Three wind-power projects that could change the face – and the finances – of Herkimer County for years to come are poised for approval in coming weeks.
If developers get their way, all 168 towers could be complete by the end of 2008. The county is in the throes of a debate over the massive project, as residents and leaders tussle over its merits and drawbacks.
Combined, the projects could mean:
“¢Towers: Up to 168 turbines could dot the county’s southeast corner – with the Jordanville Wind project in the towns of Warren and Stark, the Top Notch Wind Farm in the town of Manheim and the Hard Scrabble Wind Farm in the towns of Fairfield and Norway.
“¢Power: Production of up to 336 megawatts of energy by the turbines. That’s enough to power more than 75,000 homes, according to ifnotwind.org.
“¢Money: Possibly as much as $4 million in annual tax revenue could flow from developers to the county, municipalities and school districts, based on a set price per megawatt.
“¢Jobs: Hundreds of local jobs would be needed during construction, and about 20 permanent, full-time workers upon completion of the projects.
“¢Change in the landscape: The towers would stand between 210 and 260 feet tall – more than 20 stories high. In the wide-open countryside, they would be visible for miles around, which upsets some residents of southern Herkimer and northern Otsego counties.
The wind projects still need permits and to move through some environmental stages. Talks also need to be finished with Herkimer County about how much the projects should be taxed per megawatt.
Some residents in the sparsely populated and low-income towns are concerned with noise, visual annoyance and decreased property values, while other residents are excited about the clean energy, tax base growth and opportunities for land-owning farmers to use the money they’d get for hosting the windmills to save their farms.
Les Miller of the Warren Town Board said he hasn’t made up his mind.
“We’re still looking at different aspects of the project to determine if it’s in the best interest of the town or not,” Miller said. “I guess we have to weigh the effect it will have on the town and the income that will come out of it.”
Manheim Supervisor Timothy Parisi plans to keep looking into whether the effect on the environment, health and scenery will end up outweighing the potential for economic improvements, he said.
“If it doesn’t, I certainly would enjoy putting together a budget with that economic impact,” Parisi said.
Martha Frey, executive director of Otsego 2000, is concerned with the Jordanville Wind project’s impact on scenic, cultural, historical and water resources, she said.
Written public comments are being accepted until Dec. 15 on the supplemental draft environmental impact statement, which aims to address previous concerns with the project, such as visual assessments and wetlands.
“We’re anxious to review it and see if those deficiencies have been addressed or not,” Frey said.
Residents such as Jean Ronan of Manheim remain worried about the possibility of noise disturbance and decreased property values. After attending some meetings, Ronan has become frustrated with the process of trying to argue against the wind projects, she said.
“We kind of got the idea that everyone’s mind was made up before any public meetings,” Ronan said. “It’s all about the money.”
And when it comes to the remaining negotiations among Herkimer County and the energy companies, it is all about the money.
After conducting a study and other research, the county came up with an offer of having the companies pay about $12,000 in taxes per megawatt per year. This price gives the companies about a 75 percent tax break, Herkimer County Legislator Dennis Korce said.
The companies’ offers have been lower – with $6,000 being the highest offer from Community Energy for the Jordanville Wind project and $7,500 being the highest offer from PPM Energy for the Hard Scrabble Wind Farm, Korce said.
The county plans to make the same deal for all three projects if the plans go through, he said.
Negotiations seemed to be at a standstill with not enough legislators in favor of changing the county’s offer, but there has been some recent discussion of reconsidering the offer, Korce said.
The decision is difficult because the legislators don’t want to rush into a decision they will regret in 10 years, he said.
“At what price do we allow this resource that Herkimer County offers to be sold?” he said. “That’s really what we’re up against here.”
Skip Brennan, state director of development for Community Energy and Jordanville Wind, remains optimistic, he said.
“I think there’s been movement on both sides, and I take that as a positive,” Brennan said.
Fairfield Supervisor Frank Matthews understands the desire of county officials to make the best deal possible for residents and that it’s very possible that the companies can afford to pay the $12,000 per megawatt per year, he said.
“But at the same time, don’t price yourself right out of the market where the wind developers are going to leave,” he said.
With the state mandating that the county build a new jail in the near future, Matthews doesn’t see how county officials can turn down the deal, he said.
“The benefits are unreal,” he said. “Here’s an opportunity that only comes once in a lifetime. I just don’t want to see it go by.”
By Bryon Ackerman
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