Renewables bandwagon began in Arkwright

On Nov. 2, 2016, then Arkwright town Supervisor Frederic Norton, center, was joined by federal and local officials to announce the turbine deal with EDP Renewables. OBSERVER file photo

Former town Supervisor Frederic “Nick” Norton remembers the long grind associated with making green energy become a reality in Arkwright. Some of it was on the local end, but the larger struggle was really on the next level with New York state.

That was a headache, to say the least. “Working with the state is pure hell because I had to deal with bureaucrats,” he recalled.

It was far from the lifestyle Norton envisioned when he arrived in the north county around 23 years ago from Kenmore where he worked as an attorney. During his tenure, he represented 12 school districts while considering himself a “neighborhood lawyer.”

He came to the rural small town of 1,100 to settle down and get away from the hustle and bustle of the Buffalo suburbs. Because of his background in government — he served as a delegate at the last state Constitutional Convention in 1967 — he became involved with the municipality.

He even had a sweet way of scoring votes. When going door-to-door, Norton offered the resident a small Hershey chocolate bar for their time.

Early on, however, a feisty Norton learned two important lessons about where he lived. First, there were more cows than people living in the municipality. Second, the town — like every other government — needed more money. Its biggest industry in agriculture was facing tough times.

“The farmer was not as prosperous as he used to be,” he said. “(We needed to give) them an opportunity to be prosperous.”

His solution to the problem seems simple in today’s environment, but the early years of his term came at a time when power was generated from coal plants, such as the NRG Energy Inc. station on Dunkirk’s waterfront that shut down in 2016. He, and the town, were looking outside the box for revenues.

An infusion of cash could come to the tax base and property owners if wind turbines were built along the Arkwright hills. Once that day finally arrived and the 36 350-foot turbines began being constructed in 2018, Norton had a sense of pride and accomplishment.

His town, through his leadership, was a pioneer in making renewable energy happen here at home.

What has happened since his battle for Arkwright has taken a drastic turn. Now, New York state in an aim to move away from fossil fuels by 2040 is practically urging municipalities to make similar projects like these happen.

“We were able to make decisions on our own and now … it’s the state making the decisions,” Norton said of the process that went through the state Environmental Quality Review Act.

In the north county, they’re sprouting up around the shores of Lake Erie and in the hills. In Cassadaga and Charlotte, the building stages are reaching the finish line and the Ball Hill project in Villenova prepares to build turbines that could reach 599 feet, making them the largest turbines in the onshore continental United States, bypassing the current record holder, the Hancock Wind Project in Maine, by 25 feet.

Additionally, Ripley has eyes on a solar facility that would be one of the largest in the northeast while Portland and Dunkirk have considered much smaller sites.

These current projects, according to Norton, are happening with much more ease. “What’s most pleasing is that it doesn’t seem to be an aggravation to the public,” he said.

Not everyone, however, has been happy. Once the windmills began operating, the Town Board and Norton faced criticism during some tense meetings. He said most of that angst came from non-residents.

“The people who are criticizing live outside of Arkwright,” he said. “They tend to live in Fredonia … and are more likely to live outside of Arkwright. … They’re not the farming community.”

Though some have called the towers a detriment to the region, Norton said he has heard from people tied to real estate who say property values in the town have increased. In addition, the town’s fiscal shape has improved.

“I wanted a new town hall and the next step would have been a town barn,” he said. Today, according to his successor Brian McAvoy, those items are closer to reality — thanks in large part to the structures that have put Arkwright on the map.

Motorists who travel the New York state Thruway on the eastbound lanes begin to get a glimpse of these towers after the Angola Service Station. “They’re handsome. They’re good looking,” Norton said. “The ones over Cassadaga are uglier than hell.

“These in Arkwright are really quite attractive. They have a Grecian elegance to them … not necessarily because we defined it that way. It just turned out that way.

“Oh yeah. I’m very proud of them.”

John D’Agostino is editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 252.


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