ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo believes answers to the state's energy needs are blowing in the wind, over Long Island.
Cuomo underscored his ambitious goals to shift the state to green-energy sources when he came out last week strongly in favor of what is destined to be a controversial wind farm in the Atlantic Ocean, 30 miles off Montauk.
Cuomo used the word "clean" twice in one sentence as he summed up why the Long Island Power Authority should approve the plan:
“Investing in New York’s clean energy economy strengthens our communities by providing access to clean, affordable power and good quality green jobs," he said in a statement. The authority's trustees, most of whom are appointed by the governor, are scheduled to meet this week.
Others see the project as pivotal, too, and not just in the power it could provide. The offshore wind farm could be a symbol of how the state can meet Cuomo's ambitious goal of getting half of New York's energy from carbon-free sources by 2030.
Now, those sources represent about 23 percent of the state's energy draw.
"This is really a game-changer," said Lisa Dix, senior representative for the New York chapter of the Sierra Club. "The potential of off-shore wind is massive."
The Montauk project would feed the electricity needs of the New York City area, the state's dominant population center.
But Dix and other green-energy advocates said a wind power source so close to the city will have a broader effect, negating concerns that hundreds of miles of transmission line must be built to accommodate wind and solar farms.
Upstate's not off the hook
The New York Independent Service Operator, which manages the power grid, has said the upstate region may need an additional 1,000 miles of bulk transmission line over the next 14 years to serve wind and solar installations.
That number, itself, has sparked some high-voltage politics.
Cuomo's top energy official, Richard Kauffman, who heads the New York State Energy Research Development Authority, lashed out at the grid operator for being "held captive" by fossil-fuel interests.
Kauffman called the grid operator's estimate "misleading, incomplete and grossly inaccurate."
A spokesman for the grid operator declined to comment, while green-energy proponents cheered the spanking administered by Cuomo's agent.
Not only does an offshore wind farm reduce the need for high-voltage transmission lines, persistently strong gusts over the ocean also make offshore wind a more reliable resource, said Conor Bambrick, an analyst with Environmental Advocates of New York.
Bambrick said he sees potential for more off-shore wind farms close to New York City.
But those wind farms sprouting from the ocean won't erase the need for more turbines upstate, he said.
"We're going to need all the clean energy we can get," he said. "Wind has the most potential of any renewable resource."
In just a decade, the state's reliance on wind energy has grown 3,000 percent. But to attain the goal of using renewables for half of the state's energy, New York must ratchet up wind, solar and hydro sources on a massive scale.
The state needs to generate 33,700 gigawatt-hours of electricity from renewables over current levels, according to estimates from the system operator.
The state's largest wind generating plant, Maple Ridge Wind Farm at Tug Hill, in Lewis County, is equipped with 195 turbines.
It would take approximately 40 additional wind farms with the production capacity of Maple Ridge to hit the state's 50 percent renewable energy target, according to an electrical engineer involved in the wind industry.
Wind projects get mixed reviews
The state's ambitious objectives have set the table for opportunities for green-energy companies that want in on the action.
"What I see taking place in New York right now is very impressive," said Patrick Doyle, whose company, Ridgeline Energy, has proposed a six-turbine wind farm in the Otsego County town of Richfield.
That project, which would bracket U.S. Route 20, has divided the community. Five years after it was proposed, there is no finalized agreement between the company and the town.
Some projects have found far less resistance.
One of New York's oldest wind farms, a 20-turbine plant owned by Canastota Wind Power LLC in the central New York farming community of Fenner, has drawn very little controversy since it opened 15 years ago, said Town Supervisor David Jones.
Most residents have adjusted to the presence of the 328-foot-high machines, he said, adding that he knows of only one who has complained about the noise.
"You almost forget they are here, just like you really don't notice what color your neighbor's house is," he said.
The wind farm's property tax payments of about $150,000 have been an important source of revenue for a town with an annual budget of about $900,000. That sum will be reduced to $78,000 next year, as more tax proceeds are shifted to the county and the local school district.
"When it was first proposed, some people worried it might affect their view," Jones said. "But I'd say now, people are in favor of it."
In other places, opposition has stalled or even stifled wind projects.
Marshall Hollander, a former town supervisor for Columbia, in Herkimer County, was among those who challenged wind farms proposed in several communities near his.
Hollander said it would make more sense for New York to follow several European nations that put turbines offshore, where winds are stronger, rather than locating them near populated areas.
"The developers here have been like wolves who target rural townships so they can make some money before they disappear," he said.
New York sorely needs a "coherent state program" for siting wind farms, he added.
While development of renewable energy is criticized as far more expensive than getting power from gas and oil, the Cuomo administration and green-energy backers point to the positive health effects of a cleaner atmosphere.
The state Public Service Commission estimates that New York's Clean Energy Standard, once achieved, will also yield up to $3 billion in savings by preventing storm-damage related to climate change.
The PSC is expected to adopt Cuomo's target of relying on non-carbon sources for 50 percent of the state's energy next month.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com