Wind energy is still up in the air in this breezy town on the shores of Lake Ontario.
A host agreement presented by Empire Wind Energy contains an Article 78 waiver, something the town is forbidden to waive, according to the town attorney. Robert Roberson said the town cannot surrender its right to bring a lawsuit against a government agency.
It was the board’s understanding that the waiver was to be removed from the host agreement, and Supervisor Richard Meyers instructed Roberson to find the law which forbids the waiver. Roberson did, but the issue is still unsettled.
Meyers has forwarded the lawyer’s findings to Empire Wind Energy for review.
“If they interpret it the way we do, they will be more apt to take it out of there,” he said. “From our standpoint, take that clause out of there so we can get moving.”
Will the waiver be expunged? “That’s the question,” Councilman Dudley Chaffee said Sunday. “We’ll see what Roberson feels the next step is. We don’t want to relinquish the right. We want to protect the taxpayers in building of windmills. We want the best opportunity for the town as a whole.”
Meyers is concerned that the agreement has taken too long and landowners will go in another direction. Somerset and Empire Wind Energy remain in the negotiating phase.
“This has dragged on a long time,” Chaffee said. “We’d like to get it going, but we want to make sure we do it right. Once (the windmills) are there, they’re going to be there several years.”
It was understood by the town that Keith Pitman, president and CEO of Empire Wind Energy, agreed during a work session to take out the waiver.
“I don’t think he really knew what he could do and couldn’t do,” Chaffee said. “I wish we could sit down and iron it out.”
Billionaire Tom Golisano, the owner of the Buffalo Sabres and founder of Paychex, is Pitman’s backer at Empire State Wind Energy.
“Keith is front man,” Meyers said. “It has to go through attorneys. He has to take it to his board.”
The next town board meeting is Feb. 12. Board members feel that AES is still poised to compete for Somerset’s wind energy. AES has not made any proposals to the town.
“We just feel AES would want to be the one to develop energy,” Chaffee said. “They have a power plant generation facility in town. We will go with whoever presents the best deal.”
The town is talking about getting 20 windmills, and there are several interested land owners. The developer will determine where the windmills should be.
Somerset could realize $1 million a year, according to Meyers.
“The longer it takes, the less chance we will get what we want out of it,” he said.
After start-up costs, the town would get 75 percent of Empire Wind profits, and Empire Wind would get 25 percent.
Meyers said the landowners want to support the town and that Empire Wind wants to be welcome in Somerset. The developers would require a PILOT, or Payment in Lieu of Taxes, agreement.
The town has agreed to allow windmills, but there is a saturation point, said Meyers, who feels Empire Wind has made a generous offer.
Other towns in the state have recently signed host agreements with Empire Wind Energy.
By Bill Wolcott
21 January 2008
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