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New York agrees to spur offshore wind development in Great Lakes

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The Obama administration has struck a deal with five states, including New York, to spur offshore wind farm projects in the Great Lakes.

While federal and state officials claim that offshore wind development in the region could create “tens of thousands of clean energy jobs,” area representatives say that lakefront communities have little to gain and a lot to lose from such projects.

Among the eight Great Lakes states, New York, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania have signed a memorandum of understanding that would speed up the review process for potential offshore wind projects, the White House announced Friday.

The next step for the federal and state agencies is to develop an action plan that “sets priorities and recommends steps for achieving efficient and responsible evaluation” of such projects that may be proposed in the future.

“The Great Lakes have the potential to provide clean energy from offshore wind and related green jobs in upstate New York,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a news release. “This MOU offers a responsible mechanism for enhanced and efficient collaboration among federal, state and local interests in evaluating processes and proposals for development of this resource.”

The Great Lakes’ offshore wind energy resources have the potential to produce more than 700 gigawatts of energy, federal energy officials said, with each gigawatt producing enough electricity to power 300,000 homes.

Last September, the U.S. Department of Energy announced its plan to provide $43 million over five years to “speed technical innovations, lower costs and shorten the timeline for deploying offshore wind energy systems.”

The state of New York — which is aiming to obtain 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2015 — also has set aside $4.6 million in incentives to encourage the installation of end-use wind energy systems for residential, commercial, institutional or government use.

However, the idea of wind turbines sticking out of the water does not sit well with local politicians representing waterfront communities in Jefferson County.

“I think it shows a terrible insensitivity on behalf of the federal government that seems to be proposing to invade our waters with these towers,” said Jefferson County Legislator Barry M. Ormsby, R-Belleville, who had led the charge against wind turbines on Lake Ontario.

County legislators unanimously rejected in March 2010 a proposal for offshore wind towers, citing potential negative effects on property values, scenic vistas and overall quality of life.

Mr. Ormsby said that a large portion of Northern New York’s economy depends upon tourism and that offshore turbines not only would ruin the aesthetics of the lake but could disrupt recreational boating and fishing.

He further argued that currently, the low conversion efficiency makes harnessing energy from wind to generate electricity “questionable technology at best” and that he saw offshore wind development as “a money pit.”

Stephanie G. Weiss, assistant director of Save the River, a Clayton-based environmental organization, said the federal government must take into consideration the fact that the Great Lakes region also is a very important pathway for migrating birds.

“Whether this is a safe place to put wind farms has not been reviewed,” she said.

Unlike wind farms built on land, it would be hard to measure the impact of offshore turbines on the bird population when carcasses are floating away, Ms. Weiss said.

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