NELSON, FENNER — On Oct. 19, Liberty Renewables held an open house at Nichols Pond County Park in Canastota to inform the public about its proposed Hoffman Falls Wind Energy Project.
Liberty Renewables, an Albany-based wind energy company with remote offices in Central and Upstate New York, has proposed constructing up to 24 turbines with a total capacity of up to 100 megawatts (MW) in the Towns of Fenner, Nelson, Eaton, and Smithfield.
Liberty staff, including Development Manager Scott Biggar, and regional experts were available during the open house to provide handouts, answer questions, and address concerns.
According to a Hoffman Falls Wind Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) handout, the preliminary project layout consists of 12 turbines in Fenner, one turbine in Nelson, three turbines in Smithfield, and eight turbines in Eaton.
“The local wind resource is consistently very strong, and the local Fenner-Cortland 115-kV transmission line has capacity for new power generation,” the FAQ states. “These factors, along with local landowner participation, make the area highly suitable for a new wind energy project.”
The existing 20-turbine, 30 MW Fenner Wind Farm and the 23-turbine, 34.5 MW Munnsville Wind Farm both utilize turbines that are roughly 320 feet tall from the base to the blade tip. According to Liberty, the proposed higher-efficiency Hoffman Falls Wind turbines would be approximately 600-680 feet tall from the base to the blade tip.
Liberty estimates that each turbine would take up less than one acre of land at the surface once construction is complete. On average, access roads and buried power lines would encompass approximately one acre per tower.
According to the FAQ, existing roads and cleared areas would be used wherever possible to minimize disturbance. Other land would be needed for a substation, a meteorological tower, an aircraft detection lighting system tower, and an operations and maintenance facility.
“Hoffman Falls Wind is anticipated to require less than 50 acres of land in total upon operation,” the FAQ states.
To accommodate the proposed project, Liberty has leased property from around 40 landowners, some of whom own multiple parcels that are part of the project area.
94-c permitting process
Liberty is preparing to apply for a permit from New York State’s Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES) for the Hoffman Falls Wind project.
In support of developing its 94-c permit application, the project team has conducted numerous studies at the facility site, including a visual impact assessment, a wetland and stream study, numerous avian surveys, and surveys for undiscovered cultural resources.
At the time of the open house, Liberty had completed about 90 percent of its pre-application studies. The developer anticipates filing its application with ORES in the next three to four months.
A few years ago, New York State enacted a significant overhaul of large-scale renewable energy project permitting.
ORES was established within the Department of State by the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth & Community Benefits Act, which passed as part of the FY 2020-2021 state budget. The siting office was created to consolidate the environmental review and permitting of major renewable energy facilities in NYS into a single forum that provides “a coordinated and timely review” of siting permit applications.
“This process is designed to help meet the State’s renewable energy objectives while ensuring the protection of the environment with consideration of all pertinent social, economic and environmental factors (including environmental justice) while providing opportunity for local government and community participation in the permitting process,” the ORES website states.
All large-scale renewable energy projects 25 MW or larger are now required to seek a siting permit from ORES for new construction or expansion.
The required pre-application studies and consultation phase takes between 12 and 14 months.
Once an application is filed with ORES, the developer provides a fund to the state that is then made available to qualified, locally impacted parties and municipalities to offset certain expenses incurred by participating in the 94-c process, such as hiring a lawyer or consultants to review the application. The funding is meant to encourage early and effective public involvement in the project development and permitting.
ORES has 60 days from the date of its receipt of an application to make a completeness determination. An application cannot be deemed complete without proof of consultation with the host municipalities and communities.
After a completeness determination, ORES issues draft permit conditions for public comment. Within the subsequent 60-day comment period, the host municipalities must submit a statement providing feedback on the draft permit conditions and indicating whether the proposed facility complies with applicable local laws.
If the host communities raise any issues that ORES deems “substantive and significant,” the state office may schedule an adjudicatory hearing.
Under the 94-c process, Liberty can ask ORES to override local laws if the siting board determines that they are “unreasonably burdensome” and interfere with the state meeting the goals set forth in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. The act was signed into law in 2019 to address climate change and put the state on a path to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions. One of the plan’s targets is to generate 70 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
ORES must issue a final decision on the siting permit within one year of the date the application was deemed complete.
According to Liberty, Hoffman Falls Wind could be fully permitted through ORES by the end of 2024. Construction could begin as early as winter 2025-2026 and continue for roughly 12 to 18 months. The project, which has a lifespan of at least 25 years, could become fully operational by winter 2026-2027.
The FAQ handout states that participating towns would receive annual payments through Host Community Benefit Agreements, local school districts would receive annual payments through a payment in lieu of taxes agreement with Madison County, residents hosting the project infrastructure would receive annual payments through leases and easements, and neighbors of the project would receive additional annual payments through a shared community payment program.
“New York State now also requires that wind energy projects provide $1,000/MW annually for utility bill credits to residents in the town(s) where the project is located,” said Biggar. “For Hoffman Falls Wind, this would be a fund of $100,000 annually that gets distributed to residents.”
The financial benefits would begin once the project becomes operational and continue on an annual basis throughout the lifespan of the project.
“Further capital investments in local and state industries are made during construction and operation, as well as contribute to job creation and workforce development,” the FAQ states. “Details about all benefits will be included as part of the socioeconomic impact assessment within the project’s 94-c permit application.”
According to the developer, the towns within the facility site would not be responsible for decommissioning costs. A decommissioning bond paid by Liberty would be established prior to construction, posted in escrow, and shared by the towns.
Fenner and Nelson local laws
According to Town Supervisor Dave Jones, Fenner does not have a local law prohibiting new commercial wind energy projects. However, the project that Liberty is proposing is not located within the town’s zone for commercial wind.
Cypress Creek Renewables, a national solar energy company, has also proposed a large-scale renewable energy project in Fenner.
Cypress Creek’s “Oxbow Hill Solar” is a 140 MW solar facility that would be collocated with the existing Fenner Wind Farm. The proposed site encompasses 1,586 acres leased from 10 landowners. Once constructed, the project components would occupy 684 acres.
The project is currently going through the 94-c permitting process as well.
In 2021, at the recommendation of its solar committee, Fenner adopted a local law that prohibits all large-scale commercial solar facilities within the town.
On Oct. 18, Jones said he had no specific comments regarding Hoffman Falls Wind. He added that the town is currently gathering information on the renewable energy projects that are being proposed in Fenner.
The Town of Nelson imposed a nine-month moratorium on the establishment of commercial wind energy facilities in February 2023 in response to increasing interest from developers.
The local law states that while the town recognizes the potential benefits and desirability of wind power and other renewal energy sources, it believes that time and research are necessary to determine how to properly regulate the systems.
According to Nelson Town Supervisor Jim Cunningham, the town board voted in September 2023 to extend the moratorium another nine months.
In October 2023, the Nelson Town Board introduced a proposed local law imposing a 12-month moratorium on battery energy storage systems to give the town time to develop regulations that will address the siting, establishment, placement, installation, construction, erection, modification, and/or enlargement of such systems.
A public hearing on the proposed local law is scheduled for Nov. 9, 2023, at 6:30 p.m. at the Nelson Town Office, 4085 Nelson Rd., Cazenovia.
In August 2023, the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Directors adopted a resolution requesting that the NY Association of Conservation Districts work with state elected officials to restore home rule, allowing local governing bodies to determine the siting of industrial solar and wind industrial complexes within their legal boundaries.
“I have moved a resolution at the state conservation level to at least protect our limited farmland and give our town a larger say in the placement of new, massive wind towers, some now reaching 800 feet tall,” said Cunningham, who sits on the Madison County SWCD. “NYS has bundled projects into multi-town projects under new 94C regulations that limit towns’ input. I’m certainly not against improving clean energy technologies, but at least let local landowners have a voice in the process.”
The Madison County SWCD resolution states that in its attempt to push electrical generation through the construction of wind and solar industrial sites, NYS has removed the ability of local governments and citizens to determine the best locations within their communities to site such industrial complexes. It adds that many of the facilities are being proposed and constructed on prime farmland soils and soils of statewide significance.
For more information on the proposed Hoffman Falls Wind Energy Project, visit liberty-renewables.com/hoffmanfallswind/. Questions can be directed to Liberty’s contact page at liberty-renewables.com/ – contact.