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Windmills, Powerlines and Government Policy…  


Windmills proposed for Jordanville are whipping up debate according to the OD. Farmers can’t be blamed for wanting them. Growing crops is a risky business given the vagaries of the weather. Windmills will give them another way of making money from their land. Windmills are also a good way to wean us off foreign oil, and they are non-polluting. They would contribute to New York State achieving its goal of 20% of our energy from renewable sources.

Neighbors who won’t benefit directly from the windmills, however, are concerned over what they would do to the landscape, and other effects. They can’t be blamed either. It’s one thing to want renewable energy, but quite another to have to look every day at how it is made. To them, windmills would be a nuisance – and, like other nuisances, should be regulated by law. The law recognizes that what one does on one’s property can adversely affect others, and, for that reason may be regulated. Much of modern environmental law evolved from the common law of nuisance.

What may be a nuisance to one person (a purple house for example) may be a thing of beauty to another. There is a certain amount of subjectiveness to the determination, and perceived benefits will play into this determination. If a windfarm generates cheap power for its community, that community will be less likely to consider the windfarm to be a nuisance. If a neighbor receives a direct benefit from a windmill, he or she will be less likely to complain about it.

Not mentioned in the OD article is how the proposed NYRI powerline will play into the windmill debate. Powerlines are the means by which windmill power will be brought to market. Since NYRI will enable area farmers to sell their power to the NYC area market, more than just the windmills’ neighbors will be affected by wind power: namely, all those living along the powerline route. Compounding things, the powerline will likely spawn even more windfarms. If unchecked, one can imagine the entire upstate landscape covered with windmills, with every ampere of power sent over NYRI’s line to downstate, while downstate abandons its old powerplants and fails to build new ones. The disparity between the upstate and downstate economies will ensure that if market forces are left to rule, Upstate will get all the negative impacts and Downstate will get all the benefits because the money and political power is Downstate.

If New York State is taken as a whole, it may make sense to let the market forces take over since, in theory, that would result in the greatest efficiency. However, New York State is not a “whole.” Upstate and Downstate economies are different. The Upstate economy was literally built on cheap power – hydropower – which led to an economy based on manufacturing. Downstate, removed from the sources of hydropower, evolved in a manner less dependent on same.

State policies, controlled by politics and aided by new transmission technologies, have encouraged sharing power between Up and Downstate, lessening the impact of the high demand Downstate, and elevating prices Upstate. The result is that Upstate over the years lost its cheap hydropower advantage over other parts of the country with similar economies “¦ and its manufacturing base withered along with its economy.

If everything is left to a state-wide marketplace, Upstate will die – not because Upstate is inherently different than, say, Virginia, but because Upstate’s resources will be dedicated to Downstate use. The marketplace appears to be the trend in state policy. PSC law sweeps away local regulation of what occurs in (and what is considered a nuisance by) local jurisdictions and makes decisions from a statewide perspective. Essentially, state policy based strictly on the marketplace will pit one group of people against another. If you believe that government should be there as a referee, to keep one group from taking unfair advantage of another, then state policy is way off the mark.

Policies can be different from what they are. The State could, if it wanted, recognize that localities closer to resources should have the benefit of those resources. It has long been recognized that the State is obliged to ensure that water supplies which are more available for use by one community are not absorbed by another. Syracuse v Gibbs, 283 NY 275 (1940). Why shouldn’t this concept apply to water power . . . or wind power . . . or locally generated power of any sort? Pairing resources with communities would lessen conflicts, lessen the liklihood of negative impacts unaccompanied by benefits, and lessen the perception of nuisance. It should be a matter of policy that those who suffer the consequences should be the ones who reap the benefits, and not otherwise.

If Upstate communities are protected from having their local resources absorbed by other communities, Downstate would be encouraged to generate more of its own power, there would be less need for NYRI, and, perhaps, Upstate’s economy would be better. At least Upstate would have greater means to control its own destiny.

Our legislators may make NYRI out as the villain, but they are the ones who have made the State policy that encouraged NYRI to happen.

. . . Ask them what will they be doing about changing state policy.

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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