Galloo wind farm opponents applaud withdrawal; supporters lament
- February 12, 2019
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Feb. 12--Opposition leaders rejoiced when they heard another chapter in the saga of developing a wind farm on Galloo Island had come to a close, but wind farm supporters lamented the news.
Apex Clean Energy withdrew its applications Friday for state permits needed for its 108-megawatt project in the town of Hounsfield. Its attorney, James A. Muscato II of Young/Sommer LLC, wrote in letters to the Public Service Commission that the developer "is no longer seeking a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need" through the Article 10 review, which would allow it to build the wind farm, and Article VII review, which would allow it to construct a transmission line to send power to the electric grid.
When asked why Apex decided to forgo the required permits, Dahvi Wilson, vice president of public affairs for Apex, said in an emailed statement Friday that the firm makes "adjustments" to its renewable energy facility portfolio, which includes both commercial wind and solar farms, when necessary as it continuously reviews its assets for "the proper balance of risk and opportunity." Ms. Wilson, however, also said that the developer has not given up on the idea of erecting a wind farm on Galloo Island.
"We are open to reinitiating the permitting process for Galloo Island Wind with the expectation of delivering the project when the time is right," she said Friday.
Opponents of Apex's project, particularly from the town of Henderson, feared it would have adverse effects on bird populations, property values, historical artifacts and recreational businesses, while supporters, particularly from Hounsfield, hoped to earn additional revenue through taxes or payments in lieu of them.
Wind farm proposals for Galloo Island through the years have sparked an ongoing clash between Henderson and Hounsfield, a battle that resulted in a couple of lawsuits.
Hounsfield Town Supervisor Timothy W. Scee said the wind farm was projected to provide $40 million through a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement over 20 years, which he hoped would help support the town and "financially stressed" Sackets Harbor Central School District. He also said he hoped the project would have created some jobs, and the workers hired to build it would support local restaurants during construction.
"We have been fighting an uphill battle with our hands tied behind our backs for the largest project in Jefferson County besides Fort Drum," he said.
Henderson Town Supervisor John J. Culkin said he and fellow Henderson residents feared the project would have decreased property values by $40 million, which was projected in the divisive Nanos Clarkson Research Collaboration Study. They also worried that the project would kill a number of native birds, harm Native American artifacts and other archeological resources on and around the island, obstruct sunset views, discourage hunters and fishermen from coming to Henderson and that its underwater transmission line, which would connect the wind farm to a substation in Oswego, would harm fish spawning beds by emitting too much heat.
"I'm obviously delighted by the news," Mr. Culkin said. "It would have been an economic disaster of biblical proportions for the town."
Apex's project has not been the first wind farm proposal to pit neighbor against neighbor.
Proposed facilities like the abandoned Cape Vincent Wind Farm, the abandoned Stone Church wind project in Hammond and the abandoned North Ridge Wind Project in Parishville and Hopkinton have also divided communities between those who support and oppose wind farm construction.
Unlike Henderson and Hounsfield, the village of Sackets Harbor has held a neutral stance toward the Galloo Island project, said Mayor Molly C. Reilly.
"I hope in the future we can see some sort of clean energy activity in Jefferson County and see where that goes," she said.
Clifford P. Schneider, a retired fishery biologist, has opposed the project since 2016, believing the turbines would kill a significant number of waterfowl, bats and bald eagles.
Mr. Schneider's involvement resulted in a major setback for the wind farm when he notified the state about a possible bald eagle's nest Apex never mentioned in its Article 10 application. The developer previously said it omitted the nest because it showed no signs of breeding in 2017. The Department of Environmental Conservation later confirmed it was an actual bald eagle nest. Therefore, state agencies, with consensus from Apex, decided to extend the review, but Mr. Schneider continued calling for the state to dismiss the project.
"I think all in Jefferson County should be pleased Apex withdrew its application," he said.
The delay could have jeopardized Apex's ability to obtain federal tax credits, which could have lowered the cost of its about $200 million project. The credit would only apply to wind farms under construction by Dec. 31, a later deadline than the cutoff for other forms of renewable energy, according to the Department of Energy.
Despite the developer withdrawing its application, the fight has not yet ended for the retired biologist.
In a letter to the state he sent Monday, Mr. Schneider wrote that all private discoveries made in communications between Apex and the parties involved in the Article 10 review, including himself, should be made public. During his own private communication with the developer, not made public due to legal requirements from the state, he was provided an estimate of bald eagle fatalities from the wind farm. He wrote in his letter that he feared Apex would try to sell its project to another developer without revealing the figure.
"This unusual request comes as a result of Apex's past behavior and from their threat to local communities that they'll be back to complete the Galloo project," he wrote "I would rest easier knowing the complete record, including discovery, developed in (the review) was available to any future wind development interest."
The Galloo Island Wind developer had applied for a PILOT agreement for its project through the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency. Ms. Wilson said in an emailed statement Monday that the developer is "evaluating next steps regarding our" application.
"I was very surprised given how much work has been devoted by Apex to make the project a reality, but certainly recognized the hurdles which accompanied their desire to construct on Galloo Island," said Sackets Harbor Central School Superintendent Jennifer L. Gaffney-Goodnough in an emailed statement. "The stance of the Sackets Harbor Central School Board has been to support local development, while at the same time, ensuring that any PILOT does not negatively impact on our tax cap or the stability of our overall school budget."
Plans for developing a wind farm on Galloo Island have been in the works for 12 years with various proposals presented by different developers.
Upstate NY Power Corp. first proposed building a facility on the island with about 80 turbines, but abandoned it after it couldn't find a buyer for its power. Hudson Energy Development LLC revived the project in 2015, then sold it to Apex Clean Energy in the same year. Apex originally wanted to build 32 turbines for its project, but decreased the number to 24.
With Apex stepping away from its plans for the foreseeable future, local officials had shared their visions of what they hope to see become of Galloo Island.
Mr. Scee said he still hopes to see a wind farm constructed on Galloo Island, while Mr. Culkin said he hoped the Nature Conservancy or a state agency would acquire the island to turn it into a nature preserve, similar to how the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation purchased Horse Island to preserve its historic and natural assets. Mr. Schneider said a group of people has already begun researching how the island could become a preserve.
"I think it's a good thing to let people in the area know that we're going to try to move to protect that," Mr. Schneider said.
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