ALBANY – The New York State Siting Board denied petitions Friday from the towns of Farmersville and Freedom for a rehearing of the board’s approval June 3 of the Alle-Catt wind farm.
The proposed $455 million project spanning five towns in three counties would consist of 117 600-foot-tall wind turbines capable of generating 340 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 134,000 homes for a year.
In a virtual meeting Friday morning, members of the state Board on Electrical Generation and the Environment agreed that local laws calling for lower turbine heights and greater setbacks passed this year in Farmersville and Freedom would not be considered because they were approved after a mid-December deadline.
The official who recommended the Alle-Catt project be approved in June was in charge of making Friday’s recommendation to the siting board to deny the petitions for a rehearing. Any municipal actions since the record closed in December will not be considered.
The Farmersville Town Board argued in a letter to the Siting Board that it committed an error in not considering Local Law 4 of 2020, which was more restrictive and protective than the 2019 wind law it replaced.
A letter from the Zoghlin Group, the law firm representing the Freedom Town Board, said the town “expects the Siting Board will apply the recently-adopted and updated wind energy facilities law.”
Attorney Gary Abraham, who represents Freedom United and Farmersville United, groups of local residents opposed to the wind farm, was disappointed the Siting Board didn’t consider his proof that the Alle-Catt electricity can’t be delivered over a broken transmission system.
“It won’t displace any fossil fuels, only other wind farms,” Abraham told the Olean Times Herald after the board’s decision Friday. “It won’t have any effect on climate change.”
Both the towns of Farmersville and Freedom have local laws in effect that include turbines on towers 450 feet or less instead of 600 feet sought by Invenergy, the Alle-Catt developer.
“Article 10 says you must apply new local laws,” Abraham said. The Siting Board said it doesn’t apply and there was no hearing on a waiver.
“It’s not over,” Abraham insisted.
“Cattaraugus County is helping us in two ways,” he said. First, the county has refused to allow a road-use agreement for vehicles hauling wind turbine components to use any county roads.
Secondly, the county’s Industrial Development Agency board of directors “has consistently said it will not give tax breaks unless the towns want (the projects),” Abraham said.
“These are serious obstacles,” he added.
Without the tax breaks and payment in lieu of tax (P.I.L.O.T.) agreements, the wind turbines would be taxed at full value, which is not sustainable, Abraham noted.
In addition, the Cattaraugus County Planning Board disapproved of the initial local laws in Farmersville and Freedom relating to Alle-Catt. Its reasons were twofold: The 33% increase in the height of the turbines and that they would have a significant intercommunity impact on neighboring towns, and that the turbines were inconsistent with the goal of protecting the natural beauty that makes Cattaraugus County the Enchanted Mountains.
Abraham said he also believes Alle-Catt will be unable to meet nighttime noise standards of 40 dBL. “We don’t think they can comply with that.”
The Cattaraugus County Industrial Development Agency chairman, Thomas Buffamante, said the IDA’s position on projects is generally it will not support them in the face of local opposition, which appears to be the case in Farmersville and Freedom.
The County Legislature has asked the IDA to refuse to give tax breaks to large industrial turbine wind farms because they do not fit the character of the rural area that relies heavily on tourism.
“That doesn’t mean we would say no,” Buffamante cautioned. “We don’t have an application now, so it is not a problem.”
Buffamante added: “We are not encouraging (Invenergy) to submit an application. We told them if they did, we would probably table it.”
The process is still subject to lawsuits and it’s not clear whether the state will somehow force them on towns and bypass the IDA.
“I don’t think we have to give them a P.I.L.O.T., but we don’t know what the state is going to do,” Buffamante said. “The only tax-exempt process now is the P.I.L.O.T.”
Farmersville Deputy Supervisor Mark Heberling also expressed disappointment in the Siting Board’s refusal to grant a rehearing on the Alle-Catt Wind Farm approval with conditions.
“It’s a slap in the face” to the town residents who elected a majority of board members who wanted lower height limits on the turbines, bigger setbacks from property lines and quieter noise limits.
“Don’t give up hope,” Heberling said. “We’re still fighting it. How do you ignore a (town) law on the books?”
Meanwhile, Invenergy is still pushing a lawsuit against the Farmersville Town Board and both Farmersville United and Freedom United are pushing ahead with lawsuits against Invenergy.
The Farmersville Town Board is also considering moving forward with a lawsuit against the Siting Board, Heberling indicated.
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