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SOMERSET – A Virginia renewable energy firm could soon be applying for a permit to erect a tower to collect meteorological data on the shores of Lake Ontario for a sizable potential wind energy project in Somerset, according to town officials.

In addition, Somerset Supervisor Daniel Engert said Apex Clean Energy of Charlottesville, Va., has been actively contacting some town landowners about leasing land for wind turbines.

“Apex has not yet come before the Town Board, but they first approached me in November and expressed interest in researching a large-scale wind energy development project in New York State, and we are one of the preferred sites,” Engert said, adding that he will be meeting with company officials again this week.

Dan Fitzgerald, New York project manager for Apex Clean Energy, said of the potential project, “This is in the early stages. We are reaching out to landowners and trying to gauge the interest of the community.”

Fitzgerald added that the company also is in the early stages of considering several sites for its first foray into New York.

He said that if Apex decides to proceed in Somerset, “We’ll speak to the Town Board and nail down the requirements, but we don’t have a set date” for a meteorological data tower.

Engert said he isn’t surprised the company is considering Somerset.

“We had a wind energy development firm kicking the tires here in 2006 or 2007,” he said. “There are three driving factors for putting a development like this in Somerset. First, we have ample wind resources. I believe we’re one of the best areas in the state because of our relation to Lake Ontario. There is no resistance as that wind moves across the lake.

“Second, the makeup of the town is largely agricultural, and this is very conducive to a wind development project, because our landowners are set wider apart and own larger pieces of land, so a company wouldn’t have to deal with multiple different landowners in a 1-mile radius. A company would be able to deal with one landowner who could handle several turbines on his property.

“And third, we already have an ordinance in place that is open to wind development.”

Engert said he spoke to the Town Board about this potential project at an earlier public meeting.

“This is really a conversation right now between a private developer and individual landowners, because this is not a project sitting before the Town Board, and it requires no permits at this time,” he said.

Engert added, however, that he believes the company is preparing to apply for a permit soon to erect a tower to collect meteorological data.

“I know the company has made a number of trips here and has talked to a number of residents,” Engert said. “They are mostly centering on an area in the Route 18 corridor, east to west, and on the Upstate New York Power Producers (former AES Somerset) site. I introduced Apex to the Upstate plant operator, and there is mutual interest there.

“They are putting together a non-disclosure agreement with Upstate New York State Power Producers to share data and I’m encouraged by that,” he said. “I would anticipate something soon.”

Engert stressed that, “There will be a lot of opportunity for public input – we want to engage the public on this because we care how the community feels about this. This could be a fairly large-scale project, and it depends on the cooperation and response from the landowners. This project would entirely fall within the Town of Somerset.”

Engert said the town would be protected under the state’s public service law, which would require two local appointees to a siting board. In addition, the developer would have to set aside money for the public exploration phase, “so that we could hire experts and get legal advice so that we could make sure of the suitability of the project and the money would not come from the taxpayers, but from the applicants for this.”

He added, “There is also a timing element to this law, which would keep the project moving.”