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Thruway eyes energy blowing in the wind

ALBANY – The Thruway Authority is getting into the wind business.

The agency plans to place five turbines along the highway between Buffalo and the Pennsylvania state line in an effort to have wind provide one-third of its power needs in the region.

Tapping into wind blowing off Lake Erie, the medium-scale turbines will go up on Thruway property in Erie and Chautauqua counties, with the first windmill getting built at the Fredonia interchange sometime next year, officials told The Buffalo News.

Each of the turbines will produce at least 100 kilowatts per hour of power, and excess energy not used by the agency at its Western New York facilities will be sold back to local utilities.

The wind power plan is unusual in the United States for a state agency erecting turbines on public land for its own energy use. According to the American Wind Energy Association in Washington, less than 2 percent of wind projects are located on public lands.

Three of the turbines will be built at interchanges – Exit 57A in Eden-Angola, Exit 58 in Silver Creek and Exit 59 in Fredonia – and a fourth at the Ripley toll barrier near the Pennsylvania line. A fifth turbine is planned for the agency’s maintenance facility in Westfield near Exit 60.

Thruway officials said up to $4.8 million is budgeted for the cost of the five turbines, which includes $500,000 in design expenses. Spokeswoman Betsy Feldstein said the windmills will reduce up to 35 percent of the $1.2 million the agency’s Buffalo division now spends annually on energy.

The three-bladed turbines will rise no higher than 150 feet, less than half the height of some of the mega-windmills already constructed along Lake Erie.

In recent years, governors in New York have issued edicts for agencies to use more renewable energy sources to power their buildings and vehicles.

The Thruway wind effort stepped up in early 2010 when then-Gov. David A. Paterson said the agency was seeking industry ideas for placing wind power facilities on its lands. The state also has a “30×15” plan by which 30 percent of New York’s total electricity needs are to come from renewable resources by 2015.

Thruway officials said the designs are already in the works for the five Western New York turbines. It is uncertain if the turbine construction program needs further approvals from the authority’s board, which has scheduled a meeting this afternoon in Buffalo.

Word of the Thruway’s green energy plans comes a month after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law a measure to speed up the development of power plants. The governor says the law’s provisions also will encourage new facilities that do not rely on fossil fuels to produce power.

The power from the five midsized turbines is expected to make some of the Thruway interchanges energy self-sufficient. It would be derived from what Thruway acting Executive Director Thomas Ryan called “environmentally friendly technologies.”

The American Wind Energy Association said New York is now home to 835 wind turbines, operating in western, central and northern parts of the state, as well as on Long Island. The trade group says that there are currently 1,349 megawatts of wind power online and that wind provides a total of 2 percent of the state’s energy.

The agency envisions excess wind power produced from the five turbines being “banked” with local utilities as savings that then would be used to lower energy costs in the Buffalo division.