Something in the air: Wind farm to be built in Chautauqua County

When it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Chautauqua County, the answer might be blowin’ in the wind.

EverPower Wind Holdings Inc., a Pittsburgh-based wind energy company, is planning to build a wind farm containing up to 70 wind turbines in the towns of Charlotte and Cherry Creek — about 30 miles from Chautauqua Institution. Called the Cassadaga Wind Project, the farm will span approximately 400,000 acres of primarily farmland and recreational land.

The farm will generate enough energy to serve the needs of 36,791 to 55,187 households in Chautauqua County and possibly beyond, according to EverPower’s website. The company estimated the project would reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the area by 170,000 tons per year.

Kevin Sheen, the senior director of development at EverPower, said the farm could increase employment in the county, as many of the goods used during the construction process and through the farm’s operation will be locally sourced. For example, construction will require concrete and other materials used to build roads near the wind farm and to erect the turbines’ foundations, which the company plans to purchase from local businesses.

“An example of a positive economic benefit after construction would be the contracts that are given to the folks who keep the roads passable for our operating team during the winter,” Sheen said. “That’s an ongoing maintenance job for a local company.”

He said in addition to being a “pollution-free” source of power, wind farms produce positive economic benefits to the communities in which they are built, as they contribute revenue to the local and municipal tax bases.

Richard Dixon, the chief financial advisor for the County of Chautauqua Industrial Development Agency, said that most energy projects are subject to sales taxes for the materials required to construct them. But the county can abate those taxes in this case because it concerns a renewable energy project, which will help the economy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and benefit the community at large.

“Wind farms add to the tax base and create jobs, but they’re not a strain on any of the services in the county, like the fire or police department,” Dixon said. “Alternative energy — methane, solar, wind — is still more costly than coal, oil and natural gas, but we want to encourage these new energy sources.”

The project will be completed in 2017 or 2018, once it has undergone the New York state Article 10 Siting Process, Sheen said. During this process, the state will review any potential environmental impacts of the project, including impacts on wetlands, plant species and avian species — specifically birds and bats — before construction begins.

“EverPower, through our own corporate goals as well as through following permitting guidelines, seeks to minimize any potential impacts to the environment during the construction and operation of a project,” Sheen said.

The Cassadaga Wind Project will be the first commercial wind farm in Chautauqua County, though there is another wind project underway in the northeastern part of the county that is also in its early stages. This area is suitable for wind power, especially now, as improved technology has made wind farms compatible with a broader range of climates, Sheen said.

“Not only does the area have some strong winds, but the technology continues to get better, so we’re able to capture more of the wind that flows here,” he said.

Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan said the county is working to encourage renewable energy projects in order to diversify its energy portfolio.

“Low-cost, reliable energy is very important to our businesses and the economic future of Chautauqua County,” he said.

The project will be privately funded, as the county has not yet received an application from EverPower for any financial assistance, he said.

In addition to the Cassadaga Wind Project and the other wind project underway, the county is harvesting methane gas that is naturally produced in its landfill to supply energy to the grid system. Horrigan also touted a solar energy project and plans to convert a coal-fired power plant in Dunkirk to a natural-gas-powered plant, as natural gas releases less particulate matter than coal and some consider it to be “cleaner” than other fossil fuels.

“I look at that as a wonderful mix, and I’m excited about the fact that we have a strong renewable energy program in Chautauqua County,” Horrigan said. “Let’s face it, that’s an important part of our energy future. All of these sources go together to provide reliable, low-cost energy, which will make businesses and companies come here.”

Sheen believes the public’s reaction to the project has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

“We’ve had two open houses — one in Cherry Creek and one in Charlotte,” he said. “I would say we had about 100 people at each of them, and we received some great feedback and information we didn’t know before.”

Sheen has been working for EverPower since the company’s founding 13 years ago.

“Wind is a source of power that has few costs,” he said. “As a father, the idea that I could have a positive impact on the environment going forward as well as on the economy — that appeals to me.”