Cohocton Wind Watch: PSC Garry Brown Iberdrola Merger June 23, 2008 Letter by Gary A. Abraham
Cohocton Wind Watch is a community citizen organization dedicated to preserve the public safety, property values, economic viability, environmental integrity and quality of life in Cohocton, NY and in surrounding townships. Neighbors committed to public service in order to achieve a reasonable vision for a Finger Lakes region worthy of future generations.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

PSC Garry Brown Iberdrola Merger June 23, 2008 Letter by Gary A. Abraham

Dear Chairman Brown:

Please accept the following comments on the above-referenced matter.

I am a public interest environmental attorney currently representing two community groups raising concerns about local utility-scale wind power plant proposals, and I have become aware of well over a dozen similar situations around the state. This gives me a unique perspective from which to comment on some likely results of the proposed merger. I support Judge Rafael Epstein’s and PSC Staff’s recommendations that approval of the merger should not be granted without a divestiture of wind power by Iberdrola.

Prominent public officials have urged you to consider the benefits of wind energy development that purportedly would flow from the merger if approved, but this consideration is irrelevant to PSC’s decision. However, to the extent these voices are endeavoring to cultivate your sympathy for approval, the asserted benefits are largely a fiction. As the following comments show, wind energy can make no more than an insignificant contribution to New York’s electricity needs and promoting unplanned further development will result in specific harms to New Yorkers.

1. Approval would exacerbate an already irrational and harmful siting regime.

Because there is no comprehensive state regulation of the siting of utility-scale wind energy projects, developers including subsidiaries of Energy East and Iberdrola have become excessively aggressive, prevailing on unsophisticated rural town officials to adopt local standards that are woefully deficient in achieving minimally reasonable health and environmental protections. I understand Your Honor has heard much about the deficiencies in the siting process for these projects from residents of host communities.

I have followed closely the regulatory climate governing wind projects and, from what I have seen I do not believe the absence of state siting rules will be addressed any time soon. It therefore falls more heavily on PSC than perhaps it should to protect New Yorkers from excessive concentrations of power within the industrial wind industry in the state. Already the inability of rural town officials to shoulder this burden is threatening the state’s land resources, community character and the health of residents of the communities that host these projects.

The wind projects that would be developed in New York by a post-merger Iberdrola should the Commission approve the proposed merger without divesting New York wind project holdings are likely to be segmented in phases, with about 100 MW of installed capacity in each phase, and phases approved separately by adjacent towns. For example, last year a developer won local and PSC approval for 67 1.5 MW turbines in the Town of Eagle (Wyoming Co.); this year it seeks approvals for 67 more in the adjacent Town of Centerville (Allegany Co.); and next year it plans to seek approval for 67 more in the adjacent Town of Farmersville (Cattaraugus Co.) and to add about 50 turbines to its project in Eagle for a continuous wind farm comprised of 200 to
250 turbines. Each phase of this project requires half or more of each town’s land area.

A similar situation is developing in Steuben County, where a developer has approvals for a wind farm in one town, a wind project pending approval in an adjacent town, and another wind project planned in the town adjacent to that. The developer has prevailed on the second town to institute a condemnation proceeding against property owners unwilling to grant an easement for the developer’s proposed transmission line.

In all of these cases and others with which I am familiar, towns adopt new performance standards (including setbacks and noise levels) at the urging of the developer without consulting specialists in acoustics or other environmental disciplines. When public comments identifying such issues are submitted, the town rejects them as appropriate only later, when a project application under the local standards is submitted. I know of no New York town that has planned for wind turbine siting in any other way. Where wind project applications have been reviewed, to my knowledge no developer has offered to mitigate adverse impacts by altering the location of turbines, reducing their number or concentration, or obtaining higher-rated machines so as to avoid the most intrusive sites.

Until rational siting rules can be developed, Commission approval of the proposed merger without wind power divestiture would promote more unplanned development of highly intrusive projects without adequate protections for public health and the environment.

(Click to read entire letter)


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