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Source: The Buffalo News

Offshore windmills for lake get mixed spin

Strong views aired to Power Authority

BY MATTHEW SPINA
NEWS STAFF REPORTER

Posted: June 10, 2010
Originally Published: June 10, 2010

The New York Power Authority faced the stiff wind of opposition Wednesday when it briefed Erie County’s public on plans to stand power-generating windmills somewhere in Lake Erie.

Yes, many of the more than 60 observers supported the project. The Citizens Campaign for the Environment displayed 2,000 signatures on its “Give Wind a Chance” petition, and the group’s Western New York director, Brian Smith, stressed that “saying no to offshore wind power is equivalent to saying yes to our continued reliance on fossil fuels.”

But lake-lovers from Hamburg and other shoreline communities said at the County Legislature hearing that they see offshore windmills as a blight, especially for a once-polluted lake that has been revived.

Put the turbines on land where they can be more easily monitored, they said.

“I cannot understand, for the life of me, why it has to be in the lake,” said Bill Maher of Lakeshore Road, Hamburg, adding later, “It’s like the Lake Erie Monster coming alive again.”

Sharon Laudisi, the Power Authority’s business development manager, repeated that the project must face the rigors of several environmental reviews laid down by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Further, the Power Authority has yet to decide where the up to 166 windmills will stand in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario in a combined undertaking. She said construction will not likely begin before 2014 and will affect a tiny percentage of Lake Erie’s expanse. And there’s no assurance that both lakes will be used, she said.

The Power Authority will not build or finance the windmills itself. That will be the role of the preferred developer, to be selected late this year or early next from the five that have presented proposals.

The authority will buy the electricity under a multiyear agreement, guaranteeing a revenue stream for the developer willing to spend an estimated $1 billion.

When he announced the receipt of five proposals Friday, Richard M. Kessel, the authority’s president and chief executive officer, said the authority was following Gov. David A. Paterson’s goal that New York supply 30 percent of its power needs through renewable sources by 2015.

Constant ocean breezes have spun offshore windmills in Europe for years. But the Power Authority’s Great Lakes Offshore Wind Project could be this nation’s first. Offshore projects in other regions of the country are further along in the review process.

The authority says its undertaking would be the world’s first wind farm on fresh water, where the machinery is not subject to the corrosive effects of saltwater.

The County Legislature has no direct role in decisions on where to place the windmills, but a statement of opposition could discourage the Power Authority from siting any Lake Erie windmills off Erie County.

The Chautauqua County Legislature recently voted to state its opposition to wind projects in Lake Erie. The Oswego County Legislature and the Jefferson County Board of Legislatorscq also have stated their opposition to wind projects off their shores in Lake Ontario.

“We could go on record telling the state that we are opposed,” said Erie County Legislator Daniel M. Kozub, D-Hamburg, chairman of the committee that conducted the hearing Wednesday.

“They either listen to us or they don’t listen to us,” Kozub said, explaining that he has not made up his mind on the matter.

Legislator Lynne M. Dixon, I-Hamburg, already has proposed a statement opposing “the exploitation of Lake Erie,” and she questioned whether residents will receive their best information on the project only when it’s too late to stop it.

The audience Wednesday appeared almost evenly divided between those who support offshore wind projects and those who don’t, at least offshore wind projects in Lake Erie. Both the proponents and critics cited the gusher now fouling the Gulf of Mexico as evidence.

“Why are we doing this? Well, the gulf is a perfect reason,” said the Power Authority’s Laudisi.

“You can do any environmental-impact study you want,” Diane Kozak of Lackawanna said. “I’m sure they did that for BP in the gulf.

“Think outside the box,” she added. “Use a brownfield.”