On the Atwater Farm, a commercial dairy farm near Lake Ontario, the sound of diesel trucks thunders through the air as they bring in loads of harvested corn for cow feed.
Susan Atwater and her husband Ben are the sixth generation to run this farm. It’s been around since the mid-1800s and is one of the oldest in New York State.
It hasn’t been easy making it in the dairy business. With the summer drought, this year been has been a particular challenge. Now, the Atwaters are turning to the wind for financial help.
“I have all these tractors and tractor trailers to harvest the corn, our monthly cost of diesel is well into the six digits on a harvest season,”Susan Atwater said. “If I can help that with a supplement from a consistent energy producing wind turbine, it’s going to be huge for our business.”
They’re one of several local land owners who signed leases with Apex Clean Energy. The Virginia-based company plans to install 71 wind turbines, generating enough energy to power 53,000 homes.
Apex has nearly a dozen projects planned for communities in the Great Lakes region, including four in Ohio, one in Michigan and four in New York.
This particular project, which stretches 12 miles through the towns of Somerset and Yates, has been met with both fierce support and intense opposition.
“The shores of Lake Ontario is not the place for industrial wind energy period,” said Town Supervisor Dan Engert.
He’s frustrated, and says the town’s right to site the project has been stripped away by state law.
“How would you feel if you had no say? If the state came in and told you,” he said. “They’re not just going to put up a building. We’re not going to just have something that impacts one part of your town or your city we’re going to completely litter your entire town from one end to the other with these industrialized structures.
“How would you feel?”
Article 10 of the Power NY Act gives the task of siting the project to a board. It’s staffed with five state representatives and two community members.
The state says leaving siting decisions up to the board offers a streamlined process for permitting power plants greater than 25 megawatts. The state plans to expand its infrastructure — to generate 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.
The Great Lakes is a prime area for harvesting wind energy and developers are taking advantage of that. A U.S. Geological Survey map shows more than 500 wind turbines forming clusters along the Great Lakes Watershed.
Apex representative Dan Fitzgerald says the fresh water source is an open resource for energy.
“The lake area provides more open resource for us,” he said, adding that “there’s no back stop there’s no hills behind it.”
“There’s almost a drawing effect of the lake that actually accelerates the wind and gives us a better wind resource. So by locating a wind project near the better wind areas, which in this case are certain portions near Lake Ontario, we’ll have a more productive project.”
Apex has yet to submit an application for the Lake Ontario project. Fitzgerald says they hope to do so before the end of the year. The project’s expected completion date 2019.