The Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge and State Wildlife Areas in Orleans County need our help!
On Dec. 9, 2021, Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) reviewing the proposed Heritage Wind Project issued a decision that ignores the massive number of migrating birds using nationally significant wildlife areas near Barre, New York. The ALJs’ decision poses a grave risk to birds and signals Heritage Wind is on the fast track for approval.
Fortunately, the ALJ decision is a “recommended” decision and not final. The Office of Renewable Energy Siting can disregard the ALJs’ recommendation and require additional protections for migrating birds. There is a small window of time to make our concerns heard. We suggest you make calls and send emails by January 7, 2022, to have the greatest impact.
We urge you to make a phone call or send an email to the following people and raise some of the below concerns:
Governor Kathy Hochul: (518) 474-8390 (office hours Monday - Friday: 9 am - 5 pm) or email https://www.governor.ny.gov/content/governor-contact-form
Commissioner Basil Seggos, Department of Environmental Conservation: (518) 402-8545 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or https://www.dec.ny.gov/about/407.html
Executive Director Houtan Moaveni, Office of Renewable Energy Siting: (518) 473-4590 or email Houtan.Moaveni@ores.ny.gov
A list of items that were rejected by the ALJs but that must be added:
Two-mile minimum setbacks from wildlife areas. The 680-foot-tall turbines must be set back at least two miles from the critical habitat areas, including the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge and nearby wildlife management areas, or removed from the project.
Improve post construction avian fatality monitoring. Current scientific methods listed in Clear Skies Above Barre’s brief, including using trained dogs, must be incorporated into the post-construction monitoring plans to accurately determine bird deaths. (The turbines are larger than existing turbines and so the possible locations for birds to fall will expand. Existing methods are not sufficient!)
Remove specific turbines found to kill too many birds. If turbines are built, and post construction monitoring shows significant bird mortality at specific turbines, problem turbines must be taken down. This will discourage developers from placing turbines near critical habitat.
Other factors to bring up:
Apex ignored the science. Apex, in its Heritage Wind project, has ignored concerns about potential severe impacts to migrating birds raised over the course of years by groups and agencies including two local and two national birding organizations, four local citizens groups, the DEC, ORES and USFWS.
NY must not build renewables at the expense of wildlife. Biodiversity and climate change are intrinsically linked and must be acted on simultaneously. The recent climate change conference in Europe emphasized this point.
For those who want additional details on this project and the facts of the Heritage Wind Case see below:
The landscape at risk: The Heritage Wind project by developer Apex Clean Energy, Inc. is proposing a large wind project in Barre, NY, a few miles from an immense expanse of wildlife areas including the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge and two New York State Wildlife Management Areas. The refuge and neighboring State lands represent the largest contiguous land area in northwestern New York that is nearly free of agricultural and urban development. These areas attract an array of migrating birds, bats and raptors each spring and fall.
What Happened: A panel of two administrative law judges has filed its recommended decision, siding with the developer on two issues related to bird migration that went to a hearing in the state siting proceeding for the Heritage Wind project.
The Issues: The first had to do with the six turbines that are planned within two miles of the Iroquois Wildlife Refuge and nearby Wildlife Management Areas. The issue at the hearing was: Should there be a two-mile setback from the Refuge?
The second issue at the hearing had to do with the post construction monitoring for bird and bat mortality. What kind of monitoring is required? Should the turbines closest to the wildlife areas be removed if the harm to wildlife reaches high levels?
The Parties Involved:
The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES) both argued that there must be a two-mile setback from these areas and that the turbines should come down if the mortality is high and cannot be reduced. DEC and ORES are New York State agencies that are strongly in favor of renewable energy and are tasked with ensuring that renewable energy is sited. The fact that they were arguing in favor of stronger setbacks should cause State officials to pay attention.
Clear Skies Above Barre, Inc. is a local stakeholder group that retained renowned ecologist Dr. K. Shawn Smallwood to demonstrate the necessity of two-mile setbacks. The group filed an Amicus Brief largely agreeing with ORES and DEC’s position.
Apex Clean Energy Inc., the project developer, was the only party in favor of siting turbines too close to wildlife areas.
A Bad Decision:
The ALJs rejected recommendations from ORES, the DEC, and Clear Skies Above Barre, and sided with Apex, the developer.
The ALJs determined that Apex had the burden of proof but that they met this burden using studies from other areas, even though the ALJs acknowledged the studies are from areas that have significant differences from the Heritage Wind project area.
The ALJs determined that the local radar study, done 6 miles from the Heritage Wind project, was too far away to be relevant.
This radar study 6 miles from the project showed that the majority of birds fly over these agricultural areas in western New York at heights of 100-150 meters (328-492 ft.). The Heritage Wind turbines would be 206 meters (676 ft.) tall at the maximum tip of the blades, causing precarious migration for tens of thousands of birds through the rotor swept area of approximately 4 acres/turbine.
The ALJs decided that even if impacts to birds was severe, taking down the turbines would not be an option.
Save Ontario Shores has been tracking this industrial wind project over the past four years for several reasons. It is not in our towns but is located within 10 miles of Yates. Apex is the developer in both the Heritage Wind and Lighthouse Wind cases. And it has issues that would apply to the Lighthouse Wind project including noise, visual blight and environmental impacts to birds and bats. At risk are national and state wildlife areas that are important Orleans County resources. Degrading them harms all Orleans County residents and those who travel to the area to enjoy these resources.
A bad decision in the Heritage Wind project will raise the risk of poorly sited renewables projects in our towns.