Offshore wind meeting onshore resistance
The New York Power Authority is considering a first-of-its-kind wind farm. The possible location: an undetermined site at least two miles off the shore of either Lake Erie or Lake Ontario.
On a sunny day, the lakefront along Edgemere Drive in Greece, N.Y. could almost be mistaken for the Caribbean. The water is a light blue. There’s an inviting sand beach. Boats breeze by in the distance.
Suzanne Albright has lived here for almost 30 years.
“We love all of the migratory birds, we love the fish,” Albright says, describing the place. “We are so tuned into the wildlife.”
Albright’s a member of a loosely-organized group of western New York shore-dwellers called Great Lakes Concerned Citizens. The concern: a proposed project that would create the world’s first freshwater wind farm.
Albright says she wasn’t against the idea at first. If the cost of weaning the country off dirty sources of power was wind turbines, then so be it -- we all have to make sacrifices.
But then, she says, she started looking into it.
“That was probably the ah-ha moment, when I realized this is a monstrous filthy piece of machinery that’s going to clutter up and rust in our lake and destroy it,” Albright says.
Albright has many concerns about the turbines, but her biggest are environmental. She’s worried that planting turbines on the lake floor will kick up industrial pollutants that could taint the area’s drinking water.
Albright’s neighbor, Dave Bell, shares many of her objections. He’s also a member of the concerned citizens group, and says offshore wind is just not worth the risk.
“I’m willing to sacrifice to put wind turbines out here if I knew it was going to do the job for us and it was going to meet our energy needs in the future,” says Bell. “But it doesn’t. That’s the facts.”
“What’s the biggest objection? It’s aesthetics. People don’t want to look at windmills.”
NYPA is the publicly-owned power company that’s heading up the offshore wind project.
The agency hasn’t settled on a spot for the wind farm yet, but they’re currently considering five bids from wind developers. Kessel says NYPA plans to select a proposal by the first quarter of 2011.
The agency has resisted Freedom of Information requests to make the proposals public, however, saying they have to protect the competitive process.
But the lack of specificity hasn’t stopped some local politicians from fighting the project.
“We have to be sensitive to large areas where clearly they don’t want the project,” said Kessel. “They don’t want to see it, maybe they don’t want the jobs, I don’t know. But we have to be sensitive to it.”
The offshore project could bring as many as 166 turbines to the New York shoreline. Each turbine is about as tall as a football field is long, and the amount of power generated would be enough to run all the households in Buffalo.
James Winebrake, renewable energy expert at RIT, says the project could be a good way for wind power to grab a bigger foothold in the United States. He says wind in coastal areas tends to blow stronger than wind over land.
“Wind power has to be an important part of our energy future in the United States,” Winebrake says.
But proposed offshore projects are facing many of the same challenges that projects on land have faced. Winebrake says power authorities need to be willing to offer sweeteners to overcome local opposition.
“Perhaps [residents] share in some of the revenue from the electricity production,” says Winebrake. “Or perhaps they share in some the carbon credits that might be generated from using wind power versus a carbon-based fuel. That’s always one way to address NIMBY [not-in-my-back-yard] problems.”
Kessel says NYPA is willing to offer incentives to local communities that may be impacted.
But for her part, lakeshore resident Suzanne Albright says her concerned citizens group will fight wind development tooth and nail.
If she had her druthers, she’d rather have another nuclear power plant in her backyard – there’s already one 11 miles down the shore.
“I don’t see that as a tradeoff,” Albright says. “Before I go to bed at night I look out my bedroom window and the last thing I see … are the red lights of Ginna nuclear power plant.”
There are no easy choices in energy production. But Albright says nuclear would offer the certainty that offshore wind has so far failed to deliver.