The usually short and to the point Yates County Legislature meeting earlier this month lasted for almost two hours, mostly due to discussion over wind farms in the town of Italy.
Ecogen LLC of West Seneca wants to purchase 90 acres of county-owned land in Italy to place two wind turbines. Attorney Robert Burgdorf, representing Ecogen, last month presented the company’s proposal to the county Finance Committee to take to the full Legislature, according to Legislator Taylor Fitch.
After consulting with an attorney, Fitch said the committee learned the land could not be sold because it is reforested. Ecogen returned to the September meeting and claimed it could buy the land acting as a public utility.
Fitch said Ecogen is looking for an answer from the county as soon as possible, and asked Italy Supervisor Margaret Dunn to address the Legislature.
Dunn said she wasn’t surprised Ecogen had approached the board, but thought it was wrong to place the turbines on county land. She hoped the county would show support for her town – which has placed a moratorium on wind farms – by not selling the property.
“I am disappointed the board would consider this, knowing how our town feels,” Dunn said.
She said only a few of some 130 people who attended a recent public meeting on the subject were in favor of wind farms in the town.
Dunn said Ecogen officials have been talking about how money spent on wind farms will benefit the town, but they have not contacted the Yates County Industrial Development Agency about a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program. Also brought up several times was whether Ecogen is a public utility; Dunn contends it is not, but rather sells to a utility.
“They have cost the town a lot of money,” Dunn said, referring to Ecogen’s lawsuit last year challenging the legality of the town’s wind farm moratorium, which was upheld in court. “They have ripped our town apart. I don’t want to appear rude, but I am mad.”
According to Dunn, Ecogen has purchased 294 acres of land on Emerson Road, is proposing to buy another 410 acres, and now wants 90 acres from the county.
“Their plan has gone from the original 10 to 26 (turbines), and I am afraid we will see more,” she said.
“They consistently have told us they will see us back in court,” she said. “We have been told the town of Italy will be a ‘case study’ for future court cases. Our small town is being bullied.”
District 1 Legislator Donna Alexander, who represents Italy, wanted to know if other companies had shown interest. Dunn told her they had, but Ecogen asked first.
District 3 Legislator Robert Nielsen said it was his understanding that Dunn is against all kinds of wind farms. He wanted to know what Italy would do about pending federal regulations coming 2013 on alternative energy sources.
“If wind farms come, we have already lost, so then the county and town should get some money,” Dunn replied.
Burgdorf said he agreed with Dunn on wanting the county to wait on the sale of the property, and referred to the 90 acres as a very small piece of the overall project. The Emerson Road area has a very specific wind source and that’s why it was chosen, he said.
Burgdorf said the county would get added tax revenue and $25,000, even if the project didn’t go through.
“Wind power is a clean, renewable energy,” he said.
Burgdorf also said Ecogen is classified as a public utility, noting that court cases have been won on cell phone towers.
“We believe the state will not let this valuable property be squandered,” Burgdorf said, citing the possibility of eminent domain laws being brought into play. “We have submitted legal papers to the county.”
Alexander said area residents had been hearing about wind farms since 2003.
“As a county, we have been told we cannot sell this land. We have hired an outside legal consultant,” Alexander said. “Ethically and honestly, we are here to serve all the citizens. However, in Italy people are really upset over this.”
From the audience, Italy Town Board member Amanda Gorton interjected: “There are three important things to remember. They are not a public utility. In Italy, our law says there will be no windmills. This is an illegal act. The town made the law, and you are being asked to sell county property as an illegal act.”
Referring to Burgdorf’s actions in last year’s court case, Gorton said, “We watched Mr. Burgdorf spin his tale.”
Burgdorf countered that he took exception to being called dishonest in court.
District 1 Legislator Doug Paddock, who also represents Italy, estimated broad figures about how much the company might make from two windmills on the county property, compared to what it would pay the county. A frustrated Burgdorf replied that he was just a lawyer and didn’t work with figures.
State rules wind farm is not electric corporation
The state Public Service Commission ruled last month that Windfarm Prattsburgh LLC, which has proposed building 44 turbines on 2,500 acres in Prattsburgh and Italy, is not an electric corporation and is not subject to jurisdiction by the commission.
Advocates for Prattsburgh, Cohocton Windwatch and Concerned Citizens of Italy had filed a petition in June with the commission asking for what’s known as a declaratory ruling that the PSC had jurisdiction over the project.
They argued that the output of Windfarm Prattsburgh and neighboring projects proposed by Ecogen LLC in Prattsburgh and Italy and Canandaigua Power Partners LLC and Canandaigua Power Partners II LLC in Cohocton should be be considered one project, which would bring it above the 80 megawatt threshold and thus subject to PSC regulations. Windfarm Prattsburgh and the two Canandaigua Power Partners companies are wholly-owned subsidiaries of UPC New York Wind LLC.
The commission ruled that there is no precedent for adding together projects by affiliates or projects that may share some transmission infrastructure and that state law does not define alternate energy production facilities as electric corporations.
The full ruling is available at the Public Service Commission Web site File Room at www.dps.state.ny.us/fileroom.html. Search for Case No. 07-E-0674.
By LouJane Johns
24 September 2007
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