BELLMONT – Several changes in the ownership of a company that wants to erect wind turbines in northeastern Franklin County have left local officials wondering if the approvals process will need to go back to the beginning.
Officials in the towns of Bellmont and Chateaugay met separately Monday with Plattsburgh attorney Carl J. Madonna to discuss their future with EDP Renewables, the European company that is currently the owner of the Jericho Rise wind farm project.
Jericho Rise was originally proposed by Horizon Wind Energy of Houston roughly 15 years ago. The company was purchased in 2005 by the Goldman Sachs investment firm, which sold the company two years later to Portuguese power provider Energias de Portugal (EDP), according to the Reuters news service. The company’s American operations are now called EDP Renewables.
The towns and Horizon negotiated agreements on a range of issues when the project was first proposed, but it has been on hiatus since 2009. It was only revived late last year when Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the project would share in $206 million in state funding intended to promote renewable energy development.
Town officials said Monday they want to revisit the 15-year-old agreements, especially because of changes both in the proposed project design and in regulations governing wind farm development.
“They have come up with some issues that they need to take care of,” Chateaugay Supervisor Don Bilow said.
“The big thing is this has got to be done correctly,” Bellmont Supervisor Bruce Russell said.
Among the changes in the project design is an EDP proposal to change the height of the wind turbine towers, Madonna said. The current proposal has the towers at 397 feet, and New York law mandates that they be under 400 feet.
In order to change the height, EDP would need to file for a variance under state law, Madonna said.
Another change that has occurred since the project went dormant was the imposition of a new ethics for the wind industry put forth by the state Attorney General’s Office. The new regulations are intended to prohibit conflicts of interest between municipal officials and wind companies and establish significant new public disclosure requirements.
The conflict of interest provisions led Bellmont board members to acknowledge that they have one member that has a conflict that must be disclosed. Town Councilman Harley E. Titus did not participate in the discussion or decision-making during the meeting.
Bilow said he wanted EDP to submit a revised proposal and to show that the company is following the ethics code.
Bellmont officials also said they want to follow Chateaugay’s lead and require the company to establish a $50,000 escrow account to cover any legal costs the town may incur relative to the wind farm project.
Russell said that great care must be taken with the agreements. “We need to be on the same page; we are dotting our i’s and crossing every t.”
Several officials expressed surprise –– and a little chagrin –– that EDP had revived the project and appeared to assume that it would simply move forward from the point at which is was halted nearly six years ago.
Russell said he found it “so alarming they come in and they are picking up where we left off, but the world does not operate that way.”
Bellmont Town Board Member Greg Langdon said, “No wonder I am confused as a board member. Imagine doing things this way in a multimillion dollar industry –– it’s mind-boggling.”
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