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Wind power developer nixes underwater plan

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A company that wants to build wind turbines on a Lake Ontario island isn’t giving up on its goal — but it is giving up on underwater transmission lines that would have kept power lines out of the north country’s view.

Upstate New York Power Corp. said in an April 4 letter to a state regulatory agency that an underwater transmission line feeding the whirling turbines’ potential power to the electric grid was a no-go because of the prohibitive cost.

Instead, the turbines’ power lines might make landfall in Hounsfield and then snake up existing lines to Watertown — which could provide even more tax revenue for the town of Hounsfield and its school district.

“We’re in support of it,” said Timothy W. Scee Sr., Hounsfield town supervisor. “The transmission towers, they’re no more of an eyesore than the telephone poles going along the road you travel down.”

When a tax break for the 252-megawatt Galloo Island wind farm project was approved in 2010, the town was slated to receive an $8.2 million payment from the company. The Sackets Harbor Central School District and Jefferson County also would have received payments.

The project was dealt a setback, however, when the New York Power Authority said in 2011 that it would not buy power from the wind farm. It remains unclear whether the project will ever get off the ground, but the company has pledged to keep trying.

Mr. Scee said most Hounsfield residents would support putting the transmission lines through the town.

But not everybody agrees that a transmission line connecting the island to Hounsfield would be the best choice.

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, wrote in a 2011 letter that the now-jettisoned underwater line proposal was her preference and the preference of most affected communities. Jefferson County had previously expressed its preference for an underwater transmission line. The line would have connected the wind turbines to Scriba in Oswego County.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, said it’s an idea “in its infancy.”

“I think it’s an improvement over several of their previous proposals,” she said.

Jefferson County Legislator Barry M. Ormsby, R-Belleville, said he wasn’t surprised that the underwater line was abandoned after a state authority declined to buy power from the as-yet-unbuilt project.

“While I believe there may be less opposition to running that line through Hounsfield into the Coffeen Street station, I have heard of people that aren’t 100 percent supportive of that, either,” he said.

Besides being tripped up by transmission line questions, the project has other hurdles to overcome, not least of which is the fact that the company does not yet have someone who will buy the power it would generate. It’s much easier to develop a wind power project when a buyer is already lined up, though the company has said it could go through with the project even without a contract as long as the transmission line was, as it proposed this month, over land.

Thomas L. Hagner, president of the Upstate New York Power Corp., declined to comment, but the letter he wrote to the Department of Public Service indicates the company will try to sell its power to Fort Drum.

Therein lies another hurdle: ReEnergy Holdings, a Latham-based company, announced in March that it was buying the post’s coal-fired generator and retrofitting it so it could cleanly burn biomass and produce all the electricity Fort Drum needs.

ReEnergy would appear to have the inside track on the Department of Defense contract to supply power to Fort Drum.

ReEnergy’s proposed 60-megawatt operation, which would burn wood chips and other materials left over from the logging industry to generate electricity, would be inside Fort Drum’s gates, noted Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh. That would give the post a safer and more reliable source of power, he said.

“From my perspective, I think that’s very important,” Mr. Owens said. “As a member of the Armed Services Committee, I want to put them in the safest possible position.”

Power from the wind turbines, on the other hand, would have to be piped in from outside the post.

Mr. Owens noted both projects would help the Department of Defense meet its clean energy goals.

Larry Richardson, the CEO of ReEnergy, was optimistic about his company’s chances of winning the 28-megawatt contract. In March, he attended a news conference at Fort Drum with state officials announcing the facility’s purchase.

“We certainly think we should be in a favorable position,” he said.

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