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New York’s energy policy depends on an impossible fantasy

Last Wednesday, the Cuomo administration blocked construction of the proposed Northeast Supply Enhancement project, a 24-mile gas pipeline that would run from New Jersey across New York Bay to near the Rockaways. The Department of Environmental Conservation claimed the pipeline could have a negative effect on water quality and marine life.

The move was cheered by environmental groups, which claim that New York doesn’t need more natural gas because it can rely on wind and solar energy instead. But that oft-repeated claim ignores the growing rebellion in upstate communities against Big Wind and Big Solar.

On May 9, six days before the Department of Environmental Conservation rejected the permit for the gas pipeline, the town board of Cambria (population: 6,000) unanimously rejected the proposed 100-megawatt Bear Ridge solar project. If built, that $210 million project would cover about 900 acres with solar panels.

“We don’t want it,” Cambria Town Supervisor Wright Ellis, who has held that position for 27 years, told me last week. “We are opposed to it.” The proposed project, he said, violates Cambria’s zoning laws. In addition, Ellis said it would result in a “permanent loss of agricultural land” and potentially reduce the value of some 350 nearby homes.

Wind-energy projects, too, are facing fierce opposition. In February, Apex Clean Energy, a wind-energy developer, withdrew its application to build 108 megawatts of wind capacity on Galloo Island, a small island off the eastern shore of Lake Ontario.

The project was withdrawn shortly after Clifford Schneider, a retired biologist who worked at the New York Department of Environmental Conservation for 34 years, discovered that Apex knew that bald eagles had been nesting on Galloo Island but didn’t disclose that information in a timely manner to state regulators.

In April, Apex announced that it was also suspending work on Lighthouse Wind, a 200-megawatt project that aimed to put dozens of 600-foot-high turbines on the shores of Lake Ontario. Three upstate counties – Erie, Orleans and Niagara – as well as the towns of Yates and Somerset, had been fighting the project for years.

Why are upstate communities rejecting wind projects? Wind-industry lobbyists know why.

Last year, Anne Reynolds, the executive director of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York, told attendees at a renewable-energy conference: “I personally think the arguments against wind energy are because people don’t want to see the turbines.”

What about offshore? Cuomo wants 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind installed in New York waters by 2035. But the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association and other fishing groups are adamantly opposed because those turbines could prevent access to some of their most productive fisheries.

As I point out in a forthcoming report for the Manhattan Institute about the ongoing shortage of natural gas in New York, the resistance to Big Wind is having an effect. According to the American Wind Energy Association, no wind projects are currently under construction in New York.

Nor has the state added much wind over the past five years. New York currently has about 2,000 megawatts of installed wind capacity. That’s only slightly more capacity than the 1,812 megawatts that the state had back in 2014.

In January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced some $1.5 billion in awards for wind, solar and storage projects in upstate New York. The plans call for 1,650 megawatts of new renewable capacity. But those plans ignore an obvious question: Where, exactly, are they planning to put all that solar and wind stuff?

If the last few months are any indicator, Cuomo’s wind and solar ambitions are in for a long, hard fight. Dan Engert, the town supervisor in Somerset, recently explained what is happening in rural communities like his: As big renewable-energy projects get “closer to humans and where people live, you are seeing resistance everywhere they go.”

In short, renewables can’t replace natural gas. That means that, thanks to Cuomo, shortages of the fuel are here to stay.

And if anyone doubts it, look at last week’s news from National Grid, the utility that provides gas to customers in New York City and Long Island: It said it had halted processing all new applications for gas service in the region.

Robert Bryce is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.