WESTFIELD, N.Y. – The wind that breezes through Chautauqua County could soon generate enough electricity to power as many as 50,000 New York homes.
That energy – as much as 125 megawatts – is what a developer hopes to create with a new wind farm that would hold as many as 83 wind turbine generators across parts of Ripley, N.Y., and Westfield in 2010.
And that might be just the beginning.
The developer – Texas-based Babcock and Brown Renewable Holdings Inc. – said the project it has proposed looks so promising that it wants to add a second wind farm of equal size in an adjacent area that comes closer to the Pennsylvania border.
But first, the developer has to show that its plans do not represent an ill wind that blows harm to the community, or to migrating birds.
Migrating birds and bats often fall victim to fatal collisions with wind turbines, and that has become a major concern in the development of wind farms nationally.
Babcock and Brown this month submitted its applications for special-use permits from Ripley and Westfield.
“This is really the beginning,” said Westfield Town Supervisor Martha Bills. “Now we will begin the environmental review process.”
That process could take up to a year or more for the communities, New York State environmental officials and federal environmental regulators to review and approve the plans.
Babcock and Brown senior project manager Peter Gross said the project could cost $100 million to more than $200 million, depending on the size and number of turbines used and how difficult it is to install them.
The company is seeking approval for up to 83 wind turbine generators – as many as 47 of them in Westfield and another 36 in Ripley.
The turbines produce between 1.5 megawatts and 2.5 megawatts each. If the company is able to fit in larger turbines, it won’t need as many, and won’t have to put in as many miles of access roads.
The wind farm would be south of the ridge that runs between Westfield and Ripley – not far from the area proposed for another wind farm about eight years ago.
That plan, by a company called Chautauqua WindPower LLC, fell by the wayside after state and federal environmental officials disputed the company’s assessment dangers to migrating birds, and the project lost a government grant along with its contract to sell the power it would produce.
“The former project was very controversial,” Bills said.
Bills said Babcock and Brown’s project is different, and the reaction this project will generate remains to be seen.
For one thing, the new project would be farther south, away from residential areas and off of the top of the ridge.
The previous plan was for a horizontal placement of windmills along the top of the ridge. Bills said the new proposal has a different configuration.
The new plan would have groupings of turbines perpendicular to the ridge.
In its application, the company said the turbine generators would not be more than 455 feet high from the ground to the tip of an extended blade. Gross said they would probably be about 420 feet high.
Gross said his company’s project is a mile or more south of the previous project location – saying its studies showed that site to be more suited to a wind farm.
Babcock and Brown spokesman Matt Dallas said the company has more experience with wind power. It currently operates 20 wind farms in nine states and has more than 18 other wind farms under development across the country.
The company has installed radar to track bird movements, and Gross said it would comply with new guidelines to limit avian dangers that were established by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.
Gross said the project would mean at least 75 to 100 construction jobs, and five to eight full-time workers once the turbine generators are built. Property owners are receiving lease payments, and the development will contribute to the local tax base.
But it has already sent up red flags for organizations like the Industrial Wind Action Group, a national organization that Executive Director Lisa Linowes said tries to make sure people are aware of the downside of wind power and don’t just hear the benefits.
Linowes said people should closely investigate the threat such a plant could pose to migrating birds and bats, as well as issues with noise and aesthetics.
“I think this should be looked at very closely,” she said.
By Jim Carroll
21 May 2008
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