The first rumblings of discontent were expressed Tuesday when state regulators opened its first round of hearings on a 33-tower wind farm proposed for eastern Broome County.
Landowners were wary of reassurances given by project representatives that the 124-megawatt project would have minimal effect on property values and blend into the environment.
“Visual impact varies overall,” said Gregory Lieberman, an environmental design and research contractor for the project sponsor. “The change in landscape impact is considered minimal to moderate.”
There was more than an undercurrent of distrust about promises made by Houston-based Calpine that the visual impact from the towers and the turbine blades would be, at the worst, moderate.
“It seems easy to be a supporter if you don’t live by them or won’t see them,” said Richard Rogler of Nineveh.
Perched along the hilltops in Windsor and Sanford, some as high 1,500 feet, the towers and blades will exceed 600 feet in height with the blades measuring some 500-feet across. Opponents alleged in total the height from the base of the hill to the top of the turbine will top the height of the Empire State Building.
But while opponents voiced their objections, supporters said the project will bring jobs – 150 construction positions during the building phase and seven operators when the project is complete – while advancing a clean energy agenda and reducing carbon output connected to climate change.
“We need the clean and renewable energy. We all benefit from this,” said Scott Lauffer. The Binghamton resident said the benefits of the Calpine project outweigh the costs, while acknowledging the property values of nearby landowners could be impacted by the project.
“It’s not a blight on the landscape if you embrace clean renewable energy,” Lauffer said during the mid-afternoon hearing conducted before an overflow crowd of about 80 residents at the Windsor Community House.
Comments made at the public hearings will be entered into the record in the Public Service Commission project review. Tuesday’s hearing may be the only one scheduled for the plan that is known as Bluestone Wind Farm.
“The siting board members do pay attention to public comment,” said Sean Mullany, administrative law judge presiding over the case for the state Public Service Commission.
During a second evening session,attended by about 50 people, speakers echoed comments similar to the afternoon session. Labor leaders complimented Calpine for their willingness to hire local union member, supplying well paid construction jobs with benefits to the region’s workforce.
While others again railed against the plans, saying it the 33 towers in this rural stretch would impact tourism and a vibrant market for second homes from city dwellers.
Tom Salo, representing the Delaware Otsego Audubon Society noted the area selected for wind turbine development is in prime golden eagle and bald eagle migration paths and habitat.
“They are unlikely to stop using the area after construction,” said Salo of the Delaware County community of Stamford. He urged Calpine to take measures to assure the creatures are not killed or injured by the turning blades.
Sponsors of the wind farm planned for eastern Broome County will locate 29 of them in the Town of Sanford and four in the Town of Windsor, according to plans filed with the state.
At some sites, it appears the turbines will be visible from Route 17. All locations are north of Route 17 in an area about 8 miles across and 4 miles wide.
In the Town of Windsor, two turbines will be north of Page Road and two will be north of Sky Lake Road.
Towers will be spread across the Town of Sanford, with 18 turbines west of Route 41 and 11 to the east.
“This is our chance for alternate energy,” said Windsor resident James Donowick, who will lease land to Capline for a turbine.
Aside from the towers, the project will include access roads to the turbines, along with electric collection lines, a substation, among other facilities to be included in construction.
A project price tag has not been released. Electricity to power an estimated 40,000 households won’t be generated from the project until at least 2020, if approved.
However, a Calpine representative said the project is unlikely to result in a reduction of electric rates for the nearby community, a comment that was met with a frustrated groan by the crowd.
Instead of property taxes, the owners will negotiate a payment-in-lieu-of taxes agreements with the municipalities within the footprint, which is standard for similar projects in New York. Also, the company will receive incentives from the state from a fund that encourages renewable energy development. Bill Whitlock of Calpine was unwilling to disclose the amount of the state subsidies, saying it was proprietary information.
“My tax dollars are paying to destroy my valley and I’m not very excited about it,” said David Lawrence, a Windsor landowner who says his farm will be in the shadow of a tower.
In prime natural gas drilling territory, New York is encouraging the development of renewable energy projects with incentives and tax credits as part of Cuomo’s plan to reduce the state’s carbon footprint..
In a twist, some of the same landowners leasing hilltop locations to Calpine are among the same group that signed a $90-million, $2,411-per-acre deal from XTO Energy for natural gas drilling lease rights in May 2008. Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas was banned in New York four years ago, and the natural gas lease rights for the properties have since expired.
A previously-released disclosure document indicates lease payments for land owners hosting the turbines will be between $2,500 and $30,000 annually by Calpine for the right to build a turbine on their property.
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