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Town takes on wind power debate

SOMERSET, N.Y. — If conscience has a color, it might be green.

AES Somerset’s presentation on commercial wind power met with fairly positive public reaction this week, as nearly 200 people assembled at the Barker Fire Hall to hear an AES manager’s description of the look, feel and potential impacts of siting a wind farm on the north edge of this lakeside agricultural town.

While critics of wind farms focus on the drawbacks of the enormous wind turbines planted in residential communities — their potential unsightliness, noise and hazards from ice throw to bird kills — town Supervisor John Sweeney Jr. thinks more people in town are inclined to look beyond their back yard. In the bigger picture, wind power can reduce pollution and cut American dependence on dirty, finite fossil fuels.

“People are thinking about the long term, about the next generation. That’s important,” Sweeney said. “We’re all concerned about rising energy prices. I’d say lessening the use of fossil fuels is a value of people in the town.”

Wind has economic value for AES, according to AES project manager Paul Burdick. The state Public Service Commission wants 25 percent of electricity sold in New York to be generated from renewable sources by 2013 and the company is... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  
AES Somerset’s presentation on commercial wind power met with fairly positive public reaction this week, as nearly 200 people assembled at the Barker Fire Hall to hear an AES manager’s description of the look, feel and potential impacts of siting a wind farm on the north edge of this lakeside agricultural town.

While critics of wind farms focus on the drawbacks of the enormous wind turbines planted in residential communities — their potential unsightliness, noise and hazards from ice throw to bird kills — town Supervisor John Sweeney Jr. thinks more people in town are inclined to look beyond their back yard. In the bigger picture, wind power can reduce pollution and cut American dependence on dirty, finite fossil fuels.

“People are thinking about the long term, about the next generation. That’s important,” Sweeney said. “We’re all concerned about rising energy prices. I’d say lessening the use of fossil fuels is a value of people in the town.”

Wind has economic value for AES, according to AES project manager Paul Burdick. The state Public Service Commission wants 25 percent of electricity sold in New York to be generated from renewable sources by 2013 and the company is poised to help vendors meet that mandate, he said.

On a more global scale, “If oil prices stay high ... wind is clearly competitive,” he added.

The global became local to Somerset more than a year ago, after AES officials floated a concept plan for a commercial wind farm to town planners.

The Town Board, knowing Somerset’s zoning code did not speak to the subject of turbine siting, declared a moratorium on construction in 2005 while it tried to pull together regulations.

The town had little to compare itself to — since wind mills are still basically in their infancy — and toward the end of two six-month moratoriums the board appeared ready to throw in the towel. In January, it tested the waters of a total ban on windmills and found public opinion overwhelmingly opposed. In February, Sweeney pulled together a special committee — of town, school and AES officials and residents — to get the regulations drafted; rules for siting commercial and residential windmills are being reviewed by the planning board this month.

Dayton Quiett of Haight Road counts himself among those supporting wind energy as a big-picture initiative.

“It’s like the president said, we’ve got to start using alternative energy and not buy so much foreign oil,” Quiett said. “We have to find other ways to run all our gadgets. It’s worth looking at.”

Because of siting, Somerset is one of a relative few places in New York where wind energy generation is financially feasible, according to Burdick. The minimum average wind speed needed to power turbines consistently, 11 to 13 mph, is found along the southern shore of Lake Ontario and northern Long Island; speed diminishes rapidly inland. Infrastructure for feeding the power grid already exists at AES Somerset, so transmission lines from the turbines need not be lengthy.

“I think we’ve got a great opportunity here to displace fossil fuels and help keep revenue in the state,” Burdick said.

Even those who might agree aren’t naive, though. When Burdick finished rolling out AES’ side of the wind story, he submitted to pointed questions from townspeople who want to know the bottom line: what’s in it for them if they agree to let AES dot their landscape with those huge turbines?

Questions about specifics — how many turbines, where and the like — are difficult to answer, Burdick said, because AES can’t draft a site plan showing turbine configuration until the town approves its regulations and the company has secured land lease deals with property owners.

Ideally the company would pursue a configuration that produces 70 megawatts of wind power. That would require 30 to 35 turbines on and near AES property, Burdick said. From ground level to the highest point of the arc on the rotor, the turbines would be about 410 feet tall, and the transmission lines from turbine to power collection point would be buried underground.

As for general benefits, he said:

— AES will negotiate leases with landowners, likely farmers, who get payments for the use of a small amount of land, clearance and access paths (about a quarter-acre per turbine) while continuing to farm the rest of their acreage.

— Because the turbines are not taxable, AES will negotiate a payment in lieu of taxes plan with the host county, typically $5,000 per year per megawatt of power produced, and a host community agreement with the host town, typically $1,000 per megawatt per year. The agreements are set for 20 years, before construction begins, so the company can budget the payments. At 70 megawatts, that’s $350,000 a year for Niagara County, Barker School District and other taxing entities and $70,000 a year for the Town of Somerset.

— AES cannot grant townspeople direct power cost cuts because it does not sell power to end users. It can, however, feed the power grid with cheaper, cleaner wind power and “displace” dirtier energy on the grid. On a macro level, power costs can be reduced for all end users including townspeople.

Joyce Bachman of Lake Road, who lives across the road from AES on property tentatively eyed for turbine siting, would like to think AES harnessing the wind could help it cut back coal-fired generation.

“It can’t be any noisier than it is now. The house shakes; it sounds like an earthquake,” she said. “I don’t mind the windmills. I don’t think they’ll be too bad.”

Marsha Koerner of Lake Road says she’d be willing to host a windmill for the project. She’s visited Clinton County, where several wind farms operate, and says the windmills look fine and their sound is almost imperceptible.

“I haven’t heard anything adverse from people I know who live there,” she said. “Personally, I like the look of them.”

Even though he raised to Burdick the specter of “trust” issues between the town and AES — the two have been engaged in long-running disputes about the plant’s assessment and its disposal of fly ash — Doug Lewis of Haight Road says he supports the concept too, for both “green” and local financial benefits.

“I’m all for it,” he said. “My land borders the school, so it probably wouldn’t be useful (to a project), but I wouldn’t mind living next to one.”


Source: http://www.cushingdaily.com...

APR 6 2006
https://www.windaction.org/posts/2066-town-takes-on-wind-power-debate
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