ALBANY – Soon, Chautauqua County will be home to another wind farm, as the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) recently approved the construction and operation of Ball Hill Wind Energy, LLC in the towns of Hanover and Villenova, but not without certain conditions.
The approval, in the form of a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, came after a lengthy public hearing on Feb. 20 at Silver Creek Central School, during which members of the public were invited to share their thoughts and concerns regarding the proposed 100-megawatt electric generating facility. Local citizens’ concerns ranged from health impacts, especially those related to turbine noise, to wind company RES’ financial stability to the environmental impact of the project. All comments were recorded during the hearing and continued to be received by the state Department of Public Service (DPS) online and by mail and phone through March 8.
In a press release on April 18, John B. Rhodes, PSC chair, was pleased to announce the granting of the certificate, especially on the eve of Earth Day. Rhodes noted that Ball Hill demonstrated financial viability, obtained all necessary municipal consents from Hanover and Villenova and complied with the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process. “When operational, the wind farm will represent a large portion of the local tax base and create approximately five to seven permanent jobs,” Rhodes stated. “The facility also serves the goals of improving fuel diversity, grid reliability and modernization of grid infrastructure.”
While the PSC determined that concerns regarding noise impact and environmental impact had been adequately addressed or mitigated by the project, there was one particular concern expressed by town of Charlotte resident Joni Riggle that the PSC agreed with.
During the public hearing, Riggle questioned Ball Hill’s decommissioning plan, should turbines need to be taken down in the future. She stated that the decommissioning estimate of $22,705 per turbine was outdated, as the estimate is based on 2016 data that includes the original proposed height of the turbines (495 feet) instead of the recently approved maximum height of 599 feet in Villenova.
After inquiry from the DPS, Ball Hill confirmed that the last decommissioning cost study was completed on Nov. 21, 2016 and that another cost study was not required until five years after the wind farm is operational.
Assuming a commercial operational date no later than Dec. 31, 2020, the PSC determined that “the reliability of the information in the study could continue to degrade before it is updated again in six years. This presents an unacceptable risk that the Decommissioning Security will not be adequate to ensure full Project decommissioning…”
Additionally, the PSC noted that the form of decommissioning security presented by Ball Hill was problematic. According to Ball Hill’s original decommissioning plan, the towns would receive an amount sufficient to cover project decommissioning costs, minus the net value of salvageable turbine materials. Referencing a similar decision made regarding Cassadaga Wind’s proposed decommissioning plan, the PSC decided that Ball Hill must meet the following requirements:
¯ File an updated decommissioning cost study to the secretaries of the towns within 60 days of accepting the certificate,
¯ Update the decommissioning study every two years and file each update with the secretaries of the towns,
¯ Establish the initial amount of decommissioning security before starting project construction, which may not be offset by the project’s salvage value.
“Ball Hill, and not the Towns, should bear the risk of salvage value volatility that may cause the net decommissioning cost to exceed the Decommisioning Security value,” the PSC stated.
According to the PSC’s order granting the certificate, Ball Hill Wind is expected to be operational by the end of 2020 and should have “a useful life of at least 20 years.” The PSC requires that the decommissioning security be provided to the towns in the form of a letter of credit and that funds must be available to the towns “over the entire course of the Project’s useful life.”
RES Project Manager Mark Lyons was pleased with the PSC’s decision to grant the certificate and that “the project has now secured all of its state level approvals.” Lyons also noted that in granting the certificate, the PSC determined than an evidentiary hearing was not needed because “a comprehensive environmental review of the project was conducted pursuant to SEQRA and, as required by SEQRA, the Villenova Town Board balanced the potential adverse environmental impacts against social, economic and other considerations.”
Many opponents of the project believe it bears further scrutiny by the DPS, especially the potential noise impacts. “Larger turbines produce more low-frequency noise,” Riggle stated. “The towns’ 50-decibel noise limit is a profit-driven recommendation of the wind industry – not protective according to WHO 2018, as sadly experienced by Arkwright residents.”
Fredonia resident Mark Twichell, who also owns property in Dayton, which will border the Ball Hill Wind Farm, also referenced the new World Health Organization 2018 noise guidelines. “At the CPCN hearing in February, I requested that PSC Administrative Law Judge Lecakes consider the recent finding by the WHO that wind turbine noise over 45 decibels is associated with adverse health effects,” said Twichell. “…The PSC has required wind energy developers in other parts of New York state, including those building the Cassadaga project, to produce less than 50 decibels.”
In their order granting the certificate, the PSC noted commenters’ concerns regarding the new WHO noise guidelines, which apparently came too late: “Commenters urged that the WHO Noise Recommendations be applied to the Project. The Commission notes that the WHO recommendations were issued after the SEQRA record closed. Therefore, the Commission will not supplant the standards utilized to undertake the SEQRA review …”
Villenova resident Tina Graziano expressed her disappointment in the PSC’s decision. “We deserved an evidentiary hearing,” she told the OBSERVER. “We are fighting for the God-given, fundamental absolute right to remain safe and healthy in our homes.”
The OBSERVER reached out to Villenova Town Supervisor Rich Ardillo for comment. “It is what it is,” he stated, regarding the granting of the certificate. “I have no other comments to add.”
Although the PSC expects the project to be operational by the end of 2020, Lyons told the OBSERVER that there are no specific details that can be shared about the project schedule at this point.
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