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Regional Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 9, 2008

Eyes on the prize: Landowners want fair wind leases

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALBANY COUNTY — Several of the landowners who were recently approached by Shell WindEnergy to lease their property for wind farms on the crest of the Helderbergs will be represented by local attorney Cynthia LaFave.

The contract, as it was presented by Shell, “is not in the best interests of the landowners,” LaFave said yesterday.  She and her clients are working on a proposal of their own and are not committed to working with Shell, she said.  LaFave is not aware of anyone who has signed a contract with the company and Tim O’Leary, Shell’s communications’ manager, would not answer questions.

“We are interested in negotiating a fair proposal,” LaFave said; she wouldn’t say how many people she is representing, claiming attorney-client privilege.  Her firm, The LaFave Law Firm in Delmar, has experience “with this kind of law,” she said, but added later, “The experience of anyone in New York State is minimal,” since there isn’t a long history of energy exploration here.  The firm has retained a consultant from Austin, Texas, who has 45 years of experience with energy issues, she said.

There are “dozens of reasons” that the contract isn’t good for landowners, LaFave said, mostly because “landowners lose… rights to the property without just compensation.”  She concluded, “It is very detrimental to the rights of the landowner if they sign.”

David Weiss, of New York Farmers’ Wind Power, LLC, is also planning a wind farm in the Rensselaerville area, where he lives.  “There is no competition,” he said, for his community-owned wind farm.  “They are a corporately owned” wind project, he said of the Shell project.

The corporate model is to offer landowners between $1,200 and $7,000 per turbine, per year, binding the property owner for 30 years, he said.

According to a “term sheet” from Shell, those who agree to the lease would be paid $6,000 per year, per turbine “after commercial operations,” with a 4-percent annual royalty payment, and would be under contact for 30 years.

New York Farmers’ Wind Power’s contract is about two-and-a-half pages, Weiss said, adding, “This is not rocket science.”  Referring to the lengthy contracts given by large companies, like Shell, he asked, “Why is it 75 pages?”

His company’s plan for Rensselaerville is a 20-to-60 megawatt wind farm with one or one-and-a-half megawatt turbines.  “We like using smaller turbines,” Weiss said, because they are easier to maintain.  Of larger two- or two-and-a-half-megawatt turbines, which sometimes require a special crane to do work on the machines, he said, “God help the person that’s got to maintain those afterwards.”

Shell plans to build 50 towers, said Peter Boudreaux, a Camp Winsoki Road resident who has been approached by Shell and its contractor, Cinco.  “Each turbine puts out two megawatts,” he said, “which means 100 megawatts total.”

A done deal?

The plan includes two areas, Section 10, which straddles the border of Berne and New Scotland, and Section 16, which covers parts of Berne, Broome, and Rensselaerville, where Boudreaux lives.

“I have a map that shows it going into Partridge Run,” Boudreaux said.  On Sept. 12, when he met with Chanon Motheral and Kevin Johnson from Cinco, Boudreaux said, “I was told… that the state’s really pushing it.  It’s a done deal.”

“Sounds like they’re telling falsehoods,” said Rick Georgeson, of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.  Alienation of state land for building would require authorization from the state legislature, he said.

“Shell hasn’t commenced any kind of process or even inquired about the requirements we might impose at this point,” Lori O’Connell, also of the DEC, wrote in an e-mail to The Enterprise.

“I think what developers tend to do is create a worst-case scenario,” said Neil Driscoll, who chairs the planning board in Fulton, a town in Schoharie County that has been facing the development of a wind farm for about five years.  First, he said by way of example, the developer says it will build 50 turbines near Thacher Park and people get upset, so then it says it will only build 30 somewhere else.  “Then everyone’s relieved,” he said, and the plan goes through.

Reaction in his community has been mixed, Driscoll said yesterday.  The people who live next to a proposed site tend not to want it, he said, while those who stand to get $6,000 per turbine, per year from the developer, Reunion Power, tend to be in favor.  “I think that’s a pretty common figure,” Driscoll said of the amount promised to those in Fulton.

When discussing a common source of opposition, Weiss, of Rensselaerville, said that people often don’t want to see the turbines if they’re not getting anything from it.  He characterized the sentiment by saying, “I don’t want these 400-foot behemoths in front of me if I’m not benefiting.”

One of the major points of contention in Fulton and neighboring Richmondville, which is facing the same project, is how far the turbines should be set back, Driscoll said.

Cinco representatives told Boudreaux that Shell’s turbines would be at least 500 feet from homes, a distance that Driscoll calls “criminal” in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week.  Fulton hasn’t yet begun to hammer out the details of its wind laws, but he’d like to see mile-and-a-half setbacks required — the World Health Organization suggests a mile, he said.

As of now, most of the Albany County towns included in the Shell proposal don’t have zoning laws to regulate the placement of wind turbines.

“First of all, when somebody comes in the back door like that, you’ve got to wonder,” said Ginny Romero, who lives near the Partridge Run preserve, of Shell’s approach to signing up landowners.

“How can you have a game preserve with an industrial park on it?” she asked, referring to the proposal for turbines in Partridge Run.

“Either somebody’s lying or something’s going on,” Boudreaux said last night.

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