The seven northeastern U.S. states that make up the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative have all set ambitious emissions reduction goals and renewable energy targets that will be difficult to meet. For example, New York has the goal of getting 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by the year 2030.
Reaching this goal could be achieved with 3,500 megawatts of onshore wind and 6,800 megawatts of utility-scale solar power, requiring about 270 square miles for wind turbines and 50 square miles for solar arrays. The question is: where to put them?
The Northeast has some of the most progressive energy policies but it also has some of the most land-constrained states. In contrast, the West is characterized by wide-open spaces and vast tracts of federal land. In places like New York, achieving the renewables goal depends on timely regulatory approvals and private landowners willing to host projects.
The history of siting renewables is daunting for potential investors. In New York, four years has been the best-case scenario for new wind farm construction, but obtaining permits can require up to eight years. While farming communities often welcome the leasing income and tax incentives associated with wind projects, opposition from home owners and environmentalists can impede projects. Opponents often use local zoning regulations to circumvent state-backed certification processes.
It will take significant planning and creative land-use to achieve high renewable penetration in the crowded Northeast corridor. The use of sites such as brownfields and capped landfills as well as land trusts and other conserved properties are among things that should be explored. It is time for a comprehensive regional mapping exercise in the Northeast.
Photo, posted January 29, 2013, courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Flickr.