April 25, 2005

Questioning Cornell about wind, Part 2

Continuing with the comments at the EMC meeting about Cornell's Mount Pleasant wind farm proposal, Mount Pleasant resident John Semmler asked Lanny Joyce, Manager of Engineering, Planning, and Energy Management in Cornell's Utilities Department about infrasonic noise, noise below the human hearing range:

When Neha asked about the effects of infrasonic noise, I fully understand that you wouldn't be in a position to say what Cornell's possible project would do, but what about - what's in the literature to date? What do we know about adverse effect?

Joyce replied:

I probably don't have a balanced perspective, because I'm only getting what I know so far from the wind industry itself. If that's unbalanced, it says it's not an issue with the new generation machines, and it's very manageable, and we can show the physics of why that's very manageable. If there are other studies out there that show that these new machines that are being erected today and operating today have an infrasonic noise problem, I'm not aware of it, but it doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Semmler followed up:

So just out of curiosity, what was the problem with older, more primitive machines? What is the big deal with infrasonic sound?

Joyce replied:

The physics of it was this pulse - pressure pulse - that came from low frequency, and it travels long distances. A pressure pulse that happened when the blade went past the mast in front of the pedestal that is holding up the generator in the middle. The wind's coming by and it hits the blade and bounce in between and you get that wave traveling down away from the turbine, so the upstream technology makes that issue completely go away.

Is there some other generation of infrasonic noise in the machine? I don't know enough technology yet to tell you, so... but I'm told by the folks at GE and the folks in AWEA that it shouldn't be an issue.

Semmler continued, asking "What's it doing downstream? That sound, when it is generated, what's the adverse impact 10 miles away, or whatever distance it is?" Joyce didn't have much of an answer:

I don't know. I can't tell you. I wish I could tell you I knew enough to have an answer to that question, but I don't know. I'm told that there's basically no measurable noise beyond a much smaller distance than that. I don't know if that's really true - I can't say until you actually do some sound modeling, and there's people that do that.

EMC liaison Heather Filiberto asked Joyce to explain the timeline and extent of Cornell's feasibility study, and asked about the impacts on views and recreation. Joyce replied:

We're going to move slowly and carefully and with input from the community. If that's resoundingly negative input from the community, we'll move slower...

At this point, [we don't have a timeframe for the project]. We had hoped to do the wind resource work and the bird studies this year. The bird resource work is underway... As part of the wind resource monitoring... the plan there was a 50-meter tall, 165-footish, tall tower that looks very similar to the county emergency tower that would have two wind monitoring stations for wind speed and direction, one halfway up and one at the top. That would go about 450 feet east of the road that runs into WHCU's tower, and about 250 feet north of the road. That's where we imagined that to go.

Unfortunately, that would have gone up this winter, actually, but designing a tower that is truly transparent to WHCU so that it doesn't affect people's radio reception proved to be more costly and time-consuming than we thought. We missed the frozen season, now we're in the muddy season. The researchers don't want us to rut up the field, so we're... not moving fast to put that up... Since the October to April season is the windy season in our area, we kind of missed that window for getting the tower up. There's really no reason to smash it up and make a mess of the fields, so we'll probably wait until later in the summer when it's drier...

That met station was part of the plan for the feasibility study. It'll be up there for a year to two years, temporary installations.

Asked what proportion of Tompkins County's electricity this would be generating, Joyce wasn't sure, but he did say it would generate about 30 million kilowatt-hours, enough energy for 3000 homes, but the campus uses 240 million.

Danny Pearlstein asked how close the neighbors would be to the installation. Joyce replied that the Semmlers were closest, around 800 to 1000 feet away, while the other neighbors were at least 1600 feet away. He added that "I've talked to a number of people who live 600 to 750 feet away from turbines, with very positive feedback. But I don't know whether it's right or not, I just talked to them."

Another questioner asked how much information was available to the public. Joyce said "Nothing's available that we did, other than the resource map that we have shared with the EMC." Asked about bird studies, he said the Lab of Ornithology study, Joyce said that they had worked with the National Wind Coordinating Committee, who are "trying to come up with what's the right way to standardize bird and bat studies." Joyce suggested he was a lot more comfortable with the Lab of Ornithology "that with some of the conversations I had with consultants who do this for hire, because they're used to working for developers who don't want to do anything more than is necessary to get a project approved and get the heck out of Dodge." Joyce did emphasize that this is a feasibility study, not a study "good enough to finish the permitting and approval process." Joyce also noted that they're looking into "visual, sound, property value... shadow flicker" as well as "good old engineering and economic analysis" and "some further work with the FAA on the approach path."

Someone asked if hydroelectric power was possible, noting that Cornell already generates 3% of its power that way. Joyce said that while "40% of the water that flows into Cayuga comes from Fall Creek," the other streams are small, and that "anything else we could get would be really small in comparison." Ithaca Falls, further down Fall Creek, is a scenic and recreational river, so hydropower development there is prohibited. He also said that "the view of hydroelectricity now is that if it's big it's not green. No more big hydro."

County Legislator Mike Lane noted that:

Lanny mentioned I had contacted him. I wanted to explain that. Anyone who's been up to TC3 understands that the wind blows up there a lot. Over the years, many people have talked about should that be a location for a turbine. When we learned that Cornell was looking at studying areas within 15 miles, I called Lanny and said "is there any way we can glom on to this and get a study of the TC3 site?" Unfortunately I learned that it was too late in the process to do that. But that's the focus we've had, about the possibility of a demonstrator turbine up there.

As Kenny mentioned, we've been looking, at the county, at different renewable energy sources for some time. As far as the Mount Pleasant site, I just want to say that that really came to my attention as the one that's being focused on when some of the residents started talking about it, and then I read it in the paper. I'm very concerned about some of the residents' concerns, and I'm glad for meetings like this where we can be educated about these issues and learn what they are, and whether they can be mitigated or not.

Dryden resident Nancy Munkenbeck

wanted to bring up two points... that were brought up at Varna... Denmark has a lot of wind power, and recently put a moratorium on building any more wind power on land near people.... When people survey acceptance of wind towers near them, I would really like to see it broken down into those who are obtaining financial recompense for it versus those who are not, and how that went. My understanding was up there at Fenner those, at least some of those who are more accepting are receiving the payments, and some of those who are not are not receiving the payments. I could see where that might very well bias what you think.

(Lanny Joyce said later that "it's very typical in the industry... anything's possible" when asked about the possibility of compensation for neighbors.)

Asked about the cost of a turbine, Joyce replied that "installed, costs somewhere around a million and a half dollars per turbine.

Cindy Schulte of Newfield asked if Cornell would consider less populated areas if this site fell through. Joyce replied that:

I don't honestly know at this point. We didn't think it made sense to look somewhere else other than Mount Pleasant after looking hard at the county.

There was a question about audible noise. Joyce said that there is no noise below winds of 8mph, noise from the turbine between 8mph and 16mph, and then no noise again above that "because the wind is louder", and the mills max out between 24mph and 28mph. The mills move one degree per minute, and "if it's working right, you shouldn't hear it... the manufacturers are working really hard... I'm sure it's getting better and better."

Dryden resident Linda Lavine raised the point that:

We're talking about a huge investment, not something that is an experiment, but something that is a permanent fixture, when in fact it's in a pretty experimental stage. I don't find it comforting to hear that things are getting better if you're about to spend several million dollars on an installation. That's not a temporary, experimental installation. That's a permanent bet on the future. This is not the place to experiment.

Lavine also asked how close to actual homes these had been built, and Joyce said as close as 450 feet, and Fenner has some in the 650 foot range. Asked about how many turbines might be installed, Joyce replied that "up to eight was what we imagined could be possible. Three on the west ridge and five on the east ridge, maximum."

John Semmler raised the Precautionary Principle, which is being considered by the New York State Legislature as a possible addition to the environmental review (SEQR) process.

Dryden resident Buzz Lavine raised an additional concern about noise from windmill maintenance problems, especially given the cost of fixing them. Joyce replied that:

We're not an out-of-town entity. We're a large civic member, we're a bing neighbor. We would have to pay attention as we do when we're pointed out that something's not right. Guarantee fixing something right away? I don't know. If it's the middle of winter, you're not going to mobilize a crane up to the hilltop, but we would have to fix that in a timely manner would be my answer.

Lavine pressed on the cost of such maintenance if "it makes the financial feasibility turn around," and Joyce said:

It's not likely it'll do that, but there's certainly rules for the municipality can put in for how fast we have to respond. We have to negotiate those to make sure that they don't make us deploy a crane in February, that's not going to work. You can't work on these machines in high winds. That's going to be October to April, so you'd probably shut it off for the winter if it was that obnoxious.

Jeni Wightman asked about the lifespan of the turbines, and what would happen at the end of that lifespan. Joyce suggested that:

We don't do anything in the energy business short-term at Cornell... We would expect the machines to last 25 years in their original form without major maintenance and after that, they would probably be there in perpetuity, because wind turbines are going to get repowered over time with better generators and better blades and better electronics. They're going to just try to get a quarter-percent, and then another quarter-percent, and then another quarter-percent over time. Once you have a site that is harvesting a resource, you're going to want it forever. You're going to have a lot of first upfront cost that you don't need to renew on a regular basis, transformers and wires and those type of things don't wear out. The rotating equipment's what's going to wear out.

Kind of like our hydro plant. It was built at the turn of the 1900s, it got turned off in 1960 because we thought electricity was going to be too cheap to meter due to nuclear energy; Hans Bethe said so, and I guess we believed him. Of course, it didn't quite work out like that, so in 1981 we brought it back, after the energy crisis. And so here we are in 2005, still running it.

There was also a question on protecting bats, which Joyce said was rarely a problem except when turbines were built near caves, in the path of major traffic. New rules should prevent their siting near bat colonies.

Dan Lamb, EMC member and a resident of Dryden, told Joyce:

I can appreciate the crosshairs you find yourself in. You're almost in a damned if you do, damned if you do situation right now. I think that's expected when you look at case studies on this kind of process... Don't get discouraged in the early stages here, because I'm okay to support wind power, and I think everyone on this - I don't want to speak for everyone, but many in the environmental movement support this and want to see it pursued. If anyone's going to do it in this county, it's probably going to be Cornell to take the first stab at it.

My concern is that if it doesn't wind up where you're looking now, that you might not try elsewhere... It may take more of a community-wide effort to see this placed in a proper place. I see Ed Marx here, they just finished their Comprehensive Plan at the county level.

Would you be able to sit down with the county and look at areas in the county where perhaps this could go, other places.... work with the county. I think people would rally to see this done if it was done right and in the right place.

Joyce replied that "I think it's a good idea. I don't know that I want to answer for the university, but I think it's a good idea. You could certainly ask." Lamb felt that "there'd be a lot of buy-in... it would be a badge of honor, another distinction for the community to have this."

Dryden resident Avery Park asked Lamb, "the gentleman who just made the remark, how would you like to walk up to your picture window and see eight of these, 400 feet high, during your sunset, sunrise. Would you like that in front of your house? You say you like wind power, but would you like to have it in front of your house?"

Lamb replied that:

That's what we're talking about. Where is the appropriate place? Depending on how close it was and how loud they were, and what they did to the bats, and all the other things you've got to address in this. But we know that our current energy use is unsustainable, at the national, international, and local level. We need to pursue other options... Sure, I'll have one in my back yard if I get free electricity... Everyone understands what you're saying, and if you look at this county there are a lot of spots where it could go, without affecting so many people.

The meeting ended at this point, because it was 9:00pm.

Posted by simon at April 25, 2005 7:09 PM in , ,
Note on photos