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Benefits of Wind Power Touted in NY

Acciona Energy is making the economic case for its St. Lawrence Wind Farm. The developer said the 76.5-megawatt (MW) project will result in about $20 million in lease payments to landowners and $20 million in payment-in-lieu-of-taxes revenue for local taxing jurisdictions. The developer also boasts the project will result in 150 temporary construction jobs and six to 10 permanent jobs.

"The economic benefits are clear," project manager Timothy Q. Conboy said. "The benefits that have been in other parts of New York will accrue to Cape Vincent, Lyme and Jefferson County if our project goes forward."

To prove its point, Acciona created a report on the economic effects of wind power development and its project in particular. The report, which will be distributed this week to town, school district and county officials, is partly in response to a Cape Vincent Wind Economic Impact Committee report. That report, available online, concluded that property values, school district and tourism would be hurt by the project.

"We didn't go through point-by-point and disagree," Mr. Conboy said. "But there are 14 operating wind farms in New York state and we have specific examples from those projects, which have had a significant, widespread benefit on the host communities. The Cape Vincent report ignored those."

In the towns of Cohocton, Eagle, Ellenburg, Fenner, Harrisburg and Sheldon, average estimated household income increased between 20 and 38 percent from 2000 to 2009, which covered the time turbines were placed in those towns. Median home or condo value also increased 28 to 72 percent, the report said.

Three of those towns reported a reduction or elimination of their town tax levy.

Acciona's report pointed to a U.S. Department of Energy-funded study by the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on property values. That study looked at nearly 7,500 family home sales from 10 study areas around 24 facilities and found no statistically significant effect on home sales prices.

St. Lawrence Wind Farm will require over $150 million in capital investment, the report said.

"We will use a lot of local materials and contractors for supplies," Mr. Conboy said.

Acciona will negotiate a PILOT agreement with the Thousand Islands Central School District, Lyme Central School District, towns of Cape Vincent and Lyme and Jefferson County.

The PILOT would likely last 20 years and look similar to the PILOT for Galloo Island Wind Farm, which starts with $8,500 per megawatt of capacity and a bonus when electricity prices run high. Acciona will negotiate the size of the PILOT with the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency, but expects to make about $20 million in payments over 20 years, which averages $13,000 per MW.

In the Galloo Island project, the PILOT's base payments will increase from $2.1 million, or $8,500 per MW, in year one, to $3.4 million, or $13,588 per MW, in year 20.

Acciona will pay another roughly $20 million to landowners who lease property for turbine placement. There are more than 50 landowners involved, Mr. Conboy said, which means the payments would average $20,000.

"The participating landowners -- the big ones -- are dairy farmers," he said. "Though the amount of money isn't huge, they will probably invest it in their dairy operation, so it will have a local economic impact."

The developer, as part of an agreement with the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, will spend $143,100 to improve historic sites in Cape Vincent and Lyme as a recognition of the change the turbines will have on the landscape around historic locations in the towns.

Though it was difficult to find statistics on tourism and wind farms, the report showed increases for Burnham Point State Park and Cedar Point State Park, two camping locations on the St. Lawrence River across from Wolfe Island from the year before the island's wind farm began operation to the year turbines started spinning.

"Generally speaking, our feeling is that this is an opportunity for the towns where they can have these economic benefits, but not have significant adverse impacts on the agricultural base and river tourism," Mr. Conboy said.

This article was originally published by the Watertown Daily Times and was reprinted with permission.

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