Marguerite Wells is the project manager of Black Oak Wind Farm, which at this point is just a field with a wind measuring tower outside of Ithaca. But, according to Wells, the hard part of getting a wind farm built there is already behind them.
“The earliest investors – it was very strongly a pitch about this is the right thing to do because we had no permits, no contracts, nothing at that point and it was very much a speculative investment, very high risk,” says Wells.
If built, it’ll include seven turbines and produce up to 12 megawatts of electricity, enough to power a few thousand homes.
An organic farmer by trade, Wells started working on the project 8 years ago. She’s shepherded it through the entire environmental impact process. The documents on their website include an appendix for every letter of the alphabet – studies on noise and watershed impacts, its potential affects on birds. There’s even something called a “shadow flicker report.” She’s sold all the electricity that the turbines will produce for the next ten years to Cornell University and 80 landowners near the site are onboard. Wells is also in the middle of a third public offering of stock in the farm.
“I’ve always been over my head. From the very first day that I agreed to help my neighbor and he said, oh, call up this turbine supply company and ask them about turbine pricing,” says Wells. “And I made the call and I sounded like a complete idiot because I had no idea what I was talking about. And that kind of primed me for the rest of the job.”
Now, all that’s left is raising the rest of the money and connecting to the grid. Their goal is to raise $34 million from private lenders and so far they have a few million from individual investors.
Peter Bardaglio is the president of the farm’s board of directors. He’s also the founder of an alternative energy consulting firm called Seneca Consulting. Like Wells, Bardaglio’s never built a wind farm. He says raising the rest of the money won’t be the biggest challenge they face. It’s the connection to the grid that’s proving tricky.
“I think one of the issues with the interconnection process is never really quite knowing where we are with it in terms of dealing with the other parties,” says Bardaglio.
The interconnection process involves two main parties. The New York Independent Service Operator, NYISO, makes sure the state always has enough power running through its transmission lines. And the utility, in this case NYSEG, owns the transmission lines. Black Oak will have to build a substation where they connect to the grid, and then turn it over to NYSEG.
The NYISO can approve, reject or alter the power producer’s application to interconnect. That process alone takes up to 3 years.
But Wells is moving ahead. They need to be up and running before the end of the year to qualify for federal tax credits. In ten years, once the loans are paid off, the profits from power produced would go to the local investors. According to SEC regulations for this kind of stock offering, they have to be New York residents.
This would be the first wind farm in New York owned by locals. Wells says, while going around the state making her pitch to potential investors, others are bringing her ideas for future projects.
“So I’m definitely going to be building more projects and I want people to bring me the hills that they would like to see turbines on and put turbines in places that people want them,” says Wells.
She’s hoping that construction at Black Oak will start this spring.