November 16, 2007
New York

It's all about money, crowd told by NY-focused investor

For a wind-farm developer, Keith D. Pitman had a lot of horror stories to tell about his industry.

In the Town of Italy, Ontario County, for instance, a deep-pocketed developer threatened to sue the poor municipality if the town board refused to simply rubber-stamp wind-farm plans.

The profits from the $100 million projects – they can run as high as 27 percent on investment annually – are ending up in Italy, Spain and Ireland; no New York Power Authority here.

In some counties – Madison, for instance – early wind projects were so welcome they are paying no county taxes at all. Such projects often benefit, not communities, “but three farmers with 1,000 acres each.”

But Pitman, president of Tom Golisano’s Empire State Wind Energy, came to the Cherry Valley Community Center Tuesday, Nov. 13 – at the invitation of Supervisor Tom Garretson and the town’s Committee on Renewable and Alternative Energy – not to bury wind power, but to praise it.

And his humor-laced enthusiasm kept the crowd of 100 in the old gym engaged for more than two hours as he detailed his company’s goal of collaborating with communities that see benefits in wind-farm development.

“If I make a killing,” he said, “you make half a killing.”

The model – Golisano, the company’s founder, is billionaire founder of Paychex and three time candidate for governor – is in stark contrast with Cherry Valley’s experience: First, Global Winds Harvest sought to put a wind farm on Cape Wycoff, across from the Cherry Valley-Springfield Central School; then, Reunion Power sought approval of 25 turbines in the East Hills section.

A years-long battle ensued, pitting landowners who stood to benefit financially from newcomers drawn to Cherry Valley by its rural character.

Global Winds and Reunion dealt first with property owners, then with the municipality. Empire State’s approach is the opposite. It deals with the “taxing authority” first to determine if a community wants wind power, how much it wants, where it wants the turbines, and so on. Only when an agreement with the town has been reached does the developer canvas property owners.

So far, Empire State has contracts with four towns around Lake Ontario – Butler, Huron, Rose and Wolcott – and Benton in the Finger Lakes.

“We didn’t have any legal fights,” said Pitman, former manager of the Massena Electric Department. “We had conversations.”

Whereas secrecy characterizes most wind developers, Empire Wind tries to be transparent in discussing investment, construction and returns.

If landowners want confidentially, the company will respect that, Pitman said; if the landowner doesn’t care, the company will make those details public as well.

It was unclear by the meeting’s end how good a fit Empire Wind and Cherry Valley might be.

Pitman started talking about 24 turbines. Asked about smaller ones, he said Steel Winds, at the old Bethlehem Steel plant in Lackawanna, is successful with eight.

Sodus public schools, near Rochester, are using state Education Department’s EXCEL funding to install mini-turbines on school roofs.

At the outset, Garretson’s concept was perhaps two turbines – one to supply power locally, the other to generate revenues to cover town operations.

But, at several points, Pitman was clear: The smaller the project, the less revenues to spread around. At some point, Cherry Valley might not be worth Empire State’s efforts.

When Andy Minnig of Advocates for Cherry Valley, began a slightly tough line of questioning, Pitman replied, “I’m not even suggesting we’re interested in coming to Cherry Valley at all.”

At evening’s end, the reaction was mixed.

“In the end,” said Erik Miller, Otsego County Conservation Association executive director, “we’re still going to have to look at the impact of industrial development in rural setting.”

But Garretson said, “I think we’re on the right track.”
“I don’t know,” said Cornwell. “Information – that was the good of tonight.”

He said his committee will take up the issue when it meets next, Tuesday, Dec. 11.

The Freeman’s Journal

16 November 2007

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