On Tuesday night December 29th, the Broome County Industrial Development Agency – also called the IDA or ‘the agency’ – held another public hearing about a revised PILOT agreement from Bluestone Wind LLC, the large industrial wind energy utility planned for the mountain ridges in Sanford and Windsor. The proposal consists of increasing fixed payments over the course of the lifespan of the project, instead of the real property taxes it would owe under a full taxation scheme. Initially this period had been 30 years but was now lowered to 20.
Opponents of the project said the last thing Bluestone wind LLC needed was ‘more money from the public’. According to local resident Cassie Woodford, who had used a model developed by Guilford residents to produce an extensive cost-benefit analysis from wind energy projects, the project would create a net loss for the community of as much as 3.9 Million dollars a year. In the end, only very few people would really profit from this huge sacrifice, she said during the previous IDA PILOT hearing. The substantial loss in property values alone will not compensate for the income the PILOT and lease agreements produce, said several other residents. They also reiterated the many issues with the project that are still not resolved – ranging from unproven and unsafe distances from homes, to inadequate lighting design agreements, inadequate mitigation and recording of eagle collisions, to an underestimated budget for decommissioning that could leave the towns with a turbine graveyard when the turbines are obsolete. Some pointed out how the energy produced by these turbines isn’t even going to hit the NYS market.
Their concerns were drowned out by the many union workers that had been orchestrated by Chris Stanton, project developer for Northland, and who insisted they needed the local temporary construction jobs the project would provide. There are only 70 short-term construction jobs expected to result from the project, and 2 permanent jobs – a very low number for a project to warrant a PILOT agreement this size. County Executive Jason Garner made an emotional appeal that they need to close budget gaps due to COVID and something ‘to look forward to’ in these times of need. Windsor Town Supervisor Caroline Price came out in strong favor of the project, saying she wants the money from developing resources like wind.
Anne Lawrence, co-chair BCCR, said the IDA should use their authority to ensure the project is sited more responsibly. She said they could have approved the PILOT under the condition that some of the most negative impacts of the construction and operation of the project would be fixed – issues the State had no interest in addressing – in order to qualify for local financial aid. That they did nothing to mandate ‘a less invasive project for all’ was a big disappointment.
She continued, “Clearly, the State administration wants this utility as they need to show progress with their ambitious build-out of renewables. This is Cuomo’s baby. In order to get these developers to come here, they give them almost ‘carte blanche’, pardoning major environmental impacts on wildlife and human health. The developer is only interested in the bottom line, and will not mitigate any negative impacts unless somebody with the authority to do so will force them to pay for this. They need to be held accountable. That’s where the IDA could have levied some conditions on the project, like the fact that it MUST comply with our local law in order to qualify for local tax breaks.
Presently the developer has the most lax ‘Complaint Resolution Protocol’ in place with no requirements to immediately fix issues that could arise once the turbines would start spinning. 400 Residences in the project area have been identified as ‘flicker recipients. So many families and children are going to be exposed to excessive noise and shadow flicker in their own home! Why couldn’t the IDA sit down with these residents and help develop a complaint resolution protocol that would minimize these grueling invasions? Or demand from the developer that they should minimize other impacts of the facility, like proposing the least invasive lighting there is, rather than some synchronize red blinking lights on top of every turbine that can be seen 26 miles away. This alone will have a huge impact on property values and quality of life, as people will not like living next to what feels like an airstrip at night.”
As it turned out, the IDA had already included PILOT payments from the project in their 2021 budget, making it hard to believe they came into the hearing with an ‘open mind’, Said Lawrence: “It was always ‘all about the money’ – never about ‘green energy’. That’s a guise that plays very well with the general public that can’t see the local impacts on host communities, and thus they call us ‘NIMBY sayers’. While this whole procedure been very disheartening, we are still counting on an objective court ruling through our article 78 appeal case, which hopefully will grant us some of the much needed relief by an independent judge.”
Lawrence also said that BCCR had put the IDA on notice that the PILOT agreement as proposed, is in fact illegal under the General Municipal Law § 854(16) which demands a more even distribution of the payments to all tax jurisdiction involved, and does not allow any of the ‘side agreements’ Sanford has been making under the Host Community Agreement and the Road Use Agreement. “The developer can turn around and refuse to pay, or the next developer that buys up the project could do this. Calpine, the original developer, already sold the project and these projects routinely change hands. They could leave the towns with nothing. Demanding full taxation would have been much better for everybody”, she said.
Lawrence continued: ‘So many aspects of this project have been skimming the law here, or even blatantly crossing the line. Our Town Boards did nothing to help, claiming ‘they didn’t want to get involved’. Meanwhile Dewey Decker is getting a $250.000 bribe in the form of a huge new grater for his road maintenance, and he wants the PILOT money to build a new garage for it. It’s simply scandalous. And the developer counts on the fact that poor communities won’t have the budget and energy to fight them’. Well… we just have to keep surprising them then, won’t we”?