This letter to the editor was written by Peter Bardaglio, who is the president of Black Oak Wind Farm, LLC and the coordinator of the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative. He said he has lived in Trumansburg since 2002.
As always, we are eager to reprint alternative or dissenting viewpoints. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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ITHACA, N.Y. — Recently, a debate has emerged in the community over the proposed Black Oak Wind Farm in Enfield. Such debate can be productive, but only when that debate is based on facts and not wildly misleading charges and unsupported assertions.
One of the most egregious examples of the latter appeared in an article published by the Cornell Daily Sun on February 5.
Jude Lemke, an opponent to wind power in general (not just Black Oak) and a member of the newly established Town of Enfield Wind Farm Advisory Board, is disseminating grossly inaccurate information in this article, inaccuracies that are clearly designed to generate hostility towards Cornell and Black Oak.
For example, she is quoted as saying, “the energy [produced by Black Oak] is being bought 100 percent by Cornell University and does not benefit Enfield itself.” As those of us involved with the project have explained many times, including at a public meeting in December that Lemke attended, Cornell’s power purchase agreement benefits all of us in the area, including Enfield residents, because the electrons generated by our wind farm will go on the grid and not directly to Cornell.
So we will all use the electricity generated by the wind farm. In effect, Cornell is paying for all of us to have access to this renewable energy.
Furthermore, any effort to reduce the carbon footprint of Tompkins County benefits Enfield and all the residents of Tompkins County because it makes it that much less likely that runaway climate change will occur.
Also, the energy generated by the wind farm benefits Enfield because it creates a $2 million stream of tax payments over 15 years to the town and county, as well as a $45,000 community benefits payment that will provide the seed capital for the building of a new community hall in Enfield.
These are demonstrable facts that contradict Lemke’s assertions.
In another charge, Lemke contends that Black Oak will “generate enormous profits for people who do not even live in their community.” This accusation is incorrect in several respects.
First, the wind farm is not generating “enormous profits.”
There are currently about 150 investors, the large majority of whom live in Tompkins County; they will not see any return on their investment for the first ten years.
Our projections estimate that over 25 years their annual average return will fall somewhere in the 6-8 percent range. Any additional private equity or tax partner will earn 8 percent at best. This is not an “enormous profit” by anybody’s reckoning.
Second, some of our investors do live in Enfield; thus Lemke’s insistence that the profits will only benefit “people who do not live in their community” is patently false.
Third, land lease and good neighbor payments will put several hundred thousand dollars a year into the pockets of property owners and nearby residents.
Not content to confine her views to the article itself, Lemke has posted comments on the Cornell Daily Sun website that reveal her broader opposition to all wind power.
“The coal fired plants won’t go away because wind is unreliable,” she declares. “Given how much time it takes to power up one of these plants, they need to stay online 100% of the time to be ready to kick in when the winds aren’t blowing.”
This claim reveals how little Lemke actually knows about the current state of the energy system in New York. Several coal-fired power plants have already been closed and others are slated for closing.
Just last month Governor Cuomo pledged to shut down all coal-fired power plants in New York by 2020. In short, despite Lemke’s contention, it looks like coal-fired power plants will be going away.
As for the unreliability of wind power, most of our wind in New York is produced at night, making it an excellent complement to solar power, which (obviously) is produced during the day. And then, of course, there is the supply of electricity generated by natural gas, hydropower, and nuclear power, which provide a baseload 24/7.
Balancing the grid with such a diverse mix of fuels is complicated, no question. But, having just recently visited the new NYISO headquarters in Rensselaer, where all the power on the grid in New York is managed, I am certain they are up to the task.
Anyone who really wants to understand how we produce, transmit, and distribute energy in New York should visit this facility, one of the most advanced in the world.
NYISO itself has stated that it can accommodate up to 10% wind power on the grid without any technical challenges. Readers who would like to track the state’s energy mix in real time can do so here. A quick glance will reveal that electricity generated by coal-fired power plants in New York hovers in the low single digits, even on a good day.
Lemke is on firmer ground when she argues that “wind farm projects are not financially viable without the large tax credits and other subsidies offered by the federal and state taxing authorities to support these projects.”
As a senior vice president at Corning, Inc., Lemke’s job is to minimize the tax exposure of the corporation.
She has held similar positions at Pepsi Bottling, Chiquita, Verizon Wireless, and CareFusion, a medical device company, so Lemke knows whereof she speaks.
In fact, she has been cited in the national media as a leading example of the revolving door between corporations and Congress that provides big business with the power to shape federal tax laws. In this particular instance, according to a 2013 report, Lemke left CareFusion and joined the Senate Finance Committee staff to assist in writing a bill that would repeal a medical device tax, an income source that contributes substantially to the financing of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.
As the article puts it, eliminating this tax would “remove tens of billions in tax revenues over ten years.”
Given her level of expertise in the corporate tax field, it is hard to imagine that Lemke is unaware of the fact that tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry far outweigh those provided to wind and solar.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), fossil-fuel consumption subsidies worldwide totaled $493 billion in 2014, with subsidies to oil products making up over half of the total. Those subsidies, the IEA observes, were over four-times the value of subsidies to renewable energy.
What about the U.S.? Well, as often pointed out, context is everything. During the crucial early period of our modern oil and gas industries, according to a 2012 study, tax subsidies averaged about five percent of the federal budget.
In comparison, the current support for renewables is less than a fifth of that, making up less than one percent of the federal budget. Put another way, taking inflation into account, $1.8 billion per year was spent on subsidies during the early years of the modern oil and gas industries, compared to just $400 million annually for renewables.
Moreover, subsidies for coal, oil, and gas were never phased out even as those industries matured, while the most recent federal tax legislation ramps down the subsidies for solar and wind between now and 2021. Why not do the same for oil, gas, and coal?
Isn’t the elimination of government subsidies for fossil fuel industries long overdue?
So, yes, let’s have a debate about the Black Oak Wind Farm and the future of energy production in Tompkins County, the U.S., and even the world, but let’s stick to the facts, ok? It’s the least we can do for our children and grandchildren, who will have to live with the results of our actions.
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