The owners of a defunct mine in St. Lawrence County are looking into the feasibility of building what would be the second commercial wind farm ever proposed in the Adirondack Park.
Representatives of Benson Mines Inc. have been meeting with the state Adirondack Park Agency to discuss a plan to build as many as six to 10 wind turbines on the company's 3,000-plus acres in the town of Clifton.
Bernard Melewski, the company's lawyer, stressed that the project is in its infancy.
"Benson Mines' board of directors is looking at all possibilities for future management of the property," Melewski said. "One of the options they're going to explore is whether the higher elevations of the property are suitable for wind turbines. They're at an extremely preliminary stage."
Melewski said the first step is to secure APA approval to put up a meteorological mast on the site to collect wind data for at least a year. An application could be submitted to the APA sometime in the next few months. The data from the monitoring mast will help determine whether the project is feasible.
"One of the issues they have to look at is whether it's economical both as an investment and also based on the projected price of electricity," he said. "There's a lot of things that could sidetrack the idea. But without the weather information, they can't even make a rational decision."
In the last 10 years, several large, commercial wind farms have sprung up outside the boundaries of the Park, including Noble Environmental Power's Altona, Clinton, Chateaugay and Ellenburg wind projects, which have a combined 257 wind turbines, and the 195-turbine Maple Ridge project on the Tug Hill plateau in Lewis County.
Until now, only one commercial wind farm has been proposed inside the Park. Adirondack Wind Partners, which is a joint venture of the Barton Group and Reunion Power and is also represented by Melewski, has proposed building up to 10 wind turbines in the town of Johnsburg, near Gore Mountain. The company has been collecting wind data and performing other studies and could submit an application to the APA next year, Melewski said.
Both of the in-Park projects involve the reuse of old industrial sites, which Melewski says makes them a good fit.
"If you look at what's allowed in an industrial area, and the ownership's attempts to make use of property that's been despoiled, it makes sense to look at these locations if you're going to contemplate commercial wind turbines in the Park at all," he said.
When the Barton project was first proposed in 2005, it caused a split among environmentalists. Some said they feared the blades on the wind towers might kill birds and bats. They've also raised concerns about large towers ruining scenic views.
But others in the environmental community have supported the project because it could provide a source of clean energy.
Melewski, former counsel and deputy director of the Adirondack Council, said he hopes environmentalists in the Park look at the Benson Mines project with an open mind.
"I would hope they say that not every site is desirable, but there may be sites that work well inside the Park and are consistent with the Park's zoning," he said.
John Sheehan of the Adirondack Council wasn't aware of the Benson Mines proposal when contacted by the Enterprise.
"We're not immediately opposed to the project, mainly because we haven't had a chance to investigate anything out there yet," he said.
Sheehan said impacts to bird species and viewsheds were big issues with the Barton Group's plan because the wind turbines would be sited at a high elevations.
"Clifton is not at high elevation," he said. "But there may be other concerns that we're not aware of."
Town of Clifton Supervisor Bob Snyder said he supports Benson Mines looking into the prospect of wind power.
"I don't have a problem with it," he said. "It certainly would provide some tax base, which is what we're looking for, and hopefully a few jobs."
Snyder said he didn't have any concerns about the visual impacts of large wind turbines.
"If we want to get away from dependence on oil, we've got to make sacrifices," he said. "If looking at these wind mills is a sacrifice for some, then so be it. I'm all for carbon-less energy."
APA officials released a prepared statement saying they've had pre-application meetings with representatives of Benson Mines.
"Agency staff provided advice and guidance regarding permit application requirements for this proposal, including permitting for the temporary installation of meteorological masts to be used to determine whether there are adequate winds at the site to support wind turbine development," the statement reads.
During the 1940s and early 1950s, the Benson Mines property was home to the world's largest open iron ore mine pit. Nearly 500 people lost their jobs when the mine shut down in 1978. Since then, the company has been selling the crushed rock left over from the mining operation as well as harvesting timber on the property.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or email@example.com.