SOMERSET – If Empire State Wind Energy wants to put wind farms in town, it first has to go through the planning board.
The town board made that split decision Tuesday, to the chagrin of board member Dan Engert, who made a motion to submit a counterproposal to ESWE. The vote was 3-2, with board members Randall Wayner, April Gow and Dudley Chaffee voting it down.
“At the apparent final turn, certain members of this board have stumbled and flip-flopped their position on this wind energy project in Somerset,” Engert said. “It’s been very difficult to stay the course and to attempt to see this project through for the benefit of the residents. I sincerely hope that at some point, this board can come together to support a wind project in our town.”
According to Engert, Wayner has consistently opposed the ESWE wind project and voted against any further discussions.
Wayner objected. “I have not been against ESWE. After receiving their rejection letter on May 12, I felt it was time to move on and open this up to other developers. I’m not anti-ESWE. They rejected our community host agreement, it’s time to move.”
On June 10, after debate, the Somerset Board voted 4-1 to send a letter to ESWE stating that the town was prepared to offer a counterproposal. It asked the wind energy company if it would consider the Somerset Host Community Agreement with an adjustment in the revenue-sharing formula.
Empire State CEO Keith Pitman had said that he wanted more specifics concerning money the town and his company would receive. On Tuesday, Engert made a motion, seconded by Supervisor Richard Meyers, to take a lower percentage of net revenue in order to entice ESWE back to the table.
Wayner objected to providing ESWE with actual numbers. The original percentage offered by ESWE to the town was 80 percent. The new Somerset proposal would have lowered the risk and the percentage of profit to the town. It was a graduated, eventually getting to 75 percent.
“I thought it was a mistake to offer that to ESWE in the first place June 10.” Wayner said Wednesday. “Last night, we corrected that mistake. I was very disappointed that, after all this time and energy and money spent by us, that ESWE declined to see the value of developing a wind farm in Somerset.
“It’s not a happy day. It would have been great to have it worked out. We spent a lot of effort on this,” he said.
It is not wise to go back to ESWE and offer a lower percentage, according to Wayner. A resident advised him, “When you put yourself in that position, beggars can’t be choosers. You become beggars instead of negotiators.”
Engert reported ESWE was eager to receive a counterproposal. “Why on Earth would the board not follow through and send a proposal when they resolved just one month prior to send a letter indicating as much?” he wrote rhetorically. “It’s clearly not a very positive development for the residents of Somerset who entrust these board members to negotiate in their best interest.”
Wayner said the board has supported wind energy since 2005. “We have the only commercial wind energy law in Niagara County,” he said. “We welcome wind energy, we have the laws ready to go.”
Wayner wants ESWE to enter an application to the town planning board. “Follow the process and we will welcome them with open arms. There is another developer who has expressed sincere interest in doing this. That’s AES.”
AES has not made a proposal, but expressed a desire to do so, according to Wayner. “Somerset will be there for any developer. We’re not going anywhere.”
A developer’s first step is to approach the landowners to see if it can secure land. Wayner said he does not know who has been approached.
“We will be taking no more steps regarding a Host Community Agreement with Empire State Wind Energy. This brings closure to that avenue,” Wayner said. “If they would like to develop wind farm in Somerset, they are more than welcome to submit an application to our planning board.”
By Bill Wolcott
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
10 July 2008
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