YATES – Residents of this Orleans County town used to be big supporters of wind power, even urging town leaders to go out and recruit a wind developer.
That’s not true anymore.
Two surveys last fall showed overwhelming opposition to the Lighthouse Wind project proposed by Apex Clean Energy, which wants to erect a total of as many as 70 wind turbines in Yates and the neighboring Town of Somerset in Niagara County. The exact number and location of the turbines has not yet been determined, a company spokesman said last week.
Somerset town leaders have been vocal in their opposition to the project, hiring former state Attorney General Dennis C. Vacco to provide legal muscle for their fight against the plan.
Yates leaders responded to the plan more quietly, with the result that some of them aren’t in office anymore.
James J. Simon, running for supervisor on an anti-wind power platform, won the seat as a write-in candidate after losing to incumbent John B. Belson by seven votes in the Republican primary. Yates voters also elected John B. Riggi, president of the anti-wind group Save Ontario Shores, to the Town Board.
The citizens group Save Ontario Shores mailed a survey to Yates property owners last fall, and the results showed 77 percent opposition to the Apex project.
The town then mailed out its own survey, targeting all registered voters as well as property owners. The result, announced just before Christmas, was 65 percent opposition to Lighthouse Wind.
The company viewed the smaller percentage of opponents in the town survey as encouraging. Dahvi Wilson, Apex senior manager of public affairs, said, “We believe the results of this survey demonstrate what we have found over time. When people have a chance to learn the facts about the project, rather than being forced to rely on the misinformation being pushed by opponents, they become more supportive of Lighthouse Wind and what it means for this community.”
But Simon had a different view of the results. “By sending out to registered voters as well as property owners, we cast a much wider net,” he said.
He noted that there was some objection to sending out 2,608 surveys when the town’s population is only about 2,500. By including all property owners, it meant that out-of-towners, even some out-of-staters, were able to weigh in. In all, 1,187 surveys were mailed back.
The Yates figures jibe closely with a Somerset survey conducted last spring by that town’s government, which showed opposition as high as 67 percent, depending on how the question was phrased. Its survey went to all property owners, and 56 percent of them responded.
Simon called it a “curious thing” that when Yates conducted a wind power survey in 2007, at a time when there was no actual project pending, 87 percent of households said they agreed with this statement: “The town should encourage wind energy facilities to locate in the Town of Yates.”
The 2007 survey also showed 89 percent of Yates residents supported tax breaks for wind power companies. Last month’s survey showed that 57 percent opposed a tax break for Lighthouse Wind.
So what happened to turn the results almost completely around eight years later?
Simon said, “The public’s more informed, more concerned. Everybody can Google everything. People have become more educated and are more opposed to wind power.”
Wilson of Apex said, “Until our application is submitted in summer 2016, it is impossible to fully judge the project on its merits. The Yates Town Board has taken a very responsible approach in waiting to take a position until all of the relevant information has been collected and submitted as part of the application process, and we encourage others to follow its lead.”