SOMERSET – Empire State Wind Energy is not in line to get in the state power grid, but the “small player in a big game” did get the wind at its back Wednesday at a special town board meeting.
Keith Pitman, the chief executive officer of ESWE, received some warm applause after a 90-minute meeting with the town board concerning a Host Community Agreement. The town hall was filled with residents interested in putting wind turbines in the lakeside community.
Norm Jansen, who hopes to get a windmill on his Johnson Creek Road land, left with new optimism. “I feel they’ve come together and took the first giant step. Cooperation was not here before. They want a viable agreement everyone can agree on.”
Negotiations, which were cut off a month ago, were cordial, but not complete. Pitman and his company will study the slightly amended contract and will have a reply before the next meeting May 13.
“It’s good to hear applause,” Pitman said. “It shows me there’s a lively audience who are interested in the subject and appreciating what we’re trying to do. It was a sign of enthusiasm and support.”
AES is already in the queue. That’s the New York independent system operator that governs the transmission grid. When a power company plans to attach a power plant to the grid, it has to follow rules and procedures in order for the state to keep track of who’s coming into the grid.
The entry fee is $10,000 and ESWE seems to be in no rush. The company is prepared to wait until the HCA is agreed to.
“AES has made a filing for large wind-power facility,” Pitman said. “The Somerset switchyard is already in queue.”
Are AES and ESWE in competition, and is there room for both in the town?
“There’s global competition within the industry,” Pitman said. “On the other hand, there’s a lot of resource to be developed and a lot of players will develop wind farms in New York … We’re not a big player. We’re a small player, but we can still play in the game. We link our success with the town’s success.”
There may not be enough turbines to go around, however. “The supply of wind turbines is less than the demand,” said board member Daniel Engert. “There’s a great demand. You need to get into a pipeline to get those turbines ordered to make sure you have them.”
Most of the manufacturers are European. However, much of the work can be done before the arrival of all the key components.
“The meeting was very productive,” Engert said. “I was pleased with the exchange between the board and Keith. It was open discussion.”
The Article 78 issue was neither snagged nor resolved. The town board and ESWE are in the mood to compromise, but the waiver remains.
“I felt that the issues raised were not monumental that couldn’t be compromised or overcome,” Pitman said. “Article 78 has been difficult area since Day 1. That still is a concern for us.”
ESWE is concerned that after it committed to a vast expenditure, the Article 78 poses a financial risk to the Oneida-based company. The timing element would have to be resolved, Pitman said.
Supervisor Richard Meyers proposed an 18-month timeline for the project that seemed to be flexible. “That’s in the ballpark,” Pitman said. “We can extend it. It’s very close. It’s within the realm of reality. It’s a reasonable deadline.”
The contract is for 10 years with an option for five more years. According to Pitman, 15 years is the maximum.
Pitman said he received a number of phone calls from landowners in Somerset. “I’m quite confident there is landowner interest in working with us,” he said. “It’s a question of patience. How long before we can do business?”
Councilman Randall Wayner, who backed the breakoff of negotiations in March, said, “It went very well. I was very pleased with what I heard. We gained a lot of ground in regard to clearing up confusion.”
Resident Bob Foley, who has no land interest in the wind farm, attended the meeting. “I just think it’s just a good thing to do,” he said. “Environmentally it’s wonderful and it has financial stability because of the hosting agreement offered by Empire State.
“It would be amiss not to be involved. It’s a real classic win-win.”
By Bill Wolcott
24 April 2008
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