by Gay Nicholson

Community power.  Literally.  That’s the defining trait of the proposed Black Oak Wind Farm in the Town of Enfield.  The project will place about 20 MW of wind turbines on the windiest hills in Tompkins County along Black Oak Road.  That would be enough to power most of the county’s homes – a community’s power supply.

But that’s not the only way the community will benefit from this project.  From the beginning, when former owner John Rancich first conceived of his Enfield Energy wind farm, the focus was also on community ownership of our local renewable energy utility.  This dream is now becoming our shared reality.  John recently sold Enfield Energy to a group of community members with significant expertise in renewable energy and project management.  The 8-member managing board of Black Oak Wind Farm LLC (BOWF) has now turned to friends in our community to raise the $1.2 million in seed capital for the initial round of financing for the $40-45 million project.

I am a community member that is now the proud owner of 13 shares of BOWF.  Even though I already own a solar electric system that powers my home, I am delighted by the opportunity to help others in my community switch to a clean energy supply.  And of course, the prospect of making a healthy return on my investment is definitely part of my decision to invest in BOWF.  I work part-time for a small nonprofit and I live alone now – which makes me a member of the not-so-comfortable-middle-class.  Yet I know that my future well being is increasingly threatened by the rising costs of fossil fuel extraction and the escalating impacts of climate change.  Not to mention the global casino that is rebuilding its house of cards.

Though I am doing what I can to reduce my personal risk from these threats, I know that this must be augmented by helping reduce the risk my community faces.  BOWF is one of the ways our community can buffer itself from the high costs of fossil fuel (both financial and environmental), while funneling some of the profits of the wind farm back into our local economy.  Those of us who are stepping forward now to provide the seed capital are assuming a higher risk, but will be rewarded with larger returns in the future.  (Later on, a public offering to residents of New York State will provide a second opportunity to invest in our own power plant.)

We can’t predict the future with absolute certainty, but it seems likely BOWF will be a success.  I attended one of the informational meetings that the BOWF team held in January, and learned enough to be satisfied that we are on the right track together.  Five years of wind data from the site verifies there is an economically viable supply of wind energy.  The environmental impact studies have found no pressing issues.  A nearby transmission line will reduce the cost of connecting to the grid.  The local town government is pleased about the revenue-sharing model that will reduce their local taxes.  Neighbors will also be offered financial compensation. And even though coal or natural gas-derived electricity has an unfair advantage by not paying the true full cost of its production, wind power is approaching parity in the market anyway.  Finally, the team that’s been assembled, including Juhl Wind, Inc and Val-Add Service Corp., has experience in both developing wind energy and using a community ownership model.

One of the themes I’ve been thinking about lately is “Resilience as Resistance.”  If we don’t want to be victimized by an unfair and exploitative form of global capitalism, we need to create our own economy based on shared ownership and responsibility.  Why should we let large corporations and foreign interests own our wind farms?  They would not be as likely to respond to local concerns, and there certainly is no reason to let them garner all the profits.  Yes, it means we have to take some of the risk ourselves, and at a time when we may be feeling more vulnerable than ever.  But when we accept the risk and the work of becoming more self-reliant and resilient, we also become more powerful in our own right, more capable of saying no to bad deals, more able to take care of our own people.

If you want to join me as a co-owner of BOWF, contact project manager Marguerite Wells at enfieldenergy@gmail.com.  She is organizing webinars for interested folks, which detail the plans for the wind farm.  There are probably only a few more weeks before they reach their goal, so don’t procrastinate if you want to be an early supporter (there’s a $5000 minimum investment at this stage).  This is an opportunity to put your money where your values are right here in Tompkins County.

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