Last month, Anne Reynolds, executive director of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York, complained that the state is a “tough place to develop” big renewable-energy projects due to a “spirited tradition of home rule.” This came after her group and the Nature Conservancy released a report lamenting the fact that siting new renewable-energy projects is often “lengthy, uncertain and sometimes unsatisfactory for both developers and communities.”
It should be. With good reason, numerous upstate towns are actively fighting the encroachment of Big Wind. To cite just one recent example: Last month, the Watertown City Council unanimously approved a resolution opposing the development of eight industrial wind-turbine projects totaling 1,000 megawatts of capacity, because the projects could impair military training capabilities near Fort Drum.
Over the past decade or so, members of Reynolds’ group — some of America’s biggest subsidy miners — have collected $18.7 billion in federal and state subsidies. The burgeoning backlash against Big Wind means a growing group of rebellious New York towns stand between Reynolds’ members and even more taxpayer gravy.
The $18.7 billion sum was obtained by matching ACENY’s membership roster with data from Subsidy Tracker, a program run by Good Jobs First, a Washington-based government-accountability organization. That $18.7 billion includes all federal grants, tax credits, loans, loan guarantees and state subsidies.
The subsidies are corrosive. They encourage wind-energy companies to use legal action to bully rural landowners and small towns. They also induce the wind industry to kill more wildlife, including bats and birds.
The biggest recipient of taxpayer cash on ACENY’s roster is the world’s biggest and most-litigious wind-energy producer: NextEra Energy, which has collected nearly $5.5 billion in federal and state subsidies. NextEra is using some of that taxpayer cash to sue small towns including Hinton, Okla., and Almer and Ellington in Michigan. What did those tiny towns do to irritate the energy giant, which has a market capitalization of $73 billion? They prohibited installation of wind turbines, the latest models of which now stand about 800 feet high.
Speaking of bullying, NextEra also has a pending defamation lawsuit against Esther Wrightman, a Canadian activist who had the temerity to call the company “NextError and “NexTerror” on her Web site.
Another ACENY member: Spanish energy company Iberdrola (the parent company of its US subsidiary, Avangrid), which has collected $2.2 billion in subsidies. In 2012, shortly after Iberdrola began operating its Hardscrabble wind project, several dozen residents of Herkimer County filed a lawsuit against the company due to the nuisance, noise and sleep disturbance caused by Iberdrola’s turbines. That case, which now has 68 plaintiffs, is still pending.
Last year, after the New York town of Clayton imposed a six-month moratorium on applications for new wind-energy projects, Iberdrola sued the town, claiming the moratorium was illegal. But a state court sided with Clayton. And last November, citizens from two Vermont towns, Grafton and Windham, voted overwhelmingly to reject a proposed Iberdrola wind project.
Multibillion-dollar subsidies for Big Wind are also fueling widespread destruction of American wildlife. While the deadly effect that wind turbines have on birds, in particular eagles and other birds of prey, has been well documented, Big Wind is also killing hundreds of thousands of bats per year.
A paper published last year in Mammal Review found that wind turbines are now the largest single cause of bat mortality. A report by the conservation group Bird Studies Canada found that “across Canada, bat fatalities were reported more often than birds, accounting for 75 percent of all carcasses found.” To be sure, bats don’t get as much good press as eagles and hawks, but they are critical pollinators and insectivores.
In short, while Reynolds and other members of ACENY claim their push for renewable energy is about climate change, the numbers from Good Jobs First show that what they really want is more corporate welfare. And more corporate welfare for the group’s members means bad news for America’s small towns and even worse news for our wildlife.
Robert Bryce is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.