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New York plans for wind energy, related jobs

LIVERPOOL, N.Y. – While offshore wind has dominated the energy agenda in the Northeast this year, New York officials are taking care to nurture the economic potential of onshore wind as well.

“In New York, new turbine technologies and cost reduction mean that land-based wind opportunities for the state are growing,” Alicia Barton, head of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, said Tuesday at a summit hosted by the New York State Laborers’ Organizing Fund (NYSLOF).

Barton cited a recent NYSERDA clean energy report showing “the sector growing at a rapid rate, last year at 4%, about double the overall employment growth rate in the state,” with wind farms accounting for an average of 32 workers per project.

“We see the success of land-based wind projects really paving the way for future wind development,” Barton said. “This is exciting not only for our ability to attract that type of investment, but it is making a significant contribution to our ability to deliver a cleaner future for New York communities.”

One summit participant asked how NYSERDA enforced local content and labor provisions in the state’s renewable energy contracts, such as requiring developers to pay the prevailing wage to workers.

Barton said that NYSERDA is not involved in some projects built by out-of-state developers, but compliance on state contracts so far has been very good.

“There are probably 20 proposed windmill projects in our area,” said New York Upstate Laborers’ District Council leader Sam Capitano. “Some of the developers here we have relationships with, some we do not … these jobs are important to our area, and … our labor market is challenged right now.”

Harrison Watkins of NYSLOF noted the importance for labor to participate in the planning process for renewable energy projects.

Barton said her agency also is “very excited about the new frontier in wind, which is offshore wind energy.”

NYSERDA will soon issue the state’s first offshore wind solicitation in consultation with the New York Power Authority and the Long Island Power Authority. The agency will announce the award in the second quarter of 2019 and, if needed, issue a second solicitation next year to meet the 800-MW goal.

Philosophical Issues

“Ideally it would take two years from project proposal to final permitting,” Anne Reynolds, executive director of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York, said regarding onshore projects. “Remember, only one project so far has passed all the way through the Article 10 process, and that’s the Cassadaga wind project, so it’s hard to say what the average time is.” (See Overheard at ACE NY 2018 Fall Conference.)

The New York Public Service Commission on Nov. 15 granted a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the 126-MW Cassadaga wind project in Chautauqua County, southwest of Buffalo on the shores of Lake Erie (Case 18-E-0399).

New York in 2011 revised Public Service Law Article 10 to unify siting reviews of new or modified electric generating facilities under one state agency, the Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment.

“It’s going to come down to if, and under what circumstances, the siting board will override local law,” Reynolds said. “Remember, this is the third generation of this law, and when it was originally passed there was no wind or solar on the horizon; it was about fossil fuel power plants.”

The intent of the law was to enable the state to prevent communities from blocking a needed power plant, she said.

“The world has changed, and now a law that was primarily designed for fossil fuel is being applied to renewable energy plants,” Reynolds said. “It’s a legal and philosophical question as to whether the state should, could and under what circumstance override local law … the original intent of the law was, in the public good, the state should be able to override local laws so that we all could have safe, and now clean, electricity.”

Siting Basics

“Permitting is a process that involves basically anyone who wants to be involved, which is a good thing, but a challenge for the state,” said Sarah Osgood, director of policy implementation at the Department of Public Service.

“Having a one-stop shop for siting these large projects is a fantastic concept for a process but makes delivering on it challenging,” Osgood said.

“By having the state agencies review these projects, review multiple projects, there is so much potential for having some predictability and standardization built in as we go forward and get some precedent-setting information,” said Valessa Souter-Kline, project developer on Invenergy’s proposed 380-MW Alle-Catt wind project in western New York. The other positive attribute of state-controlled siting is the ability to work across jurisdictions, she said.

“At Invenergy, we’re seeing the opportunity to have larger projects, which mean more jobs and more community benefits than we were able to do under individual seekers,” Souter-Kline said.

Good, successful wind projects are engaged in the local communities, so a state-level process under Article 10 does not mean that developers stop working with municipalities, she said.

“Built into that is a little bit of confusion around who’s making decisions,” Souter-Kline said. “A lot of town supervisors or town leaders who are getting pressure from opposition will sometimes toy with this idea of ‘Do we actually need to update our local laws, or is the state going to override it?’ There’s an interesting tension there as to who’s taking responsibility for this project.”

Barton said that NYSERDA for years has been developing toolkits for municipalities “and have upped our staffing, so we’re not just putting them on our website, but going to those communities.”

“There are a lot of myths about wind power,” Reynolds said. “If a project was proposed in your town, where would you go to get the facts? The American Wind Energy Association to me is a reputable source, but other people would say, ‘Oh, that’s just the industry,’ so the struggle is to give the information from a source people trust.”

Osgood said the state is trying to put reliable information out there, but that some people question the state’s motives because of its ambitious renewable energy goals.

Reynolds said that opposition to renewable energy projects is probably inevitable and possibly based on very simple reasons: “I personally think the arguments against wind energy are because people don’t want to see the turbines.”