Opponents of Apex Clean Energy's proposed wind energy project in Somerset-Yates just got a major boost of support.
A dozen organizations, mostly environmental and bird conservation groups, formally joined together Thursday to form the Protecting Ontario's Waterfront, Environment and Resources (POWER) Coalition to oppose Apex's proposed Lighthouse Wind project.
The coalition includes the Niagara USA Chamber, the local grassroots group Save Ontario Shores, the American Bird Conservancy, and several regional bird and environmental organizations.
Apex's tentative plan to construct up to 70, 500-plus-foot-tall turbines within miles of the lakeshore drew a variety of criticisms and concerns from the groups' members. They say they worry the project could hurt local bird populations, generate noise, possibly interfere with operations at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station and "visually degrade" the waterfront, impacting tourism, hunting and fishing.
“We are in favor of renewable energy, but the Lighthouse Wind project does not meet our standards,” said Shawn Graff, vice president of the Great Lakes Region for the American Bird Conservancy. “The American Bird Conservancy believes that the proximity to the lakeshore makes this project toxic for migrating birds, bats and raptors and this alone should be enough to stop the project. There are several environmental organizations who agree."
Kory Schuler, executive director of Niagara USA Chamber, said any potential impact on Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station — the county's largest employer — could be disastrous for the region.
“Until that's really vetted and those questions are answered, we felt it's important to protect the largest employer in Niagara County, the air base," Schuler said.
Schuler added that while some find turbines "fascinating," Chamber officers worry that will not be the case for residents in and around Somerset.
"I think we need to just slow down and look at all angles of this issue because once they're in, they're in, and they're going to have an impact on the community," Schuler said.
Apex representatives say that the turbines' impact on birds would be negligible, and that fears of loud noises and impacts on recreation and tourism have proved unfounded in other communities where wind projects are sited. As part of its application process, Apex has spent years studying the potential impacts of a wind project in Somerset, according to company representatives.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Union-Sun & Journal's publisher, John Celestino, is a member of the board of directors of Niagara USA Chamber.