By Jim Miller
Finger Lakes Times
LYONS – Rochester billionaire Tom Golisano, found-er of Paychex Inc., is coming to town Sept. 18 with a plan that could bring wind turbines to Wayne County.
Keith Pitman, president and CEO of Golisano’s new Empire Wind Energy LLC, said the company is prepared to invest money here and details of its proposal would depend on the desires of area residents. He and Golisano plan to hold a town hall-style meeting at the Ohmann Theater to discuss the company’s ideas and business model, which they say would allow it to return any profits to the community through taxes and fixed-price energy sales.
“We’re not really a traditional private company,” Pitman said. “We would be happy if we broke even and the upstate economy was booming.”
Formed by Golisano in July, the Oneida-based company has been working with the local Alternative Energy Task Force headed by Terry VanStean of Lyons, who said he’s cautiously optimistic about the proposal.
“I’m extremely excited about the prospects of this moving forward and what it can mean for our community,” VanStean said. “It’s just a tremendous opportunity for us to do something that could change the economy of our community.”
Pitman said the company has done some preliminary work to assess the feasibility of wind power in the area, especially in the southern part of Wayne County. Now he says he’s ready to formally express an interest in development here and solicit feedback from area residents.
“If it looks like we’re on a common ground, we’re basically ready to go from feasibility to starting the development process,” he said.
Officials at Empire Wind Energy have not decided on the scale of any potential projects in the area, but based on the preliminary work they’ve done, they believe they could build anything from small-scale, single-turbine projects to a mid-size wind farm, Pitman said.
They hope to hear from community members about what kind of project the community wants, he said.
“In each community there’s sort of a threshold for what’s acceptable,” he said. “We want to do things that are acceptable in a given community.”
Wind power projects elsewhere have proved controversial – Golisano himself fought against them – but VanStean said the local response has so far seemed positive.
“I think when some of the specifics are presented the way they’ve been presented to us “¦ that level of support will increase,” he said.
The task force has already obtained letters of support from the Town Board and from state Assemblyman Robert Oaks, R-128 of Macedon. Its members have also been talking with village and school officials, VanStean said.
“I’m going to wait and see what some proposals are,” Village Mayor Corrine Kleisle said. “I’m open to any ideas.”
The idea behind Empire Wind Energy is for a local company to invest locally and return its profits to the community, Pitman said. Golisano based his earlier opposition to wind farm projects on their developers, whom Pitman characterized as out-of-state companies coming in and trying to make a profit without much benefit to local economies.
Empire Wind Energy operates differently, Pitman said. Instead of automatically seeking payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements, for example, it will use them only when necessary, he said.
“If this project is financially viable, maybe we can pay a full property tax,” he said.
The company might also provide low-cost energy to local customers, Pitman said, and it would be open to other proposals for returning profits to the community.
“Tom’s not doing this to make money,” he said of Golisano, whose net worth in 2005 was estimated at $1.2 billion by Forbes.com.
Although it’s only a month old, Pitman said Empire Wind Energy is already in talks with a number of communities. Its officials haven’t yet signed the papers to start any projects, but they have secured land development rights in some communities.
“I would say by this fall, I would think we’d have a number of projects in the pipeline,” Pitman said.
VanStean and the other members of the Alternative Energy Task Force hope one of those projects will materialize in Wayne County.
“This is exciting stuff, and it bodes well for our community,” he said.
The town hall-style meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 18 at the Ohmann Theater.