“Central New York news has covered proposals for large solar farms in Cayuga County and across Upstate. Some proposals have generated opposition. A review of legislation might help us understand how project siting has been changed to silence citizen voices and neuter local laws.
Article 10 was originally developed to engage the public, developers and agencies in project review. It had an unexpected result: The Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Agriculture and Markets regularly documented how projects might sacrifice thousands of acres of woodland or farmland; cause harm to migratory birds, bats and raptors; how projects could erode the rural character of communities. This caused big headaches for developers. In 2020, the governor’s budget amendments included the Accelerated Renewable Energy Siting law. This replaces earlier review mechanisms and allows the state to override local law. Project approval is automatic if deadlines are not met. There may no longer be any public forum for agencies and citizens to question a developer’s data.
Civic-minded people might oppose a big solar or wind farm for many reasons: They don’t grow food, but because industry pays more than a tenant farmer, they displace productive farmland. Solar and wind farms get big subsidies and tax breaks. These installations have substantial environmental impacts and significant waste streams. New York does not have unforested, non-agricultural open spaces like Western states do.
Solar capacity factor — a measure of average generation — in California is 28%. New York’s solar capacity factor is 14%. Solar needs four acres per megawatt (MW) but because of its capacity factor, a one-megawatt farm actually generates, on average, just 140 kilowatts. You’d still need to build out transmission capable of moving power for the occasional times the system generates at full capacity.
What if, no matter how much solar or wind is built, we can’t reliably power our electric grid or reduce gas combustion? New York’s gas plants must be shuttered by 2040 if the state achieves targets in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). So far, the state seems unwilling to maintain or expand its fleet of carbon-free nuclear plants. Based on the grid operator’s (NYISO’s) projections under the CLCPA, assuming current hydro power is available, and after deploying proposed offshore wind, New York would still need an additional 150,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) of carbon-free electricity in 2040. Looking just at solar, we might need 122,000 megawatts of panels — covering perhaps half a million acres — to power the state.”
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Higgins, Dennis. Syracuse.com 4 May 2021.