Wind Power Fight Hits Albany
By Yancey Roy, Star-Gazette Albany Bureau, March 8, 2006

ALBANY - To some upstate residents, massive windmills are "a blight on the landscape." To environmentalists and energy companies, they are a low-cost energy source that can reduce society's dependence on oil and gas.

The two sides squared off Tuesday at an Assembly hearing over the direction of the state's renewable energy programs. One thing both sides could agree on: this is a fight that is rippling across New York.

"The divisiveness in communities across the state is extraordinary and it's nasty on both sides and it's spreading like wildfire," said Andrew Minnig, a Cherry Valley, Otsego County, resident who wants a moratorium on industrial-sized windmills.

At issue is a state plan that calls for 25 percent of electricity sales to come from renewable sources by 2013 - and control of the money to promote the change. Currently, about 19 percent comes from renewables, mostly hydropower.

Lawmakers created a $24 million fund to provide incentives for alternative energy companies to come to New York. Since then, companies have launched, or tried to launch, about 40 wind farms. But now, lawmakers are squabbling over the money. Gov. George Pataki wants the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to weigh projects and control the incentives. Democrat legislators say the Legislature should control the appropriations.

Environmentalists side with the governor. To give control to the Legislature would be to turn the program over to the vagaries of politics rather than science, they said.

Project money could be doled out like any other "pork-barrel" spending for pet projects, said Rob Moore, executive director of Environmental Advocates.

Last year, the Senate and Assembly passed a bill to seize control of the money; Pataki vetoed it. Wind-power companies said the change could undermine a burgeoning business sector.

"You've created a competitive market that encourages people to go out and seek projects," said Bruce Bailey, president of AWS Truewind, an Albany-based company. "The uncertainty of annual appropriations would jeopardize" that.

Further, it could give investors the jitters, said Anna Giovinetto of Noble Environmental Power, which has wind-power projects in Wyoming and Clinton counties.

"Regulatory uncertainty is anathema to investors," she told the Assembly panel.

In contrast, opponents asked legislators to freeze all wind-power projects until some type of state oversight board can be established to determine where, if any, giant windmills should go. Potential projects are springing up too fast for local residents to weigh all the impacts, they said.

"What's happening is my town is in a shambles. They are building these things in people's backyards," said Sue Brander of Stark, Herkimer County, in the Mohawk Valley. "We need to stop these things until we get a plan in place."

The Preservation League of New York State chimed in, saying some historic sites and area should be off limits. Opponents suggested the state come up with "Wind Zones" to spell out where companies can erect giant windmills.

But no member of the Assembly Energy Committee who appeared at the hearing agreed with the idea of a moratorium. In fact, one member said residents might not want a board in Albany deciding the fate wind-farm proposals rather than a local board.

"My concern is if the state gets involved in oversight, there's going to be a huge distance between the state board, the project and you," said Assemblyman Gary Finch, R-Union Springs, Cayuga County. "You won't even have someone you know that you can talk to."

Assemblyman Ryan Karben, D-Monsey, Rockland County, said he opposed a moratorium but suggested the state develop guidelines to help local residents.

The $24 million is part of the roughly $111 billon budget proposal submitted by the governor. Legislators are supposed to adopt a budget plan by April 1.

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