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Developing wind farm in New York is no breeze  

Credit:  By Jimmy Vielkind | The Wall Street Journal | Updated Nov. 3, 2019 | www.wsj.com ~~

LOWVILLE, N.Y.—Calvin Roes can see wind turbines peaking over the hill west of his dairy farm, and more if he looks north into the neighboring town. He is frustrated that a new development is stalled.

It has been more than three years since Mr. Roes, 60 years old, agreed to host part of the Invenergy’s proposed 106-megawatt wind farm, called Number Three, on his land. The lease will mean new roads to his fields and a welcome stream of cash

“It would take a lot of pressure off, and for dairy right now, we could use some supplemental income,” Mr. Roes said.

But after an extra back-and-forth with regulators and an unexpected delay in August, the developers of Number Three say it is in jeopardy. It also isn’t the only project that has stalled: 15 other land-based wind farms are currently awaiting approval by a state siting board created under a 2011 law called Article 10.

Electrical-generating facilities are often controversial in the communities that host them, and projects along Lake Ontario and in the North Country have fizzled amid concerns about noise, view-sheds and impacts to migrating birds.

Developers say the case of Number Three, though, shows that the new state process is delaying projects even where there isn’t a major Nimby contingent. More than 50 large-scale power projects have sought to be built under the Article 10 law, according to the New York State Public Service Commission, including 19 wind farms. Three wind projects were withdrawn, three have been approved, and none is under construction.

“It’s not working well,” Anne Reynolds, executive director of the Association for Clean Energy in New York, a group of renewable-energy developers, said of Article 10. “The state needs to bring a sense of urgency to the process in light of their very ambitious goals.”

She was referring to a law signed in July by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that mandates an 85% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions below 1990 levels across all sectors of New York’s economy by 2050.

The 16 pending wind projects have a generating capacity of 3,117 megawatts; New York’s existing wind farms now have generating capacity of 1,739 megawatts, or about 4% of the state’s total capacity, according to a report by the New York Independent System Operator, which oversees the state’s electrical grid.

When it was adopted eight years ago, Article 10 was meant to streamline the process for greenlighting power generation. Before 2011, any wind farm required a state environmental review and was subject to local zoning laws. If the government of a town opposed a project, it was easily scuttled.

Article 10 created a state-level board with representatives from five state agencies and two local ad-hoc appointees chosen for each project. The siting board’s job is to balance all of the interests involved and ensure broad public participation, according to James Denn, a spokesman for the Public Service Commission. The board has the ability to override a local ordinance if it deems the law unreasonably burdensome.

Developers must outline a public involvement plan and wait at least eight months before they can file their formal application. They must also submit up to $400,000 in intervenor funds that localities or project opponents can tap to hire experts. State reviewers find and point out deficiencies in applications, and schedule a public hearing after it is deemed complete.

Marguerite Wells, the project manager for Number Three, filed her first document in May of 2016. She met with snowmobile clubs, farmers, town-board members and even officials from Fort Drum, the nearby U.S. Army base.

Opposition from homeowners has stopped several wind farms, including Avangrid Inc.’s North Ridge wind farm in St. Lawrence County and Apex Clean Energy’s Lighthouse Wind along the southern shore of Lake Ontario. In both cases, municipalities passed local laws restricting where turbines could be sited.

Opponents of Number Three include Rebecca Sheldon, who helped organize the Tug Hill Alliance for Rural Preservation. She said it has two-dozen members—three live in the area where Number Three will be built—who have concerns about how turbines will affect the view, as well as the long-term exposure to noise.

“When you find out they’re going to be in your backyard and literally surrounding your farm in every direction, you start to put a little more thought in it,” said Mrs. Sheldon, who hopes to resettle on a farm in the project area.

The group hasn’t gained much traction, which Ms. Wells credited to existing wind farms like Maple Ridge, which has 195 turbines in Lowville and nearby towns. Money from that project has fueled renovations at the local school district and held taxes down in a rural area that is characterized by dairy farming and is home to the plant that makes Philadelphia Cream Cheese.

Instead, Ms. Wells blamed the state for the delays to Number Three. In 2018, the siting board sent two rounds of deficiencies to the project application, creating an unforeseen three-month pause. Officials asked for information about grassland birds—something not required of the successful wind-farm applicants.

“You can’t assume that previous projects set any precedent, so you don’t know what the bar is. You try to design to what the last approval was, and they change the bar on you,” she said.

Mr. Denn said every project is different, so it often isn’t possible to apply standards from one development to another. The state has hired more employees to review Article 10 projects, Mr. Denn said, and it has met the statutory time limits on every project. Number Three is set to be considered on Nov. 12.

Ms. Wells is worried that it could be too late. Number Three was financed with the expectation that it would receive a full load of the federal production tax credit, which will begin drawing down at the end of 2020. To qualify, a project must be operational by year’s end—something that winter weather will make difficult.

“We can’t build a project that’s in the red,” she said.

Source:  By Jimmy Vielkind | The Wall Street Journal | Updated Nov. 3, 2019 | www.wsj.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments to query/wind-watch.org.

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