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The Editorial Board: N.Y. needs to learn to live with solar, wind power

The Editorial Board: N.Y. needs to learn to live with solar, wind power

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Humankind has not yet invented a perfect way to generate electricity. Coal was king for more than 70 years, but mining it scars the earth, burning it releases toxic chemicals into the atmosphere along with carbon dioxide that is overheating planet Earth.

Hydraulically fractured horizontal wells made the U.S. the top producer of oil and natural gas in the world in 2018, but fracking – now outlawed in New York State – can have adverse effects on air and water quality.

Renewable energy sources – primarily solar and wind – represent the next frontier in power generation. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the State Legislature established in 2019, through state law, a target of 70% of the state’s electricity must come from renewable sources by 2030. To make that possible, the governor signed a law in April to expedite the approval of large-scale wind and solar projects.

The law removes influence that local governments and citizens have on whether those projects win approval, replacing siting boards – which included residents – with a new office to rule on such projects.

Renewable energy sources are imperfect, too. Wind turbines don’t generate power when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t always shine on solar panels. But as the technology becomes more sophisticated, including the development of batteries to store power, wind and sun energy will play a greater role in New York’s power grid.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. renewable power will provide more electricity in 2020 than coal power, which is a first.

The new law that created the state Office of Renewable Energy Siting has enraged the activists who organize campaigns trying to stop large solar farms or wind parks from coming to their towns. Those groups have been effective in delaying or defeating these projects. Local voices deserve a say in the affairs of their town, but when they shut down the possibility of any attempt to bring renewable energy projects – and the jobs they will create – to upstate, that will keep New York mired in the ways of the past. Clinging to the status quo is not going to allow our state to meet the challenge of creating a low-carbon energy future.

The extreme weather that has battered parts of the United States in the past month shows the urgency of slowing down climate change.

California, between its heat waves and wildfires, has become an environmental Rorschach test, where energy observers see what they want to see. When the state had rolling blackouts in August to handle the stress on its power grid caused by extreme heat, critics said the power deficit was caused by the state’s relying for 20% to 30% of its electricity on wind and solar power, which work intermittently. Solar power decreases after the sun goes down, while winds typically are strongest at night.

The California Independent System Operator, the organization that manages the state’s electrical grid, told National Geographic that the blackouts were not caused by a shortfall of wind or solar, but by a lack of generation capacity overall.

As described in a Buffalo News story this month, wind energy companies are developing new proposals to put wind turbines in Lakes Erie or Ontario. Chris Wissemann, the chief executive of California-based Diamond Offshore Wind Development, said his company is ready to make a proposal as soon as Albany opens the bidding process.

Both friends and foes of wind energy say they have facts and science on their side.

Do wind turbines kill birds that fly into them? They undoubtedly do, but so do skyscrapers, cats and other predators. And there are mitigation strategies worth trying. A study by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research found that painting a single wind turbine blade black could reduce bird fatalities by 72%.

Sportsmen in Lake Erie are worried about wind turbines spoiling the lake for fishing. However, an outdoors writer for the Providence Journal, Dave Monti, testified before the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that the Block Island Wind Farm, off Rhode Island, has been a positive force for recreational fishing in the region, turning the area into a popular destination for anglers. Freshwater and lake fishing are not the same, but the Rhode Island example shows that gloom-and-doom assumptions about putting a wind farm in Lake Erie may not be warranted.

The burning of fossil fuels and the resulting pollutants pose a threat to the earth’s future. Renewable energy has to be part of the climate solution. The need for change is urgent. Local “not in my backyard” activists can’t be allowed to keep New York mired in fossil fuels.

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