ADAMS – Farmers squeezed between falling milk prices, high land values and rising costs of feed and equipment gathered in the fire hall Wednesday night to hear whether they might hope for a measure of salvation in the form of wind energy lease payments.
William M. Moore, principal of Hudson Energy Development, said a wind project across Henderson, Hounsfield, Adams, Rodman, Ellisburg and Lorraine could become the largest wind-energy facility in the eastern United States if the project can clear regulatory hurdles and the court of public opinion.
He was speaking to the choir, however, as it was clear the more than 20 farmers at the get-to-know-you meeting had pretty much made up their minds that the potential gains from wind-tower leases of up to $12,000 per year per tower would go a long way toward a much rosier financial picture down on the farm.
Mr. Moore laid out a project stretching from, roughly, the Oswego County line in Ellisburg north to very near Route 12F in the town of Hounsfield. That creates a potential footprint that is more than 20 miles north to south and up to 9 miles west to east. The preliminary area map takes towers from very near the Lake Ontario shore to east of Interstate 81. While Mr. Moore didn’t know the area of the project map, he agreed it was “pretty big.”
That would be in keeping with the production goals sketched out by the developer; Mr. Moore said the project, producing 3 to 3.5 megawatts per tower, could have a 400-megawatt faceplate capacity.
The developer said that while wind values in the project area don’t match those at the top of the Tug Hill Plateau, where the Maple Ridge wind facility is located, advances in technology are allowing greater production of electricity from lower wind velocities.
Some of that, he said, comes from improvements in the generators themselves. But much of it comes from much larger blades attached to much higher towers. The result might be towers from 600 to 700 feet tall on future projects, although he did not predict a specific height for the project planned for southern Jefferson County.
There are hurdles beyond the regulatory requirements the project needs to clear. The biggest leap is the state of existing transmission capability. The Independent System Operator has identified the north country, especially in Jefferson County, as an area badly underserved in transmission capacity. The county has three 115 kilovolt lines, including one that comes out of National Grid’s outer Coffeen Street generating station.
But Mr. Moore said that the county’s barely high voltage lines are old, with towers in poor shape, and likely could not handle a 400-megawatt project.
Hudson Energy’s solution, Mr. Moore said, was a plan to help National Grid upgrade the transmission capacity, which would create a path for the project’s electricity and improve the electrical infrastructure in the county at the same time.
“This is not a great place for a wind farm because you don’t have a place to plug it in, if you will,” Mr. Moore said. “But an upgrade to the transmission lines would create a transmission solution.”
While he was unwilling to say just what Hudson Energy’s solution is, he said “You can’t build a small project and spend a lot of money upgrading the transmission system.”
In his 400-megawatt vision, Mr. Moore said towers could be spread a mile or more apart. This would create fewer turbines to pass around to more landowners, dimming the prospects for multiple lease payments for all but the largest property owners.
“An easy way to deal with that would be to create a wind zone, where everyone within the zone would share in income from the towers,” Mr. Moore suggested.
Emphasizing the total economic benefits to the region, Mr. Moore dangled $50 million a year in total project payments to the region, including leases and local tax benefits.
However, he said the project could not work without a 20-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement signed by the county, all the affected towns and all the school districts with the project boundaries.
And he said he did not know what kind of in-lieu-of payments would be arranged, saying that is a critical part of the negotiating process.
Several of the farm owners put a glass-half-full take on PILOT payments, saying that any increase would be better than the straight farmland payments the taxing districts are now receiving.
With county Legislators Patrick Jareo and Jeremiah Maxon sitting in, several speakers criticized the Legislature’s growing opposition to high-value tax abatements for wind farms. Many of the same speakers criticized the Watertown Daily Times – or as one farmer said, “the folks up on Washington Street” – for its treatment of the PILOT issue.
Mr. Moore also, in answer to a question from the floor, said that while the goal of the state’s Article 10 “one-stop permitting” for energy projects is to take permitting decisions to the state level, local opposition to the plan could present challenges.
“It gets sticky unless you have townwide and countywide support,” Mr. Moore said.
Hudson Energy will continue to assess support for the project, although it was pretty clear the group that met Wednesday night was pretty much all on board. Mr. Moore said there would be further community meetings in the future to talk about the proposal.
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