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Fans of Wind Energy: Legislating a Better Aesthetic Siting Regime to Encourage Clean Energy Growth

Fans of Wind Energy: Legislating a Better Aesthetic Siting Regime to Encourage Clean Energy Growth

Patrick Leary

The energy sector accounts for 35% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, helping to drive the warming of Earth’s atmosphere.[1] This percentage will be reduced in the future as society embraces plentiful renewable energy sources.[2] This Note is based on the premise that increasing the ease of wind project development provides a global good by reducing GHG emissions.[3] However, one of the major barriers to installing wind capacity is concern over aesthetics.[4] Wind farms have a wider aesthetic footprint than traditional fuel-based power sources, being typically installed in senic areas.[5] Thus, opposition and challenges to siting decisions for wind energy are frequent and often based on aesthetic grounds.[6]

States have generally used two approaches to siting, either favoring local control or state control.[7] Vermont uses a state control regime while New York uses a local control regime.[8] Both Vermont and New York have legislated clean energy requirements in some form.[9] Meeting these ambitious clean energy targets will be difficult.[10] While there are valid aesthetic concerns regarding wind energy, the current permitting process of addressing those concerns adds significant costs to a project.[11] Thus, a more navigable process is a necessity.

This Note will provide a background on New York and Vermont’s wind turbine siting regimes and propose a model that would improve the efficiency of installation of wind energy facilities. Part I of the Note will provide background information on the energy industry in the relevant states and the state renewable energy standards. A state’s legislative and regulatory system plays an integral role in the success or failure of renewable energy projects.[12] Part II of the Note will then examine the renewable energy siting regimes of two states, Vermont and New York. This section will also examine a number of legal challenges wind projects faced that delayed or prevented projects from ever reaching operation. Part III of the Note will critique the weaknesses of the two systems in more detail through a number of hypothetical analyses that highlight the systems flaws. Part IV will lay out potential legislative solutions to the aesthetic hurdles renewable energy developers face.

[1] EPA, Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data, https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data#Sector (last visited Nov. 29, 2017).

[2] Joseph P. Tomain & Richard D Cudahy, Energy Law in a Nutshell 538 (3d ed. 2017).

[3] Wind Energy Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Am. Wind Energy Ass’n, https://www.awea.org/reducing-greenhouse-gas-emissions (last visited Nov. 29, 2017).

[4] Susan Lorde Martin, Wind Farms and NIMBYs: Generating Conflict, Reducing Litigation, 20 Fordham Envtl. L. Rev. 427, 428 (2010)

[5] Pace Univ., Wind Energy: Aesthetics, Property Values, and Sound 1 (2011).

[6] Martin supra note 4, at 428.

[7] See generally, Jesse Heibel & Jocelyn Durkay, State Legislative Approaches to Wind Energy, Nat’l Conf. St. Legislatures (Nov. 1, 2016), http://www.ncsl.org/research/energy/state-wind-energy-siting.aspx (discussing the two broad approaches that can categorize many of the nation’s siting regimes).

[8] Id.

[9] Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 30 § 8005 (2015); Renewable Portfolio Standard, N.Y. St. Energy Research & Dev. Auth., https://www.nyserda.ny.gov/All-Programs/Programs/Clean-Energy-Standard/Renewable-Portfolio-Standard (last visited Nov. 12, 2017).

[10] See Willem Post, Vermont’s 90% Renewable Energy Goal to Cost $33 Billion by 2050, The Energy Collective (Feb. 16, 2017), http://www.theenergycollective.com/willem-post/2398566/vermonts-90-renewable-energy-goal-cost-33-billion-2050 (examining the monetary challenges Vermont faces because of its high renewable portfolio standards).

[11]The Cost of Wind Energy in the U.S., Am. Wind Energy Ass’n, https://www.awea.org/falling-wind-energy-costs (last visited Nov. 29, 2017).

[12] Amory B. Lovins, Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era 217 (2011).

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