Rochester billionaire and Empire State Wind Energy official outline possibilities for community-owned wind farm
Officials from Empire State Wind Energy LLC unveiled a business plan that they believe would give community members a larger piece of the revenue-sharing pie.
On Wednesday, more than 50 residents gathered at Cohocton elementary school for an informational session hosted by Keith Pitman – president and chief executive officer of the Oneida-based company – as well as B. Thomas Golisano, a Rochester billionaire who is also the company’s main investor.
Golisano said his interest was kindled when he first picked up a newspaper article about wind farm development, talked to several people and researched it, and found there’s a substantial economic benefit.
“I thought it would be a heck of an idea to be the owner of a wind farm,” he said, questioning “what would happen if the wind turbine company was owned by the community?
“I thought the PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) program was so minimal it was a disgrace,” Golisano added. “I decided to start an organization and a way to help.”
Pitman introduced himself by saying he takes pride living in rural upstate New York and also was influenced by an article.
“Big wind. Big energy. Big wind power. Big money. Wind power can significantly improve a community’s local economy if it is locally owned,” he read from an excerpt from Rural Features, a state bi-partisan publication.
Pitman said the basic model was simple: To create projects that are beneficial to the entire community with 100 percent of the start-up costs covered by Empire State Wind Energy. Later, and at pre-determined times, the Town of Cohocton would have ownership options.
“Local control is what it’s all about,” he said. “What can happen at the local level is no mystery.”
As of Wednesday, Pitman said the Town of Cohocton has been researched and some land, which he declined to identify, has been secured. One of the main points he stressed was there is no specific timeline for completion, and it will be done slowly and carefully, for which Pitman received wide audience applause.
“I think it’s smart,” he said. “When is it too late to change direction? It’s never too late.”
During the question-and-answer period, resident Hal Graham, a member of YesWind, who has signed a lease agreement with UPC Wind Partner LLC, questioned Pitman on why none of the 15 different people he has talked to – or who own land near his home on Lent Hill Road – have been approached.
“We have acquired land strategically, looking for spots,” Pitman said. “We do have actual land rights but we’re not going to stand here and say. In some situations we are competitive.”
Richard Colucci, of North Cohocton, also was skeptical.
“How can you control your own destiny?” he said, referring to a segment of the presentation. “That’s not true, our lives are run by lawyers and politicians.”
Pitman said using destiny was accurate in the context.
“In my house it’s my wife,” he joked. “Yes we can control our own destiny. We’re saying we’ll do it the right way. What we can control, we should.”
James Hall, a member of Cohocton Wind Watch and frequent critic of wind farm development by UPC, said the business plan looked promising, adding the economic benefit from UPC looked grim.
“He has no idea what our leases are,” said Graham, adding lawyers were consulted in the process. “We did not go into this blindfolded.”
As some residents raised concern about the potential for successful wind energy and if Golisano had another motive, he said a project would be more of an investment in the economic future.
“Quite frankly you’re not going to affect my financial life,” Golisano added.
The next step after the meeting – if enough interest is found – is to schedule a meeting with the Cohocton town board, Pitman said. He said if all goes well, then a proposal outline will be formulated.
For more information about Empire State Wind Energy LLC, log onto its Web site at www.empirestatewindenergy.com.
By Michelle King, Staff Writer
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