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Lake turbines part of new state power play

OBSERVER Photo Before the sun set on the NRG power plant in Dunkirk, rates for electricity were not as costly in Western New York.

Tuesday afternoon in Chautauqua County was far from overwhelming weather-wise. With a comfortable temperature reading of 76 at 4 p.m., it was much cooler than the one week earlier when residents were seeking air-conditioned shelter due to the 90-degree heat and humidity.

According to the New York Independent System Operator web site, at that exact time earlier this week, 79% of the electricity in the state came from fossil fuels, natural gas and nuclear. The other 21% came from renewable energy, which included hydropower, wind and solar.

What’s important to note about this mix is the demand for electricity was not high. At the time, the marginal cost was $28 with Western New York paying about $1 more.

About five years ago, when both the Huntley and Dunkirk NRG plants were in operation, electric costs in this region were some of the lowest in the state.

Without those plants, much of the power is being imported from what has been referred to by many area elected officials as a “dirty” coal-fired plant in Homer City, Pa.

It is not exactly the green energy New York state was looking to promote.

Going one step further, making the shift to being environmentally friendly is happening at a slow pace. On July 31, 2019, fossil fuels and natural gas made up 61% of the electricity fuel mix with nuclear making up the other 21%. Renewables made up 18%.

Comparing this July to last shows a negligible change. Overall, we are still heavily relying on non-renewables for our power.

Albany has definitely taken notice of this disparity. With the state’s goal of having 100% emissions-free electricity by 2040, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the largest combined clean energy solicitations ever issued in the U.S.

He is seeking up to 4,000 megawatts of renewable capacity to combat climate change. Additionally, New York’s second offshore wind solicitation seeks up to 2,500 megawatts of projects, the largest in the nation’s history, in addition to last year’s solicitation which resulted in nearly 1,700 megawatts awarded.

“With these record-breaking solicitations for renewable energy and new port infrastructure, New York continues to lead the way with the most ambitious Green New Deal in the nation, creating a future fueled by clean, renewable energy sources,” Cuomo said in the news release.

This has many living along Lake Erie, especially those in and around Dunkirk, on high alert. For boaters and fishing enthusiasts, turbines along the lake also bring a sense of anxiety.

Once those windmills are constructed in the waters, the landscape will be forever changed. The big question: can it be stopped?

Paul Michalec, town of Evans Conservation Advisory Commission chairman and head of the group opposing wind turbines in Lake Erie, has noted his concerns regarding recent developments. Michalec said an Ohio Power Siting Board approved a permit of the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. Icebreaker, LLC, and Fred Olsen Renewables for six windmills in the lake near Cleveland.

However, he said, the siting board is requiring the wind turbines to be shut off at night from March 1 to Nov. 1 in order to mitigate any potential impact on bird and bat migration as well as to study migration patterns in relation to areas the wind turbines are to be sited.

That’s worth watching.

Closer to home, Michalec said a buoy in Lake Erie off Sturgeon Point Marina is collecting data for Cleanwater Wind, LLC. “The (Department of Environmental Conservation) has been asked to obtain a copy of the data the buoy collects while it is deployed in Lake Erie,” Michalec said. “This is important because wind turbines have never been installed in the Great Lakes so there isn’t a baseline from which to be able to determine what the level of impact would be if they are built in any of the lakes.”

There is no in between when it comes to turbines. Those projects on land and hills in Arkwright, Villenova and Cassadaga have been met with both cheers and jeers.

During a contentious presentation by the Sierra Club in the Clarion Hotel Marina & Conference Center that promoted turbines in Lake Erie, voices of dissension were not allowed, as only written questions were accepted. “Unlike coal-fired power plants, wind emits no mercury, which continues to poison our water bodies and our fish and all our aquatic life,” presenter Dr. Ellen Banks told a November gathering. “Fossil fuel is bad for fish. It’s bad for the lake.”

Eight months later, the city’s Common Council went on record to oppose any windmills in the waters. While the resolution puts them on record, they have little power to stop it due to the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act pushed by Cuomo that takes local input out of the equation.

“The whole thing is moot,” Third Ward Councilman James Stoyle said. “We got no say in this thing. The governor has taken that power away from everyone along Lake Erie.”

Stoyle is absolutely correct. With these projects having the blessing of New York state, no one may be able to stop these winds of change.

John D’Agostino is the regional editor for the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 253.

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