Ball Hill Wind hearing may draw crowd
SILVER CREEK — The maximum capacity of the Silver Creek Central School auditorium is 768. Will it be enough room to accommodate everyone in attendance at the Ball Hill Wind Energy public statement hearing on Wednesday?
That is certainly the hope, as past public hearings and meetings regarding Ball Hill Wind have resulted in large standing-room only crowds and over-flowing parking lots. This was the case on June 26, when a public hearing regarding the proposed increase in turbine height held at Hamlet United Methodist Church was so large that the crowd overflowed outside onto the steps and sidewalk in front of the church. The Aug. 8, Villenova Town Board meeting during which members voted on this height proposal was so large that the voting portion of the meeting was conducted outside in front of the town hall.
On Wednesday at 4 p.m., the New York State Public Service Commission will hear comments from the public regarding Ball Hill Wind’s request for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, one of the final hurdles before the planned wind electric generating facility in the towns of Hanover and Villenova can break ground. “Because Ball Hill Wind’s project was approved at the local level, the commission’s main role is to determine whether the correct procedures were followed for that approval and whether the developer is financially viable to build and operate the project,” the Public Service Commission announced in a press release this week.
A total of 29 turbines (23 in Villenova and six in Hanover) are expected to produce approximately 100 megawatts of electric generating capacity in a project area that covers approximately 9,715 acres. The project includes the construction of a new substation to connect to National Grid, a 26-mile electric collection system with overhead and underground lines and the construction of approximately 13 miles of access roads.
The project was approved under the State Environmental Quality Review Act in December of 2016, when both townships issued permits and franchise rights to Ball Hill Wind. Unlike Cassadaga Wind, LLC, the state Public Service Commission did not require Ball Hill Wind to undergo review under Article 10 of the Public Service Law or require a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need, as the project was initiated in 2008, three years before Article 10 was enacted. This allowed the project to seek local siting authorities instead of the state’s, placing the responsibility of approving the project, including height increases, squarely on the shoulders of Chautauqua County and its participating townships.
In December 2016, the County of Chautauqua Industrial Development Agency authorized a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement for the project in the amount of $300,000, to be paid to the county and the towns of Hanover and Villenova, as well as the schools within these towns (Forestville and Silver Creek central schools). Additionally, the towns of Hanover and Villenova have entered into host community agreements with the project to receive a total of $380,000 annually in host community payments.
Over the summer, Villenova town board members voted to approve a maximum height increase up to 599 feet for their 23 planned turbines, while Hanover board members voted to keep the maximum height to the original 495 feet.
The issuance of a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity is the final step of the approval process before construction on the project can begin. Under Section 68 of the Public Service Law, “no … electric corporation shall begin construction of an … electric plant without first having obtained the permission and approval of the commission.”
In order to be granted this certificate, Ball Hill Wind must provide the Public Service Commission with a description of the facility and “the manner in which the cost of such plant is to be financed, evidence that the proposed plant is in public interest and is economically feasible, and proof that the applicant is able to finance the project and render adequate service.”
In their Oct. 12, petition for the granting of the certificate, attorneys representing Ball Hill Wind explain that not only does wind company RES have many years of experience developing, building and financing multiple wind projects, but it also has a renewable energy credit contract with the state Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). The petition adds that the project intends to sell its electricity output “on a competitive basis” and has already received all necessary state and local approvals for construction.
The granting of the certificate is the final step, but to some local residents, the public hearing preceding the certificate is long overdue. Chautauqua County residents Mark Twichell and Karen Engstrom, each filed requests with the Public Service Commission for a public hearing regarding Ball Hill Wind in November 2017 and November 2018, respectively.
While the Wednesday hearing is an opportunity for local residents to voice their concerns and questions in person, several have already filed public comments on Ball Hill Wind Energy (Case 18-E-0654) via the Department of Public Service’s website. Judy Phillips, Villenova resident and party list member to Case 18-E-0654, filed her comments against the granting of the certificate on Feb. 5. “Please consider issuances of a CPCN to Ball Hill Wind Energy to be detrimental to the public interest,” Phillips wrote. She shared her concerns of the unsafe noise levels that the project may produce and the possibility of higher electricity costs due to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s high renewable energy mandates.
Other local residents including Robert and Mary Ann Stawitz of Blueberry Hill Farm, recently posted their public comments on the case: “My husband and I feel that Ball Hill Wind Energy should be required to adhere to WHO 2018 noise standards,” Mary Ann Stawitz wrote on Feb. 6.
Noise levels are a recent source of concern for both Ball Hill Wind and Cassadaga Wind projects. A petition that was circulated throughout the area in recent weeks requests that the state board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment require Cassadaga Wind to amend their certificate to comply with recent World Health Organization guidelines regarding turbine noise.
Initially, that petition, as reported in a Feb. 6, 2019 OBSERVER article, had just nine signers. Less than one week later, it was submitted to the siting board with the signatures of 140 local residents requesting the siting board require Cassadaga Wind to amend their certificate in compliance with WHO’s latest statement on wind turbine noise.
As Ball Hill Wind is still waiting for the state to grant its certificate, Feb. 20 is an opportunity for local residents to request that the project be made to follow the same guidelines, said Twichell. “Concerned citizens should consider attending the Silver Creek hearing to voice their opinion that Ball Hill should also comply with the current WHO standards,” he explained in the Feb. 6 OBSERVER article.
Immediately following the public hearing, a procedural conference will be held before Administrative Law Judge Dakin D. Lecakes in Silver Creek Central School’s auditorium. According to the Department of Public Service’s announcement of the public hearing, the purpose of the procedural conference is to identify any potential parties and provide interested individuals an opportunity to share and explain any proposals “regarding the procedures they believe should be followed in this case by the judge and Commission including, but not limited to, whether any issues of fact presented by the petition or public comments warrants an evidentiary hearing.”
Those who are unable to attend the public hearing on Wednesday still have the opportunity to share their comments on Case 18-E-0654 – Ball Hill Wind online at www.dps.ny.gov. Comments may also be submitted by email to Hon. Kathleen H. Burgess, New York State Public Commission secretary at secretary.dps.ny.gov or by mail to Burgess at Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY 12223-1350. There is also a toll-free opinion line for individuals to submit comment by phone: 1-800-335-2120. Callers should reference Case 18-E-0654 – Ball Hill Wind; this line is set up to receive in-state calls 24 hours a day. Though not transcribed, summaries of calls will become part of the record considered by the Commission, along with public comments, emails and letters. All comments should be submitted by Friday, March 1.