May 4, 2012
New York

Watkins Glen International signs on to wind farms project

Written by Jason Whong, 3 May 2012

WATKINS GLEN – It’s not clear if a proposed $200 million wind farm will be built in Schuyler and Chemung counties, but if it happens, some turbines will stand at Watkins Glen International.

Michael Printup, president of WGI, announced Thursday that the racetrack has signed on for the electricity project being developed by NextEra Energy Resources, of Juno Beach, Fla.

WGI’s parent company, International Speedway Corp., already works with NextEra for clean energy credits and marketing opportunities at its tracks in Daytona and Miami, Printup said, but this deal takes the companies in a new direction.

“I think there’s nothing like clean energy that can move the little needle,” Printup said.

“With us and the popularity of NASCAR, you have 5 or 6 million people watching us on TV; that’s the crux of this relationship for NextEra and for Watkins Glen International.”

Ross Groffman, development director of NextEra, said the proposed wind farm is in very early stages, so a lot of the details are still being worked out.

If the project is built, several turbines will be placed at high points and ridge lines on the 1,832 acres of the track, he said.

WGI is not the first landowner to sign on, but it is the largest, he said.

“We’re very excited about the fact that Watkins Glen has signed on as a landowner who will participate in the project,” Groffman said. “We think the relationship we have with Watkins Glen and their view of renewable energy and working with us will be a tremendous benefit.”

It would be NextEra’s first time building a wind farm at a race track.

“We think it’ll be great for our business as well as for Mike’s, and it’ll be a really exciting aspect of this community,” Groffman said.

What may be built

The proposed wind farm could bring 50 to 75 turbines, about a $200 million investment, to the towns of Dix, Hector and Catharine in Schuyler County, and the Town of Catlin in Chemung County, Groffman said.

The track can’t tap into any turbines for power, which would be sold to the local power substation.

While the project is in its early stages, NextEra is “looking at the wind resource, environmental impacts, different properties that we can use for the wind farm, working with landowners, working with the government and getting permits,” he said.

Each turbine’s foundation and access roads take up about 1 to 1.5 acres, said Steven Stengel, director of communications for NextEra. “People can plant, literally, darn near up to the road.”

NextEra installed wind towers in 2010 and 2011 to measure wind. It’s now meeting with landowners to get them to sign on for the project.

Groffman expects to continue the permitting and land leasing process over the next few years. Construction could start in 2014 or 2015, but he cautioned that it could take longer than that.

Economic gain

It would take about 200 workers to build the project over six to nine months, he said.

Once the wind farm is in place, six to eight employees, most of whom will be technicians, would maintain the wind farm, said Stengel.

Stengel said wages for those jobs would be “in the ballpark” of $40,000, depending on experience.

WGI has not considered putting ads on the turbines, especially since it’s unknown if the turbines will be in good advertising locations, Printup said. They won’t be near the track, and there are rules about how close they can be to roads and buildings.

Once the project has started, it’s possible NextEra may have signs at the track, Printup said.

Landowners who sign up will receive a payment for signing and an annual payment of “several thousands of dollars a year,” Groffman said.

Before putting up turbines, construction workers have to place power lines and build mostly gravel access roads.

Landowners who sign on have to let maintenance workers get to the turbines and have to agree not to build anything that would change the wind pattern, such as a grain silo, near the turbine, Stengel said.

U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, came to the track for Print up’s announcement.

“It’s very exciting that Watkins Glen is partnering with NextEra to bring that amount of jobs to the area, because it really is all about jobs,” Reed said. “This seems to be a natural fit, win-win.”

NextEra will continue doing studies for next 12 months or so as part of the permitting process, Groffman said. The company will have nothing to announce for a while, he said.

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