Massive wind turbines could be rising in the Town of Cohocton within a few weeks.
Local UPC outreach coordinator Rick Towner said permits allowing the developer to begin the ground work for the 420-foot-high turbines will be signed soon, signaling the next phase of the construction of 50 wind turbines.
On a tour of the wind farm sites Thursday, Towner said special permits have allowed M.A. Mortenson Construction crews to prepare the areas for construction of the tower bases.
According to Towner, 57-foot-wide concrete platforms will be topped by a 16-foot-wide tower base, and secured by 15-foot bolts into the concrete. Once the concrete has cured, topsoil will be replaced, the towers will be stacked by cranes and the blades assembled and mounted, he said.
Ironically, the only natural element that could delay the two- to three-week construction schedule for each turbine is strong wind.
“The cranes are limited in lifts to 20-mph wind,” Towner said. “More than that, and they’ll have to wait.”
Each turbine is valued at $2 million to $2.5 million, he said. Once completed, the project will employ six to eight workers for maintenance and operation.
The optimum wind speed for the turbines is 25 to 27 mph, according to Towner. The blades are designed to tilt in order to adjust to the most efficient rotation.
In the event of a windstorm, with wind speeds above 50 mph, the blades will flatten to reduce rotation and hydraulic brakes will shut the system down for safety, he said.
The Newton, Mass.-based UPC first planned to build 56 turbines along the Cohocton hills, Towner said.
But new town zoning setbacks took some sites off the list. There are also restrictions on putting turbines near any existing dwellings, or any area where the public gathers, such as a church or park, he said.
There are five more wind projects being considered in Steuben County, with UPC and EcoGen vying for space in Prattsburgh, and other projects in the towns of Hartsville, Howard and Caton.
Those projects have been welcomed by some as a source of renewable energy and revenues. They are strongly opposed by others who charge the turbines are inefficient, and threaten humans and the natural habitat.
Towner said the turbines in Cohocton are likely to generate as much electricity as old coal plants in the area, which shut down years ago.
“What replaced them?” he said. “Nothing, as far as I know.”
But Towner said there are more benefits for the town than the UPC wind farm.
“The restaurants are full, (one) was looking for waitresses,” he said. “The motels are full. I know there are complaints about bringing some out-of-state guys in, but you ought to also look at, they’ll be spending money here, not taking their wages home to Rochester every day.”
Towner said the project is just the start of economic development in Cohocton.
“There’s got to be something we can do with the old Polly-O plant, biodiesel, something with renewable energy,” he said. “Just enough industry to make us self-supportive, enough to live here and work here. “
Adverse wind conditions may not be the only delay facing the 50-turbine UPC wind farm project in Cohocton.
Lawsuits, an antitrust complaint and a recent tangle with labor representatives may also be important factors in the project’s future.
Within the last two weeks, both the state appellate court and local court have dismissed allegations the town’s local laws regulating the project are illegal. But the project’s opponents, Cohocton Wind Watch, have another day in court at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 19.
The recent lawsuits charge UPC with violating their conditional Public Safety Commission permit. The action also challenges the issuance of special use permits by the Cohocton Planning Board. Opponents also claim certain turbines intrude upon the property in neighboring towns and Ontario County.
An antitrust complaint filed early this year by other Cohocton residents charges the wind industry as a whole violates the Sherman Antitrust Act by preventing competition and restraining trade.
Recent complaints by local labor unions put a halt to the Steuben County Industrial Development Agency’s plan Sept. 27 to approve property tax breaks for the UPC project.
The unions say UPC is hiring out-of-state construction workers instead of using local labor resources. Encouraging local employment is a part of SCIDA’s mandate.
UPC representatives say they need skilled supervisors for the unique project, and promised to hire 60 union and non-union workers from the Steuben County area by the end of the month.
Local UPC coordinator Rick Towner pointed to contracts with Hanson, in Bath, and McConnell Electric, of Rochester, as examples of UPC’s willingness to work with firms that hire union workers in the Steuben County area.
But labor representatives said UPC also has hired firms from out of the area, including a downstate firm, Delaney Heavy Highway Construction, of Gloversville, for road work.
“We have no problem with them hiring supervisors. We have no problem with local people, whether it’s union or nonunion,” said Mike Altonberg, business agent for The Ironworkers in Rochester.
The Ironworkers are now picketing UPC offices in Cohocton.
“And by local, we mean Steuben and the surrounding counties. But I don’t know how many in the area are familiar with crane work. And putting up 60-ton towers takes some doing, I can tell you,” Altonberg said.
By Mary Perham
6 October 2007
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