miles of the Lake Ontario shoreline or any planned or existing public park. Additional restrictions bar large turbines from being placed within one-half mile — or a distance of six times the turbine's height, whichever is greater — of any residence, structure, public road or property line.
Supervisor Dan Engert said the proposed zoning laws aim to keep out Apex Clean Energy's plans for up to 70, 600-foot wind turbines in the Barker-Lyndonville area.
“They're proposing turbines that are in the neighborhood of 60 stories high, and frankly, the overwhelming majority of comments from my community is that 65 to 70, 60-story-high structures is obscene," Engert said previously. "And I would agree.”
But the zoning laws may not be enough to stop Apex's plans.
Article 10 of the New York State Public Service Law puts an appointed board in charge of siting review/permitting of major (25 mW 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.
Attorney Benjamin Winiewski, special counsel to the town, said that under Article 10, the siting board must consider all "substantive" local laws.
However, in its final application to the New York Public Service Commission, Apex could ask the commission to waive any local laws that would prohibit the project.
Should the commission choose to waive Somerset's zoning laws — assuming the town board approves them and Apex requests the waiver — the town could appeal the commission's decision, known as an Article 78 proceeding.
A New York State Supreme Court judge would then determine whether the commission violated the law or that its decision was "arbitrary or capricious," Wisniewski said.
Wisniewski said such considerations are premature. "The town has no intention of suing anybody at this point," he said. “Right now the town is focused on participating in the Article 10 proceeding.”
A spokesperson for the New York Public Service Commission said Apex's project must be designed to comply with locals laws regarding environment, public health and safety, and other considerations.
What's more, the siting board will give Somerset an opportunity to present evidence in support of any local laws, regulations or other actions.
"The evidence will be carefully examined as part of the review process, and the public will have ample opportunity to comment," said spokesperson James Denn.
In a statement last month, Apex touted the tax and economic benefits of its proposed, up-to 200-megawatt facility, including $1 million in lease payments to landowners, $1.5 million in tax revenue and hundreds of temporary and 10 permanent jobs.
"We have significant support in the community from these landowners and non-landowners alike," Apex representative Taylor Quarles said in a statement. "Many in the community are hopeful for the benefits that a project like ours can bring to all area residents."
Apex also pledged to adhere to the Article 10 process.