Towers may be our latest ‘mistake’
I read James Lisa’s commentary on the current wind farm controversy with interest and understand his concerns that often too much power is placed in the hands of too few officials. However, that is our system and if we cannot fully trust elected officials to make good decisions it means that we as voter must better educate ourselves on the issues and personalities at play in elections.
I do agree fully with his obvious concerns about the development of wind farms in our county and whether our elected officials are making decisions based on the best and most unbiased data available.
The current stampede in New York to develop and build renewable energy projects is a result of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 30-50 plan designed to make our state reliant on renewable energy sources for 50 percent of its energy by 2030. The reason for this is Cuomo’s desire to garner the support of his party’s left wing base in his campaign for the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination.
While touting sources of renewable energy, most of whose development is still in late infancy, the governor has been shutting down tried and true sources of energy like nuclear and coal fired plants. He has banned fracking to extract natural gas from rock formations in the southern tier that could have brought needed jobs to that region and revenue to the state.
Companies that develop wind projects receive generous subsidies from the state in addition to the federal production tax credit. As an example, in 2016 when the average wholesale price of electricity in New York was $34.28 per megawatt-hour, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, funded by surcharges on our electric bills, paid $24.24 per megawatt hour for the electricity produced by two new wind projects. Add that to the federal tax credit of $23 per megawatt-hour and total subsidies paid to these projects came to $47.24 per megawatt-hour or $12.96 more than the wholesale price of power in New York.
I recently wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek column on the new wind farms building in our area. However, since then I have come across several things that have caused me to see the issue differently. While researching that column, I came across a website with a picture of a wind project in upstate Franklin County which stretches from the Canadian border to the Adirondacks. What was disconcerting in the picture was not just the 72 wind turbines sprouting up from forest and farmland but the image of the Adirondacks in the background which made me wonder if someday the peaks of the Adirondacks might be studded with wind turbines.
Something else that had an impact on me were the words of County Executive George Borrello in March following the vote by the legislator requesting the county IDA not approve requests for wind project tax breaks. He said that Western New York and Chautauqua County are still suffering the consequences of and paying to correct the botched urban renewal projects of the 1960s and ’70s and went on to call wind turbines “the urban renewal mistake of the 21st century.” Powerful words indeed.
What happens if in the future wind power proves not to be the solution for our energy needs our governor says it is today? Will these towers and their turbines be left to rust away and deteriorate abandoned by their developers while becoming, at the very least, a nuisance and more likely a danger to those who live near them?
If you’ve read my column in the past you know that I’m an advocate of free enterprise but that doesn’t mean that I have to buy everything businesses try to sell me. I do my due diligence before I make a buying decision. That’s what area towns needed to do and while the Ball Hill project is a done deal, towns should have or should be doing their own independent research before approving amendments to the current plan understanding that the developer who is out to sell you on his plan would naturally paint the rosiest most positive picture.
Keep in mind that the key issue is allowing the developer to build towers 599 feet high. Previously wind towers of this height have been only built as part of ocean-based farms so building towers of this height on land is moving the project into uncharted territory. Towns should have sought independent input on what impact the higher towers would have on noise levels, shadow flicker, cell phone and satellite TV reception and finally their impact on bird and bat populations.
The town of Villenova has just voted to allow the developer of the Ball Hill project, the RES Group to make changes to its original plan. Soon it will be the town of Hanover board’s turn to approve or disapprove the amendments to the developers plan. I hope they will use the time afforded by the delay in the board’s vote to seek answers to questions regarding the impact of the proposed amendments on the town and its citizens.
Finally, Mr. Lisa take some comfort in the fact that in our nation if enough citizens disagree with actions taken or not taken by politicians we can turn them out of office at election time.