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Wind power plan focuses on perks for community Company will define benefits to Somerset

The Lake Ontario Town of Somerset, which passed two laws governing windmills last year, will hear about an unusual kind of wind energy proposal tonight.

Sabres owner Tom Golisano is one of the founders of Empire State Wind Energy, whose business model calls for cooperation with the host community, which would have the opportunity to eventually take control of the wind turbines.

"We're in the business to make some money, but our objective and our focus does not revolve around that," said Keith Pitman, a co-founder and the company's president and chief executive officer.

"The gist of what we're trying to do is capture that money that is made in the future [from wind-generated power production] and give as much as possible to the communities that host our projects."

Empire State Wind Energy proposes to do that by accepting the large up-front costs of developing a windmill -- typically $2 million to $3 million to build and install -- and entering into profit-sharing agreements with host communities once they are up and running.

Golisano originally opposed wind power, but Pitman said Golisano's opinion evolved.

"The root of what he was against was not so much wind power," Pitman said. "There was a lot of money we're going to be investing, a lot of the landscape that would be changed, yet what was anyone in this area going to have to show for it?"

That evolution was one of the reasons Golisano helped found the company, Pitman said.

"Instead of simply complaining [about out-of-state involvement], he decided to invest in it and promote a solution."

Pitman said there are a few differences between his company and others making wind energy proposals.

One, he said, is that the up-front costs are being assumed by a New York-based company, and the ultimate benefits will be enjoyed by New York residents.

"If you look at the wave of renewable power generation that's coming, all too often, if there are going to be big financial winners, they are a handful of people, ranging from foreign investors to large investment companies," Pitman said. "Nowhere in there is the average resident of upstate New York."

A second difference is host towns would have the opportunity to take control of the projects at various points.

"This gives the community the best of both worlds," he said. "If [profits] are going great, they can capitalize. If they're not, they can continue doing all right without taking on the added responsibility."

Another big difference is involvement by the host community from the beginning in shaping the project.

"It's always been [with other developers], 'Here's my project, now will you approve it?' instead of 'What project would you like to host in your community?' " he said.

The approach is finding receptive ears. Since Empire State Wind Energy was formed last July, Pitman said he's made 25 to 30 proposals to interested towns.

One of those places is the Chautauqua County Town of Ripley, where one previous wind energy project received a chilly reception.

Now, Supervisor Pete Ryan said Ripley is actively discussing a project with Empire State Wind Energy.

"There's an opportunity here that might exist that we want to take a look at," Ryan said, adding that one of the concerns with the previous proposal -- the deaths of migratory birds -- still needs to be addressed.

"We're optimistically hopeful that something could happen here," he said.

Somerset Supervisor Richard J. Meyers said he invited Pittman to town because the company's approach intrigues him.

"They're concerned about making sure they pay for the turbines without any money coming out of their pocket, but I think long-term, they're not into making wind power as much as they are into empowering towns to do it if they want to," Meyers said.

Pitman's presentation to the Town Board is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall, 8700 Haight Road.

Meyers said he will ask the Town Board to enter into more substantive discussions with Empire State Wind Energy.

"I would expect a fair amount of people to attend [the meeting]," Meyers said, characterizing the interest in wind power in the town as substantial.

"There are quite a few people who seem to be more than willing to pursue this," he said.


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