RAY BROOK - A temporary monitoring mast that's collecting weather data for the first commercial wind farm proposed in the Adirondack Park will be allowed to stay up for another two years.
However, whether the Adirondack Wind Energy Park in the town of Johnsburg will move forward once that two-year period is over remains up in the air, the project's developers say, due to uncertainty in the business, regulatory and political climate surrounding wind energy.
The state Adirondack Park Agency agreed last week to renew the permit for the 164-foot-tall meteorological mast on property owned by Barton Mines near Gore Mountain. It's the third time the agency has issued a two-year renewal permit for the tower, at the request of Adirondack Wind Partners LLC and Barton Mines Inc.
Initially proposed in fall 2004, the Adirondack Wind Energy Park would involve the construction of 10 wind turbines that could produce up to 30 megawatts of power, enough to supply about half of the 26,000 homes in North Creek. It would be located on a former mining site owned by Barton Mines.
The first wind monitoring tower on the property was approved by the APA in 2003. It was given two-year extensions in 2005 and 2007, but fell down during a wind storm in 2008. A second tower, located nearby, was approved by the APA in 2006, then repermitted in 2008 and 2010.
In a presentation to the agency's Regulatory Programs Committee Thursday, APA Deputy Director Rick Weber said Adirondack Wind Partners would have had to take down the mast by Oct. 30 unless it could make a "clear and convincing demonstration" that it is still needed.
The company's attorney, Bernard Melewski, sent the agency a letter this summer outlining the reasons why the company wants to keep collecting data. Melewski said the business climate for small wind farms remains "quite uncertain," citing the economic downturn and relatively low energy prices that "have affected the economics of both small and large wind projects."
Melewski also said the regulatory climate in Albany and Congress' inability to agree on an extension of a federal tax credit for wind energy production, which expires at the end of the year, have created additional uncertainty. He noted that President Barack Obama supports extension of the tax credit while his opponent in the Nov. 6 election, Mitt Romney, is opposed to it.
Melewski said all the uncertainty has led to a "wait and see" attitude from potential developers and financial investors.
"While Adirondack Wind Partners had hoped two years ago that a new wind facility proposal would be imminent in 2012, the economic prospects for any future wind project at the Barton site may not be clear until well into 2013," Melewski wrote.
At the same time, however, Melewski said there's still a need to continue gathering wind data from the property. Adirondack Wind Partners has said that most wind projects rely on 10 years or more of data to make financial decisions about the feasibility and design of the project.
APA staff recommended approving the renewal for the monitoring mast. Previous visual analysis found the only location the tower could be seen from was the Vly in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area, and even from there it was "not readily discernible," Weber said.
"It's obvious that the use of the term 'temporary' is really getting stretched here," he said. "Staff do believe that if the applicant comes forward with another request to renew, that we should take another look at the conclusions of the visual impact assessment."
Commissioner Richard Booth asked if by approving the permit the board wasn't increasing the likelihood of the wind farm winning agency approval in the future.
"In my opinion, that's correct," Weber responded, "because the purpose of this is for the testing of the wind potential of any future proposal, not the proposal itself."
Commissioner Sherman Craig said he wasn't concerned with approving the extension for the monitoring mast, but he wondered if the agency is ready to review a commercial wind project.
"I'm not sure if the agency has spent much time thinking about a potential wind farm in the Adirondack Park," Craig said. "I suppose if these (monitoring) towers show no economic value, then we don't need to spend our time, but it just seems to me that while they're being monitored, we might want to consider what the consequences are of them being economically feasible."
The committee voted unanimously Thursday to approve the permit, and the full agency board followed suit on Friday.