The Power of Wind for a Greener New York

Image courtesy of discovermagazine.com

The power of wind has been used for thousands of years to sail ships, pump water, and grind grain.  The evolution of windmills over the years has gone from pumping water in Persia in 500-900 AD, to the modern-day wind turbine, which creates enough electricity to power a city.  Those wind farms you see – out in the country, out in the ocean, out at Union College in Schenectady – convert wind power directly into pollution-free, renewable electricity that can be used anywhere powerlines reach.  Wind power has so many global as well as local benefits, that the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (OEERE) has set the goal of using wind power to supply 20% of the nation’s electrical demand by 2030, and 35% by 2050.

Makes a lot of sense, considering:

  • Wind power does (almost) no harm.  There are potential issues regarding noise, aesthetics, and birds and bats flying into the turbines.  But, otherwise, wind power releases no pollution, consumes no water, and does not contribute to global warming. Quite the contrary, wind power is actually good for the planet.  If the U.S. can stick to its goal of 20% wind power by 2030 and 35% by 2050, then, according to the OEERE’s Wind Vision Report, we avoid the fossil fuel emission of over 250,000 metric tons of air pollutants, 12.3 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases, and we save 260 billion gallons of water that otherwise would have been used by the electric power sector.
  • It’s abundant and inexhaustible (i.e. “renewable”).  There is an infinite supply of wind and it is easily harnessed with the right equipment.  It does not need to be searched for and extracted from the earth until gone, at great environmental cost, like oil and coal do.  The ultimate giver, wind power farms generate between 17-39 times as much power as they consume.  As long as the sun shines and the earth spins, wind exists.
  • It is also inexpensive.   Wind power stabilizes the cost of electricity, reducing vulnerability to price spikes and supply disruptions, and for this, is anticipated to save consumers $280 billion by 2050.  More than just saving us money, wind power projects create jobs – in construction and operation of facilities, for example, – with estimated macroeconomic benefits topping $12.5 billion over a 20-year period.

New York is on the path to achieving ambitious yet attainable clean energy goals by 2030, and one of those goals is a 50% generation of electricity from renewable energy sources, with wind power leading the way. Currently, there are over 20 existing wind projects in New York state, with over a dozen more in the works.

Wind turbines have always been at the heart of New York’s identity.  Consider the earliest recorded image, a 1626 engraving by Joost Hartgers – notice the windmill sitting along the East River:New Amsterdam drawing

…or of the city’s official seal when the five boroughs incorporated, with a windmill in the center:

Official Seal of New York City

But, when it comes to wind power projects in New York City now, things get tricky.  Winds have to be steady, and they have to move at least 10 miles per hour to keep the turbines spinning.  Here in the city, winds are unpredictable, from breezes going 3 miles per hour, to gusts at 30 mph.  Add to that the density of development, which alternately blocks or tunnels the wind, and it’s not the smoothest sailing.

The good news is that it can be done, and it has.  The wide-open waterfront of Sunset Park, Brooklyn is an ideal spot for harvesting wind, and now boasts the city’s first large-scale wind turbine.  Built by Sims Metal Management, an award-winning metals and electronics recycler, the turbine has been in operation since January of this year.  It currently powers 4 percent of the recycling plant at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, with another 16 percent of that plant’s power coming from solar energy.

Image courtesy of workingharbor.wordpress.com

And, although providing less power than the large-scale turbine at Sunset Park, rooftop windmills have been popping up around the city as well, providing power to places from the Pearson Court Square in Long Island City, to the Whole Foods in Gowanus, Brooklyn, to 388 Bridge in downtown Brooklyn.  Urban Green Energy (UGE), the manufacturer of these turbines, has more forthcoming residential, commercial and governmental building projects in the works.

Bryan Thomas for The New York Times

So, exactly how many wind turbines would it take to power a city?  Well, for all of New York City, that would be 4,000 5-megawatt turbines.  Clearly, there’s still a long way to go to reach the 50% power-by-renewables goal in New York, and while wind turbines are questionably ideal for NYC, I think our city has made a good start. With a little more thought and continued effort by the creative, innovative, and collaborative people in this town, I know we’ll get there.

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