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Catching wind in power grid  

Three-hundred-foot wind turbines in Sullivan County?

Some Sullivan officials are already talking about it to Empire State Wind Energy LLC, which is going to send “wind prospectors” armed with wind-flow gauges to ridges in the Callicoon-Fremont-Rockland area.

But unlike other new energy projects raising hackles across the state, a Sullivan County wind farm is being carefully studied. Way before any turbines even get manufactured, this proposal would have to include all the community stakeholders and be worth it to locals, or it’s no go, says Callicoon Supervisor Gregg Semenetz.

The payoff for taxpayers could be big, adds Semenetz. “Initial calculations are for at least $700,000 a year as the local share from maybe 10 wind turbines between Callicoon and Fremont.” More detailed numbers are up in the air right now.

Semenetz does caution that “Empire has not done any wind studies on specific sites.”

But Empire State Wind Energy President Keith Pitman says Sullivan’s “got a pocket of wind” his company could turn into fossil-free, highly efficient alternative energy for the state power grid. The grid now gets power from a mix of coal, oil, nuclear and alternative electricity sources.

While it’s true that a 2004 county wind study found windy places along some ridges, Semenetz said Empire has some wind prospecting to do – putting up wind meters on each site to make sure there’s a steady average breeze of say 13 to 16 miles an hour.

Just last month, Empire huddled with a bunch of officials and members of the pro-growth, pro-alternative energy Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development.

Current projections estimate there could be $70,000 per tower per year coming back to the community, based on 10-15 towers between Callicoon and Fremont, said Semenetz. “They’d be 2 to 3 megawatts (a megawatt typically serves 1,000 people) and be 320 feet tall with 120-foot blades. They would be very beneficial to our end of the county.”

In time, of course.

“Probably from now, if everything went right,” says Semenetz, “you’re looking at two years.”

The time frame and other details will depend not just on public reaction but also permits, financing through federal and state programs, and the developer’s willingness to cooperate.

Empire, run by former gubernatorial candidate Tom Golisano – who used to be a wind-industry critic – encourages local communities to fashion the best cash, environmental and power deals for themselves.

That’s the kind of sharing that Callicoon renewable energy activist Dick Riseling’s looking for. A key member of the Alliance, he runs an 80-acre farm with its own small wind turbine, horse-powered farming and public workshops about green energy power.

“People are absolutely ready for this,” says Riseling. “We have three towns that have voted unanimously – Fremont, Callicoon and Rockland – to invite wind developers in…. Our group is pursuing a community-benefit model.”

The model so far has 39 items and is growing. “It could be many millions of dollars (depending on the project size) and could cut everybody’s taxes in the county by half, and enhance school budgets.”

He’d like the towns to own the systems.

Given this backdrop, any wind developer coming to town already has an energy smart, sophisticated, determined group in place to get the best community deal.

Why are wind farm developers scouting Sullivan? It doesn’t show exceptionally big blows on the state wind map.

But the county’s ridges have constant, industrial-sized blows – it’s windy up in the mountains.

Mention wind farms and people think of the 195 giant turbines spinning at Tug Hill in upstate New York, one of the windiest places around New York.

Yet, is there market-sized energy in Sullivan? Looks like it, says Empire’s Pitman.

He’s getting in on the latest Wall Street buzz about wind. While all the talk’s been about alternatives like solar, biomass, hydro and geothermal, wind’s blown into first place as the hot investment.

“When I started working wind four years ago, I couldn’t imagine what is happening now in today’s world,” says former Scenic Hudson staffer Marion Trieste, managing director of the consulting company Green Energy Outreach Services.

“In just in four years there are five winds farms and more coming. There’s about 400 megawatts in the grid now.”

More than 50 wind farm projects have requested hookups to the state power grid, according to the grid’s manager, the state Independent System Operator.

Big Wall Street names are chasing the wind. GE Financial Services just partnered with Noble Environmental Power for a $564 million investment to build three new wind parks – which would create enough power for 93,000 average homes – in Clinton and Wyoming counties.

Big oil’s investing nationally. And so are utilities – Central Hudson Energy Group has wind-farm shares.

“Undeniably, it’s the fastest growing energy source,” says Carol E. Murphy, executive director of the Clean Energy Alliance New York. She’s just been named to Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s renewable energy task force.

Why’s wind power blowing so hard? Customer demand, says Trieste. Wind power’s highly efficient, doesn’t burn fossil fuels and so saves mega-tons of carbon emissions – the major greenhouse global warming culprit – and gases that cause smog and acid rain. For instance, the GE-Noble project is estimated by the company to save 590,000 tons of greenhouse emissions gases.

“Just years ago, the wind-power business was highly speculative,” says Pitman. The risks are acceptable now, he said, what with tax credits and the willingness of big name investors to jump in.

The welcome mat’s out for wind power in his neck of the woods, says Riseling, providing the deal’s good for the locals. “We have credibility here, we’ll work with you.”

Any developer should take note of the mid-Hudson’s wind-power development history, which is fairly unknown but instructive. One developer in the 1980s underestimated the locals and chose his site poorly, proposing hundreds of wind turbines for the Shawangunk Ridge. That’s now a world-class wildlife habitat.

Wind now has backing from major environmental groups. “On balance, National Audubon strongly supports wind power as a clean alternative energy source that reduces the threat of global warming. Location, however, is important,” says the leading conservation group.

If no solution’s found to greenhouse gas pollution it “will kill far more birds than wind turbines,” says Audubon.

Good turbine siting’s now a must. Turbines have been vastly improved and cooperation with the locals is a mantra, says Pitman.

As wind power improves its performance, it’s gone from hot air decades ago to a hot ticket on Wall Street, says Brooklyn College economics professor Robert Bell in his new book, “The Green Bubble.” “Wind,” he says, “has essentially unlimited potential.”

How it gets to your house
Wind turbine farms send their electricity to the power grid, which is a mix of all the power sources in the state. When you plug into a wall socket, you don’t know which kind of electricity you’re getting, unless you pay a surcharge to local utilities, or you’ve installed your own power – solar, wind or electric, for instance.

As wind power grows more popular, its production costs go down – it’s now a very competitive market.

“As consumers continue to demand alternative energy, then the market responds to it, and that’s where I think it’s different than it was five years ago,” says Pattern for Progress President Jonathan Drapkin. “There are more people and more consumers and municipalities at least saying we want a portion to come from alternate sources.”

New Paltz did so, for instance.

New York’s goal is 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by the year 2013.

By Wayne A. Hall

Times Herald-Record

12 August 2007

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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