WELLESLEY ISLAND – A recent whitepaper titled “Breaking Down the Barriers to Siting Renewable Energy in New York State,” released last month by the New York League of Conservation Voters, describes New York’s ambitious renewable energy goals, i.e., 100 percent clean power by 2040. The report chronicles the frustrating lack of progress toward those goals and recommends a series of policy initiatives to overcome what the authors view as barriers to renewable energy siting in the state.
The league’s report cites local opposition to large-scale renewable projects as one of the principal barriers to meeting New York’s future energy goals. Having played a role in opposing three industrial wind projects in Jefferson County, my perspective is that there should be barriers to distant policymakers deciding how rural New Yorkers should live and how we should engage in the siting process.
The report admonishes communities that adopt local laws for the purpose of thwarting renewable development. They use Clayton as an example.
Never mind the fact these communities, first and foremost, have the statutory responsibility to protect the health, safety and general welfare of their residents. None of the other players in the energy siting process has a similar responsibility – not the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, not the Article 10 Siting Board, not the developers and not the League of Conservation Voters.
To forge ahead in renewable energy development, the league recommends amending Article 10, changing local planning to support renewables, educating the public on benefits and agreeing on appropriate revenue sharing. Its list has me asking, “Where have they been?” The north country has been dealing with these issues for nearly two decades.
Contrary to the league’s upstate insensitivity, our communities have been engaged. We’ve dealt with inappropriate siting; we’ve attended the dog and pony shows that spin the benefits; and we’ve heard the sales pitches promoting jobs and revenue sharing.
We’ve heard it all. And after careful consideration, there are some projects that have been approved.
But other projects were rejected and withdrawn, thankfully. In those cases, it was the best decision for the community and our region.
What we’ve learned in our two decades of experience is that renewable energy developers need to do a better job of siting a project. Forget the wind maps; forget a few enthusiastic landowners clamoring for a wind contract. Before a developer signs a single leaseholder, they should look at a town’s comprehensive plan, examine its zoning law and spend far more time evaluating a community.
The key to successfully siting a renewable project is choosing communities whose plans and laws are compatible with renewable development. Forcing a project on a community will guarantee opposition, delay and probable failure.
Finally, the league’s regional board is comprised of 68 members – 15 from the Capital District and 53 from New York City, Long Island and Westchester County. None likely live in a community that had to deal with a large-scale renewable energy proposal.
My advice to the league’s board: Rural New Yorkers don’t need patronizing advice suggesting we are uneducated and wrong if we choose to oppose a renewable project to protect the community we call home.
Clifford P. Schneider is a member of the Jefferson County Planning Board and a former wildlife biologist for the state Department of Conservation. He lives on Wellesley Island.
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