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Harness the wind; Agreement on offshore turbines is a boost for renewable energy

Wind turbines will not be replacing coal-fired plants any time soon, but the latest deal struck by New York and four other Great Lakes states with the Obama administration is a hopeful sign that more green energy is in our future.

The agreement to allow faster development of offshore wind farms comes with a number of conditions, though not enough to satisfy the staunchest critics of wind energy. The most important condition reserves the approval rights for a project to state and local governments.

Meantime, the agreement revives the massive wind turbine project in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario that the state put on the back burner five months ago. The plan would have placed 150 turbines offshore in Western New York.

Opponents contend that the turbines would have to be close to the shoreline in order to be workable and therefore would adversely affect people who live along the shore. Those residents -- who tend to be in the high end of the residential tax base -- would have the view from their homes drastically changed, which could reduce the value of their properties.

Still, five Great Lakes states, New York, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois and Pennsylvania, signed the agreement; three others, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin, have not signed on, but have the right to do so at a later time.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, in touting this agreement, talks about clean energy from offshore wind and related green jobs in upstate New York. The agreement indicates each megawatt of offshore wind power generated could produce up to 20 jobs, and further states that New York has the potential for at least 143,000 megawatts of wind power production off its Great Lakes and Atlantic Ocean coastlines.

While the promise of expeditious reviews, efficiencies and, most of all, jobs is hopeful, old fights rage on. There was the buzz saw of opposition back when the New York Power Authority proposed its massive offshore wind project. Downstate politicians were upset about possible waterfront degradation; county legislatures in seven of the nine counties along Lakes Erie or Ontario, including those in Erie, Chautauqua and Niagara counties, voted to oppose the project.

And that's not to mention fishermen upset over any possible obstruction caused by offshore wind farms.

Opponents contend that the projection for jobs created isn't worth the level of public support. Moreover, wind turbines are only 20 percent to 25 percent efficient and can't be relied upon to generate electricity when it's needed.

It's certainly true that wind power is a minuscule part of our energy picture and requires subsidies to be economically feasible while the technology is improving. But it's also true that if we don't start pushing alternative energy sources, we'll never be able to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Wind power is one part of the green energy discussion, and the deal on offshore wind farms is a good place to start.