Cohocton Wind Watch: Shell Oil plans wind farms on crest of Helderbergs
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Friday, October 03, 2008

Shell Oil plans wind farms on crest of Helderbergs

Shell Oil and Cinco Energy Land Services are looking to build commercial wind farms on both state and private land in Rensselaerville and New Scotland.

Representatives have been approaching residents about leasing their properties. Shell has been tight-lipped about the project’s details, and neither town has zoning regulating the building of windmills.

Part of this project involves building on the Partridge Run State Wildlife Management Area in the Helderbergs.

“I can confirm that we are active in the Albany area, and also elsewhere in the state,” Shell WindEnergy, Inc. Communications Manager Tim O’Leary told The Enterprise this week, “but, beyond that, I can’t really say anything.”

“At the present time, there’s nothing in the zoning specific to windmills, but we haven’t even entertained any application for that,” Paul Cantlin, New Scotland’s zoning administrator, said yesterday. “You’re the first to let me know about it.”

“I think it’s awful,” said Rensselaerville Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg, although he hadn’t heard about it either. “I think there are so many more efficient ways to harness energy, specifically harnessing the sun, which is far more effective, and for a longer period of time than using the winds to generate electricity.”

Nickelsberg said that he often travels to Lauterbach, a town in Germany that is ringed by these large machines. “The noise and appearance is objectionable,” he said, “and, in fact, that town has lost significant value as far as real estate and land. All the ridges surrounding the town have windmills on them, and it’s the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen.”

The plan

While some do support the use of wind energy, other residents near the proposed areas for the wind farm projects are displeased with Shell’s proposal.

“I’ve been pushing for 20 years to get wind power up here,” Steven Dickerson of Camp Winsoki Road in Rensselaerville said this week. “Most of us up here would love wind energy, I just don’t think the smaller owners think it’s a fair distribution of the proceeds,” he said.

“My neighbors have already been visited by Shell Oil representatives, and I’m scheduled to have a rep come to my house on Friday,” Dickerson said. He’ll be meeting with Kevin Johnson from Cinco, he said. Johnson didn’t return phone calls from The Enterprise.

Peter Boudreaux, who lives down the street from Dickerson, has already met twice with representatives from Cinco.

“We had a group meeting with some of the neighbors on the street,” Boudreaux said. “Shell Oil drops down to Shell WindEnergy, which drops down to Cinco Land Energy — that’s the chain of command.”

Boudreaux said that Cinco sent two representatives from Houston, Texas: Kevin Johnson and Chanon Motheral. “They’re the ones who are contracted by Shell. They gave us a contract to be reviewed,” he said.

Cinco told Boudreaux that they’re estimating these turbines to be 380 feet high, from the ground to the tip of the blades, and 20 feet around at the base. Each turbine must be at least 500 feet away from any homes.

“I asked them how noisy they are; they said, at 500 feet, it’s 45 decibels,” Boudreaux said. “I asked them what the frequency was; they wouldn’t tell me.”

He went on, “They’re talking about putting up 50 towers in two locations, 25 in each location, and roughly five acres of land are needed. Each turbine puts out two megawatts, which means 100 megawatts total.” Construction is expected to take 12 to 18 months, he said.

By signing the contract, the landowner will be agreeing to an option that gives Shell the right to build on their property for seven years, and the landowner will be paid $30 per acre. Half of the option fee will be paid upon signing, and the other half will be paid within 90 days subject to a title search.

Shell can also build a meteorological tower for a wind study on the property. The landowner will be paid $5,000 if Shell decides to build this tower.

Additionally, if the landowner wants to have the contract reviewed by a third party, Shell will pay for all the legal fees up to $2,000, whether or not the landowner decides to sign the contract.

Should Shell decide that the property is suitable for windmills, it will enter a 30-year lease, in which case the landowner will receive a fixed annual royalty payment of 4 percent of gross revenue per turbine on the property.

The lease also offers a minimum annual payment of $6,000, per turbine, per year, after commercial operation of the turbines begins; a $1,000 flat fee per year is offered before commercial operation.

“So,” said Boudreaux, “if I had one turbine on my land, and I only have nine acres, I don’t get the $5,000 signing bonus. But, if someone next to me had one turbine and had 100 acres, they’d get way more in royalties than I would,” he said.

“They don’t even do an environmental impact study until after you sign,” Boudreaux said.


Two sites have been designated for the project, dubbed Site 16 and Site 10.

“Site 16 is where we live in the Helderbergs, the highest point in Albany County, just outside of Rensselaerville,” said Boudreaux. This site, he said, includes Pond Hill Road, Camp Winsoki Road, Wood Road, and Peasley Road.

“They’re proposing to put up 25 towers here,” Boudreaux said, “of which no less than three-quarters are going to go on state land.” That land, he said, is the Partridge Run State Wildlife Management Area. “Among the 200 landowners they have to contact within Site 16, they’re only offering the landowners seven or eight of these windmills. And, since it’s state owned land, they have to pay taxes and all that, so the state is going to make out on it as well,” said Boudreaux. “They say it’s a done deal.”

The other site, Site 10, is designated as Wolf Hill, New Scotland, he said.

“I think it would be that ridge along Berne, just on the backside of Thacher Park,” said Boudreaux. “The map wasn’t very clear, and they wouldn’t give us the names of the other landowners of that area that they were planning on building on.”

A new proposal

Boudreaux sees no reason to sign the contract because it’s not equitable, he said. “My property value may go down, and there’s nothing in their clause saying that I can recoup my loss of property value,” he said.

Dickerson is worried, too, about reduction of property value, though wind-energy advocates call this an invalid concern.

“It seems reasonable that, if you have a huge wind turbine in your backyard, you might have issues trying to sell it,” Dickerson said.

In a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, Dickerson writes, “Shell’s proposal will reduce the values of our properties by substantial amounts, while only compensating [landowners] based solely on the number of acres and number of windmills on their land.”

The problem with this, he says, is that, while many landowners will suffer reduction of property values, those with larger acreage will receive far more income from the wind farm proposal.

He plans on making a proposal of his own when he meets with Cinco on Friday.

“I am introducing a proposal,” the letter goes on, “which probably should be a model for other wind farm proposals, which will compensate the affected property owners based on tax valuation ratios, rather than simple acreage.

“I am also proposing protection for the land owners, so that, if they choose to sell, but cannot achieve their tax valued amount, Shell Oil would have to pay them, after the sale…the difference between the sale price and the tax valuation amount,” said Dickerson.

“They’re saying anyone who has 20 acres or more, and signs off before Nov. 1, will get a $5,000 bonus,” Dickerson said this week. “I don’t know all the details yet, but supposedly they already have approval to use the [Partridge Run State Wildlife Management Area] at the top of the Helderbergs, which is the highest point in the Helderbergs, other than my land. There’s a ridgeline in there that’s very conducive for wind energy,” the ridgeline being the topmost edge of a mountain ridge.

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