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Another Voice: Rural residents need to be heard in green energy debate

By Pamela Atwater

The Buffalo News’ editorial, “The climate challenge,” admits local “concerns should be heard,” admonishes climate deniers, and then proclaims full speed ahead on large scale wind and solar projects across the state.

Its tone reflects a problem that goes beyond this editorial. Rural residents are being labeled as fossil-fuel-funded climate deniers, which conveniently dismisses us as misinformed, resisting change and uncaring about the environment. Our concerns bring rolled eyes and shrugged shoulders from developers, environmental groups and the media. The editorial says our objections should not stop the work of renewables, as if we are against renewables. Rural communities support renewables when approved by citizens and when they fit the character of their community.

What kind of renewable energy solutions will New York State invest in? Big wind and solar corporations would like us to believe the answer lies primarily with their sprawling renewable projects in upstate New York. Rural opposition speaks of the heavy burden these projects place on small towns and the environment.
Upstate New York electricity is already 90% zero-emissions, including hydroelectric and nuclear sources, according to New York Independent System Operator’s Power Trends 2019 report.

Downstate is using 70% fossil fuel-based energy. Rapid, cost-effective carbon reduction in New York requires renewable energy infrastructure in or near New York City to replace fossil fuel dependence. That’s because without the completion of expensive, time-consuming and locally opposed bulk transmission lines, little of the zero-emissions electricity from Western New York gets to the New York metro area.

NYISO warns us that building large scale upstate projects without sufficient transmission capability causes existing renewables to be regularly ordered to stop operating, decreasing the carbon benefit. A recent wind project siting application shows that it would displace only 0.05% of New York power sector carbon emissions. That’s a tiny gain for a large-scale renewable power project that has large-scale environmental impacts.

Small-scale solutions can make a significant difference. A National Renewable Energy Labs 2016 study estimates that rooftop solar could provide 37% of the state’s electricity. Small wind technology has advanced, including devices manufactured in New York using all recyclable materials.

Why are industrial scale wind and solar projects presumed to be the primary means of meeting state goals? Out-of-state and international corporations are grabbing the money, drowning out other avenues, including locally developed renewable energy solutions, and limiting our options. Corporate developers, lured by hundreds of millions in state grants, are pushing into more densely populated rural areas – proposing turbines that are 650 feet tall – 60% taller than the Steel Winds turbines in Lackawanna. It is reasonable that rural communities resist 650-foot-tall structures with 200 mph rotating blades, each almost the length of a football field, near their homes.

As our state develops a plan for implementing its clean energy goals, rural voices, including those with objections to large-scale industrial projects in rural residential communities, should be front and center.

Pamela Atwater is president of Save Ontario Shores.

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