One of the last reports NYS Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi oversaw before his administration was overcome with scandal was issued in December 2005 and entitled "The Benefits of Renewable Energy for New York State." In it he notes the political goal set by the NYS Public Service Commission in 2004 of achieving 25% of the State's electrical energy from renewable resources by 2013 (including, in addition to hydropower, "new renewables" like solar, wind, and biomass). The report indicates that California's goal is 20% by 2010, while New York has already achieved that goal primarily with clean hydropower. It then goes on to investigate the economic ramifications of investing more taxpayer subsidy in "new renewables." Nothing is said about nuclear power, which is clean but uses an ore that is not technically renewable.
Overall, the report is thorough, if somewhat dated. One question that's begged is how the PSC chose its 25% goal. In our real world, this is probably how: it's a round number that rolls easily off the tongues of politicians - increase by 5% over 10 years - not 3% or 4% or 6%, but a nice, round 5%.
Since 2004 much more experience is available from nations that have already invested more heavily in wind power than we have in the US. What's been learned from our European neighbors is that wind power does not displace conventional generating capacity, which must always be available "on line" to kick in whenever the wind dies down. It's difficult, at best, to turn hydropower or nuclear plants on and off and not economical, clean, or easy to run fossil fuel plants on a variably intermittent basis. A factory, office building, or home could never rely on wind power for its electrical needs.
Unfortunately, Mr. Hevesi's analysts focus only on economic speculations that make little distinction between sources of power: to them each MW generated is equivalent, no matter what its source or when it's available to the grid. As a result, sources like solar (which only generates when the sun shines) and wind (which only generates when the wind blows) are simply added interchangeably to the mix with biomass and conventional power. And of the former two, wind is by far the more variable, endlessly taxing the grid's ability to adapt to its intermittent contributions.
The report sagely notes that wind farm projects in the New York, including those "in both Chautauqua and Steuben counties" have run into significant local opposition. It goes on to note: "Prior to its expiration at the end of 2002, a review process for siting generation facilities with a capacity of 80 MW or more was set forth in Article X of the New York State Public Service Law. A renewal of Article X would provide for the disclosure and debate of concerns about construction and operation of larger-scale renewable energy projects, and also, as previously designed, guarantee opportunities for public involvement. In addition to the requirement that those entities applying to construct generating facilities must carry out a meaningful public involvement program, Article X provided for the creation of an intervenor fund for each project. Proceeds from the intervenor funds were distributed to municipal and other local parties to help defray the expenses of expert witnesses and consultants." Contrary to the Hevesi Report's recommendations, however, Article X was not renewed, and localities throughout the state have been left to their own inadequate resources in evaluating the well-funded sales pitches of private wind power speculators.
Looking at greenhouse gas reduction by cutting back on fossil fuel generation, what is needed first are diligent applications of conservation, like New York's STAR program, accompanied by deeper investment in reliable alternative technologies like safe 21st century nuclear power. If we go on slavishly applying ideas that seemed progressive 3 years ago and ignoring the experience of our European brothers and sisters until our beautiful land is littered with hundreds if not thousands of dysfunctional wind turbines, then we'll discover for ourselves the folly of it all: we will have filled our beautiful recreational areas with noisy machinery and ruined our viewscapes at taxpayer expense all for nothing but a clutter of obsolete equipment rapidly depreciating on our hilltops and shorelines. For those with a living hope for our future, there must be a better way.