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Residents make opinion known on renewable energy

OBSERVER Photo by Gregory Bacon Fredonia resident Gina Kron spoke out against placing wind turbines on Lake Erie at the recent Chautauqua County Legislature meeting.

MAYVILLE — The issue of renewable energy continues to take center stage with the Chautauqua County Legislature, even if the lawmakers aren’t voting on anything immediately.

Around 40 county residents either spoke at our had their letter read aloud during the recent legislature meeting. Many of those who spoke in person expressed their opposition to both solar and wind projects, while the majority of those who emailed letters were in favor, especially of the proposed Ripley project.

ConnectGen is proposing a 270-megawatt solar project in South Ripley. The project is expected to cost around $350 million to construct. The county IDA started its investigation for the project last summer to offer a Payment In Lieu Of Taxes agreement. The company is expected to return to the county IDA late this year.

Many of the individuals who wrote letters in support of the Ripley project were either landowners or members of area unions who could be hired as part of the construction, including 12 people with Labors Local 621.

Although the county Legislature has been meeting throughout the pandemic, Wednesday was its first in-person meeting this year. With the meeting being open to the public, more than a dozen residents sat through the meeting so they could express their opinions during the second privilege of the floor. While some expressed concerns about the Ripley solar project, others expressed concerns for other renewable energy projects.

Susan Baldwin of Villenova shared her worries about the construction underway of the Cassadaga wind farm. She displayed a number of photos of dirty water and sludge of what she said was left over from the company when it drilled into the ground to install the wind towers. “They’re leaving this (sludge) for the birds and the bees to find,” she said.

Gina Kron of Fredonia said she supports state Sen. George Borrello’s moratorium on wind energy on Lake Erie and wants the county to support his moratorium as well. She noted how 50 years ago, the lake was considered a “dead lake” because of all the poisonous chemicals placed in it. Through time Lake Erie’s health has improved, however, the chemicals that infected it, Kron said, are likely in the sludge in the bottom of the lake.

“Imagine taking a snow globe full of sludge and shaking it. That is what is going to happen when they try to install those windmills into Lake Erie,” she said.

Robert Galbraith of Westfield/Ripley wanted to bring a solar panel for the county lawmakers to see, however, security wouldn’t allow him to do so. He urged the county to require the developers of the solar projects submit a detailed plan for recycling the panels, just as Niagara County has, and also ban PILOT agreements. “Let’s not let these developers turn our county into a green energy wasteland,” he said.

AD HOC ENERGY COMMITTEE

After the public spoke and 18 letters were read aloud, the legislature closed out its regular meeting and immediately held a workshop on energy. The meeting was open to the public and recorded at the end of the legislature’s meeting, which is on the county’s Facebook page. While the public was allowed to view the workshop, only legislators were permitted to ask questions.

The ad hoc committee was formed by legislator Mark Odell, R-Brocton, who has a background in combustion and thermal fluid dynamics and is employed with Hydronic Specialty Supply. Other committee members included Bob Reuther, an energy contractor who has helped with county fleet’s electric vehicles; Ken Lawton, R-Lakewood, who works for National Fuel; Martin Glose of National Grid; Hans Auer, a board member with the county IDA and the vice president of UBS Wealth Management Americas; and Dennis Elsenbeck, a member of the NYS Action Council, who formerly worked for National Grid and is now with Phillips Lytle Energy Consulting Services.

Committee members focused on a variety of topics, including global perspectives, how industries view green energy, the distribution and demand of energy vs. supply, and financial impacts. They avoided taking positions for or against renewable energy and PILOT programs, saying that’s not their decision to make.

Odell thanked the volunteer committee members for participating and hopes they will continue to assist the county as it tackles energy issues.

“Our overall goal was to educate and set the stage for what the team could bring to the legislature as far as being a resource for the legislators, to utilize in order to make sound decisions moving forward,” he said in an interview after the meeting.

Legislature Chairman Pierre Chagnon, R-Bemus Point, said he found the workshop fascinating. “I was very impressed with the breadth of discussion,” he said Thursday.

According to Chagnon, the county IDA will likely vote on a proposed PILOT for the Ripley project before the end of the year. Because of that, he wants legislators to be educated.

“We hear from property owners about their concerns with solar projects, and we hear from developers, community members, and advocacy groups about the advantage of solar projects. We get very conflicting opinions form those groups,” he said. “This (panel) gave us a more independent perspective.”

Although the county Legislature cannot force the county IDA from issuing or not issuing PILOT agreements, they can offer their opinion on the topic. Chagnon said as chairman, he wants the legislature to be well informed before taking any positions.

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