Sunday, March 20, 2016

Ground rules for deciding on large-scale wind farm placement

Large-scale wind farms (LSWF) in the Great Lakes region are integral to adapting to Climate Change but there is still much local opposition to specific projects. When the NY State Power Authority (NYPA) tried to implement their Great Lakes Offshore Wind (GLOW) program in 2009, they were met with stiff resistance from many effective shoreline property owners. Eventually, NYPA gave up: “NY Power Authority Trustees Vote to End Proposed Great Lakes Offshore Wind Project”. (True, the failure of GLOW may not have hinged on local opposition but there was major resistance. Also, many folks may have forgotten about GLOW because the public’s attention on this renewable energy program was completely hijacked by six-long years of the New York State Fracking fight.)

Things don’t seem to have changed much as opposition mounts against the Apex Clean Energy’s wind power project in Somerset and Yates—Lighthouse Wind. This is particular wind project is an on-land wind project that promises to produce about 200 megawatts of electricity, which is enough to power up to 53,000 homes. The resistance by locals to wind farms isn’t unique to our region; it’s prevalent nationwide. A search for “opposition to wind Power” brings up innumerable articles and anti-wind groups. This article by The Seattle Times presents a good overview of the issue: “As wind power surges, opposition grows”.

These ongoing conflicts present a great conundrum for addressing Climate Change in New York State because there is no doubt that renewable energy (of which LSWF’s are vital) is a critical component. In fact, Governor Cuomo’s green energy plan, Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), includes the Lighthouse Wind project (see Find a REV Project Near You). The Solutions Project for New York, hailed by many environmentalists because it provides a map to 100 % renewable energy by 2030, is highly dependent on LSWF’s. This is a quote from the study from which the Solutions Project is based on:

“Year 2050 end-use U.S. all-purpose load would be met with ~30.9% onshore wind, ~19.1% offshore wind, ~30.7% utility-scale photovoltaics (PV), ~7.2% rooftop PV, ~7.3% concentrated solar power (CSP) with storage, ~1.25% geothermal power, ~0.37% wave power, ~0.14% tidal power, and ~3.01% hydroelectric power. (100% clean and renewable wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) all-sector energy roadmaps for the 50 United States† Mark Z. Jacobson,*a Mark A. Delucchi,b Guillaume Bazouin,a Zack A. F. Bauer,a Christa C. Heavey,a Emma Fisher,a Sean B. Morris,a Diniana J. Y. Piekutowski,a Taylor A. Vencilla and Tim W. Yeskoo)

A business and social movement in New York, NY RENEWS, advocates for “100% clean energy of accessible and affordable 100% clean energy by 2050 with a benchmark goal of 50% by 2030.” Wind power is an important component of this movement to get jobs and energy that won’t warm the planet.

The urgency of addressing Climate Change by reducing greenhouse gases is clear. This from the recently agreed upon Paris Agreement says:

“Recognizing that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet and thus requires the widest possible cooperation by all countries, and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, with a view to accelerating the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions,” (Paris Agreement, the United Nations)

It’s doubtful that any real reduction in greenhouse gases can be accomplished without large scale wind projects.

Clean energy is win-win for the US Simply implementing its Paris climate conference commitments on reducing greenhouse gas emissions could save the US billions of dollars – and save hundreds of thousands of lives. Scientists have worked out how the US could save as many as 300,000 lives by 2030, and get a tenfold return on its investments at the same time. It’s simple. All the nation has to do is what it promised to do at the Paris climate conference last December − launch clean energy and transport policies, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds or more, and pursue the international goal of keeping global warming to below 2°C. (March 13, 2016) Climate News Network

Given the critical importance of LSWF’s in addressing Climate Change on a scale that will matter, you’d think the public and environmental groups would have devised a way to make their peace with clean energy. Instead, the battles rage on.

Shouldn’t there be a way for the majority’s desire for clean energy, which includes LSWF’s, to result in actual local implementation?

I suggest baking in some ground rules for the public debate about the local implementation of LSWF’s so that the debates don’t devolve into the same not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) strategies that killed many a fossil-fuel (brown energy) infrastructure. Yes, NIMBY concerns have been important in stopping the historical environmental abuse of projects that impose undue burdens on local residents and businesses for energy options no longer viable on planet that is quickly warming. But how do we transition NIMBY effectiveness so that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, that is, how do we prioritize renewable energy so that grassroots action can be leveraged toward addressing Climate Change?

These are my proposed ground rules, guidelines that we should all agree upon so we can move forward and ultimately make our way of life sustainable. We accept that:

  • ·         Climate change is real and humans are causing it.
  • ·         100% renewables is key to Climate Change mitigation and large-scale wind projects (on-shore and off-shore) are a necessary component if Western New York State is to achieve anything close to this goal.
  • ·         The Paris Agreement puts a sense of great urgency behind renewable energy production.
  • ·         There is a moral imperative for those regions (developed nations) that were most responsible for producing and using brown energy to now be a major player in producing green energy.

If these ground rules are not accepted by developed countries for addressing for LSWP placement, we are lost. There are two compelling reasons why these ground rules should be accepted: Continual resistance to LSWP’s will dramatically slow down our ability to provide sufficient clean energy for a growing population and at some point governments will inevitably institute more powerful rules for LSWP placement. Our need to adapt to Climate Change will force our governments’ hands. Already, our government uses Eminent domain to take over private property for the public good. As the consequences of Climate Change become more dear, government policies to protect the public are more likely to reflect that urgency.

It’s also important to note that the National Audubon Society, arguably the strongest advocate group for healthy bird populations, understands that that the ultimate threat to birds is not wind turbines but Climate Change:

Audubon's Position on Wind Power “Audubon strongly supports properly sited wind power as a renewable energy source that helps reduce the threat posed to birds and people by climate change. However, we also advocate that wind power facilities should be planned, sited, and operated in ways that minimize harm to birds and other wildlife, and we advocate that wildlife agencies should ensure strong enforcement of the laws that protect birds and other wildlife.” (Audubon)

The moral imperative for wind placement in our area comes about as a simple case of fairness. It’s getting hot but not evenly all over the world. The countries most responsible for the heating are not reaping the worst consequences. Human conflict will increase as the temperatures rise and the human body has a limit to how much heat it can tolerate. Anthropogenic CO2 emissions are the cause of Climate Change and the low latitudes will soon become inhospitable if we continue business as usual. In this article by Dr. James Hansen, one of our greatest climate scientists provides his most pithy and cogent arguments on the need for Climate Change action, detailing the inherent unfairness: 

Regional Climate Change and National Responsibilities Global warming of about 1°F (0.6°C) over the past several decades now "loads the climate dice." Fig. 1 updates the "bell curve" analysis of our 2012 paper for Northern Hemisphere land, which showed that extreme hot summers now occur noticeably more often than they did 50 years ago. Our new paper shows that there are strong regional variations in this bell curve shift, and that the largest effects occur in nations least responsible for causing climate change. In the United States the bell curve shift is just over one standard deviation in summer and less than half a standard deviation in winter (Fig. 2). Measured in units of °F (or °C) the warming is similar in summer and winter in the U.S., but the practical implication of Fig. 2 is that the public in the U.S. should notice that summers are becoming hotter but is less likely to notice the change in winter. Summers cooler than the average 1951-1980 summer still occur, but only ~19% of the time. Extreme summer heat, defined as 3 standard deviations or more warmer than 1951-1980 average, which almost never occurred 50 years ago, now occur with frequency about 7%. (March 2, 2016) The Huffington Post 

Having said all this, I am not arguing for or against any particular LSWF project. There are many ways that LSWP can be made more accommodating to locals. Germany and other countries that have successfully implemented LSWP’s have used a variety of financial incentives including community choice aggregation (public utilities) that don’t result in a single, large industrial company taking charge.

What’s happening now is very corrosive because, in their efforts to stop LSWPs, locals are injecting climate denial rhetoric into their campaigns, thereby encouraging more fossil fuel use and infrastructure. The argument that we want green energy but not in our backyard must change soon if we intend to adapt to a warmer world.  

Time passes. 

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