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Numbers in energy study don’t add up

An April 7 story by Associated Press reporter Michael Hill headlined “NY moves toward adopting wind, other green energy” implies that New York is in fact taking action on a study written by Mark Jacobson, Robert Howarth and 11 other authors that “says New York could get the power it needs from wind, water and sunlight by 2030 with a concerted push, though the state’s decade-long effort to significantly boost green energy shows how challenging that could be.”

That’s what the study says, but what happens when we read the study and think about what it means?

The Jacobson/Howarth study, “Examining the feasibility of converting New York State’s all-purpose energy infrastructure to one using wind, water, and sunlight,” calls for the installation of 4,020 on-shore and 12,700 off-shore 5-megawatt wind turbines, 387 100-megawatt concentrated solar plants, 828 50-megawatt solar/photovoltaic plants, approximately 500,000 100-kilowatt rooftop PV systems, and 36 100 megawatt geothermal plants between now and 2030. I don’t know how to estimate costs for the other energy sources, so let’s focus just on the wind turbines.

How much does a 5-megawatt wind turbine cost? One online source says wind turbines cost about $1 million per megawatt. Let’s make simplifying assumptions that (a) industry can produce 1,000 5 megawatt turbines each year, and (b) turbines cost $1 million each. Just to buy the turbines will cost almost $17 trillion. That does not include the costs of installing these units and running the power lines, and at-sea installation is not going to be cheap. This plan requires the average installation of 1,000 turbines per year starting in 2013, in order to deliver the 16,720 turbines called for by 2030.

Let’s look closely at how much space it might take to install 12,700 offshore wind turbines. As a planning factor, assume spacing of 10 times the blade diameter between turbines (based on a study done at Stanford by Mike Dvorak). As a simplifying assumption, and ignoring questions about water depth, shipping and fishing channels, if we placed these turbines in a square formation, the sides would be 140 miles long, and cover a total area of 19,600 square miles. That’s

14 times the area of Long Island. No problem, as long as we don’t build too close to Martha’s Vineyard and get the Kennedy family gets mad at us.

Spending nearly $17 trillion, using conservative procurement costs for only the turbines, and no costs even assumed for all the other systems required, is not a feasible plan.

The latest update on the state budget is that we might increase state revenue by adding a couple of casinos and having mixed martial arts matches. I don’t think that will get us to a trillion dollars per year for wind turbines, plus all the costs of the other systems.

I wish the media would remember how to do some elementary fact-checking.

Barry Messina is a Vestal resident.