Giant wind farm buying leases in WNY
Brian Tumulty, USA Today
WASHINGTON – The coal-fired Somerset Power Station’s 600-foot smokestack on the Lake Ontario shoreline in Niagara County could be joined in the next couple of years by several dozen wind turbines feeding electricity into the same transmission line.
The Lighthouse Wind project is one of several proposed wind farms under development in New York, which could see a decade of wind energy growth and become a top-tier state producing such energy.
Other proposed projects include Galloo Island in eastern Lake Ontario between the Canadian border and Watertown, and one in Enfield near Ithaca, where nearby Cornell University is helping finance the project by agreeing to buy the electricity.
New York already has 21 wind farms — all of them upstate — generating about 3 percent of the state’s electricity. Wind power in New York grew from 48 megawatts in 2005 to 1,746 megawatts at the end of 2014.
But New York ranks far behind states such as Iowa and South Dakota that produce more than one-quarter of their electricity from wind energy.
California Gov. Jerry Brown announced in January that his state would set a goal of producing 50 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2030. That ups the ante from the current goal of 33 percent by 2020.
A new U.S. Energy Department report expected this spring predicts wind energy will produce 10 percent of electricity nationwide by 2020 and 20 percent by 2030. The department estimates that by 2030, 30 states will each produce one gigawatt of electricity using wind power.
The downside for New York is that none of the wind farms are in the Hudson Valley, New York City or Long Island, where most of the state’s power consumption occurs.
In December, the Long Island Power Authority declined to purchase electricity from the proposed Deepwater ONE wind farm about 30 miles off Montauk Point in the Atlantic Ocean. The 210-megawatt project’s reported $1 billion-to-$1.5 billion cost made it too expensive for the authority.
The Lighthouse Wind project near the Somerset coal plant would produce almost as much electricity at less than one-quarter that cost.
The 675-megawatt Somerset coal plant sits on 1,800 acres that the original owner, New York State Electric & Gas, envisioned as the possible site of a second plant.
Now owned by Upstate Power Producers, the Somerset plant’s owners have discussed using some of their land for an undetermined number of windmills proposed by Apex Clean Energy of Charlottesville, Va., according to Town Supervisor Dan Engert.
Lighthouse Wind could generate enough electricity to power 53,000 homes at a construction cost of about $230 million, Engert said. The wind farm would have 67 to 70 wind turbines, each producing up to 3.3 megawatts, depending on the size of the towers and turbines. Some of the towers could rival the height of Somerset’s smokestack, which can be seen for miles, depending on the vantage point. The blade tip of the tallest towers could reportedly reach 570 feet.
The area under consideration for the wind turbines also has several large farms. One of them, Atwater Farms in Somerset, has agreed to host some of the windmills. Ben Atwater and his brother, Seth, are the sixth generation of their family to operate the dairy farm, which owns 1,200 acres and leases another 600 acres.
“I think it’s good to have energy diversity,” Ben Atwater said. “I am not opposed to coal by any means. I think the environmental restrictions on coal are a bit too severe.”
But the Somerset Power coal plant operates at only about 50 percent to 75 percent of capacity, according to its owner. That has led to a property tax reduction and loss of municipal and school district revenue that the proposed wind farm could help offset.
Each tower would be set back from the road and any buildings, Atwater said.
“The biggest footprint is going to be the driveway to get to them,” he said. Atwater welcomes the extra income that leasing his land would bring and the extra tax revenue the local community would receive.
Engert said local residents largely support the proposed wind farm, and most opposition comes from outside the community.
At least one Facebook page, Save Ontario Shores, has developed to oppose the wind farm in shoreline communities of Niagara and Orleans counties.
The biggest market for wind power is in downstate areas that lack the transmission lines to benefit from it, a drawback to developing more wind farms. Another drawback was the December expiration of the federal renewable electricity production tax credit, which has helped finance many wind farms.
The tax credit was renewed retroactively by Congress in December, but only to cover wind projects that began construction in 2014. Those still in the planning stage won’t qualify.
The credit dates back to the Energy Policy Act of 1992 but has lapsed four times, including most of last year. Each time the tax credit expires, the industry enters a “valley of death'” period in which new projects are shelved, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).
“It’s clearly a matter of time before the industry will slow down,” said Rob Gramlich, AWEA’s senior vice president for government and public affairs. To keep the industry on track, Congress must renew the tax credit, he said.
V. John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies in Sacramento, Calif., also expressed disappointment that Congress allowed the tax credit to expire, but he’s not as pessimistic about the impact.
“It’s certainly going to slow things down, but I think there is a significant opportunity because the economics of wind technology have improved steadily and so costs are much lower,” White said. “I think in some parts of the country where they have very good capacity factors and an appetite for new power resources, the market will continue.”
Jason Furman, chairman of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, said last week that he’s optimistic about the future of wind energy and other renewable energy sources. He said EPA limits on greenhouse gas emissions will increase development of renewable energy even if the wind energy tax credit isn’t renewed.
Furman noted that the Obama administration favors renewing the tax credit and making it permanent.
At the state level, the New York Renewable Portfolio Standard, which sets a long-term goal for developing energy sources such as wind, solar and hydroelectricity, expires at the end of this year.
“The wind industry is waiting with bated breath” for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to announce his strategy for a new Renewable Portfolio Standard, said Anne Reynolds, executive director of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York. The alliance represents environmental groups and companies involved in clean-energy industries such as wind and solar.
The Renewable Portfolio Standard is a way to entice wind energy companies to develop projects in New York instead of other states by guaranteeing a market for renewable energy and often offering grant money. The District of Columbia and 29 states have renewable energy standards and nine have non-binding goals, so the expiration of New York’s could prompt investors to put their money elsewhere.
Wind farms operating in NY
There are 21 upstate wind farms in New York. None are in the Albany area, the Hudson Valley, New York City or Long Island.
Two are on the eastern shore of Lake Erie in Lackawanna, three are in the Southern Tier, five are in Wyoming County, four are in the Adirondack North Country near the Canadian border, and the remainder are in central New York around the Tug Hill Plateau and Utica.
Here’s a summary of the wind farms by region, along with the names of their owners, where they’re located, the date they began service and their electrical capacity. The farms produce a total 1,746 megawatts of power.
Southern Tier (3)
•Marsh Hill Energy; Marsh Hill Wind Farm; Jasper; 12/1/2014; 16.2 megawatts
•Canandaigua Power Partners; Canandaigua Wind Power; Avoca; 12/5/2008; 125 megawatts
•Howard Wind; Howard Wind; Howard; 12/1/2011; 57.4 megawatts
Lake Erie (2)
•Commerce Energy; Steel Wind; Lackawanna; 1/23/2007; 20 megawatts
•Erie Wind; Erie Wind; Lackawanna; 2/1/2012; 15 megawatts
Wyoming County in western New York (5)
•Noble Bliss Windpark; Bliss Wind Power; Bliss; 3/20/2008; 100.5 megawatts
•Noble Wethersfield Windpark; Wethersfield Wind Power; Wethersfield; 12/11/2008; 126 megawatts
•Sheldon Energy; High Sheldon Wind Farm; Sheldon; 2/1/2009; 112.5 megawatts
•Stony Creek Energy; Orangeville Wind Farm; Orangeville; 12/1/2013; 94 megawatts
•Western New York Wind Corp.; Western New York Wind Power; Wethersfield; 10/1/2000; 6.6 megawatts
Adirondack North Country (4)
•Marble River; Marble River Wind; Ellenburg; 7/1/2012; 215.5 megawatts
•Noble Altona Windpark; Altona Wind Park; Altona; 9/23/2008; 97.5 megawatts
•Noble Chateaugay Windpark; Chateaugay Wind Power; Chateaugay; 10/7/2008; 106.5 megawatts
•Noble Ellenburg Windpark; Ellenburg Wind Power; Ellenburg; 3/31/2008; 81 megawatts
Tug Hill Plateau region in Central New York (7)
•Canastota Windpower; Fenner Wind Power; Fenner; 12/1/2001; 30 megawatts
•Flat Rock Wind Power; Maple Ridge Wind 1; Lowville; 1/1/2006; 231 megawatts
•Flat Rock Wind Power II: Maple Ridge Wind 2; Lowville; 12/1/2007; 90.7 megawatts
•Hardscrabble Wind Power; Hardscrabble Wind; Fairfield; 2/1/2011; 74 megawatts
•Madison Windpower; Madison Wind Power; Madison; 9/1/2000; 11.6 megawatts
•Noble Clinton Windpark 1; Clinton Wind Power; Clinton; 4/9/2008; 100.5 megawatts
•Shell Energy North America (U.S.); Munnsville Wind Power; Bouckville; 8/20/2007 34.5 megawatts
SOURCE: New York Independent System Operator
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