By Andy Thompson and Michelle King – Staff Writers
HARTSVILLE – Billionaire Tom Golisano is back in the wind game.
Steve Dombert – a frequent critic of the planned Airtricity development – Friday said Golisano has formed a new company and hired an engineer to develop community-based wind farms.
“We’re going to rejoin the battle,” Dombert said of the formation of Empire State Wind Energy.
Golisano first joined the wind debate while exploring a run for New York governor, then became involved with a community-based wind farm project in Perry. He also visited Hartsville and had considered lending his considerable financial support to development of a wind farm there.
Golisano’s lead man on the project, Ed Rechberger, however, withdrew for personal reasons and the project stalled.
That is, until Friday.
Dombert said Empire State Wind Energy will focus on small projects, and the main focus will be plowing revenue back into the communities in which they are based.
“The idea is to turn the proceeds over to the town,” said Dombert, who said Hartsville will be just one of several areas explored by Empire State Wind Energy.
According to the organization’s Web site, the newly formed wind company aims to benefit all community stockholders, including paying for “up-front” development expenses, trying to avoid payment in lieu of taxes agreements, and participating in whole and retail energy markets.
In addition, Golisano, who is the chairman of Empire State Wind Energy, has become a key figure in the wind effort to help alleviate reliance on fossil fuels, as well as helping communities have more control on the issue.
Councilman George Prior is skeptical the Golisano plan is likely to proceed. An Irish company, Airtricity, also is looking at constructing turbines the town. The company already has contracts with landowners for turbine sites, and Prior said construction could start by summer 2007.
“We’re going down the road with the PILOT program and pretty far down the road,” he said. “We’ve never seen enough about Golisano or the community plan. We asked but it never came forward, so its hard to tell.
“Even if it were alive, I don’t see how you can go back to that at this point,” Prior added.
Dombert, however, is supportive of the wind group.
“I’m interested in seeing competent and better ideas than are going on here,” he said.
Keith Pitman, chief executive officer and president of Empire State Wind Energy, did not return phone calls for comment.
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