By Bob Ciesielski
In 2016, New York’s Clean Energy Standard committed to supplying 50 percent of our electricity from renewable energy. The plan to scale up further on renewable energy will help reduce dangerous pollutants, lessen climate change and protect our public health. It is also set to create thousands of good paying, family supporting jobs right here in New York. Our state already receives more than 26 percent of its power from renewable energy, with enough wind energy to power 600,000 homes.
The proposed wind projects in Niagara and Orleans County are two such opportunities. More than 200 farmers and landowners have signed leases permitting the installation of wind turbines on their properties in the towns of Somerset, Yates and Barre. A total of 40-50 turbines are proposed for each of the two wind projects. If constructed, wind turbines would provide a stable source of additional income to farmers who often have to deal with the unpredictability of milk and produce prices.
Leasing a portion of their property for the production of wind and solar power has become a substantial “second crop” for farmers across the United States. Nationwide, farmers receive over $200 million annually in lease payments.
In Lewis County, the Maple Wind Ridge Farm on the Tug Hill plateau has paid more than $18 million to farmers through 2016. Seeing the benefits of wind projects for their residents, the Lewis County Board of Legislators recently voted to support the expansion of wind turbines.
Renewable energy also protects the planet and our farmers from calamitous climate and weather change. Extended winter thaws followed by winter freezes damage fruit trees and vines. Increased and prolonged torrential rainstorms are caused by a 5 percent greater moisture content in the atmosphere. Paradoxically, overall warmer global temperatures also extend dry periods into severe droughts.
The development of large-scale renewables often brings up questions regarding effects on birds, bats and public health. While no source of energy is impact free, the facts are clear: well-planned wind projects have minimal impact on birds, bats, and other wildlife. In fact, New York has one of the most rigorous siting processes in the nation, often referred to as Article 10. Through this process developers must do transparent site-specific studies that evaluate the impact their projects have and mitigate as necessary. After construction, developers are required to provide rigorous monitoring and oversight from both state and federal agencies.
Studies in North America show that property values near wind turbines remain steady or increase somewhat after installations are completed. A study of 50,000 home sales near 67 wind facilities reveals no loss in real property values.
In Europe, Denmark is about one-third the size of New York State and has 6,100 wind turbines. Wind power provided 43 percent of that country’s electricity in 2017. An impressive 91 percent of Danes support the expansion of wind power.
In the United States, states like Iowa and South Dakota are generating 25 percent of their electricity needs from wind alone.
As the nation’s largest and oldest environmental organization, Sierra Club supports the continued expansion of wind energy across New York. The facts are clear: we need a rapid transition away from dirty, outdated fossil fuels like coal, oil, and fracked gas, which means we must ramp up quickly on responsibly sited renewable energy projects.
By developing responsible wind energy here in Western New York, we can protect our climate while bringing much needed economic investment to our communities.
Bob Ciesielski of Buffalo is chairman of the Energy Committee of the Sierra Club, Atlantic Chapter.