Dan Hust | Democrat
LOREN PUSKOWSKI OF Sustainable Energy Development talks about creating community wind farms.
With windmills, it could take a community
By Dan Hust
LOCH SHELDRAKE Think it takes a wealthy landowner or a group of well-connected developers to start a wind farm?
Not necessarily, according to the two speakers at Tuesday’s Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development-sponsored forum on community wind energy.
About 20 people trekked to Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake to listen to Todd Olinsky-Paul and Loren Pruskowski detail the methods by which entire communities can become stakeholders in and beneficiaries from erecting windmills.
“New York State is 15th in wind potential in the country,” said Olinsky-Paul, an energy policy analyst with the Pace Energy and Climate Center, part of Pace University.
In fact, he added by pointing to a series of wind maps, the United States’ entire electrical demand could be satisfied by the wind energy generated off its coastlines.
Yet only two percent of the electricity generated in the nation comes from wind sources. Nuclear energy actually contributes the most 30 percent with natural gas coming in second at 29 percent.
Such a situation may be a reflection of the costs, time and space necessary to erect even one windmill (or wind turbine, as the industry prefers).
As the two speakers pointed out, a suitable location has to have sustained winds over 15 miles per hour, at least 15 acres to meet the usual zoning and setback requirements, proximity to electric transmission lines, and perhaps most importantly, community support.
Many wind projects have been cancelled due to community opposition over perceived and real impacts on the viewshed, wildlife, property values, noise and more.
A community wind project, however, involves locals in a unique and potentially far more successful way, said Pruskowski, co-founder and vice president of Sustainable Energy Developments (SED) in Ontario, NY.
His group is working with an Albany County community to build a wind farm, though it’s still in the pre-development stages.
The idea is to overcome local opposition by ensuring local control. In fact, in certain instances, municipalities can become the actual development entities.
“The locals decide how many turbines they want and where they want to put them,” he explained. “If they don’t have an appetite for this, then you don’t have a community wind project.”
But investment is still needed. Though a 1.5 megawatt turbine can generate up to $355,000 in annual revenue, hundreds of thousands of dollars are necessary to secure land, contractors and materials.
Several state agencies most prominently NYSERDA offer grants, tax incentives (soon) and other methods to offset the cost burden, and eventually the wind farm can pay for itself by selling electricity to local utilities.
“You have to put together a good team ... [with] some sort of local champion that will lead this project, somebody the community trusts,” added Pruskowski.
Dick Riseling of Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development, the afternoon’s host, seemed a logical candidate for that post, but he said so far he’s been focusing on solar power due to a wider range of state incentives.
“The wind is much more daunting,” Riseling remarked.
For more information on community and individual alternative energy projects and funding, take a look at NYSERDA’s website, www.powernaturally.org.