Tuesday, March 27, 2007

WIND ENERGY: Billionaire Tom Golisano says his new company will keep more money in host towns

WIND ENERGY: Billionaire Tom Golisano says his new company will keep more money in host towns

By Michael Regan/reganm@gnnewspaper.com
Amid references to his hockey team and jokes that fired up the nearly 200 in attendance, billionaire Tom Golisano, owner of the Buffalo Sabres and founder of the successful Paychex company out of Rochester, promoted his newest entrepreneurial endeavor, Empire State Wind Energy, on Monday night at the Albion Senior High School.

It wasn’t the first occasion politicians and residents of Orleans County had gathered to hear heads of companies pass on details related to the often controversial topic of wind turbines. But, according to Golisano and his business partner Keith Pitman, their plan is different.

“I don’t want to make the same mistakes as Niagara Falls,” Golisano said in reference to what he views as unfair distribution of funds yielded from the Niagara Power Project. “If it’s your energy and wind, why give it up? We started this company because we think we have a better idea.”

According to Golisano and Pitman, that idea includes giving local municipalities more of the profits from wind energy, while leaving an option for ownership. In their view, outside companies work their way into the region, leaving taxpayers with a pittance of what they deserve.

“Why are these folks coming from all over the earth to investigate wind power in upstate New York?” Pitman said. “Developers offer $8,000 per year per Megawatt of generation capacity. So we think that instead of a company in Europe capturing the money we keep it right here.”

Under his company’s blueprint, Pitman pointed to the potential for upwards of $125,000 a year profit for each turbine during the first 10 years and said after loans are paid off, that figure could more than triple.

But, their presentation wasn’t without questions as dozens in the crowd inquired about a wide-range of topics. Wendi Pencille of Shelby wanted to know how the turbines could affect birds passing through on a major migratory route. Tom Fuller, a county planning board member, asked how much of the profit would be shared with Empire Wind Energy. Others were concerned about noise, aesthetics and a turbine’s proximity to residential areas.

Golisano and Pitman said since the company was started last summer they have had similar conversations with a dozen municipalities across New York state. So far four of them have requested additional information and dialogue. Pitman alone made a similar pitch to the Town of Somerset in Niagara County a few weeks ago.

“It’s certainly been a mixed bag,” Pitman said. “It’s a town by town judgment. The last thing we want to tell you is here’s your project. The first thing we want to ask you is do you want wind energy, yes or no?”

Contact editor Michael Regan at (585) 798-1400, ext. 2226.