NIAGARA FALLS —— Tourists have long treked to
the region to see the Niagara River plunge as far as 188 feet over the
Horseshoe and American falls.
But what if windmills taller than the falls is
deep soared above the city’’s skyline?
A company founded by Sabres owner B. Thomas
Golisano has approached city leaders about building wind turbines on old
industrial sites in the city.
While the company sees economic opportunity,
the prospect exists for millions of tourists to see windmills on the
horizon of Niagara Falls.
""The issue for us is one more of aesthetics
than anything else,"" said Thomas J. DeSantis, senior planner for the
city. ""Is it OK to put a 600-foot wind generating station at Falls and
First streets? Probably not.
""I think because we’’re Niagara Falls, and
because we have certain scenic and national resources that are important
to us, that we’’ll want to try to protect them in some small way, we’’ll
want to look at those issues.""
Empire State Wind Energy representatives have
had discussions about the potential for a public-private partnership to
construct power- generating wind turbines in the Falls, and have told city
leaders that spots like the former Love Canal property or long-vacant
factory sites hold potential.
Niagara Falls does not look like many other
communities where windmills have been constructed. It is urban, nearly
built out and almost entirely flat. Wind maps show much more potential
along communities that line Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.
But Niagara Falls has something else that is
attractive to those trying to produce more electricity.
""Anywhere you go, there are those massive
power lines all over,"" Councilman Sam Fruscione said. ""They see Niagara
Falls as a good potential because of all the power lines that they can
Still, height will become an important issue
in any windmill proposal.
Fruscione said Empire State Wind Energy
representatives have discussed two options for windmills: large turbines
like those in Lackawanna that would generate more power, or smaller
Windmills built in Lackawanna are 410 feet
tall from base to blade tip —— more than twice the height of Niagara Falls
—— and are visible for miles along the Buffalo shoreline.
If similar windmills were built in the Falls
—— even on industrial sites a mile, or a few miles, from the natural
attraction —— they could be visible to tourists peering at the American
and Horseshoe falls from Canada, as well as from parts of the U. S. side.
The height of structures in the city —— even
smaller windmills —— could raise questions that have long created a debate
in the Falls about how tall structures should be built.
A new zoning plan that would allow high-rises
near the 26-story Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel but would limit
building heights near Niagara Falls State Park alongside the falls
themselves, has languished as city leaders debate whether tall buildings
should be restricted to certain areas.
Fruscione said he doesn’’t see a problem with
tall windmills as long as they are not located close to Niagara Falls
""I definitely don’’t want to prevent
businesses from coming in,"" Fruscione said. ""I don’’t want them close to
the falls. There are plenty of brownfields that are not close to the
falls. . . . I assume people believe that we would use common sense.""
Keith Pitman, chief executive of Empire State
Wind Energy, met with members of the City Council last October to discuss
preliminary plans to study whether windmills would be feasible in the
Falls. He will return next month with more specific spots that could
include portions of the former Love Canal waste site or brownfields that
line Buffalo Avenue, Fruscione said.
The factory sites sit near the Niagara River
—— and within a couple of miles of the falls.
Pitman told Council members last fall that any
power-generating plan would need ""at least a handful"" of windmills to be
The Falls is one of more than two dozen
communities near Buffalo and Rochester where the company has pitched
proposals. Negotiations are under way between Empire State Wind Energy and
the Town of Somerset in northeastern Niagara County. Several towns outside
Rochester have signed host community agreements with the private firm.
Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster said city leaders
have been approached by a ""couple of different groups"" about potential
wind power projects, including owners of working industrial sites that are
considering building ""small-scale generation for their own use.""
Dyster —— who built his campaign last fall on
a message of building a ""cleaner, greener, more prosperous"" future for
the Falls —— wants the city to be prepared for any specific wind turbine
""The wind is a public asset. We would like to
make certain that the public benefits and that the public’’s interest is
protected in any development,"" Dyster said. ""Would people view them as a
nuisance or would they view them as something positive?""
Dyster has asked DeSantis to begin drafting an
ordinance that would set up regulations for any windmills built in the
Other Western New York communities are a step
ahead in preparing for windmills.
Hamburg town leaders passed a commercial wind
energy ordinance last June. Newfane officials have implemented a temporary
moratorium on windmills until they can get residential and commercial
codes in place. Newfane Town Board member Marcus Hall said he expects the
new codes to be completed by August.
But DeSantis said Niagara Falls faces
different challenges than rural communities.