New York’s energy double standards are on full display right now with a wind project off Lake Ontario. It’s home rule again but the rules have changed.
Back in December I wrote a post here about Andrew Corruptocrat Cuomo’s ridiculous plan to impose a poorly conceived renewable energy plan on rural Upstate New York. I mentioned the Lighthouse Wind project in Niagara and Orleans Counties just off the shores of Lake Ontario. It will occupy 20,000 acres of land to create roughly 200 megawatts of capacity, probably operating about one-third of time to generate a measly 65-70 megawatts of power.
I’m not against wind on principle, though. I’ve worked on wind projects, in fact. I only oppose the subsidies involved and the unfair advantages accorded wind compared to natural gas, which is a much better bargain for all. There are huge energy double standards involved when it comes to wind versus natural gas in New York and among those are the matter of home rule.
Readers of this blog are all too acquainted with the subject of “home rule” in New York. Municipalities in the Empire State have it automatically to a large degree, which means they can often effectively override state law unless the state has pre-empted them from doing so. This became a huge battle in the state with respect to natural gas development, as fractivists and NIMBYs, with the help of a politicized court system, successfully twisted a state pre-emption of local zoning control over where such development could take place into an authorization to do just that.
It was a mind-boggling stupid decision from a practical perspective as we simply cannot do natural gas development if one community can simply stand in the way of development of a unit or a pipeline. That, of course, is why fractivists and NIMBYs loved it, but it makes it no less insane. Developing natural resources such as oil and gas and wind require the ability to do it where the resource occurs and over large areas encompassing more than one municipality; hence the need for state regulation and pre-emption of local regulation. The New York State Court of Appeals (what other states typically call their Supreme Court), though, decided stupid was just fine when it came to natural gas.
Will it feel the same way with respect to wind? We don’t know but it could have to decide at some point. There is rapidly building opposition to wind farms as Corruptocrat pushes them ever harder to implement his politically correct renewables plan as the alternative to developing the natural gas his state keeps using in greater quantities. A recent story on the Lighthouse Wind project by WHEC television out of Rochester provides the background.
Change wind to natural gas and you’d think you’re reliving the Dryden and Middlefield controversies of a few years ago when those communities successfully convinced judges the law shouldn’t mean what it clearly says. The arguments are all the same. Farmers in Western New York want the windmills because it will give them another source of income to pay their high Empire State taxes and make a decent living off the land. NIMBYs hate them on the theory they’re noisy and ugly. The shrill complaints about visiting nearby areas and being horrified at the impacts could have been written any number of fractivists.
I don’t find them to be much more convincing either. The idea that wind farms are ugly just doesn’t resonate with me and I’ve experienced the noise, which is anything but overwhelming. Indeed, I’ve seen expensive new homes built where the noise was worst after construction. I am troubled by the subsidies and the lack of any rationale for covering Upstate New York with wind towers and solar panels other than to appease Manhattanites. What really grates, though, is the fact New York is determined to impose wind farms on Upstate by edict, after its courts have determined such edicts are a slap in the face of home rule when it comes to natural gas. The energy double standards here are mind-boggling.
The edict comes from Article 10 of the New York State Public Service Law which states, in relevant part, the following (emphasis added):
The board may not grant a certificate for the construction or operation of a major electric generating facility, either as proposed or as modified by the board, unless the board determines that … the facility is designed to operate in compliance with applicable state and local laws and regulations issued thereunder concerning, among other matters, the environment, public health and safety, all of which shall be binding upon the applicant, except that the board may elect not to apply, in whole or in part, any local ordinance, law, resolution or other action or any regulation issued thereunder or any local standard or requirement, including, but not limited to, those relating to the interconnection to and use of water, electric, sewer, telecommunication, fuel and steam lines in public rights of way, which would be otherwise applicable if it finds that, as applied to the proposed facility, such is unreasonably burdensome in view of the existing technology or the needs of or costs to ratepayers whether located inside or outside of such municipality. The board shall provide the municipality an opportunity to present evidence in support of such ordinance, law, resolution, regulation or other local action issued thereunder.
New York State, under Governor Andrew Corruptocrat Cuomo, in other words, has reserved to itself the right to overrule any municipal regulation of wind farms; at least that’s how it appears. Playing the Devil’s Advocate, though, I have to wonder if this restriction, too, couldn’t be turned inside out. There’s no mention here whatsoever of land use issues as we think of them in terms of zoning. A municipality certainly wouldn’t be regulating any “interconnection to and use of water, electric, sewer, telecommunication, fuel and steam lines in public rights of way” by simply determining where wind farms could go, would it? That’s was the rationale for the natural gas decision after all, wasn’t it? And, why would anyone think “including but not limited to” meant zoning? It didn’t in the case of natural gas where there was similar pre-emption language.
So, maybe the NIMBYs in Niagara and Orleans ought to go to court as well and cite their fractivist friends arguments; the ones that worked so well at the Court of Appeals when it upheld home rule with respect to natural gas. The truth is, though, I have no desire to stop the farmers in those counties from getting some extra income. The real problem here that ought to be addressed is New York State’s energy double standards. Give both natural gas and wind a chance to compete without subsidies or onerous local regulations that prevent their development and we’ll see who wins. I have a pretty good idea who that’ll be but it doesn’t mean there can’t be both either. Texas, I’ll remind readers, has more wind farms and more oil and gas than anybody because it gets out of the way of both. What’s wrong with New York?