NRShiftingwinds2.docGolisano, once opposed to wind farm, now in mind power business
The organizer of a local citizens group opposed to an industrial wind farm project on the Cohocton hilltops surrounding Naples said last week that an alternative plan being advanced by Victor billionaire B. Thomas Golisano would be more environmentally acceptable and financially attractive.
Golisano's startup Empire Wind Energy LLC "has expressed a willingness to put up towers that are more in line with what the community desires - towers that would be about 200 feet high instead of the 423-foot tall towers" proposed by a competing, out-of-state-based UPC Technologies wind power corporation, said Jim Hall, former owner of the Naples Hotel and organizer of the Cohocton Wind Watch group. "The sort of wind farms being proposed by Empire would not have the adverse effect on property values and on tourism around the Canandaigua Lake and Naples and Finger Lakes area that the UPC plan would cause."
If the UPC project now being considered by town officials goes through, Cohocton could find its hilltops lined with from 50 to more than 100 towers, each taller than Rochester's Xerox Building and with overhead power lines connecting the monoliths, said Hall.
In contrast to the town-favored UPC project, Hall said he and others in the community were favorably impressed by a presentation that Golisano and his business partner, Keith Pittman, gave on their alternative wind farming project last week at Cohocton Elementary School. An estimated 200 area residents attended the presentation, and some - citing Golisano's past criticism of electricity-generating wind turbine projects earlier proposed for Italy, Prattsburgh, Cohocton and other communities - said they were skeptical of his intent.
Cohocton Supervisor Jack Zigenfus, who has supported wind turbine projects, did not return a reporter's phone calls.
Pittman said last week the plan that he and Golisano are advancing around the state is one that would also return more money to local property owners and town governments than those being touted by UPC and another wind farm group, Ecogen, in Prattsburgh, Italy and other locations.
Pittman said that after their presentation in Cohocton last week, he and Golisano "have received a tremendous outpouring of support from the community" and also received expressions of interest from some town board members who in the past have supported the UPC project.
James Sherron, executive director of the Steuben County Industrial Development Agency (SCIDA) which has incurred the ire of wind turbine opponents by offering incentives to corporations for wind farm development, said he and other county officials also are open to doing business with Empire if they can prove their project superior to those advanced by out-of-state developers.
"We would support any project that would create jobs and support capital investment in our region," Sherron said. "As long as they're talking about renewable energy sources, we are very interested in supporting it."
Sherron said SCIDA is "working as the lead agency in the SEQR (environmental review) process for Prattsburgh and a number of other windmill projects," and offering assistance and incentives such as payments in lieu of taxes.
Although the Cohocton Wind Watch Group and others say that the sheltered Finger Lakes and Southern Tier regions of Upstate New York are not subject to consistent winds patterns powerful enough to generate electricity at levels that would make regional wind farms cost-effective, Sherron said studies have disproved that contention.
"It's pretty conclusive," that sufficient wind is available year-round to spin the giant rotor blades and generate electricity, said Sherron. "There are all sorts of maps showing that the region has sufficient wind resources, and they've placed (test) towers to measure them."
Although the Golisano project "sounds like a good idea," Sherron said, he would like "to see the mechanics of how it would work." And if the project proves feasible and superior to other proposals "We would support such an effort if it comes to fruition."
Pittman said Empire's approach is being better received than proposals by UPC and Ecogen, which have divided the residents of Italy, Prattsburgh and Cohocton into bitter pro-and anti-wind turbine camps. Unlike other wind power developers, Pittmann said "We are making an effort to design a project around what community stakeholders feel is important."
While the other companies have threatened lawsuits and approached town officials and property owners individually to line obtain leases and line up deals without o"overal! community approval, "Ours is more of a peer-partner approach," Pittman said. "We really want to be more of a partner, and we're kind-of leaving it up to the communities to tell us what they think would work best for them and what they want."
Pittman said that in addition to assuring that potentially disruptive wind turbines be sited and built in accordance with community concerns about safety, noise and visual pollution, the Empire project would return a whopping 10 times the economic payoff to area communities than that being offered by government-subsidized, out-of-town - and out-of-country - parent corporations behind other regional turbine projects.
Pittman charged that the main objective of many of those touting turbine projects involve cashing in on government subsidies being offered by state and federal legislators and officials stampeded by high oil and energy prices into pumping tax dollars into alternative energy projects - regardless whether those alternative sources have proven viable.
"What we've been seeing is that of the profits and dollars that stand to be generated, something like 95 percent of those benefits are ending up somewhere else - not in New York State and some not even in our country. Our feeling is that it would be best to capture as much of this benefit and profit as can be kept right in a local community," said Pittman, an engineer and former power plant operator who has served as a consultant on energy and power generation projects around the state.
Building projects that are approved by communities and return the lion's share of any profits to those communities that host the potentially disruptive turbines "just seems to us like a common sense approach," he said.
Although Empire "is not opposed to large wind farm projects if that's what a community wants ... There's just no reason to go large if it turns out you can get the same benefit by building something smaller," said Pittman. "A smaller project that produces a larger benefit and is less intrusive, less visually disruptive, more environmentally friendly - it's just a more efficient way to go. It's a better idea than what has been proposed for some of these communities."
Golisano was unavailable for comment last week, but Pittman said the billionaire Paychex founder and former wind farm critic decided to get involved in the new business venture as a means of "going beyond criticism and using his resources to provide a more constructive solution to a problem."
"It's true that Tom was anti-wind power and now he's in the wind power business... Rather than just criticizing, Tom said 'Maybe I can do something,' and he started doing his homework that led him to the realization that it would be a tremendous opportunity for New York State to have these projects done in this fashion."
Before the emergence of the Empire alternative, "Communities didn't have a whole lot of options," said Pittman. "All the developers had the same message: We will come in and make a fortune for ourselves and leave you with something that may or may not turn out to be significant."
Pittman said Empire has been invited to present its alternative wind power proposals for residents and officials in the town of Italy, and hopes for a chance to meet with the Prattsburgh community.
"There are those in these communities who say 'It's all set, we've got a wind power developer down here and we don't need your help thank you very much,'" he acknowledged.
In Cohocton, "We've invited town officials to sit down at the table with us and try to work out' some kind of arrangement, and we're hopeful that will happen. I think it helped that we took the time to go down there and dispel a lot of the myths and rumors regarding Tom's being perceived as anti-wind power in some circles."