While Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision strategy was presented in the State of the State and budget address this year with commitments to eliminate coal emissions by 2020, the strategy, now about two years old, has attracted criticism from those who feel the governor’s administration has set unrealistic goals.
With the slogan of “building a clean, resilient and affordable energy system for all New Yorkers,” the REV strategy includes several goals aimed at improving energy infrastructure and generation statewide – and making the transition to renewable energy sources – including three targets for 2030: cutting greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent from 1990 levels, increasing renewable energy generation to 50 percent of all power consumed in New York, and a 23 percent overall reduction in energy use in buildings from 2012 levels.
The plan also includes several initiatives aimed at creating new energy infrastructure from the NY Prize initiative, focused on spurring creation of local emergency power grids known as microgrids, and the Solarize Your Community, part of the NY-Sun Incentive Program, which helps communities create campaigns to get property owners to install solar infrastructure on their homes and businesses.
But while conservationists have supported the REV strategy, some north country experts working on projects under REV aren’t so sure that its goals can be met as projected.
Thomas H. Ortmeyer, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Clarkson University who is investigating the feasibility of building a microgrid in Potsdam, said while technically feasible, the strategy’s 2030 greenhouse gas emission goal is “ambitious,” and faces economic and regulatory hurdles.
He said one of those hurdles is the challenge of replacing existing nuclear power plants like the Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, which hasn’t been adequately addressed in REV. That facility, which the governor has long opposed, claiming safety issues negate its value, is capable of producing more than 2,000 megawatts of clean electricity, or “enough power to light about 2 million homes, thousands of businesses, and hundreds of critical transportation, health and municipal systems,” according to the website of the facility’s owner, Entergy Nuclear.
“Certainly the greenhouse gas emission goal will be much more difficult if we are simultaneously closing nuclear power plants,” said Mr. Ortmeyer. “If we take that (Indian Point) off the grid, retire that, we would have to replace that with about eight times as much renewable (power) to generate the same amount of energy without carbon emissions.”
And replacing it could be an expensive challenge, according to Mr. Ortmeyer, who indicated that both solar photovoltaic and wind power installations, which produce one quarter the power of plants like Indian Point that operate 24/7, may have “significant” battery costs connected to them.
Confounding the Indian Point situation and adding to the state’s sometimes contradictory policies, Gov. Cuomo has offered, to no avail, economic incentives to keep the Nine Mile Point nuclear plant in production, after the Oswego plant’s owners announced it would shut down because current energy prices don’t allow it to operate at a profit.
Because the cost of carbon-free power generation is expected to continue to decline, Mr. Ortmeyer still feels renewables are a possibility, though he described the amount needed to get to 50 percent as a “moving target.”
“There was a time fairly recently, within the last five years, when we didn’t think we could get up to 50 percent renewables, but technology has moved on,” he said. “Battery technology is rapidly getting better, for example. Our ability to control the grid is getting better. There’s still some challenges, but I think we can grow to do that. In New York we’re rich in hydro resources, more so than many states, and that can be a plus for us if we can use that to buffer some of the variations in wind and photovoltaics.”
Mr. Ortmeyer added that the strategy and its initiatives are collectively worth doing because, while the energy landscape in New York is complex, now is the time to experiment with a new direction.
“We’ve been in a deregulated situation for quite a few years now, and we are seeing some very interesting possibilities in renewable energy. I think it’s time to re-look at the regulatory structure here,” he said, calling his biggest concern preserving the viability of power companies as their role is redefined. “It’s hard to make wholesale changes all at once and predict the outcome. But I think it’s a good exercise to do. There’s certainly some risk involved, and if we get it right, I think that will move us forward.”
Low prices create roadblocks
Solarize Canton Project Manager Louise E. Gava said that for residential generation, historically low energy prices, at 4 to 6 cents per kWh, are more likely to discourage property owners from helping to achieve REV goals than the strategy itself, like adding more than 3 gigawatts of installed solar capacity statewide by 2023.
“If energy prices keep going down, and folks aren’t going to see any savings, then I suppose it’s possible,” she said, also indicating that how property owners perceive the success of the technology is also an influential factor. “The single largest thing that seems to drive folks with installs if you’re talking about residential, is: Are neighbors doing it? Once you sort of hit a certain saturation point, then it’s just what everyone does, and it seems like we’ve hit that in Canton.”
Ms. Gava said the six-month Canton campaign, now finished, spurred 26 solar installations, and therefore Solarize Your Community has met expectations for participants.
Rejecting the argument that solar energy isn’t economically feasible on a small scale, Ms. Gava said the REV goal of 50 percent renewable generation by 2030 is reachable, but only with a combination of projects of varying sizes, from larger ones like Clarkson’s 2-megawatt installation, to 1-kilowatt installations on the rooftops of houses, to mid-sized “community projects” between 200-kilowatts and 2-megawatts that would be shared by residents and businesses and will roll out this spring.
“We don’t know if that’s going to work in New York because there’s been no community solar projects connected yet,” she said. “It’s not just simply about size; there’s other goals. It’s not just about getting the generation out there and having it be renewable, it’s also about a more robust grid infrastructure.”
A growing anti-wind movement in communities across upstate New York also could be a major roadblock for Gov. Cuomo’s goal for the state to draw 50 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2030.
In Jefferson County, the town of Clayton is considering a law that would impose an outright ban on industrial turbines, along with alternative approaches to regulate them. In the interim, the Town Council has passed a six-month moratorium on commercial wind projects while it studies its options.
The town’s scramble to combat turbines comes after Iberdrola Renewables decided late last year to revive the long-inactive proposal for its Horse Creek Wind Farm.
Iberdrola’s proposed project – up to 250 megawatts – would be mainly in Clayton but is expected to incorporate the towns of Orleans, Brownville and Lyme. Though the developer hasn’t yet revealed the scope of its proposal, its stated intention is to soon begin an Article 10 review process led by the state Public Service Commission that is required to approve the project.
Residents in the Thousand Islands region are overwhelmingly opposed to the project for several reasons: loss of property value, visual blight, low-frequency noise and the risk turbines pose to birds and bats. Members of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators, meanwhile, have said the board is overwhelmingly opposed to approving payment-in-lieu-taxes agreements for wind projects.
Clayton town Supervisor David Storandt Jr. said he believes it will be difficult for the Cuomo administration to make significant strides when it comes to wind projects.
“While I applaud the governor’s grand vision, I don’t think there are enough suitable sites that would actually be able to make that proposal work,” he said.
Article 10 impacts
Even so, there is a lot of uncertainty about how the state’s Article 10 energy law approved in 2011 could affect the outcome of pending wind projects. So far, no wind developer has successfully completed the mandated Article 10 review process led by the PSC, in which a siting board is charged with reviewing industrial wind projects.
Siting boards have broad mandate to consider local laws and public sentiment in their reviews, and while they have the authority to ignore local laws that are deemed overly burdensome, they also are expected to take into consideration well-crafted local zoning and land-use statutes.
Clayton officials are keeping a close eye on how other upstate municipalities are battling commercial wind projects, Mr. Storandt said. There has been a fierce battle, for example, over the 200-megawatt Lighthouse Wind project proposed by Apex Clean Energy in the towns of Somerset and Yates.
That project, which is undergoing an Article 10 review, calls for up to 70 turbines across 20,000 acres in Niagara and Orleans counties, which border Lake Ontario. The developer has said turbines could be up to 600 feet tall.
Mr. Storandt said he has collaborated with officials in Somerset and Yates to share their strategies for opposing the project.
“We’re trading notes on lessons learned, particularly for scenic and tourism-heavy communities,” he said.
Apex, a renewable-energy company in Charlottesville, Va., is also planning an offshore wind project on Galloo Island in Jefferson County. The 32-tower, 110-megawatt project that calls for 575-foot-tall turbines.
The project, which is undergoing Article 10 review, has been adamantly opposed by officials and residents in the town of Henderson. Though the island’s closest mainland access is about six miles away at Stony Point in Henderson, it is part of the town of Hounsfield.
Henderson, as a result, would not receive any property tax benefits from the project, which calls for an underwater transmission route to a substation in Oswego County.
Property value effects
Results of a Henderson-funded study on the potential impacts of the project concluded that the town could face a total loss in property value of up to about $40 million because of the view of turbines.
The study was completed by Clarkson University School of Business, Potsdam, and Nanos Research of Ottawa, Canada.
Henderson Supervisor John J. Culkin said the property value of other towns in the Golden Crescent region along Lake Ontario’s eastern basin would also be negatively affected by the turbines, which are expected to be visible up to about 15 miles from the island.
“Any other town along the shoreline with characteristics similar to Henderson would most likely experience a similar property value impact,” he said. “We have wealthy homes on the shoreline, and most communities along the shoreline have them. Other homeowners would be impacted as well.”
Cape Vincent already sent a strong message against wind power.
Some town officials involved in a decade-long battle with BP Wind Energy, which abandoned its proposal there in 2014, have said the experience illustrated how a strong zoning law is an effective way to prevent wind projects.
Hudson Energy Development, Albany, is planning a wind project south Jefferson County that could become the largest in the eastern U.S. if it comes to fruition.
William M. Moore, principal of Hudson, has courted farmers across the six-town area to see if they’d be interested in leasing land for the project. He recently held an informal meeting with about 20 farmers, and his vision was well-received. The prospect of lease payments is attractive to farmers, who have struggled because of low milk prices.
Whether this project will spur opposition is unclear, but because of its geographic reach – it could span from the Oswego-Jefferson county border to Route 12F – and its potential proximity to the lake shore, it is unlikely it will be universally embraced.
Organized opposition to this project would join the efforts in Henderson and Clayton, with allies in Cape Vincent, forming another block of opposition to commercial wind projects in Jefferson County.
Opposition to commercial wind development also has been successful in keeping a project out of the town of Meredith, Delaware County. The county, adjacent to the Catskill park, is known for sweeping vistas from the low peaks of the Catskills and for scenic, narrow valleys between ridge lines.
That scenic attraction has drawn second-home owners from the metro-New York/New Jersey area, many of whom enthusiastically joined opposition to ridge-line wind projects.
By contrast, three proposed projects well away from the lake-river region have faced little opposition. Iberdrola is considering a new project west of the company’s Maple Ridge site; OwnEnergy Inc., Brooklyn, has planned a project in the town of Denmark; and EDP Renewables, the parent company of Jericho Rise Windfarm LLC, is well along the path to approval. That proposed 37-tower wind farm would locate 29 towers in the town of Chateaugay and eight in the town of Bellmont.
While it has been clear that areas with significant scenic assets that attract tourists and second-home owners are usually opposed to wind development, interior and largely agricultural areas greet potential wind projects very differently.
The friction arises because the latter areas frequently have insufficient wind generation to make large-scale projects economically viable. The wind map of New York created by the U.S. Department of Energy shows three state areas with sufficient average velocity at 50 meters to sustain commercial wind projects: along the shore of Lake Erie, along the southern and eastern shore of Lake Ontario and surrounding Long Island.
However, additional areas of promise are broader, because existing wind tower technology now exists at a height in excess of 600 feet (183 meters) where wind velocities are much higher.
This opens up many areas in Western, Northern and Central New York to commercial wind development. Many of those – the Catskills, the Finger Lakes, the Mohawk Valley, areas east of the Adirondack Park boundaries – are strong tourism regions and areas of scenic significance.
Many of them are also sparsely populated.
Thus it appears that the state’s march to renewable energy could involve hundreds of local skirmishes and unhappy taxpayers, which would hamper the ability to achieve the governor’s energy goals.
Reforming the Energy Vision strategy goals by year:
■ Cut energy use in state buildings by 20 percent through BuildSmart NY
■ Close New York’s three remaining coal power plants, or repower them to cleaner fuel sources
■ Install 3 gigawatts of solar capacity statewide through NY-Sun
■ Reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent from 1990 levels
■ Increase renewable energy generation to 50 percent of all power consumed statewide
■ Reduce energy consumption of buildings by 23 percent from 2012 levels
■ Cut greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050
■ Invest $1 billion in clean energy technologies and projects through NY Green Bank
■ Save energy customers over $39 billion in the next 10 years through the Clean Energy Fund
■ Finance 3,000 megawatts worth of solar projects in the next 10 years through NY-Sun
Information obtained from www.ny.gov and associated pages
Statewide Electricity Production in 2015, by source:
Nuclear – 3,874 gigawatt hours, or 35.1 percent
Natural Gas – 3,845 gigawatt hours, or 34.9 percent
Hydroelectric – 2,518 gigawatt hours, or 22.8 percent
Other Renewables – 638 gigawatt hours, or 5.8 percent
Coal – 88 gigawatt hours, or 0.8 percent
Petroleum – 18 gigawatt hours, or 0.2 percent
Information obtained from U.S. Energy Information Administration website
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