They announced few specifics, but Empire State Wind Energy representatives last night offered to help develop local wind power projects and return the profits to Wayne County communities.
Tom Golisano, the billionaire founder of Paychex and the money behind Empire State Wind, said the newly formed company is interested only in projects beneficial to the communities they’re built in and acceptable to residents.
The scope of any projects would depend on what people in the community want, said CEO Keith Pitman.
“We’re for real, we’re sincere and we want to help you,” he said. “Learn more, and let us know what you think.”
Members of the local Alternative Energy Task Force, which invited Golisano and Pitman to town, said the financial details and project scope would be negotiated if and when local governments vote to work with Empire State Wind Energy.
“We have a site picked out, but we can’t tell you,” Task Force member Sergei Bartishevich told reporters after the meeting, pointing to the need to first secure leases. “It’s pretty much out in the country.”
Although information on the size and site of the project wasn’t on the agenda last night, Pitman did discuss Empire State’s business model. The company would assume the risk and responsibility of development and return most of its profits to the community, he said.
A wind turbine can cost around $3 million and generate about $150,000 a year in profit, Golisano said. Empire State plans to keep enough money to cover the company’s expenses plus “a little bit more” in profit, he said.
Most of the money, however, would go back to host communities through taxes, payments in lieu of taxes and fixed-rate energy sales, Pitman said. And towns involved in the project could eventually decide to purchase the turbines for themselves.
About 350 people attended the two-hour meeting at the Ohmann Theater, and several said they left enthused about wind energy. But during a question-and-answer session, one woman said the proposal sounded a bit like the fabled free lunch – too good to be true.
It’s a reaction Pitman said he has gotten before. Without Golisano, he said, the company’s business plan wouldn’t work. With him, he said, it’s possible.
“We have, obviously, in our mix a very benevolent investor,” he said.
At the podium during the meeting and in an interview beforehand, Golisano said he’s investing in wind power to stop mega-corporations based out of state from controlling wind development.
He called wind energy development inevitable and said he wants the profits to stay in the state and benefit its residents.
“Basically, we’re doing it because we want to help upstate New York, [for] the satisfaction of knowing a town like Lyons can improve [its] economy and not continue being the victim,” he said.
Golisano, who has campaigned against large-scale corporate-owned wind farms, said the technology does have some drawbacks and each community has to decide for itself whether the benefits outweigh the negatives.
To members of the local task force, the potential benefits – an environmentally sound and renewable energy source – clearly do.
Chairman Terry VanStean said concerns about bird deaths, ice throw and shadow flicker (a strobe-like effect sometimes noticed when the sun is behind a turbine) are overblown.
He said studies show that cats and cars kill more birds than wind turbines. While ice can sometimes be thrown from blades, he said, the turbines don’t move fast enough to throw it far and no one has ever reported being injured by thrown ice. And the strobe effect is no worse than driving past a row of trees with the sun behind them, he said.
VanStean visited a wind farm on Tug Hill and said reports of noisy turbines are also greatly exaggerated. He called the sound a “mild whooshing.”
Studies also show that turbines do not affect property values, he said.
VanStean did acknowledge that some people find the turbines ugly.
“We’ll paint them to look like daisies if that’ll make them happy,” he joked.
Empire State Wind has already spent several thousand dollars in the area doing preliminary feasibility studies, and the early results are positive, Pitman said. If the community wants wind power, the company will work with town boards to secure memorandums of understanding and letters of invitation and define the project’s scope, he said.
Participating towns would be required to sign formal agreements early in the process, he said.
Several of the attendees filing out of the theater last night described Empire State Wind’s proposal as interesting and predicted that Wayne County residents would support it.
“We can stand some help in the cost of energy,” said Stephen Boyer of North Rose.
“I think it’s great,” said Randy Kelley of Lyons. “It’s an alternative to our oil consumption.”
And Allan Caster, a farmer from South Butler, said he doesn’t understand why anyone would oppose wind energy.
“I’m quite interested,” he said. “I probably will do something smaller on my own.”
Established in July, Empire State Wind Energy is based in Oneida and has so far been in contact with more than a dozen communities.
“What we’re talking about doing on a statewide level is an economic development initiative of unbelievable proportions,” Pitman said.
By Jim Miller, Finger Lakes Times
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