Town governments are big on local control, but in the case of wind farms, such authority may be more illusion than reality.
The legal tangles in Italy, Prattsburgh and Cohocton over projects there show how energy companies have local governments outgunned with lawyers and wind experts at the ready.
Most of us defer the total control we exercise over our cars to a mechanic. Wind farms are infinitely more complex, which is why the state needs to provide towns with expertise to evaluate projects or provide cash to hire its own help.
The state has stacked the deck against small towns, starting with former Gov. George Pataki’s executive order on June 30, 2001 – and continued by Gov. Eliot Spitzer on Jan. 1, 2007 – that all state agencies buy 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2005 and 20 percent by 2010. Those orders turned the development of wind, hydro and other forms of renewable energy from desirable to a public imperative. The state Public Service Commission cited those orders in granting subsidiaries of UPC New York Wind – itself a subsidiary of UPC Wind Partners —permission to build the Cohocton and Dutch Hill wind farms, a total of 57 turbines, largely north and northeast of the village of Cohocton.
Also of note is the selective use of terminology by UPC Wind affiliates. The companies involved in the Cohocton and Dutch Hill projects appealed to the Public Service Commission for a fasttrack review on the grounds that they were both electric corporations.
Meanwhile, WindFarm Prattsburgh, another subsidiary of UPC New York Wind, had argued successfully that it is not an electric corporation subject to regulation by the commission. Granted, the Prattsburgh project is smaller (66 megawatts vs. 128 megawatts at Cohocton and Dutch Hill), but the company has been reluctant to talk about the apparent contradiction. Clearly, it is using technical distinctions to ensure the most favorable regulatory treatment in each case.
In neighboring Italy, another energy company, Ecogen LLC, has its eye on some Yates County-owned land and has threatened to use its status as a “utility” to get its hands on the property.
The unfortunate part of all this is that wind farms are getting a bad rap; the issue has boiled down to the unhelpful and subjective conclusion that Big Energy is forcing ugly turbines down the throats of locals.
Wind turbines may yet have a valuable place among other forms of energy that have problems themselves: Nuclear plants leave us with radioactive waste; the burning of natural gas, coal and oil – though oil is not a big player in electricity – contribute to smog and global warming.
If state leaders really back renewable energy, they should have no fear of giving towns the wherewithal to evaluate the costs and benefits of wind farms. It would be naive to think such money wouldn’t come with strings attached, but it would be equally naive to think the state is not already pulling strings.
4 October 2007
Source: Cohocton Wind Watch
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