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County considers wind power

A Fulton County legislator thinks the answer to some of the county’s energy needs might be blowing in the wind.

Gloversville 6th Ward Supervisor Richard Ottalagano recently completed an informal study, “Wind Power in Fulton County,” which analyzes whether wind can be turned into electricity on a limited basis in this area.

Copies of the report were recently distributed to members of the Fulton County Board of Supervisors and other local officials, such as Gloversville Mayor Tim Hughes.

“I think it’s feasible for small facilities,” Ottalagano said of wind power.

Small turbines can be as small as a 300-watt generator and having wind turbines in a municipality can create job opportunities, proponents said.

A possible location for wind turbines have to have attractive wind conditions, reasonable access to electrical transmission, terrain favorable to construction, land use and environmental compatibility, and sufficient land area.

Perth Supervisor Gregory Fagan said there are one or two wind turbine towers in Fulton County off Route 29 in the town of Broadalbin, but they are scattered and small.

“The situation all depends on the wind,” Fagan said.

He said he notices a pretty brisk wind on his own farm in Perth, and said larger wind mills might work well in the towns of Caroga or Stratford.

Ottalagano’s 11-page informal study was born out of a New York State Association of Counties conference he said he attended.

“With energy prices on the rise, many counties have looked to alternate, renewable energy sources such as wind,” Ottalagano wrote in his report, “Some counties, such as Madison and Lewis have wind farms. These wind farms along with producing electricity, also produce revenue for the hosting municipalities.”

Ottalagano said that this fall’s NYSAC conference offered him two opportunities to learn about wind power

On Sept. 27, he and fellow NYSAC delegates took a trip to Gore Mountain where the Barton Group’s proposed Warren County Wind Farm site afforded an opportunity to learn from engineers and other parties about the project.

“A large mock up with wind generators was on display, and a trip to the actual site gave a good picture of the size of this project,” Ottalagano wrote. “During the dialogue on Gore Mountain, it was learned that a new design turbine weighing the same as the proposed units has been developed and will be used for this project, increasing the output of the original proposed amount.”

Adirondack Wind Energy Park is a proposed wind emergy project that can produce up to 27 megawatts of 100 percent clean, affordable renewable energy for the Adirondack region. The project site is located on the northside of Gore Mountain the town of Johnsburg.

The project will supply 100 percent renewable power for an estimated 14,000 homes.

Ottalagano said the second day of the NYSAC conference Sept. 28 offered a workshop on wind turbines, wind farms and county governments.

On Oct. 19, several Fulton County supervisors including Ottalagano and retired General Electric Co. engineer Paul Adamkoski, attended an Inter-County Legislative Committee of the Adirondacks in Lewis County. A talk was given on the Maple Ridge Wind Farm in that county.

In his report, Ottalagano wrote: “We were told of the robust modern wind turbine generators, which are sophisticated high-tech machines designed to convert the power of the wind into electricity.”

“The farm has 195 wind towers costing $2.million each, generating $8 million in revenue annually to school districts, municipalities and the county,” the report said. “No amount of conservation would have prepared the visitors to the actual wind site.”

The giant towers, the report said, are about 320 feet tall – about the same height as Big Ben in London or the same length as the football field at Giants Stadium.

“Counties developing wind farms could be looking at 50 to 60 percent in outside funds,” Ottalagano wrote. “Educational facilities that teach wind power-related courses could get as much as 70 percent.”

He stated that delegates were told that wind farm areas could be added to New York State Empire Development Zones, where tax exemptions can be received.

The bottom line of the study, according to Ottalagano, is that wind generation in Fulton County may only be available on a limited basis.

“Wind power on a large scale may not be feasible in Fulton County because of the low amount of wind, and what measure wind there is available for the greater part of Adirondack Park,” Ottalagano wrote. “The possibility exists for a small wind farm in Ephratah, but there would only be two or three towers depending on the wind study.”

But the report isn’t all negative about the possibilities of wind power.

“However, a possibility exists for wind power on a limited scale at some county-owned properties such as the [Fulton County] Residential Health Care Facility, the landfill, the County Airport, the County Annex on Route 29, FMCC and other public buildings,” he wrote.

Ottalagano said that smaller wind turbines do not need a mean wind speed of 15 mph, but can instead operate at a mean wind speed of 5 mph.

“Small turbines do not have the problems of transmission lines, tall towers and heavy-duty roads associated with wind farms, these units can be configured to be on the grid and perhaps provide a great reduction in energy costs for the departments,” he said.

Ottalagano said that the cost savings for wind power are misunderstood.

Wind power, from a wind farm, in a county doesn’t reduce the power cost for that county’s residents, he said. All power goes into the grid and residents pay the same rates as everyone else, he said.

Ottalagano said some people in wind farm counties have found this hard to accept, in spite of the massive revenues.

In an interview, the supervisor said big wind farms are definiitely “out of the question” for Fulton County.

“It was a fun research project,” Ottalagano said. “There’s a lot of interest in [wind power] now with energy costs up now.”

There was an operating wind mill in the town of Broadalbin, he said, but the clutch burned out and it doesn’t work anymore.

“I guess they stop when they get to a certain point,” Ottalagano said.

The New York State Research & Development Authority, he said, promotes wind power as an alternative energy source.

Ottalagano said he would like to see the Board of Supervisors, perhaps next year, form a special committee to look into wind power. He said NYSERDA recommends certain groups to look into wind options available.

Those groups, he said, study the given climate and wind patterns in an area and say what is feasible and what isn’t.

Hughes said he believes there is a “wind tunnel” around the Jackson Summit area, but he’s not sure how well wind towers would go over north of the Adirondack Blue Line. The Gloversville mayor was asked whether he thinks new Gov.-Elect Eliot Spitzer, a fellow Democrat, will warm up to wind power.

“I hope so,” Hughes said. “There’s definitely some cost savings.”

Not all legislators in the county, however, are swayed by Ottalagano’s pitch.

Fulton County Environmental Resources Committee Chairman Anthony C. Buanno said that with the exception of some farmers, the idea of wind turbines might go over in Fulton County like a head ballooon because such ventures might be cost-prohibitive.

“I’m not at all for that because I don’t think that would be a popular thing around here,” Buanno said.

The county Department of Solid Waste, overseen by Buanno’s committee, is already into another type of energy-saving venture. The committee is looking into converting methane gas at the landfill on Mud Road into electricity.

This area has already had some wind farm controversies in the past, including in the spring of 2005 in Montgomery County. In may of that year, some residents in the town of Palatine expressed concern about a meteorological test site project involving the installation of wind towers in the town.

By Michael Anich, The Leader-Herald
Michael Anich covers Fulton County and Johnstown. He can be reached at johnstown@leaderherald.com.