Friday, May 22, 2009

New York's Green landscape

From the 25 May 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Governor David Paterson paid a visit to the National Solar Conference that was held in Buffalo two weeks ago. It was the perfect venue for him to once again tout his goal – and, by association, our goal – of 45 by 15. Paterson spoke of the vision that he shares with his cohorts in New York’s various agencies and authorities in which the Empire State would by 2015 meet 45 percent of its electrical demand with clean renewable energy.

Achieving the goal in the next 6 years is totally impossible. Truthfully, 2025 is probably more realistic because we need to see some serious advances in technological efficiencies. Nevertheless, 6 or 16 years from now, New York won’t look the same. Wind and solar farms will dominate the scenery. You need to prepare yourself for that because, by today’s standards, tomorrow’s New York will look completely foreign if not alien.

It’s all because we New Yorkers are huge consumers of energy. Last year we used an average of 16.44 gigawatts of electricity. Even though people have been leaving the state in droves, demand grows every year. As a matter of fact, by that magical 2015 date demand will be 11% higher than it is today. You can chalk that up to our ever-growing love affair with all things electronic.

Simple math shows that NY will be an 18.25 GW behemoth in six years. In order to satisfy Paterson’s goal we’ll need to produce 8.22 GW of renewable energy. 2.5 GW of that is already accounted for (over 80 percent of which is produced at hydro plants in Niagara Falls and Massena). So, we need to produce “only” 5.71 GW of new, clean energy.

That will never be achieved through hydroelectric plants. The chances of seeing any new ones are slim to none...they are the bane of environmentalists everywhere. That means that all the electricity will have to come from solar and wind farms and plenty of them.

How many, you ask?

Let’s start with solar energy. Home improvement and green-friendly cable television shows would have us believe that solar systems are affordable options for the average home or business. That’s far from the truth. Granted, they may become affordable in a few years as technologies improve, driving down costs, but right now they are cost prohibitive. As an example, I was looking into a solar system for my warehouse in Wheatfield. The cost was going to be $340,200, which quickly turned me off considering it would have met only 8 percent of our demand which, in that building, is only for lights and heat. The return on investment would have been 2 decades.

Since the average person will not or cannot buy solar panels for home or business, solar farms will spring up across the state funded by a combination of private and public dollars (the latter, ironically, is your money being spent on solar energy anyways). Solar projects quite similar to the one NYPA plans to build at the University at Buffalo will become the norm. That sprawling system will feature 5,000 panels and cover 5 acres of land yet it will produce only 1 MW at full capacity. The Power Authority’s ultimate goal is 150 MW of solar energy though a public/private partnership, equating to more than 150 of these across New York.

With solar energy essentially minimized by the State and the people, the remainder, some 5.56 GW of power, will have to come from wind energy. Windmills, like solar panels, are little too expensive for the average business or resident, but it’s nothing for investors to see benefit in them, hence the wind farms cropping up, or being applied for, all over the state. Commercial windmills can vary in theoretical output from a third of a MW to just over 3 MW. Due to a variety of factors like wind and the laws of science, most windmills will see efficiency of no better than 20 to 40 percent. Therefore, your “typical” windmill, like the 1.5 MW windmills you see in Wyoming County, can only produce an average of 500 kilowatts (half of a megawatt). In order to meet the state’s wishes, 11,000 windmills using today’s technology would need to be built across the state. There are 75 in the town of Sheldon. Just imagine another 150 wind farms of that size.

I’ve heard a mix of opinions about our changing landscape. I know people who find the windmills and their dancing blades to be soothing and attractive. I also know others who find solace in solar and wind projects and their positive impact on the environment. Yet, I know just as many who consider them to be eyesores and even detrimental to the environment. Like everything associated with the Green Movement, beauty, truth and acceptance are in the eyes of the beholder.

No comments: