New Yorkers need cheaper energy. But at what price?
For a couple of decades at least, New York’s economic growth woes have been tied to the extraordinarily high costs of electricity for business and, not incidentally, for consumers as well. We have the highest energy costs in the continental United States, twice as high as North Carolina’s, and three times as high as West Virginia’s.
Yet, since 2002, when Article 10 – the state law covering the siting of new power plants – lapsed, our ability to increase production and clean up what we’ve got has been hampered. That law might have offered a controversial gauntlet for industry to follow that was maddening even in its so-called expedited version, but at least it allowed a few power plants to be built.
Steve Mitnick, Gov. Spitzer’s point man on energy, is shopping around an alternative Article 10 to various stakeholders. A broad range of opinion from both the energy industry and environmental watchdog groups is largely negative so far, so a re-writing before we see legislation is likely.
Even now, in the circulated proposed form, there are a few conceptual considerations that have various parties frowning, or just plain angry.
The new siting law in part would feature a Clean Energy Supply Board to pass on so-called noncontroversial projects. Big-ticket energy producers would simply go through state Environmental Quality Review Act protocols that would be made greener, setting higher standards for nitrogen and sulphur emissions and particulates.
In broad form, upstate would become the increased energy producer for downstate, which means either an even greater transmission bottleneck for energy delivery downstate than we have now, or building more transmission lines. The latter means tearing up a lot of upstate real estate and irritating a lot of rural homeowners.
For some reason, the logical alternative – having New York City produce more of its own energy and avoiding transmission lines – is not encouraged in the new Spitzer dynamic.
At the same time, more alternative energy – notably wind farms – would get an expedited process. There’s where the governor mostly expects to meet his goal of 25 percent of our energy needs coming from renewable sources by 2013.
It’s funny about wind farms, and wind energy in general. Electricity produced from wind is clean, throws no carbon in the air and uses natural forces.
But it is also very expensive to produce (it’s heavily subsidized), and transmission costs are another costly hurdle. Plus, a landscape full of wind farms won’t put a dent in our energy needs, and aesthetically, wind farms are not for everybody everywhere.
The Barton Mines project in the Adirondacks, for example, is a great idea at a questionable location. Historic Cherry Valley twice has beaten back developers by creating local zoning that made wind power undesirable from an investment perspective. Whereas on the north slope of the Adirondacks going into the St. Lawrence Valley, numerous wind farms are up and spinning, with local approval.
In some places, they succeed. In others, they don’t. Let local government decide whether to welcome, restrict or ban wind farms.
Yet what the new Article 10 equivalent in its present form would do is supersede all of those local ordinances in places like Malone and Cherry Valley with a state siting procedure that is super wind-farm friendly. There would be no grandfathering of existing zoning restraints. In other words, home rule would be tossed out the window.
That’s unacceptable. We’re a home-rule state. One size does not fit all. The home-rule issue is one reason the state Senate is looking with deep skepticism at the Spitzer proposal. The Assembly doesn’t like it much, either.
Andy Minnig, active with Advocates for Cherry Valley, is rallying several other like-minded groups from towns and villages that have beaten back wind farms. “We intend to make a great deal of noise all across the state.”
Now’s the time to do it, when concepts are fluid and the eventual legislation can be drastically revised.
It’s back to the drawing board, Mr. Mitnick.
By Fred LeBrun
1 May 2007
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