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Area Opinions Changing

Opinions shift on Rochester-area wind farmsWind-energy developers, who have flocked to the breezy hills south of Rochester, now are finding parts of the region a less-than-hospitable one.

A cross-border project has been blocked by local officials in Steuben and Yates counties, prompting aggressive lawsuits by the developer involved. Another wind-energy company just walked away from a planned project in Steuben County. And most recently, a Wyoming County citizens group has challenged a town board action that paved the way for a new wind project there.

Some say the shine has worn off an industry that in many communities had been welcomed both for its green image and its ability to pump money into the local economy. “I’m detecting a shift in the climate of opinion,” said Gary Abraham, a Cattaraugus County lawyer who has represented citizen groups in litigation related to wind projects.

The head of a statewide green-energy advocacy group said the public overwhelmingly supports wind energy, but despite that, discord and litigation in host communities has become an unfortunate fact of life. “Certainly it sends the message that it’s not going to be easy to get something done in New York. That being said, there are still a number of projects going forward,” said Carol Murphy, executive director of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York.

Indeed, the region remains a center of wind-energy development. Wyoming County has four wind farms with 236 turbines, more than any other county in the state. There is a working wind farm in Cohocton, Steuben County, as well. Those five projects have the capacity to generate up to 470 megawatts, which represents the electricity demand of about 200,000 households. Those 470 megawatts are a little more than a third of all the wind-generation capacity in the state. Nearly two dozen other wind-farm proposals in the Finger Lakes and western New York regions remain on the books of the agency that oversees New York’s electric grid, though developers have yet to make formal applications to town boards for many of them.

Of late, though, there has been a spate of controversy over the farms.

A citizens group in Orangeville, Wyoming County, filed suit last month against the Town Board there, asserting it had adopted an inadequate local wind-turbine siting law to make way for a 59-turbine wind project. That case has been assigned to a Supreme Court justice in Buffalo.

After supporting Ecogen Wind LLC’s 17-turbine proposal for years, the Town Board in Italy, Yates County, acknowledged growing citizen opposition by voting in October to kill the development. Observers said Italy’s board may have been the first in New York state to vote down a wind project. A suit by Ecogen asking a judge to override the Town Board and allow the project to proceed is pending before a state Supreme Court justice in Rochester.

Ecogen similarly sued the board in neighboring Prattsburgh, Steuben County, where the company has hoped to erect 16 more turbines. Pro-wind board members briefly settled the case in Ecogen’s favor before leaving office in December, but after a series of courtroom skirmishes, the newly seated Town Board canceled the settlement and declared a moratorium on wind-energy development in the town. Ecogen’s suit still is pending.

Another wind project proposed for Prattsburgh that had been in planning stages for years was formally canceled at the end of 2009. John Lamontagne, spokesman for developer First Wind, said the project was deemed expendable in light of the shaky economy. The Massachusetts company, which was given $75 million in federal stimulus aid in partial compensation for the 50-turbine farm it built in Cohocton, will pursue other projects in Erie County, New England, Utah and Hawaii, Lamontagne said.

Abraham, who represents the citizens group suing the Orangeville board, said he believes public opposition to wind developments is growing. Residents most often cite concerns about noise and the setback provisions that dictate how close turbines can be to homes and adjoining properties. He said, though, that he thinks elected officials often pay less attention to those concerns than they do to a project’s financial benefit to friends and family members. “They’re decided based on the importance the town (board) assigns to the money issue. That’s really the deciding factor. It’s not the environment,” Abraham said.

Murphy disputed the idea that people in host communities are turning against wind farms. “It’s the old adage about the silent majority. It doesn’t take more than a few people to stand up at a town board meeting and make a lot of noise and give people the impression there’s no support for it,” she said. Murphy cited a 2008 public opinion poll in Lewis County — home to Maple Ridge, which at a 322-megawatt capacity is the largest wind farm east of the Mississippi River — that found 71 percent of residents thought the wind farm had had a positive impact. Nearly 80 percent of respondents said they would support more turbines. “There’s always a lot of apprehension when there’s something new and something people aren’t used to seeing, but once they (turbines) are there we’ve found the level of support continues to grow over the years,” she said.

By Steve Orr, Staff Writer, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

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CPA to Host Meeting

Meeting on wind turbines in the works

South Bristol, NY — A coalition of groups concerned with industrial wind turbine development in the Finger Lakes region will bring together state and federal elected officials at a conference next month at Bristol Harbour Resort. Hosting the event will be Naples Town Supervisor Frank Duserick, with U.S. Rep. Eric Massa, D-Corning, as keynote speaker.

“We want a sane, rational energy policy,” said James Hall, a Cohocton resident with the event’s sponsor, Citizen Power Alliance. The alliance works to hold public officials and regulators accountable, while seeking to protect the public interest.

The goal of the invitation-only event is to get all the elected officials representing the region in the same room, he said, to discuss the effects of wind turbines, share insights regarding current regulations and offer recommendations for federal and state policies.

“These alternative-energy projects would not exist without federal and state government,” said Hall, referring to government subsidies. For example, he said, the company that put up wind turbines in Cohocton, south of Naples, received a cash grant of nearly $75 million in federal stimulus funds. Fifty turbines in Cohocton became operational last year.

Two other neighboring towns, Prattsburgh and Italy, are in disputes with wind turbine companies. In Prattsburgh, wind farm issues are back to square one. The Town Board earlier this month rescinded a legal settlement with wind farm developer Ecogen Wind LLC and took the first step toward enacting a moratorium on any wind farm-related development for six months.

In Italy, the Town Board late last year rejected an application by Ecogen to erect 17 turbines. Ecogen responded by filing an Article 78 action in state Supreme Court, seeking to overturn the board’s decision to stop the project by denying approvals and placing a moratorium on its development.

Hall said an attorney will also speak at the Feb. 16 conference, addressing legal issues with turbines. “There is an attempt to iron out realistic, protective laws that make sense,” said Hall.

By Julie Sherwood, staff writer, Messenger Post



First Wind Quits Prattsburgh

Wind Developer calls it quits in Prattsburgh

Prattsburgh, NY - One of two potential wind farm developers in the town of Prattsburgh announced Friday it is abandoning plans to put up nearly 50 turbines in the town.
First Wind spokesman John Lamontagne said lease holders for potential turbine sites have been notified of the firm’s decision, made at the end of December.

Lamontagne said First Wind’s decision to pull out was made after a careful, internal review of pending, “viable” projects. “We appreciate the support – and there was a lot of support – from the people in Prattsburgh,” Lamontagne said.

First Wind also drew a fair share of critics, particularly after it launched eminent domain procedures via a divided town board. Plagued by the economic downturn during the summer and fall of 2008, the developer announced a yearlong hiatus in 2009, in order to reassess its projects.

First Wind intends to pursue projects this year in Maine, Vermont, Utah and Hawaii, but remains committed to its projects in the town of Cohocton and Lackawanna, Lamontagne said.
He did not rule out the possibility of future development in Prattsburgh, “but we’d be back starting at ground zero, so it would be pretty difficult.”

Lamontagne said the decision to leave was not influenced by the disputes that erupted last year between second developer Ecogen, town residents, and some town board members. The disputes -- which were driven in part over concerns about excessive noise at First Wind’s operating wind farm in Cohocton -- led to angry charges from both sides, unseated two pro-wind board members in November and resulted in a flurry of lawsuits.

The new town board is now considering a six-month moratorium in order to review its comprehensive plan and possibly set up a zoning board.

Town Councilman Steve Kula wondered if the move would benefit the Ecogen project. “Does this open up more land, to identify possibly new sites for Ecogen?” he asked.

Kula has advocated for greater setbacks than those currently in place to ensure residents’ health and safety. “Before, you had two projects squeezed into one small town. First Wind had 50 (turbines),” Kula said. “Now you’ll have one project and more land. I don’t know. But maybe.”

Supervisor Al Wordingham said a First Wind representative left a message, but so far he has not spoken with the developer’s agent. “All I can say is, after the experience they had in Cohocton, which is less densely populated than Prattsburgh, maybe they just decided this is not a suitable place for any wind farm,” Wordingham said.



Legal Duel in Prattsburg

Judge won't OK Steuben wind-energy project, but it goes ahead anyway

A mid-December vote by a Steuben County Town Board that allows a controversial wind-energy project to go forward will stand, for now, without a judicial stamp of approval.

In a ruling released this morning, state Supreme Court Justice Stephen Lindley declined to give his legal imprimatur to a 3-to-2 vote by the Prattsburgh Town Board in favor of a legal settlement with Ecogen Wind LLC.

Buffalo-area Ecogen had sued the board in November to force approval of a 16-turbine wind farm in the hilly Steuben County town. The company has said it spent $13 million on studies, legal fees and other expenses related to the project, which also would feature 17 more 415-foot-high turbines in the neighboring town of Italy, Yates County.

Ecogen brought suit against Prattsburgh shortly after the Nov. 3 townwide election, in which voters chose a new supervisor and a new board member, both of whom are openly skeptical about the Ecogen project.

The company apparently feared that the new board, once seated this month, would kill the project, and it sued preemptively so that pro-wind town lawmakers would have an opportunity to approve a settlement before two of them left office. The terms of the settlement allowed the project to go forward unfettered.

Two wind skeptics already on the board unsuccessfully sought to persuade Lindley not block the lame-duck board from settling the lawsuit. At the same time, Ecogen’s lawyers asked Lindley to give his approval to the settlement, presumably so that it would be more difficult for the new board to overturn.

Lindley said in his ruling, however, that it was “unnecessary and superfluous” for him to approve the settlement. He also said in his ruling that he was not disapproving it, either, and said the question of whether the mid-December vote was proper had not been put before him.

The Prattsburgh board, which now splits 4-to-1 against the Ecogen project, is scheduled to meet this evening.

“I guess that’s a good thing,” said Steve Kula, a wind-skeptic board member, referring to Lindley’s refusal to approve the settlement. “But it sounds like there’s a lot that’s open-ended at this point.”

Kula said he expected the board would begin working on a wind-turbine moratorium in the town and “trying to unwind the position of the previous board.”

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Cohocton Project Hits News

Huffing and puffing over wind power

Did the federal government, as some have said, give millions of dollars in stimulus funds to a non-producing wind farm in the Southern Tier town of Cohocton? Not exactly.

Cohocton Wind is a 50-turbine project with a total 125-megawatt generation capacity - the potential to power 50,000 homes, say officials with First Wind, Cohocton Wind's parent company. In September, the project was awarded $74.6 million in federal stimulus funds from the US Departments of Energy and Treasury - part of a large block of funding meant to encourage renewable energy development nationwide.

That grant's come under protest, however, by Congress member Eric Massa, who wrote the president to ask that the funding be revoked.

"We should not be rewarding anything, let alone cash grants, to companies like this that have abused the public trust and created such a toxic atmosphere in our region on the topic of wind power," Massa wrote.

The project's been plagued by controversy, including lawsuits and an attorney general's office investigation into First Wind and other wind power development companies. Since the project came online in January, it's been dogged by questions about what it's actually producing electricity-wise - lately that's been one of the most persistent issues. Massa made the claim in his letter, which he sent in September, that the project wasn't producing any power, information he said he received from the organization that operates New York's power grid.

"Nobody knows what they produce or what they don't produce," Massa said in an interview last week. "They demand the privacy of a private corporation and the subsidies of a public utility."

But John Lamontagne, a First Wind spokesperson, says the turbines produced 133,370 megawatt hours of electricity from when they came online in January, to the end of September. That's enough energy to power 1,200 homes with average monthly electricity consumption...

Click here to read the entire City Newspaper article by Jeremy Moule.

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