County leaders along the Great Lakes in New York are passing opposition statements to dissuade anyone from placing windmills off their shorelines. But just what are the county leaders opposing?
In practical terms, the project proposed by the New York Power Authority has years to go before any power-generating turbine would be cranking in Lake Erie or Lake Ontario. It would first require environmental reviews by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Army Corps of Engineers, and those reviews could rule out certain sites.
There is no proof, as yet, that windmills will disturb toxins on the Lake Erie floor, or that electrical cables will short out and endanger wildlife, or that shipping lanes will be blocked or sport fishing marred -- canards that the Erie County Legislature cited recently in its statement opposing offshore windmills. Erie County recently became, by one count, the seventh of the nine counties with Great Lakes frontage to oppose the Power Authority's proposal.
To hear critics describe the project, there will be so many windmills in Lake Erie or Lake Ontario, or both, that you wouldn't be able to turn around a boat. In truth, even a total 166 windmills -- the Power Authority's number -- would occupy a tiny percentage of either massive lake. No one can say, as yet, whether they would be visible from shore.
Further, the Power Authority has yet to fully explain the economic viability of its project because it has yet to announce its preferred developer. The developer incurs the costs it will need to recover by selling electricity to the authority and must figure how to operate among the threats that the lakes offer, winter ice being one.
Lawmakers in a number of counties are joining in the reflexive community opposition to a project that might -- emphasis on might -- mar lakefront views. But joining the naysayers because that's the safe political ground does not show leadership.
There will be a time to criticize the Power Authority proposal. To us, that day has not yet arrived. The detailed studies are not completed, the sites not selected. Meanwhile, this nation must start turning away from the fossil fuels that pollute the air and make us dependent on oil-producing nations that have the United States over a barrel. When the studies are done and more specifics known, there will be plenty for opponents to sink their teeth into. Until then, the opposition seems to be fighting only a symbol, not the facts.