What is happening in the state of New York regarding the addition of more renewable energy assets is a microcosm for what is going on in many other parts of the US and around the world. Everybody supports the idea of renewable energy, but not everyone wants it in their community.
This week, the New York State Siting Board approved the $454 million Alle-Catt wind farm project which will generate 340 megawatts of electricity — enough to power 134,000 homes — from 116 turbines spread over 30,000 acres of private lands located in Allegany, Cattaraugus, and Wyoming counties. The owner and developer of the project is Invenergy, an energy company based in Chicago.
“Our decision today to approve the largest wind farm to date will help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels,” said John Rhodes, chair of the Siting Board. He also chairs the state’s Public Service Commission. The Alle-Catt wind farm will be the largest ever approved in New York state, which has set an ambitious goal of reducing carbon emissions by 85% below 1990 levels by 2050. Reaching that goal will require a radical shift in daily life for most New York residents.
Not Everyone Is Pleased
Voters in Freedom and Farmersville, two towns located within the footprint of the Alle-Catt project, have elected town board members who ran on an anti-turbine platform. The project may power 134,000 homes, but those homes probably won’t be located in the three counties where the new wind farm is to be constructed. Chances are, that electricity will be sent south and east to meet the needs of New York City and its surrounding communities.
Update: a representative of the project indicates that it is not true that the project will not serve local homes; that rural communities do not support the project; and that the project will not support economic and social justice opportunities.
So the Alle-Catt project incorporates all the elements of the current political battles that divide America — rural vs urban, farmers vs. Wall Street, and less regulation vs. more regulation.
The problem is easy to see. Alle-Catt has been under consideration since 2017, but the first shovelful of dirt to get the project started has yet to be turned. At this rate, carbon emissions targets won’t be met until 2150 instead of 2050. Clearly something must be done to cut the Gordian Knot and move forward.
In April, New York passed a new renewable energy bill designed to override local concerns and get renewable energy projects started. But isn’t that exactly what America’s so-called president is doing with his latest executive order instructing all federal agencies to ignore environmental restrictions in order speed the recovery of the economy? Is it alright for a Democratic governor to do that but not a Republican president?
The answer is more than semantics. The Tramp administration and conservatives have been bleating for decades about the “job killing” regulations imposed by the federal government. Farmers in the Midwest were incensed by the so-called “Waters Of The US” rule put in place by the Obama administration, which they say turned every mud puddle left after a rainstorm into federally protected pond. The anger that one rule created played a significant role in how people living in rural western states voted in the last election.
As much as Andrew Cuomo has raised his public profile during the coronavirus crisis, he is as autocratic as the president, blocking NYC Mayor DeBlasio from shutting down the city for 7 to 10 days — a delay that may have exacerbated the number of COVID-19 deaths in NYC — because he insisted only the governor had the authority to order a lockdown. Does that sound like someone else we know?
Social Justice Is A Goal
In a perfect world, everyone would agree that transitioning to renewable energy is essential and would be volunteering to help in any way they could. They would be offering to move the picnic table in the backyard to make room for a few solar panels or a wind turbine. But the world doesn’t work that way. The fight for proper siting of renewable energy projects will be long and contentious.
The most important aspect of the battle is not to use the siting of renewable energy facilities as a cudgel to do more damage to poor and under-served neighborhoods the way the fossil fuel industry has done in the past. Renewable energy should bring new economic and social justice opportunities to all, not just some.