May 4, 2005

C.U. Ends Wind Power Study

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Cornell has decided to discontinue the feasibility study on Mt. Pleasant as a site for wind turbines. However, the bird and bat study, led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which started in early March, will continue.

“There was a host of unresolved issues and given that the University decided to go forward with the study,” said Simeon Moss ’73, Cornell press relations office director. Issues included land use, sound, visual impacts and the regulatory environment.

William “Lanny” Joyce, manager of engineering, planning and energy management in the department of utilities and energy, and John C. Gutenberger, director of the office of community relations, hosted a meeting with some Mt. Pleasant area residents to discuss the discontinuation of the study. “We think Cornell made a wise choice, choosing environmental values and good relations with the community,” said Prof. Stuart Davis, english, and resident in the immediate area. He also said that some of the residents have gotten together a petition to the Dryden Town Board with about 400 signatures advocating the prohibition of large wind energy generators in the area.

“We as residents were very relieved,” said Prof. Judy Pierpont, John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines. She added, “Ultimately they listened to us, which was very gratifying, and they took our concerns seriously.”

“As someone who would be greatly impacted by this, I am very happy that they aren’t moving forward,” said John Semmler ’68, former assistant dean for public affairs of veterinary school. “When I first heard about wind power on Mt. Pleasant I thought it was a good idea, but then I started looking at the negatives,” Semmler added. He listed some issues troubling him as being that at about 400 feet tall, these would be pretty sizable structures, there is some evidence that they are not good for the people that live nearby, there are some not clearly known infrasonic and strobe-like effects, and concern about the visual impact.

“I went up to Fenner, NY and looked at these huge pieces of equipment put down in the middle of fields and thought that this didn’t fit Mt. Pleasant at all,” he said.

Fenner, NY and Madison, NY are the two major wind farm sites in New York State.

“If saving the environment destroys peoples’ lives, what good is it? The quality of life at Mt. Pleasant and all that it has to offer would be changed significantly,” said Semmler.

One of the uncertainties for potential wind turbines was proximity to the airport.

“Most of the aircraft come over Mt. Pleasant during approach to the airport, especially during bad weather,” said Tony Rudy, assistant airport manager, Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport. According to Rudy, it’s not up to the airport to determine the safety impacts, so Cornell was required to file a notice to the FAA to make an analysis. He said that pilots already come in a steeper angle because of Mt. Pleasant and that any other buildings or tall structures would increase weather requirements for landing in terms of visibility and cloud height.

Wind turbines on Mt. Pleasant also would have the potential to impact the Hartung-Boothroyd Observatory located there.

“We’re certainly glad they’re not looking at the top of Mt. Pleasant anymore,” said Don Barry, research scientist, astronomy. Barry added, “It would have destroyed the scientific use of the observatory because the images would have become blurred.”

“Obviously KyotoNow! is pretty disappointed by the news but we’ve appreciated what Cornell has done so far in promoting renewable energy,” said Jeanne Kopun ’06, president of KyotoNow!

Led by Lab of Ornithology members Stefan Hames, research associate in conservation science; Ken Rosenberg, director of conservation science and Kurt Fristrup, assistant director of the bioacoustics research program, the bird and bat study, started in early March as part of the wind power feasibility study will continue until late May or early June.

The study is comprised of three components, according to Hames. These are visual, which is counting the birds that are active during the daytime, bioacoustics, which uses an array of microphones to identify and tell how high and far away the birds are, and radar, which determines how many birds pass through the Mt. Pleasant area.

Volunteers from the local birdwatching community have been a major part of the visual component of the study, according to Rosenberg. Cornell researchers have been responsible for the bioacoustics part of the study, while an outside group has been hired to use radar. Hames said that this study is innovative in combining a radar study with a bioacoustic study. “Wind power isn’t going away, it will likely be explored either here or somewhere else, so we are trying to advance our understanding of how to best characterize the risks of wind turbines to birds,” said Hames.

With the discontinuation of the feasibility study, the bird and bat study is now more of a pure research project than an assessment of the site, according to Rosenberg.

“I think it’s unfortunate that we’re not able to complete the full year study and have the opportunity to assess whether wind is feasible, because in the end, we’ve got to be developing sustainable forms of energy,” said Rosenberg.

Archived article by Vanessa Hoffman
Sun Senior Writer