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Wind developer to pay farmers in Rutland, Champion to install power line through land

Thirteen farmers who own land north of Route 12 in the towns of Rutland and Champion have signed contracts with a Brooklyn wind developer, allowing it to build a 10-mile overhead power transmission line through their fields that is needed for the Copenhagen Wind Farm project.

The graphic illustrates land affected by the Copenhagen Wind Farm project.

The land directly affected by the Copenhagen Wind Farm project.

Farmers who signed contracts with the company this year were given $1,000 bonus checks on the spot for signing the easement for the 115-volt power line, which will run west from a substation to be built near the Jefferson-Lewis county line in the village of Copenhagen and connect to a National Grid substation near Burrville. Along with that bonus, the company agreed to pay $8,000 per acre of easement property in areas at which the line passes through tillable farmland. That payoff equates to about $2,000 for every 100 feet of farmland the line spans.

OwnEnergy was granted a 20-year tax break from local jurisdictions to help finance the $198.5 million project, which calls for the construction of 49 wind turbines that will generate 79.2 megawatts of power.

To be built on about 9,700 acres of leased land, the project will disturb about 372 acres of fields and 590 acres of forest or active farmland, according to a preliminary environmental impact statement for the project.

Farmers along the route said the plan for the power line didn’t face much opposition because the company found ways to avoid installing electrical poles on their farmland. Much of the farmland north of Route 12 in the town of Rutland is owned by Michael W. Hill, owner of Milk Street Dairy, Woodville. He purchased most of the land near Route 12 in 2010 and 2011 from three local farming families, the Sawyers, Clements and Tousants.

The developer was able to engineer a plan that mostly circumvented Mr. Hill’s property, but it was compelled to pass through a 100-acre cornfield near the substation in Burrville. In recompense, Mr. Hill will be paid about $300,000 by OwnEnergy.

“It’s been an unexpected windfall,” Mr. Hill said. “Land prices have escalated and I bought this land for what it was worth, so this helps pay for it.”

OwnEnergy could start construction on the project by late 2014. The company will own a 1,000-foot easement on property through which the power line passes – 500 feet on each side. The developer will pay farmers based on the total amount of easement property under its control.

About seven power poles are expected be built on land owned by Mr. Hill. Workers operating farm machinery will be compelled to navigate around them. But Mr. Hill, who supports the wind project, called it a minor inconvenience.

“We’ll be able to farm up to the base of the poles after construction,” he said.

Copenhagen resident Lloyd G. Woodruff, who is a vocal supporter of the wind farm project, assisted OwnEnergy by contacting farmers on Route 12 affected by the power line and encouraging them to sign contracts. Only about one mile of the 10-mile line will cross tillable farmland under the plan, Mr. Woodruff said. Nearly all of the farmers on affected land have signed contracts with the wind developer over the past five months.

“Most of the power line is in between fields from Copenhagen to Burrville, not affecting much tillable land,” said Mr. Woodruff, who is the zoning officer for the town of Denmark.

The 20-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement, he said, “is going to generate the town a lot of money. It will help pay off the debt on the town building, save taxes at the school and help lower our tax rate, which is close to four times more than in the towns of Champion and Rutland.”

The power line will pass through a 50-acre cornfield on the north side of Route 12 at Sawyer Farms, owned by Donald H. Sawyer. The 74-year-old dairy farmer owns about 200 acres of tillable farmland and a small herd of about 90 cattle. Two or three power poles will be installed in that cornfield, Mr. Sawyer said, which is visible from the backyard of his house.

The Sawyers will be paid about $20,000 by OwnEnergy.

“When you’re struggling like most small farms are, this is a bonus,” Mr. Sawyer said. “It’s just like selling land to big farms who can afford to buy it at $2,000 to $3,000 an acre. The average farmer in America is now 59 years old, so opportunities like these are valuable.”

The welcoming reception for the Copenhagen Wind Farm project stands in contrast with the Galloo Island Wind Farm project proposed by Upstate NY Power Corp., which was rejected by the state Public Service Commission in June. That project would have connected the company’s proposed 246-megawatt wind farm on Galloo Island, town of Hounsfield, to the Fitzpatrick-Edic Substation in the town of Mexico, Oswego County, or to the National Grid Route 12F substation near Salmon Run Mall. A contingent of shoreline owners and dairy farmers in the towns of Hounsfield, Henderson and Ellisburg voiced their opposition to the plan.

The Jefferson and Lewis County Farm Bureaus will host an informational meeting for farmers about the impact of power transmission lines on agricultural land at 7 p.m. July 30 at Grace Episcopal Church, 21 Cataract St., Copenhagen. Matthew J. Brower, an agriculture resources specialist for the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, will highlight the potential impacts of power lines on farmland and best-management practices that construction companies are required to follow.