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Wind Power Promises New Source of Funds for Towns

By Jeanne Sager
SULLIVAN COUNTY — March 16, 2007 — They’re talking money out of thin air – literally.
Monday night, representatives of the Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development (SASD), a four-year-old non-profit that’s fast becoming a household name, made their first of a slate of visits planned to local municipalities and other non-profits.
Making the rounds are Dick Riseling, an organic farmer from Callicoon Center; Dave Colavito, a Rock Hill engineer; and Ted Pilonero, a principal in a metal fabricating company in Monticello.
Armed with a copy of a 2005 study on the wind market in Sullivan County, the trio presented both the Town of Callicoon and Town of Fremont boards with the name of an upstate company founded by former gubernatorial candidate and billionaire creator of Paychex Tom Golisano.
Golisano’s Empire State Wind Energy is looking to build wind turbines that can turn the air we breathe into an alternative power source – a source Riseling said would be more cost-effective and significantly more environmentally friendly than electric or fossil fuels.
But the SASD reps aren’t trying to sell the plan on its earth friendly vibes.
They’re focused on the pocketbooks of town taxpayers.
“Not every town of course,” Riseling cautioned, “because not every town has wind, and we’re interested in the wind.”
The wind market study SASD helped create includes the wind speed of every 200 square meters of the county’s surface, the most in-depth in the state, Riseling said.
It proves the potential for a half a billion dollar industry.
Twelve sites were identified for on-site wind production and consumption – sites where wind energy could be produced and then used. Another six sites with the potential for utility-grade wind energy production were singled out, Riseling said, and that’s where the towns come in.
Empire State Wind Energy has put together a plan to come into towns in New York State, build utility grade turbines, take a cut of the profits, and turn the rest over to the towns.
In a place like the Town of Callicoon with elevations so high one can see New Jersey, that could mean as much as $2 million a year in pure profit, Riseling said.
If the towns don’t buy in, someone will, he warned – and that could mean mega-corporations waltzing into Sullivan County, harnessing the wind, and leaving taxpayers with nothing but a lot of revved up air.
He pointed to Madison County. The upstate municipality signed a deal with a company producing power through wind turbines that will guarantee the county $8,000 per year per megawatt of generation capacity.
“There’s a better alternative,” Riseling said.
The Empire State Wind figures show as much as $125,000 in profits for a 2 megawatt turbine each year for the first 10 years while the company is still paying off the largest capital expense.
That turbine would be double the size of a generator in Madison County, but the revenues are 15 times what the municipality is recouping from the developer.
“The pyramid of profit sharing is basically upside down,” Riseling noted.
The SASD reps are encouraging the towns of Callicoon, Fremont, Thompson, Forestburgh and Neversink and Rockland to get in on the ground floor.
Save the money turned over by Empire and build your own turbines to provide a revenue source for the town, Riseling suggested, or use the money to offset the tax levy.
In a town like Callicoon, where the amount of revenue raised by taxes is just under $2 million, a 20-turbine project could completely eradicate the town portion of residents’ tax bills, Riseling noted.
And according to the study, as many as 52 turbines could easily be built in the hilly areas of the towns of Fremont and Callicoon.
Colavito said the beauty of the plan is the flexibility offered by Empire State.
“They have two requirements,” Colavito said. “One is that the benefits stay local, and two is that they only come into a community that wants them.”
“They don’t want any fights,” Riseling piped in.
The company’s plans include ample time for public comment, and the business plan includes not only allotments for leasing land for the turbines from property owners but reimbursements for residents whose viewshed is affected.
Construction would include local contractors, and one new job would be created per turbine for maintenance.
Empire also offers a program that allows residents of a community that has signed onto the plan to purchase energy at a fixed rate.
Riseling said Empire guarantees at least $30,000 to a municipality even if the blade never turns on a turbine.
Both board and audience members asked the obvious question Monday night: “what’s the catch?”
Empire does take a management fee of $1,250 per turbine each year, and the turbines can’t be put up overnight.
There will have to be significant studies done to site them, and landowners will have to be found who are willing to lease sites.
Wind energy developers are coming, Riseling warned. It’s only a question of how they arrive.
Invited by the municipalities, the taxpayers win, he said.
“[Empire] wants to work with [the towns] because you pay your bills!” he said with a laugh.
Towns are being asked to pass a resolution inviting Empire to begin a study in the community.
Non-binding, the resolution is merely an invitation to get the ball rolling.
So far, Callicoon and Fremont have agreed to a visit. The Rockland visit was last night.
Thompson, Forestburgh and Neversink will hear the proposal from SASD in the coming weeks.
Callicoon Supervisor Gregg Semenetz said he’s willing to hear what the folks at Empire have to say.
“We need to look different options for our revenue streams that don’t hurt the local people,” he noted.

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