A combined $34 million tax incentive package for an eastern Broome County wind installation was rejected Wednesday by the Broome County Industrial Development Agency.
Several board members questioned the economic benefits of the 27-turbine project, which promised two full-time permanent jobs and 70 construction jobs over the two-year length of the construction process.
“This type of project leaves us nothing when it’s over,” said Jim Peduto, one of five members opposing the package of incentives proposed. He termed the deal nothing but “a transfer payment and a subsidy.”
Three members, including chairman John Bernardo, voted to approve the tax package.
The action throws the project into limbo as the local tax reductions were considered critical for construction to move forward. However, the vote also represents a significant victory for many residents in the towns of Sanford and Windsor who had long fought the installation on aesthetic and environmental grounds.
Despite the setback, Bluestone sponsors vowed to press on.
“Bluestone Wind has been planning to start clearing trees on the wind project in early 2021, which would trigger an immediate payment of almost $926,000 to the towns, school districts and county at a time when tax revenues have fallen off dramatically, with additional significant payments thereafter,” said Chris Stanton, Bluestone development manager. “While today’s vote by the IDA is a setback for the project and puts that infusion of local funding in doubt, Northland Power remains committed to working with the IDA and other local entities to move this important project forward.”
In explaining his vote against the tax package, Dan Crocker, a plumbers and pipe fitters union official, said there were “too many variables” to accept the deal as proposed.
Agency members denied the incentives even as a representative of Broome County Executive Jason Garnar urged support, saying construction would create high-paying trades jobs that would aid in the post-virus recovery.
Kevin McManus, deputy Broome County executive, said the county views Bluestone Wind “as a major investment in Broome County, which we see as vital.”
Under terms of the deal, Bluestone Wind would pay $231,000 in property taxes in the first year – to be split between the Windsor and Deposit school districts, the towns of Windsor and Sanford, respective fire districts and Broome County – on the estimated $213 million investment, according to documents submitted to Broome County.
By the end of the 30-year agreement, the annual payment-in-lieu-of-taxes would rise to $411,000.
Existing taxpayer support cited
Sponsors said the tax break would be offset by an additional $936,000 annually through a previously negotiated Host Community Agreement, bringing total annual payments to eastern Broome taxing authorities in the first years of the agreement to $1.1 million.
“It’s refreshing to see local officials doing the responsible thing and carefully scrutinizing these sorts of proposals,” said Ken Girardin, a policy fellow at the right-leaning Empire Center in Albany. “Renewable energy developers are gorging on public subsidies, and the IDA made the right call not to serve up another helping.”
IDA Board Member Richard Bucci, formerly Binghamton mayor, also noted that 40% – $86 million – of the project’s total cost is being covered by state and federal subsidies, noting “significant tax involvement” already exists for the installation.
“We heard a number of questions and comments from board members today that have either been addressed in our state permitting process or that we are willing to look into further,” Stanton of Bluestone said. “We look forward to working with the board to address their concerns as best we can.”
Though Calpine Inc. has long been the public face of the project and was the company responsible for obtaining the necessary permits, the Houston-based energy company sold its interest in the project and a nearby wind installation in Guilford, Chenango County, to Northland Power in May.
Based on designs, 23 towers would be spread across Sanford, many visible from Route 17, and another four in Windsor. Some of the largest turbines could measure 670 feet in height from base to the top of the blade tip.
Bluestone turbines would produce enough juice to supply about 20,000 residences at full capacity.
Aside from the towers, the project is designed to include access roads to the turbines, along with electric collection lines, a substation, among other facilities to be included in construction.
Three separate tax incentives requested
In addition to the property tax abatement, the project would escape an estimated $8.8 million in costs through a sales tax exemption and $1.9 million in forgiven mortgage taxes. All told, with fees, sponsors have requested that $33.8 million in taxes and other charges be exempted.
Sanford residents mounted a spirited fight to derail the installation, saying the 60-story-high towers are incompatible with the rural, forested environment. Wildlife experts said turning turbine blades represent a hazard to migrating and resident bald and golden eagles.
New York utility regulators turned aside objections, approving the project last December even as the two local representatives on the Public Service Commission Sighting Board criticized the initiative.
“The IDA focused on economic impacts for the region, and recognized that this project would bring nothing to us as far as jobs or other net benefits or long-term value, and therefore this project does not deserve local tax breaks,” said Town of Sanford resident Anne Lawrence, a leader in the effort to derail the wind farm.
Calpine, along with a host of other recently approved wind projects across upstate New York, would assist in achieving the state’s ambitious goal of 70% of the state’s electric generation coming from renewable sources by 2030, and 100% by 2040.
The ultimate objective: an 85% reduction in carbon emissions from electric generation within the next 20 years.
By Bluestone’s estimates, the Sanford and Windsor installations would offset 73,000 short tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually from conventional power plants and on annual basis.