SOMERSET – Another breath of fresh air from windmills has been breathed back into the town.
Empire State Wind Energy President and CEO Keith Pitman presented his company’s outlook and how it would be beneficial to Somerset, with some 70 residents at Tuesday night’s town board meeting.
Town Supervisor Richard Meyers said he has been planning to invite someone from the company, owned by Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano, since before he ran for office.
“This wind power company would benefit the town considerably more than an outside wind developer,” Meyers said. “Wind developers are out there to make profit. This company is looking to make an agreement with the whole community.”
Windmills seemed to have come back onto the town’s radar after the New York Power Authority announced the NRG Huntley plant in the Town of Tonawanda would receive money to build a new advanced clean coal plant. AES Somerset was also in the mix.
If AES had gotten a second plant, the company would have requested a tax break as they did with the first plant. Pitman said profits from most wind developments aren’t put into the community either.
“We started this company last summer with the vision that maybe if wind power projects are going to be built, that some of that benefit can be captured and put into the local economy,” Pitman said.
Answering questions from the board and town residents, Pitman explained that this company would do all of the necessary testing to make sure there is enough wind to put up the windmills.
Waiting for the parts is a big step. Pitman said it can a year to get turbine parts because of the demand. Sometimes developers from other failed wind projects sell theirs, however.
After either purchasing or leasing the land to put the turbines on, the company would then install them, hooking them up to transmission lines, Pitman said. The cost to lease those lines, other necessary start-up costs and those to eventually tear down the turbines if warranted would be borne by the developer as outlined in contracts.
Without knowing the topography of Somerset, Pitman said it would be difficult to know just how many turbines any one patch of land could hold. Generally speaking, one windmill may require five acres of land to make sure it is placed to receive the maximum amount of wind. Pitman said wind farms come in all sizes, although projects with more turbines yield more money than those with just a few.
Turbines are often placed on farmland. Pitman said the farmers lease the land for the windmills. He has heard it doesn’t impact the farming operation much beyond creating a small access road so technicians can service the units.
After a certain number of years, the town would have the chance to buy the turbines, Pitman said.
“Local control affords stability to the community,” Pitman said. “If we’re making a lot of money, you can exercise the option to own. If it’s not great, you can kick back and let us take the heat.”
Town resident and outspoken AES tax break opponent Merrill Bender said he is pleased that another source of power wants to come into Somerset’s grid.
“It’s nice to have a company come to this town and not try to take every penny from it,” Bender said. “It’s very, very refreshing.”
The presentation also had a few visitors from outlying towns. Yates resident George Hayton said he thinks wind farms are a step in the right direction.
“This is beneficial for the community,” Hayton said. “This is a good possibility.”
Hayton, who lives along the Lake Ontario shoreline, said he would like to see similar discussions in Orleans County.
The purpose of Tuesday night’s meeting was to educate the town board about Empire Energy. Meyers said the board did not decide that night if they wanted to continue discussing bringing windmills into the town. If they do, Meyers said, a public hearing would be in order.
AES Somerset plant manager Kevin Pierce said the company remains “very interested” in wind generation on their site. No formal plans have been released for if or when the company will install turbines in the town.
By Tasha Kates / firstname.lastname@example.org
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
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