ELLICOTTVILLE – The Cattaraugus County Industrial Development Agency updated its eligible projects policy earlier this week in a way that could impact the proposed $455 million Alle-Catt Wind Farm.
The IDA Board of Directors was already working under a 2018 directive from the Cattaraugus County Legislature not to grant tax breaks to large industrial turbine projects.
The 340-megawatt Alle-Catt project, proposed by Invenergy, would have 117 industrial turbines 600 feet tall located in the towns of Farmersville and Freedom in Cattaraugus County, Rushford and Centerville in Allegany County and Arcade in Wyoming County.
The Allegany County and Wyoming County IDAs have already approved requests for payment in lieu of taxes (P.I.L.O.T.) agreements for Alle-Catt Wind Farm.
Invenergy officials have not asked the Cattaraugus County IDA for a similar P.I.L.O.T. agreement.
The P.I.L.O.T. for wind projects, similar to the many solar projects the IDA has approved, would be a set amount based on megawatts, which would be divided between the school district, county and town.
The Farmersville Town Board now has an anti-wind majority and a third member opposed to the wind farm was elected to the Freedom Town Board last month.
“Elections serve as a barometer of what the public wants,” said Corey Wiktor, UDA executive director.
The eligible projects policy was created in 2011 to set a basis for projects the IDA is allowed to participate in, Wiktor said Friday. He said the IDA learned a lot from the proposed Everpower wind project about 10 years ago in the town of Allegany. The controversial project showed a deeply divided community.
“We have a lot to juggle as an IDA,” Wiktor said.
He noted that if a host community does not have a comfort level with the project, or if there is a change in sentiment, the IDA won’t accept an application or schedule a public hearing on a project without a letter of support from the municipality and the residents under the revised eligible projects policy.
The County Legislature would also need to give the IDA approval to proceed.
In the case of Farmersville, Wiktor said sentiment seems to be running about 90% of residents opposed to the project. He told the IDA board on Tuesday he was not comfortable with getting a wind application knowing the local opposition.
IDA Chairman Thomas Buffamante said he thought the board’s wind policy should be beefed up. “Time is of the essence” he added.
The New York State Siting Board has given the green light to Invenergy to proceed with Alle-Catt under certain conditions, but the town of Farmersville and a Concerned Citizens group have appealed the board’s decision to the Fourth Department of State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division. Invenergy plans to begin construction in 2022.
Without a P.I.L.O.T. from the IDA, Invenergy would be faced with a massive property tax bill that would make the project unprofitable. Large wind and solar projects are dependent on generous federal and state subsidies.
Without almost half of the turbines in Farmersville and Freedom, the project as designed, could not be built, particularly since a main distribution line goes through the town of Freedom, opponents point out.
“We have a wind P.I.L.O.T.,” Wiktor said. “It doesn’t mean just any project can come in here and we’ll rubber stamp it.”
The projects create only a few jobs while providing a source of P.I.L.O.T. revenue for schools, towns and the county
If the Cattaraugus County IDA doesn’t grant the tax breaks, some are afraid that New York State would step in and provide tax breaks to advance alternative targets.
“That’s a slippery slope,” Wiktor said. “Any time New York State takes away Home Rule is a big concern.”