September 27, 2018
New York, Opinions

Small return on wind farm investment

RTW: Small return on wind farm investment | By Gary Abraham, Special to the Olean Times Herald | September 26, 2018 |

In a recent edition of the Times Herald, Eric Miller wrote in this space on behalf of the company he works for, Invenergy Wind, that the Cattaraugus County Industrial Development Agency is somehow violating its “mission” if it stops sponsoring large-scale wind energy projects.

The IDA’s mission is to increase permanent jobs in the County. Although Miller suggests otherwise, supporting short-term constructions jobs that last about one year for a wind project is not IDA’s mission.

How many permanent jobs would Miller’s 102-square-mile Alle-Catt wind project create? Would these jobs employ county residents, or would they be for outside contractors? Would

They be full-time jobs with benefits, or part-time jobs?

Miller doesn’t say.

The growth of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is increasing. How much greenhouse gas

Would be avoided from other power plants? To utilize wind-powered electricity requires that others operate small natural gas-fired power plants that pollute far more than power plants that do not start up and shut down in response to the wind. Large-scale wind power is not emissions-free, as it could not operate without these backup plants.

Miller doesn’t acknowledge that his project would not provide any electricity to the community. Nor would the project – by itself – power any homes anywhere, unless homeowners want to go without electricity when there’s no wind.

Miller says 10 jobs would be created after construction, during “operations.” No wind farm in New York has created 10 permanent jobs, and those that are created are held mostly by out-of-area contractors. Low-skill inspector jobs have been created, but these are part-time and lack benefits. Creating these would not be consistent with the IDA’s mission.

Miller also doesn’t say anything about impact of his project proposal on the environment. The fragmentation or breaking up of forested areas displaces animals and invites invasive plant and animal species. This is the result of needing many miles of new access roads to the 111 wind turbines Miller wants. Each turbine requires several acres to be cleared, and each must be interconnected with the others by new electrical lines. Once operational, the turbines will steadily kill a substantial number of large, rare and endangered birds and many of our declining bats.

He also doesn’t say anything about the impact on the community. A large fraction of those who must live within a mile or so of a batch of wind turbines will be unable to sleep at night, resulting in adverse health effects. Everyone within that distance will have a hard time selling their homes without a 15 to 30 percent loss. Few people will want a seasonal hunting or fishing camp under a wind farm. Miller fails to note that users of Harwood Lake in Farmersville would be surrounded by 588-foot-tall turbines, and Rushford Lake residents will see many turbines operating in Farmersville and Centerville.

Even Lime Lake residents will see Alle-Catt’s machines.The visual impacts alone will alter the sense of place for a generation or more, changing it from a rural to an industrial area. Fewer visitors will want to spend money on recreation near the 102-square-mile Alle-Catt project area.

These changes are likely to result in more decline in tax revenue for the county, schools and affected towns than the $7 million annually they would all share, which is what Miller’s offering.

Seasonal homeowners, for example, don’t get a STAR discount on their property taxes. And they don’t burden the schools by enrolling their children here. Losing them hurts even more than reduced property assessments on permanent residents. Losing any tourists hurts, as tourism is among the largest employers in the county.

IDA sponsorship means taxing jurisdictions must be satisfied with “payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) because sponsorship makes a project exempt from property tax and sales tax. PILOT payments would be about 25 percent of the taxes that could have been assessed on the Alle-Catt project, expected to be worth about $500 million. Most of that $500 million would be paid (or forgone) by federal and state taxpayers, some would be paid by New York electric ratepayers, in higher rates and in outright grants. Grant money is collected by NYSERDA from the service benefit charge on New York ratepayers’ monthly bills. That is, Miller’s project would be financed mostly by transfer payments from the public, like welfare.

Specifically, the schools would forgo about $4 million in annual tax revenue, the county would forgo about $3 million and the towns another $1 million. What they get in return is no electricity, A degraded environment, a few bucks and a wind farm for 20 years or more. That will cost county taxpayers about $800,000 per job if Miller creates 10 permanent jobs – annually.

(Gary Abraham is an environmental attorney who has represented municipalities and citizens groups concerned about wind farm impacts around New York. He currently represents Centerville’s Concerned Citizens, Concerned Citizens of Cattaraugus County, Freedom United, Farmersville United and the Old Order Amish of Farmersville in a state Siting Board proceeding to review the Alle-Catt wind project proposal.)

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