I hope all local elected and development officials will take action on the rumors that New York Power Authority is pulling out of the Great Lakes Offshore Wind project and concentrating solely on the Long Island offshore project. Both are badly needed for a number of reasons related to climate change, health, environment and economics, but the Great Lakes fresh water wind project is needed more:
We need the jobs badly here and have the industrial infrastructure to begin making more of the 8,000 parts used in a modern turbine.
We have port infrastructure capable of servicing the entire Great Lakes.
It can be done faster because the Army Corps permitting process in the lakes is likely to be quicker than the Department of the Interior's in the ocean.
It can be done cheaper because interconnection costs are substantially lower here given Western New York's underutilized industrial grid.
There will be offshore wind in the Great Lakes, and whoever gets there first will have significant economic advantages. If it is Western New York, we will be the "go to" place for expertise, technology and a trained labor force as other projects are developed. Significant parts of manufacturing will have to take place somewhere in the Great Lakes region -- why not here?
However, if the rumors of scrapping the project are allowed to become reality, we will be watching once again with our noses pressed against the window as Cleveland or Toronto or Detroit captures an important economic engine.
Not only jobs are at stake. There is a complicated, counter-intuitive, but well-documented phenomenon of price suppression when wind projects start generating power. To meet demand, all electricity on the spot market is priced based on the highest bid needed to meet demand -- often, expensive natural gas. To the degree that wind from local wind farms replaced gas-generated electricity in the mix in 2010, customers saved consumers an estimated $31 million. In addition to creating jobs, a successful Great Lakes project could:
Eliminate natural gas from the electricity generation mix.
Save consumers money.
Ease the pressure to engage in dangerous hydrofracking.
Turn up the pressure on the four local polluting coal plants that are fouling our air and water.
The Great Lakes project has started a transparent process designed to maximize local job creation. To shelve this project prematurely could be a mistake comparable to building the University at Buffalo's campus in Amherst instead of in Buffalo, where it could have strengthened the urban core.
It is crucial that New York continue using our abundant winds to replace the burning of fossil fuels. The governor's Economic Development Council should make sure this project moves forward with maximum local economic benefits and with stringent siting and environmental safeguards in place.
Diane Ciurczak is chairwoman of Sierra Club Niagara Group Energy Committee.