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October 25, 2016
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Liberty wind projects analyzed; Community-owned electricity generation

Two wind turbines have been superimposed on pictures of the land behind the Robert Travis Building, which is part of the Sullivan County Community Services Complex in Liberty. Luke Spencer of Sustainable Energy Developments (SED) explains the proposed wind project.
TRR photo by Fritz Mayer

There are a couple of large hurdles with the wind projects that are proposed for the Town of Liberty. For one of the projects the estimated cost is $5.3 million, which is a figure that will surely put up an immediate red flag, as county legislators struggle with a double-digit tax increase for 2012.

But at a presentation of the projects at the Liberty Senior Center on December 14, members of the company Sustainable Energy Developments (SED) explained how the projects could be structured in such a way as to benefit the county.

One prospect envisions a two-megawatt wind turbine located on county-owned land, which would provide electricity to the Human Services Complex on Sunset Lake Road, several hundred feet from the proposed site.

According to Loren Pruskowski, chief financial officer and co-founder, the total installed cost has been calculated at $5.3 million, and the revenue generated from the value of electricity would be $550,000, which is enough to power about 400 homes annually. The county could finance it with what is called a “clean renewable energy bond,” which is supposed to carry a 0% interest rate, but with various fees actually comes with a rate in the neighborhood of 1%. At that rate, if a bond could be set for 15 years, the project could be “cash-flow positive,” Pruskowski said.

The other way to structure the project involves finding a company to own the wind turbine and sell the electricity to the county. As a nonprofit organization, the county can’t take advantage of the tax credits that come with alternative energy projects, but a private company can. Assuming that the federal government renews wind-tax credits, which at the moment are scheduled to expire at the end of the year, a for-profit company might be interested in building the wind project, and taking advantage of the tax credits, and selling the wind turbine back to the county once all of the tax credits expire.

Typically wind turbines have a life of 20 or 25 years but, actually, most parts of the project, except for the guts of the turbine itself, have a life that is closer to 50 years.

Another project that was discussed was for a different two-megawatt turbine or perhaps two turbines, depending on the desires of the developer, that would be located in another part of the town, and would not provide electricity to a specific facility, but would instead sell it into the grid. Here again, to make the project financially feasible, a large for-profit corporation would own a large majority of the project, up to 99%, and could take advantage of tax credits. One percent of the project might be owned by a group of local residents, and once the tax credits expire, the two owners could flip ownership shares.

The presentation was a bit technical, and showed that SED has measured such things as the noise impact on the few houses that are located more than 1,000 feet away from the proposed location, and the number of hours every year during which “shadow flicker” would occur on which parts of the ground nearby because of the sun shining through the turning blades.

Further, there are still many hurdles to overcome if a wind turbine is ever to be built in Liberty. For instance, the Town of Liberty has no wind ordinance.