Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s push for more renewable energy took a direct hit on September 12 when the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization announced its opposition to eight proposed wind projects in the northern part of the state due to the deleterious effect those projects could have on radar systems and military aviation. The move by the Watertown-based group, which is dedicated to assuring Fort Drum’s future, will likely derail more than 1,000 megawatts of proposed wind generation capacity in the state.
The effort to protect the base from the encroachment of Big Wind provides yet another example of the backlash against wind-energy development in New York. That backlash is undermining Cuomo’s mandate requiring utilities to be obtaining 50 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2030.
The FDRLO said that protecting northern New York’s “airspace is vital to Fort Drum’s future” and that the proposed wind projects “will have a negative impact on Fort Drum and threaten its future.” It added that Fort Drum has a $1.6 billion impact on northern New York and that “thousands of jobs and the economic vitality of the region” depend on it. The group’s statement concluded with this: “we strongly oppose the eight industrial wind projects, as they will greatly reduce the installation’s training capability and therefore diminish the 10th Mountain Division’s readiness.”
Over the past decade or so, more than 40 communities in New York have moved to reject or restrict wind projects. On May 10, the town of Clayton passed an amendment to its zoning ordinance that bans all commercial wind projects. On Lake Ontario, a 200-megawatt project called Lighthouse Wind is fiercely opposed by three counties – Erie, Niagara, and Orleans – as well as the towns of Yates and Somerset. The Lighthouse project will likely be the first contested land-use case involving Article 10, the New York statute that, in theory, gives local municipalities a say in renewable-project siting.
On September 14, at a meeting of the Independent Power Producers of New York, Public Service Commission Chairman John Rhodes said that the state was not going to force wind projects on rural communities and said the Article 10 is “not a stacked process” against those communities. “Not under this governor are we going to force people in a police state mode to do anything.”
Police state or not, the New York Independent System Operator has said Cuomo’s 50 by 30 mandate will require 3,500 megawatts of new onshore wind capacity. That’s equivalent to 17 projects the size of Lighthouse Wind. That much wind capacity would require about 450 square miles of land, an area the size of Nassau County.
But if wind projects can’t be built near Fort Drum, and the state won’t force Lighthouse Wind on rural counties and towns, where will the needed wind capacity be built? In January, Cuomo said he wants 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind capacity in New York waters by 2030. That’s ambitious given that the US now has just 30 megawatts of offshore wind capacity.
There’s plenty of opposition to offshore wind, too. The Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, along with the town of Narragansett, Rhode Island, the city of New Bedford Massachusetts, and several other groups of fishermen and fishmongers, have filed a federal lawsuit to halt an offshore wind lease won last year by Norwegian oil company Statoil. That lease sits smack on top of one of the best squid and scallop fisheries on the Eastern Seaboard.
In short, the governor and his myriad allies on the Left love to promote renewables, but wind energy – the linchpin of their all-renewable schemes – continues to be stymied by a fundamental problem: it requires way too much territory.
Robert Bryce is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.