September 17, 2016
New York

Ball Hill winfarm project proceeding despite roadblocks

By JIMMY MCCARTHY - OBSERVER Mayville Bureau , Observer Today | September 17, 2016 |

A wind project in the making for years is proceeding in northern Chautauqua County despite a number of obstacles to face and concerns to confront.

The proposed Ball Hill Wind Energy project, which began in 2008 and at one point consisted of more than 40 turbines, is now down to the placement of 29 turbines in the towns of Hanover and Villenova. Under the latest proposal, 23 turbines will be placed in Villenova and six in Hanover.

Connecticut-based Renewable Energy Systems is leading the way on the project as Mark Lyons, senior manager of project development, discussed revisions to the project and the steps ahead before turbines go up during a county Industrial Development Agency board meeting Friday.

To date, plans are drawn and an environmental impact review submitted, which led to a number of revisions and improvements, Lyons said. Updates to the plan include utilizing the Vestas V126-3.45-megawatt turbine to allow for greater wind capture and more energy production. Earlier proposals looked at the Vestas V110-2.2 megawatt and a 2.3 megawatt General Electric turbine.

“The fact that (the project’s) been around since 2008 is indicative of the fact that it’s not any easy project,” Lyons said. “Particularly on the economic side, the market is certainly not what it was in 2008 during the hay day of this wind energy development. But notwithstanding, we identified the opportunity to continue this project with full support of both towns.”

Several companies have worked on the project over the years through different capacities of review and planning as the IDA and town officials continue to support the endeavor. The IDA board supported a preliminary resolution Friday to move forward and schedule deviation meetings in Hanover and Villenova, which will be scheduled for a date next month.

Revisions within the latest plans have decreased access roads to turbines from 14.9 miles to 13.4 miles and buried electrical collection lines from 21.3 miles to 15.4 miles.

The permanent wetland impact that was initially 4.6 acres in previous plans was reduced to less than 1 acre in the updated version. Lyons said their ability to build the project is dependent on receiving a joint wetlands application from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Plans from 2008 found that 25 residences were within 1,200 feet of a wind turbine. Under the new layout, Lyons said there are no residences within that distance.

“I think the towns are enthusiastic about this project, not only because of the economic benefits, but because we have done a good job of reducing the impacts,” Lyons said.

Several obstacles, however, need to be confronted before the building begins. Addressing concerns from residents who don’t want the nearly 500-foot-high turbines near their homes, or believe that they’ll hurt the environment, will be one of those tasks during public hearings.

In addition, Lyons told board members they don’t have an offtake agreement yet, which is an agreement between a producer of a resource and a buyer to purchase or sell portions of the producer’s future production. Lyons said it’s important since construction is contingent on having one in place.

“We had anticipated for a long time for this Clean Energy Standard Order, which came out of the Public Service Commission, because it was very encouraging,” he said. “The target for New York state is to get 50 percent energy from clean energy, including renewables. When the order came out, it declined to require power purchase agreements from utilities.”

Lyons said they’ll be looking into the commercial and industrial market where direct energy users can enter into contracts to buy clean energy. Lyons said they’re also eager to gather potential customers in the region that are interested in buying clean energy.

George Borrello, county legislator and board member, placed concern over the lack of a power purchase agreement while questioning the project’s end game.

“If the towns are in favor of this then so be it. I know we’re going to get a lot of pushback from people who don’t want these things in their sight,” he said. “I just want to make it clear where the project is and the fact there are people in opposition to this.”

Lyons also told the board the wind regime in the area where turbines will sit is “good but not great.” In addition, Lyons said the price of electricity has significantly decreased over the last couple years.

The life span of the project is 25 years plus. A decommission plan is in place where money will be held in an escrow for the towns in event the company did walk away from the project.

Rich Dixon, chief financial officer for the IDA, said the company deposited $50,000 for the IDA to use for legal fees and other expenses ahead of time so they don’t get stuck if the company walks away.

PILOT payments will be over $300,000 a year to taxing jurisdictions, and Dixon said they won’t grant anything until the project proceeds further.

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