Friday, January 21, 2011

Caving in: Is the minority ruling against renewable energy for Rochester, NY?


Why, when 68% of Monroe County voters approve of off-shore wind power in Lake Ontario, does the Monroe County legislature oppose it?

Majority of Monroe County legislators oppose state's wind farm plan The New York Power Authority continues to consider proposals to build offshore wind turbines, but a majority of Monroe County legislators have now gone on record opposing the idea. The Power Authority, an independent arm of state government, solicited proposals in 2009 from the private sector to build one or more wind farms in the near-shore waters of Lake Ontario or Lake Erie. Five proposals were submitted last June, and authority officials have been studying them since then. Officials have refused to reveal any information about the proposals.” (January 19, 2011) Democrat and Chronicle

Is it politics? Is it the media’s inability to frame this renewable option to the public coherently? Has the fossil fuel industry effectively prodded the government to not act in its own (and their constituents’) best interest? Are our Monroe County Legislature and the media caving into a small number of shoreline communities who happened to have an unfair (location, location, location) advantage on this matter?

“But opposition has surfaced in a number of shoreline communities, with county lawmakers in Wayne, Oswego, Jefferson and Chautauqua counties coming out against the idea.” (January 19, 2011) Democrat and Chronicle

Our lakes, the Finger Lakes and the Great Lakes, are not private swimming pools of the few; they are a natural resource for all citizens. The rage against off-shore wind turbines by shoreline property owners is hard to understand as anything but a NIMBY (not in my backyard) issue. If the concerns were environmental concerns, these groups would be fighting tooth and nail against the myriad of serious environmental problems with our lakes. If you care, take a moment and review the news and reports about the tragic state of our Great Lakes from just the last twelve years: Great Lakes | Rochester, NY Perspective |—which include invasive species, fish diseases, phosphate pollution, warming waters due to Climate Change, sewage from overworked waste treatment plants, and much more.

Besides, the New York State Power Authority (NAPA) has addressed the environmental concerns in depth on this page: Great Lakes Offshore Wind (GLOW) Myths vs facts

Let me be clear: I am not against or being dismissive towards shoreline property owners and their concerns about placing wind turbines off-shore from their homes. I lived near the shores of a Finger Lake for 15 years. I am concerned about the disproportional influence these groups have in deciding on a major renewable energy source for our region.

We have to ask ourselves: How are we weighing critical environmental decisions like whether to develop renewable energy in a time of Climate Change? There is no shortage of facts flying about as to why we should or should not place off-shore wind turbines in our region. But what principles are we using to judge so important a matter? The most important issue (the elephant in the room) should be the most discussed and pivotal to this decision—Climate Change. But it isn’t even mentioned in the media as a consideration. Tragically, we cannot have a full and complete conversation about off-shore wind power here, or anywhere in the United States, even though wind power (together with conservation and battery storage) could make a substantial contribution to reducing greenhouse gases.

Our local media is obsessed with why the New York State Power Authority isn’t saying exactly where the off-shore wind projects will be placed.

“Some lakeside counties and communities want to know exactly where the proposed projects - the NYPA could select some, all, or none of the proposals - would be located. But NYPA officials say they aren't releasing details yet because the review is a competitive process and they want to be fair.” (January 18, 2011) ENERGY: Offshore wind proposals still under review - - Rochester City Newspaper

While this may be important to shoreline property owners, the media doesn’t include this: When we stop efforts to develop wind power In NYS, here are your energy choices (as of 2003):

“…nuclear 29%, oil 12%, solid waste 1%, solar 1%, wind 1%, biomass 1%, hydropower 17%, coal 18%, natural gas 22%... “ AskPSC - NY's Green Power Program

Those who don’t want wind turbines because they mar the beauty and naturalness of a lake don’t understand that Climate Change will dramatically alter water levels, increase invasive species, change all the fauna and flora in and around our lakes.

So if you don’t choose wind power or solar, you choose by default natural gas (which will involve hydrofracking, possibly contaminating our water sources, and warming up the planet because it’s a fossil fuel; coal (which is destroying other community’s mountain tops, seriously warming up the planet, and polluting our atmosphere with particulates and heavy metals like mercury); hydroelectric (which dams up our waters and negatively impacts fish life); nuclear (which is so dangerous and expensive that it’s the bane of most bankers); or biofuels (which, though easily accommodated by our existing engines and less polluting than fossil fuels, still warms up the planet and would better be used to enrich our soil, from whence it came).

Our Power Authority does not have the luxury of not providing us with power. They have to by law. And the public is not going to opt for no power. And New York State has a goal of greatly increasing renewable energy:

“A Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is a policy that seeks to increase the proportion of renewable electricity used by retail customers. New York has adopted an aggressive goal of obtaining 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2015 – referred to as 30 x15.” NYSERDA - The New York Renewable Portfolio Standard

Our elected officials and power authorities do not have the luxury of not addressing Climate Change and protecting our environment. They must protect our water infrastructure, for example, when as predicted by Climate Change; there will be more extreme weather events like flooding which will put raw sewage into our waters when they are overwhelmed. The only people who have the luxury of denying Climate Change are the Climate Change deniers who likely will never be held responsible for the climate change they help to unleash.

The Monroe County legislature should be listening to everyone on off-shore wind power in our region and properly weighing their decisions using both facts and environmental principals (physics) in a time of rapid Climate Change. Meanwhile, the public (yes, our regional public) has a moral responsibility for future generations to evaluate the serious arguments on Climate Change.

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