IDA won’t reconsider PILOT for Ball HIll project

Nothing to react to

OBSERVER Photo by Jimmy McCarthy Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello voices his issues with wind projects at a recent county Industrial Development Agency meeting in Westfield.

WESTFIELD — A payment in lieu of tax agreement won’t be reconsidered despite changes to wind turbine heights within the Ball Hill Wind Energy Project in the town of Villenova.

Mark Geise, Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency chief executive officer, said Tuesday there’s been chatter about the turbines and whether the IDA needed to review the PILOT that garnered the IDA’s approval in December 2016. Geise said the IDA got its legal team together to look it over.

“They shared there’s nothing we need to review or reconsider,” Geise said. “The PILOT doesn’t contemplate the height of the wind turbines at all.”

Greg Peterson, counsel for the IDA, backed Geise’s statements by saying the increase of the height is not inconsistent with the approval of transactional documents.

“We don’t get involved in zoning whatsoever,” Peterson said. “Those issues were presented to the various towns and they reacted accordingly. Essentially there’s no agenda item here… nothing for us to react to.”

Earlier this month, the Villenova Town Board approved modifications to the wind project led by Renewable Energy Systems (RES). Ball Hill submitted an application for increased wind turbine heights to 599 feet and changes to minimum setback requirements, among other things. On Monday, the Hanover Town Board went the other way by unanimously disapproving similar changes proposed by RES. Turbines in Hanover will remain at a maximum 495 feet.

Discussion over the wind project and the PILOT back in 2016 saw disagreement from George Borrello, then county legislator and current county executive, and Dennis Rak, IDA board vice chairman. Borrello voted ‘no’ on the PILOT agreement as he took issue with industrial wind projects and how “the only green part about these projects is the money made.”

Rak, who owns a small wind turbine abstained. But he acknowledged support for the wind project.

On Tuesday, Borrello criticized the changes desired by RES for its wind project.

“If I work on a project for five or six years and all of a sudden the day comes to sign the contract, and I say, ‘Oh, this not profitable can I make this change, that’s kind of an adversarial move in my opinion,” he said.

In response, Rak acknowledged that the wind company is not an adversary.

“They just spent an awful lot of money in Chautauqua County,” Rak said. “I think we should treat them as a partner.”

Borrello said he might agree with Rak if it wasn’t for the negative impact of the project in his opinion.

“As far as spending money, they spent a lot of taxpayer money,” Borrello said. “Their money really isn’t at stake.”