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Future Of Wind Power Uncertain In New York


New York is drawing more and more power from wind and solar, but its renewable energy standard is set to expire at the end of the year.

New York's first wind farm began producing and delivering electric power in 2000. Between 1 and 2 p.m. on March 2nd, wind power set a new record of contributing to the state’s electricity needs: 7 percent.  Kit Kennedy is the director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's energy and transportation program. She says the state has made great strides in renewable energy over the last 15 years.  "This growth in wind power has taken place because of a great policy that New York has called the ‘renewable portfolio standard policy’ —   that's a policy that was adopted 10 years ago, was going strong, and is now going to be expiring at the end of the year, so it's really important that the state renews it and keeps it going for another 10 years, and even expands our renewable energy targets here in New York."

Central Hudson spokesman John Maserjian is hopeful that additional wind energy will eventually reach the utility's service area.    "In the Hudson Valley we typically see 2 to 4 percent of total electricity from wind, as wind turbines are largely located in the northern and western parts of the state where prevailing winds make development practical. But the bottlenecks in the bulk electric transmission system constrain delivery of wind energy to our region. In fact, there's about 20 wind projects pending in western New York, many on hold partly because these transmission bottlenecks prevent this power from reaching our region and southern New York, where the demands for energy are greatest."

Those pending projects face scrutiny. Environmental activists are pushing for not just a renewed standard, but a more aggressive one.  Gary Abraham is a public interest environmental attorney in the Southern Tier who represents groups opposed to wind farms. He says noise impacts of wind turbines are "exceptionally annoying" to communities that host them.   "It's a special kind of noise. Low Frequency noise is the dominant feature, and it travels long distances, and because it's low-frequency, it goes through walls and windows much more readily than more audible mid-frequencies."

Abraham points out that rural communities are typically quiet at night, when wind farms generate the most.  "If you can't sleep at night because of the noise, that becomes a serious health effect."

Those against wind farms argue no state plan or comprehensive regulation exists in New York. But state officials are aware of their concerns.   "The state adopted a new power plant siting law called Article 10, under the public service law. That has an opportunity to make the arguments about the adverse effects of wind turbine noise. People that live in these areas live there for the rural amenities. So the real question is how much electricity do wind farms actually generate, how valuable is the electricity, because electricity is valued differently depending on when it's generated and when it's available. Intermittent sources of electricity like wind and solar aren't always available. Solar has the great advantage of being available during the daytime when that's usually during the peak usage for electricity. Wind farms don't have that advantage because they don't generally generate in the daytime in the summer. They generate mostly at night, during the winter."

Kennedy, with the NRDC, says the New York State Public Service Commission oversees our electricity.  "The good news is that the PSC is actively engaged in looking at how we should be transforming our renewable energy requirement. They'll be making an important interim decision in June, and we're hopeful that the state will, in fact, extend the renewable energy requirement for another 10 years, and expand it, make it bigger."

The PSC did not immediately return a request for comment.

According to data gathered by the American Wind Energy Association,  At the end of 2014, there were more than 1,000 operational electricity-generating wind turbines in New York.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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