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Group pushes for New York State’s help in building wind turbines

With the state planning to pump $1 billion over the next decade into solar projects, a group of local businesses and environmentalists are wondering: What about wind energy?

With the strong winds blowing across Lakes Erie and Ontario making a large swath of Western New York appealing for wind turbines, advocates said it makes sense for the state to support the development of wind energy as a prime source of renewable energy in the state.

“We really need to develop more in terms of the wind industry,” said Thomas E. Fleckenstein, the owner of Niagara Wind & Solar, a Niagara Falls renewable energy contractor.

“We know that we have the resource here,” he said during a news conference Thursday where 60 local businesses backed a campaign urging Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to put more money into initiatives to expand wind energy projects.

Fleckenstein said a solar energy project can cost three times more than a wind energy project with the same generating capacity. “Wind will beat solar any day of the week,” he said.

The Sierra Club’s “Turn, Don’t Burn” campaign is calling for the state to launch a program for wind energy, similar to the two-year-old NY Sun initiative that now is seeking an additional $1 billion in state funding to help finance solar energy projects over the next decade.

The goal of the wind energy campaign is to double the state’s capacity for electricity generation from onshore turbines within the next four years. Wind currently provides 4 percent of New York’s power- generating capacity, according to the New York Independent Systen Operator, which manages the state’s power grid.

The group also backs a proposal to build a massive offshore wind farm in the waters off Long Island. That proposed project, which would be located in the Atlantic Ocean, 13 miles off the Rockaway Peninsula, would have the capacity to generate 350-megawatts of electricity with the potential for future expansion that would double its output.

“We need our leaders to create a clean-energy future that’s built to last,” said Charlotte Olena, an organizer for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign to replace higher-polluting coal plants with renewable energy sources, such as wind.

With Western New York’s favorable winds, advocates of the additional funding for wind projects say the state money would not only provide a new source of clean energy for the region but help build an industry that could support good-paying jobs as it expands.

“Wind is a great way to keep energy prices down,” said Linda Schneekloth, chairwoman of the Sierra Club’s Niagara Group. “The fuel is free.”

But growth in the wind energy industry has been sporadic, with developers often finding it hard to obtain financing for large-scale projects, while smaller installations, such as projects that would use smaller wind turbines to provide electricity for a farm, often take several months to obtain the needed permits, Fleckenstein said. The uncertainty over lucrative federal wind energy credits, which have regularly faced expiration in recent years, only to be renewed at the last minute, also has put a damper on the wind energy sector.