Local company develops plan for wind turbine farm
In a city as environmentally conscious as Ithaca, it comes as little surprise that wind energy is beginning to pick up momentum. Weaver Wind Energy has begun developing a new style of wind turbine that adjusts to changes in the conditions to optimize energy output, and Black Oak Wind Farm in Enfield is beginning construction of a farm that could ideally power all the households in Tompkins County.
Despite the benefits of using wind energy as a renewable source, many concerns arise with construction projects. Some view the large turbines as an eyesore, particularly when they are located in an area known for its scenery. Many New Englanders opposed the Cape Wind project in Massachusetts’ Nantucket Sound because the turbines would disrupt the view of the horizon. Other concerns include the safety of wildlife, as the turbines may disrupt the flight patterns of birds and scare away other animals.
Marguerite Wells, vice president and project manager for Black Oak Wind Farm said the company initially received some local backlash about the Tompkins County project. But the company offered to buy a group of opposing residents out of their property at 110 percent property value should they desire to leave. No retaliation has been received since.
In 2006, Enfield Energy began investigating sites in the area, which borders Schuyler County, and determined that the site where Black Oak Wind Farm is being developed was not only windy enough to be profitable, but the windiest spot in the county.
“Because of the way the wind interacts with the turbines, every doubling in wind speed is an 8-time increase in power,” Wells said. “So the three-mile-an-hour difference between 14 miles per hour [of other locations in the county] and 17 miles per hour [at this location] is the difference between a profitable project and not.”
The location was also ideal because a transmission line was already in the area, enabling the company to easily connect to the New York State Electric and Gas Corporation electricity grid. NYSEG allows customers to purchase wind energy credits, which enables the company to incorporate more wind energy into the grid.
“Just think of the state grid as this big bathtub, and these electrons go into it,” Peter Bardaglio, president of Black Oak Wind Farm’s board said. “We’re trying to put in as many electrons in that bathtub that are generated by wind power and to displace the ones generated by fossil fuel.”
Construction was originally planned for at least 10 turbines, but limits on spacing dropped the number to seven. Turbines placed too closely together will interfere with each other’s wind. The project is slated for completion in late 2013 or early 2014.
With these seven turbines, Black Oak Wind Farm could power every household in the county under ideal conditions. Realistically, however, the number is much lower.
“The capacity factor is the percentage of time that they’re actually generating electricity,” Wells said. “They’re going to be running at about 35 to 40 percent capacity factor.” So, in reality, about a third of the county, or about 6,000 homes, would be powered by the wind energy.
While the aesthetic aspect has turned some locals away from the project, the response has for the most part been positive.
Wells emphasized the use of local labor to construct the farm.
“One of the things that’s pretty important to us is to use as much local labor and to inject as much cash locally as we can,” Wells said. “We’re not going to be bringing in crews from farther afield to do work that can be done by local people.”
Though not directly affiliated with other local wind farms such as the Crown City Wind Energy Center in Cortland County, Wells said that Black Oak Wind Farm is “pretty pleased to have them as [their] neighbors” because the location of their projects here reflects well on the Enfield farm’s location.
Bardaglio also emphasizes the local aim of the project, as it will “show other communities that they can move forward with wind projects of this size and scale.”
The wind farm idea is nothing new, but the community ownership sets Black Oak Wind Farm apart from the other farms in the state.
“By and large, the residents of Enfield can’t wait to see it happen,” Wells said.
Amanda Hutchinson is a sophomore journalism major who gets her energy from a pinwheel. Email her at ahutchi2[at]ithaca.edu.