Cohocton Wind Watch: NextEra plans wind turbines at WGI
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Saturday, May 05, 2012

NextEra plans wind turbines at WGI

NextEra Energy, the company that’s planning a $200 million wind farm project across Schuyler and Chemung counties, has reached a deal with a high-profile landowner – Watkins Glen International.

NextEra – one of the largest power providers in the country – plans to locate multiple wind turbines, 400 feet tall, on the 1,832 acres that surround the historic race track in Schuyler County, officials announced Thursday.

The turbines at the race track would be among 50 to 75 scattered across the towns of Dix, Catharine and Hector in Schuyler County, and Catlin in Chemung County.

NextEra installed towers in the area to measure wind capacity in 2010, and has been negotiating with landowners about possible locations for the turbines.

They’ve also contacted local governments about the project, and will be seeking tax break packages through the county industrial development agencies. The bulk of the permits required will come from the state. An environmental impact review is required prior to approval.

NextEra hopes to begin building access roads, laying connecting lines and assembling the giant turbines in 2014 or 2015, and says the project will create about 200 construction jobs and 8 to 10 permanent jobs. The project will take six to nine months to complete.

WGI is not the first landowner that NextEra has reached a tentative agreement with, but is “certainly the largest,” NextEra spokesman Ross Groffman said during a press conference Thursday afternoon at WGI’s Media Center.

Groffman says having one of the most prominent businesses in the area on board gives the project a significant boost.

Michael Printup, WGI president, says the land lease will be the “first step of many” in the relationship between the two companies.

“I think there’s nothing like clean energy that can move the little needle, and with us and the popularity of NASCAR, and we have 5 or 6 million people watching us on TV, that’s the crux of this relationship,” Printup said.

The huge turbines will likely be visible from the grandstands during races, officials say.

Printup was asked if NextEra planned to advertise at the race track.

“We would expect to sit down and talk once they have a project, but at this point, it’s only a land lease,” he said. “But of course we would like to expand that relationship to include something else down the road.”

WGI’s biggest draw, the NASCAR Sprint Cup race in August, is currently without a title sponsor, as the track announced back in February that it was unable to reach a deal for Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips to return.

Groffman didn’t say if NextEra would consider sponsoring the Cup race, saying only: “Going forward, we expect we’ll have some marketing activity here, if and when the project comes to fruition.”

There’s already a relationship between WGI’s parent company, the International Speedway Corp., and NextEra. They have deals involving renewable energy credits, marketing and sponsorships at ISC’s two tracks in Florida, Daytona International Speedway and Homestead Miami Speedway.

NextEra, based in Florida, is a Fortune 200 company with approximately $15 billion in annual revenues.

It’s the largest renewable energy provider in North America, with wind, solar and hydro facilities. It also has electricity-generating plants fueled by nuclear, natural gas and oil.

NextEra has 90 wind farms with 8,900 turbines across the U.S. and Canada, but they’ve never put a wind farm at a major outdoor sporting complex, Groffman said.

“We have not built a wind farm in a location like (WGI) before,” he said. “We’re really excited about the potential of doing something like this.”

WGI would not be able to draw power directly from the turbines. Rather, the turbines feed power into the local grid.
Deals with landowners typically involve an up-front bonus along with annual payments. Groffman called the payments a “generous sum.”

Multiple elected officials from the area -- including Congressman Tom Reed, state Senator Tom O’Mara, state Assemblyman Tom Reed, Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn and several economic development officials -- attended Thursday’s announcement.

“While it’s preliminary, we’re certainly excited about the potential this project brings, from an economic development standpoint as well as the renewable energy front,” O’Hearn said.

Wind farms in Steuben County have been met with resistance from some residents who don’t want the huge turbines located near their homes.

Concerns have included their impact on property value, as well as noise, the potential to kill birds and bats, and “shadow flicker,” a strobe-like effect inside homes created by the spinning turbines which studies have linked to health issues.

Also, some towns in Steuben have become involved in legal disputes with other wind companies.

But NextEra officials said there were no issues so far with their Schuyler/Chemung project.

O’Hearn agreed.

“The comments we’ve gotten so far have been more along the lines of questions, landowners doing their due diligence, to find out what opportunities might present for them,” he said. “We have not received any significant opposition at this point.”

“Ultimately, as a community -- as in any development -- we want to make sure that it’s done responsibly,” O’Hearn added. “Certainly we’d be foolish not to recognize the economic potential of this. The question now is to balance the economic impact with responsible development.”


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