Officials have instituted zoning laws prohibiting industrial wind turbines, but they’re still keeping their options open about wind energy. In fact, officials invited Keith Pitman, president and chief executive officer of Empire Wind Energy LLC, to talk about the Oneida-based company at a public meeting Thursday.
Founded by Rochester billionaire Tom Golisano in July, Empire Wind Energy has visited several area communities touting its business model, which promises that the company will return profits to the community through taxes and fixed-price energy sales.
Pitman, who was in Lyons in August, has also emphasized that details of any Empire Wind Energy proposal would depend on residents’ desires and opinions.
That’s why Italy town officials find the prospect so appealing.
“It would be something Mr. Golisano could do to help the town get economically stable,” said Supervisor Margaret Dunn.
Dunn said the projected annual town income for a proposal’s first 10 years could be roughly $125,000 per wind turbine. That figure could jump to over $300,000 after the first decade, she noted.
That’s significantly higher than the $250,000 total town income offered annually by Ecogen LLC, which has proposed a roughly 20-turbine project near Emerson Road.
“If we can help meet Gov. Pataki’s requirement for clean energy in town, but not have to pay a lot of taxes to do it, it’ll be worth it,” Dunn said. “We hear a lot of politicians talking about wind energy. I think it’s inevitable it will come into town. In our town right now, we’re still struggling with tax rates being extremely high and burdensome on residents, particularly those on fixed incomes. To disregard [Empire Wind Energy] totally is irresponsible.”
Two companies, Global Winds Harvest and Ecogen, want to build more than 50 wind turbines combined in Italy and neighboring Prattsburg, Steuben County. Global’s project calls for several turbines near Clute Road. Both propose building a substation in Italy.
Residents have repeatedly voiced concerns over both projects, primarily about noise and the view, at meetings and in letters to town officials. Their concerns – and possible litigation – prompted town officials to include an industrial wind turbine ban in the zoning law formulated this summer. Still, officials and others believe it’s worth exploring a potential Empire Wind Energy company project.
“If something comes along that the town is willing to change zoning for, if there’s enough money to wipe out tax debt, it’s an acceptable tradeoff to revisit the zoning,” said Councilwoman Amanda Gorton.
Resident Tom Tyo, former zoning commission chairman, agreed. “In my opinion, it gives the town a lot more – more money and you have some control over [a project]. You can tell them how many wind turbines you want,” he said.
Right now, the preliminary 2007 budget includes a tax rate of $9.94 per $1,000 assessed value, which represents a roughly 30-cent increase over the current tax rate.
“As a town board, we’re trying to just protect the residents of the town financially and not see ‘For Sale’ signs up because people can’t afford to live here,” Dunn said. “I will dig my heels in [regarding the ban on wind turbines] if the town is not going to benefit at all, and that’s what’s happening with the developers. But I can not dig my heels in when it could negatively affect people on fixed incomes. Scenic view doesn’t have the same weight as someone losing their home.”
At its next meeting Nov. 14, the town board will decide whether to pursue further talks with Empire Wind Energy LLC.
By Gina Muscato
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