Last week, energy developers announced they’re pulling out of one of the St. Lawrence County towns where they had intended to build a wind farm.
Avangrid Renewables now plans to install its North Ridge Wind Farm entirely within the town of Hopkinton. People in Parishville – just down the road – will have no wind towers in their community and less money pouring in as a result.
Financial negotiations stalled out
But if you ask Parishville town supervisor Rod Votra, losing out on a wind farm doesn’t feel like much of a loss at all. Votra said he got the news in an email late last week. “My initial thought was, ‘Whew!’ It was kind of a relief,” Votra said, “a burden off my shoulders.”
Until now, Avangrid Renewables was planning to put close to 10 turbines in Parishville and 30 in Hopkinton. In exchange, the company offered annual payouts to local government of about $38 million over 30 years, or $750,000 per year, as part of a PILOT deal – or payment in lieu of property taxes.
Votra was against that idea. “That $750,000 was split up between at least four different entities and the town of Parishville was at the very bottom of that list of recipients,” Votra said, adding that he and others in the community wanted Avangrid to pay full property taxes.
Over time, Votra said, the financial negotiations petered out and opposition to the wind project started to build. Local activists – calling themselves Concerned Citizens for Rural Preservation – printed anti-wind lawn signs and staged protests.
Activists saw “a threat looming over” SLC
Janice Pease is one of those protestors. She said it feels like a win to see Parishville cut from the wind project. “That is a huge blessing for Parishville,” Pease said. “Just getting past that threat, looming over those folks, is wonderful. My secondary thought is, that’s great from them. But it puts a lot of pressure on Hopkinton.”
Pease lives in Hopkinton, where Avangrid Renewables plans to put the entire North Ridge Wind Farm – up to 27 turbines.
Avangrid spokesman Paul Copleman said it’s not clear when construction would start. In New York, wind farms have to go through a long permitting process, gain approval from a state siting board – and get lots of input from local people.
Avangrid is still in the middle of applying for permits. I asked Copleman if local anger is why his company pulled out of Parishville, and he said it’s more complicated than that. “There is a lot of support in Parishville, and we’re grateful to the landowners that we’ve worked with in Parishville,” Copleman said. “But there are a lot of factors that go into this.”
Developer’s next move: tie up loose ends
Technology is one of those motivating factors. According to Copleman, wind turbines have become far more efficient in the past few years, and it’s now possible to generate more power with less equipment. Avangrid still expects to produce up to 100 megawatts at its North Ridge Wind Farm – but with 25 percent fewer towers on the ground. ”
We’re constantly pursuing the smallest possible project footprint,” Copleman said. “So if we can get a point where we’re building fewer turbines? That works better for everybody.”
But shifting the entire project into one town means that some people could lose out. Avangrid already signed long-term leases with several landowners in Parishville. Those agreements were supposed to last up to 25 years in some cases. Now, Copleman says, “[Avangrid] would work with the landowners to have the leases come off of their property at the end of the year.”
Exactly how that’s going to pencil out – and if landowners are entitled to payouts – Copleman wouldn’t say. But one thing is certain: If the wind farm is built, the town of Parishville still stands to profit. Parishville and Hopkinton share a school district. Rod Votra said last he checked, schools were on track to get the biggest piece of any payout from a possible wind farm.