Cohocton Wind Watch: Wind firm scouting Albany County property
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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Wind firm scouting Albany County property

ALBANY COUNTY — Shell WindEnergy is scouting rural Albany County for places to develop commercial wind farms.

Representatives from Shell and the Cinco Energy Land Services consulting firm have approached landowners in the Rensselaerville and New Scotland areas about property lease agreements. The Houston firms want to use that land to site up to 50 wind turbines in two separate groups, the Altamont Enterprise weekly newspaper reported last week.

“We are active in the area and elsewhere in the state,” said Shell spokesman Tim O’Leary.

The Shell project, part of which might be located in the Partridge Run Wildlife Management Area in the Helderbergs, would be the closest wind farm to Albany. It would include wind turbines that are 380 feet tall and capable of producing 2 megawatts each, according to the Enterprise, which quoted landowners who had been approached.

The wind farm project is in its early phases and Shell has not submitted plans to local officials. The supervisors of both Rensselaerville and New Scotland said they have not had contact with Shell or Cinco representatives.

The emergence of the wind farm proposal has sent local officials scrambling to develop regulations that address wind turbines. Towns such as New Scotland, Rensselaerville and Knox might join forces to determine turbine setback and height rules, said New Scotland Supervisor Thomas Dolin.

“What we need are some experts and ordinances,” Dolin said.

Caught off guard by Shell’s interest in their community, many Albany County hilltown residents are turning to a Schoharie County nonprofit group for help. Schoharie Valley Watch has spent the past two years fighting a Vermont firm’s plan to erect wind turbines on hilltops in Richmondville and Fulton.

The Manchester, Vt.-based Reunion Power has received permits from Richmondville planning officials to place wind-measuring towers on the David Huse farm and Warnerville Hill. Wind power developers traditionally use those towers to gauge whether an area can support a wind farm.

“We are acutely aware of this … we’re trying to get our arms around it,” said Robert Nied, the co-director of Schoharie Valley Watch in Richmondville.

Schoharie Valley Watch has created a legal defense fund to oppose local laws that accommodate wind developers. In Albany County, Nied said, he is especially worried about local officials’ conflicts of interest and questionable ties to the wind power industry.

For example, Nied said, Albany County Legislator Alexander “Sandy” Gordon represents Berne, Knox and Rensselaerville — communities that might be affected by Shell’s wind project. But Gordon has lobbied for the Reunion Power wind farm in Schoharie County. He also is a principal of Helderberg Community Wind, which has held wind power forums in the hilltowns since 2004.

“ … That’s just one more problem to add to my list,” said Dolin, who was not aware of Gordon’s ties to the wind power industry.

Gordon did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Assemblyman John McEneny, D-Albany, who represents the hilltowns in the Assembly, said he is inquiring with the Department of Environmental Conservation as to whether the alienation of park land provision of New York’s constitution applies to the Partridge Run Wildlife Management Area.

Under that provision, state lawmakers must approve changes to the boundaries of parks. However, it is not clear whether Partridge Ridge is technically a park or if Shell would have to go through the Legislature to build turbines in it.

“There’s all types of mixed concerns here. The positive and negative,” McEneny said.

Although McEneny acknowledged the benefits of renewable energy, he noted tall wind turbines would damage the hilltowns’ viewscapes. Dolin said he is concerned about potential health threats posed by vibrations and noise from turbines plus the underground transmission of electricity.

“I’m a believer in utilization of the sun … There are better ways to do it,” said Rensselaerville Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg.

The Albany and Schoharie county wind power projects come as the state is struggling to reach its goal of increasing New York’s renewable energy supply to meet 25 percent of electricity demand by 2013. By 2007, wind turbines contributed 873 gigawatts, or 0.58 percent of all the electricity generated in the state.

Although the hilltowns can be windy, they largely lack an electricity infrastructure.

“We’re not familiar with this project. There’s very good wind resources in the Helderbergs. The challenge is transmission,” said Tom Lynch, the director of external affairs for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.


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