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Doubts About Offshore Wind

Michael Townsend doubts viability of offshore wind farms

New York Power Authority board chairman Michael Townsend questioned Monday whether the authority's offshore wind farm proposal should go forward.

"From my perspective, I don't think that project is very viable at this time, politically or economically," said Townsend, a lawyer with the Perinton-based law firm Harris Beach.

The authority, an independent arm of state government, has been reviewing five private-sector proposals to erect wind turbines in state waters of lakes Ontario or Erie. Officials are supposed to announce a decision by June.

Townsend, appointed to the board in 2004 by former Gov. George Pataki, does not expect to be reappointed when his term expires later this month.

He noted that authority President Richard Kessel, a champion of the offshore idea, had said offshore turbines would not be built where they're not wanted. County lawmakers in seven of the nine shoreline counties, including Monroe, have voted to express opposition to the plan for aesthetic, environmental and other reasons. "We're not being welcomed," Townsend said.

He also said the project might be financially burdensome. Kessel had said the authority would support an offshore wind farm by signing a long-term power purchase agreement on terms favorable to its private development.

But Townsend said the authority, which generates or purchases electricity for hundreds of business, government and other customers, might be "spread too thin" financially to sign an expensive agreement. That's especially true, he said, if the authority finalizes a costly purchase agreement to support construction of a huge transmission line under the Hudson River to carry power to New York City.

He said that "unofficially, other board members agree" that offshore wind may be too expensive. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who supported the offshore concept during his gubernatorial campaign as long as it was financially feasible, is "the big X factor," said Townsend, who pointed out that offshore projects elsewhere in the Great Lakes have been axed or frozen.

Connie Cullen, a spokeswoman for the authority, said Monday that "while we greatly respect the opinions of our trustees, NYPA hasn't yet completed its review of the bids for the ... initiative. We hope to present the full results of the review to our trustees in the next couple of months."

Townsend said the common wisdom is that John S. Dyson will replace him as chairman. Dyson chaired the authority during the Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo administrations, and he was named to the board again by Andrew Cuomo earlier this year.

Townsend said he had nothing to say to rumors that Kessel, authority president since October 2008, could be leaving. Cullen said Kessel had no plans to resign.

Written by Steve Orr, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle staff writer.

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