March 17, 2005

Cornell Studies Pros, Cons to Wind Power

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Wind and snow are two of the major components of Ithacan winters. Cornell is currently studying how to harness the power of the former to provide energy for up to 10 percent of the University’s electricity.

In the fall of 2003, members of KyotoNOW! made a presentation proposing that the administration explore the possibility of wind power; the University subsequently agreed to conduct a feasibility study.

The Cornell Department of Utilities and Energy then conducted a wind inventory study, which looked at a 15-mile radius around Ithaca and determined the Mount Pleasant hilltop to be the best location for wind turbines. This Cornell-owned site is about ten miles from central campus and also houses the Harthrung-Boothroyd Observatory and WHCU transmission tower. Cornell has decided to install a temporary 50-meter meteorological station on Mt. Pleasant to take actual wind data and see if it matches up with the data based on windmaps and predictions.

“We’re really in a very preliminary and exploratory phase of any potential wind project,” said Harold “Hal” Craft ’61, vice president for the administration and chief financial officer.

The Kyoto Task Team, created by Craft in 2001, has also been involved in the effort, corresponding with its goal to hold Cornell to its commitment to seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as stated by the Kyoto Protocol.

“The preliminary studies were looking at if we should continue with a larger study and if it’s economically and physically feasible,” said Andrew Schatz ’05, a member of the Kyoto Task Team..

William “Lanny” Joyce, manager of engineering, planning and energy management in the department of utilities and energy, said that the team is looking at up to eight windmills, on the two ridges at Mt. Pleasant hilltop, each centered 80 meters off the ground and having 40 meter long blades.

“It would not only benefit the environment, but also the University, because wind is a renewable resource. Cornell can set a precedent because not too many universities have taken on an endeavor like this; it shows that they really care about the future of the world,” said KyotoNOW! president Jeanne Kopun ’06.

She said that last year, KyotoNOW! visited Fenner Wind Farm in Madison County, N.Y., to ask questions and address concerns about wind power. The proposed wind turbines for the Mt. Pleasant site would approximately half the size of those at Fenner Wind Farm, according to Prof. Norman Scott, biological and environmental engineering, and member of the Kyoto Task Team . Kopun said that KyotoNOW! members found that the wind turbines were not noisy or ugly, and there were no reported bird or bat deaths.

According to Scott Sutcliffe, associate director of the lab of ornithology, “The Lab of Ornithology conservation director, Ken Rosenberg, is designing a study to evaluate the site, its resident and migratory birds, and the potential affect a windfarm would have upon bird populations.”

“There’s no ‘no-impact’ solution for the creation and use of energy,” Joyce said.

Last week, 20 residents in the immediate area of the proposed site brought a petition to the Dryden Town Board, asking the board to study any proposal very carefully and change the zoning law specifically to not allow industrial wind farms. The petition states the residents’ concerns as: turbine noise, visual impacts, strobing effects, nighttime flashing of FAA-mandated lights, decline in property values, bird and bat deaths, threats to air traffic to and from Tompkins County Airport and quality of life effects due to proximity to wind turbines.

“Basically, we want Cornell to take things really, really slowly because we think that there are bad environmental, health and quality of life and animal impacts” said Stuart Davis, senior lecturer, english, and resident in the immediate area.

He added, “This isn’t a NIMBY thing, this is NIABY, ‘not in anyone’s backyard.’ I would not wish it on anyone unless it is safe and efficacious.”

The residents gave materials to the board, including testimonials from people who have lived near wind furbines.

“It’s been eye-opening for me to go from the position of a student thinking it would be great if Cornell looked into wind energy to now being paid by local taxpayers in Dryden and being responsible for their well-being. You have to take a good, hard look at the positives and negatives.” said Debbie Gross, environmental planner for the Town of Dryden Advisory Council.

She said that Cornell would need a permit from the Building and Zoning Office to built the wind turbines and due to current zoning regulations, the University would have to apply for a zoning variance or work with the town to draft a new ordinance.

“For any wind farm, there is always a huge amount of public opposition. A lot of people don’t want to look at them; I personally find them beautiful,” said Abby Krich ’04, member of the Kyoto Task Team and former KyotoNOW! president.

Last year the New York State Public Service Commission adopted a renewable portfolio standard and a policy increasing to at least 25 percent the electricity used by New York State consumers obtained from renewable resources. According to Joyce, Cornell’s electricity energy is “13 percent from the campus cogeneration system, which makes electricity as a byproduct of heating the campus, 2 percent from the hydroplant in Fall Creek, and the remaining 85 percent from NYSEG, our local utility company.” NYSEG partnered with Community Energy, Inc about three years ago, said Paul Copleman, manager of customer service at Community Energy, Inc. He said that the wind energy supplied to upstate New York comes primarily from Wyoming County and the Fenner Wind Farm in Madison County.

Archived article by Vanessa Hoffman
Sun Senior Writer