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At the southern end of the prettiest of the Finger Lakes, Canandaigua Lake, sits the quaint little town of Naples. It is home to the Naples Grape Festival (a huge winery is in town, and it’s in the middle of NYS’s underestimated wine country) and also one of my favorite local places to hike, particularly in the streams leading to the many waterfalls that dot the local landscape.

It is also home to this:

(photo credit to Aaron Read)

(photo credit to Recharge News: notice the content in the linked story)

Now before I go on and say what I’m about to say about the project and about wind in NYS generally, I should say that I rather like wind, and I find the towers strangely attractive. They are certainly no more objectionable than most other industrial structures we’ve managed to scatter about our landscapes during my lifetime. I also like the prospect of wind turbines being an additional source of revenues for local farmers and even for conservation organizations – which will enable more land to remain in farming and in recreation than perhaps would otherwise be the case (these are two preferences of mine, there is nothing particularly important about them of course).

That being said, so much of the talk around the wind movement is hot air that it is hard to really throw one’s support behind it. I decided to look a bit into the project in Naples and I learned that there are 50 turbines there owned and operated by a Boston based company called First Wind. It installed 50 turbines, each rated to 2.5 megawatts (for comparison, you probably require between 1 and 1.5 kilowatts to power your home at any particular time, so 2.5 megawatts is theoretically large enough to power approximately 2,000 homes’ worth of “regular” electricity use – more on this in a minute). Here’s where it all gets interesting.

I am almost 100% sure these turbines would not have been built or installed without a very intertwined and large commitment from government. It turn out that these turbines are made by Clipper Wind, which in turn is (was!) owned by United Technologies. It wouldn’t surprise you to learn that Clipper Wind is essentially bankrupt and I just found out that UT dumped the company after a massive offshore wind-project in the UK was cancelled. The company is hemorrhaging money and is infamous for having to replace the blades on all of its turbines in 2007 after a cracking problem was detected. The money cost was $330 million alone. Of course, no resources or energy were used to do the construction and replacing of the blades – how often is this counted in the estimates of the environmental friendliness of these projects? Clipper itself would not exist without massive government intervention. How many companies who sell a product that basically had to be replaced would stay in business in a competitive environment?

The Clipper turbines and the Cohocton project received $74.6 million in direct subsidies for the erection of the windfarm, roughly 1/4 of the total cost of development. (this is aside from the tax credits and subsidies made directly to Clipper independent of this project). Clipper itself applied to the government for a guarantee on a loan to do all of the repairs above, including repairs on all 50 of the turbines in Naples.

As for First Wind itself, it too is no doubt a creature of the crony corporate state. D.E. Shaw, a major hedge fund in NYC was a major investor in First Wind and the founder of the company is in the Obama Administration (I’m looking forward to hearing about why this particular hedge fund is not evil, but that anything Romney has touched is in fact evil). The firm also employed Larry Summers at one time. I am sure all of their dealings with the government and taxpayers are on the up and up, after all, no other companies are looting us, why would we expect innocent little First Wind to be any different? And by all accounts the company itself still is in financial trouble.

But the point of the post was to address the “Fact Sheet” that I found regarding the project. We’ll just ask questions of the facts for now.

Consists of 50 Clipper 2.5 megawatt (MW) wind turbines, with
the capacity to generate 125 MW of clean electricity, enough
to power the equivalent of about 50,000 Northeast homes

Wind is famous for producing nowhere near the amount of energy that its rated capacity suggests. This comment is a total swindle and in fact not even an 8th grade environmental science student would make the mistake of reporting rated capacity as even having the potential to power homes. Experience in Europe, where the most wind is installed in the world, shows that the actual load capacity of wind is about a quarter of rated capacity at its best (green jobs forecasts, famous for their Polyanna-ish outlook, gives generous load factors of about 1/3). This is largely due to intermittency. Wind only produces power about 75% of the time but then even while it is producing electricity, power output varies considerably from a small fraction of rated capacity up to its rated capacity. Wind speeds can be both too high and too low. So no responsible person would ever take the rated capacity of each turbine, multiply it by the number of turbines and then say that this is how much power available to homes. That’s just about as responsible as me saying that I know lighting will strike my home some day, and if/when it does it has enough energy in it for me to power my home forever.

So even a very optimistic outlook suggests that Cohocton Wind could produce about 37.5 megawatts of power, not 125 megawatts (assuming load factor of 30%) — enough to power 15,000 homes by their accounting. But a better question is simply to ask, is this how much power the turbines have actually been able to produce at any one time? If the turbines ran optimally for 24 hours per day over the entire year, they would produce 1,095 gigawatt-hours of total electricity. Can someone find out how much they put out for the entire year last year? I’d love to know.

Generates substantial tax revenues for the town of Cohocton,
Steuben County and local school districts.

Tax revenues are not benefits (nor are they costs) – they are transfers from one party to another. Who is paying these? And if it is true that the Cohocton Wind project is replacing other generation, then wouldn’t tax revenues from those sources be falling?

Provides clean, sustainable domestic power that bears no
fuel cost, produces no air emissions and does not deplete
nonrenewable fuels

Now that is the laugher of the year, it really is. Does the construction of these not use any resources? Do land use patterns not have an impact on emissions? Are there no rare earth metals in the turbines? And even better, don’t these turbines require fossil-fuel backups? To say that these things produce clean energy and bears no fuel cost is the same thing as saying that “Electric Cars are free to operate” because no gas goes into their gas tanks and no emissions come out of their tail pipes while wholly ignoring the gas or coal fired powerplant that powers the electric socket and of course the resources needed to make the car. What a joke.

Helps New York State reach its goal of 25% renewable
energy sources by 2013.

Here’s where it gets really interesting. That statement is best turned around. New York State’s “Renewables Portfolio Standard” (RPS) takes the cake here. The state has mandated that by 2015, 30% of its fuel sources will be from renewables (with an intermediate target of 25% by 2013). (the majority of that was already met with existing hydro capacity – 20% of the total energy in the state in 2003 was already renewables). The way RPS works is that “renewable” energy companies secure long-term contracts to sell their power to New York State, not to customers directly. The program is funded by you and me of course – a portion of our current electric bill has a fee in it for the RPS program. Yay. Free-market capitalism run-wild!

Perhaps hilariously, the state estimated that to secure all of this renewable energy would cost $740 million. Well, you know what that means, don’t you? Well, almost exactly as “Friedman’s Law” predicts, by 2009 the state had spent virtually the entire budget and had secured less than half of the portfolio required to meet its goal (I think he once said that it costs the government at least twice as much to accomplish something as the private sector would do it). And what do you think the state did? More cowbell – it doubled down on the standard in 2009, perhaps coincidentally at the same time ARRA was being debated and passed. Most of the construction of renewables under the RPS was met by wind. And remember what we said about capacity factors earlier. I am sure enough to bet a toe or a finger that the RPS projections by NYS were optimistic and that even more wind capacity will need to be built to meet actual production standards and I am almost as sure that when we don’t meet the standard next year or in 3 years, that we’ll double down again.

The Cohocton wind farm has created an additional source of income
for local landowners who are putting their land to new use without
harming the environment

I’d like to see the amount of payments made and the lease arrangements. After all, people go nuts about the “oppressively low” payments made by fracking companies to farmers, how do these compare? And by the way, this is a picture of the beginning of construction of the fracking pads turbines:

No alteration in land use there!

Wind power has no fuel cost, so its pricing is more predictable
than conventional fossil fuels, which helps reduce the overall
volatility of energy rates.

This seems nuts to me. Will the folks explain how electricity markets work in New York? As I understand it, retailers such as RG&E purchase energy on the wholesale market either “live” on the spot-market or in advance on a forward market. I believe the forward market makes up most of the purchases. Since wind is intermittent, no wind producer can sell wind a day or more in advance, and can only sell it to the grid at the time the turbines are rotating properly. Does increasing our reliance on the daily spot market, the amount the wind is blowing and whether the turbines are operational really reduce volatility in energy rates? What might be correct is that wind prices per kw-hr reflect the average cost of construction and maintenance of the turbines, which is fairly well understood ex-ante (and higher than coal or gas fired generation, and by about 50%) but that does not mean adding this to the grid mix will reduce volatility. This would be a good research project for a student. Compare this, for example, to a coal power plant or a hydro plant or a gas plant selling electricity a day or more in advance – it pretty much knows it will be able to burn fuel and generate electricity, and so the relevant question is to compare the sensitivity of conventional generation prices with their fuel cost changes to the volatility of wind generation due to intermittency.

Cohocton Wind provides New York State with a domestic,
sustainable energy supply, decreasing dependence on costly fossil

First of all, there is nothing important about producing electricity domestically. I’d be thrilled if the Canadians erected massive turbines and then sold the power to us cheaply. But ignoring that, let’s ask the fine folks at First Wind the following question: “How much fossil fuel capacity has been taken off-line as a result of your 50 turbine windfarm here in the Finger Lakes?” Perhaps a better question would be to ask, “how much more fossil fuel capacity as been added as a result of your windfarm?” Crickets. Take a look in Europe to see how much wind has displaced, seriously, go do it now.

The clean, renewable power of Cohocton Wind has zero air
emissions and does not contribute to global warming.

Poppycock. Again, has this project taken fossil-fuel power offline? Did the production of the windmills use no energy and create no pollution? Does the land-use not have any impact on the environment? Do the servicemen who drive to the turbines not use energy? I mean, the claim above said “zero” … not “a little.”  There’s much more to say on this point, but this is already too long.

Wind power requires no water, consumes no natural resources,
and emits no mercury, a leading cause of contamination to our
rivers and lakes.

Really? There are tons of rare-earths in these things. There are all kinds of oils and chemicals in these things. And perhaps most interestingly, if in fact these turbines make it possible for farmers to continue farming, that perhaps is the most damaging thing happening in the Lake Ontario and Finger Lakes watershed. Poor riparian practices by many of our farmers lead to runoff of silt, sediments and nutrients into the watershed, leading to eutrophication of the water ways and other types of pollution. If the land use were dedicated to homes or forest or something else, it is quite likely that this would improve the health of the local rivers and lakes. Are the payments to farmers being used to help them manage produce more valuable ecosystem services? Inquiring minds want to know.

Each megawatt of wind energy means one less megawatt from
polluting fossil fuels. For example, the clean energy generated at
Cohocton Wind is the equivalent of about 650,000 barrels of oil
or 160,000 tons of coal per year — without the associated toxicity,
public health, or resource cost issues.

Poppycock for two reasons we cited already. First, this assumes 100% capacity factors. Second, it assumes that fossil fuel has been taken offline. And also this assumes that we don’t need some fuel backup to power our homes when the wind is not blowing.

Do they teach this stuff to the kids in their Environmental “Science” classes in high school? Or do they simply hand out the Firstwind flyer as an illustration of what good environmental practice looks like? As I said before and I’ll say it again – the awful thing to happen to the environment in the last 40 years was the creation of the modern “E”nvironmentalist. They have given cover to crony-capitalism up and down the coasts and to the heartland and beyond. Crony capitalism is tearing at the very fabric of our country and our people, and it is causing harm to the environment even as it claims to be doing otherwise. While companies spend billions of dollars chasing green energy subsidies and millions of dollars persuading people of how virtuous they are, we take our eye off of the serious environmental problems that are all around us, and we’re made poorer too. The old-time conservationists would be rolling over in their graves. Instead of dotting the landscape with “No Fracking” signs or “I Support Cohocton Wind” signs, maybe you should put up one of these instead:

6 Responses to “Captured by Cohocton Wind”

  1. Speedmaster says:

    Fantastic post!

  2. Biopolitical says:

    Another interesting estimate of the ratio of government to private costs is π.

  3. Michael says:

    You'll have to check how the RPS law is written; many times they exclude the larger hydro projects.  I think I've said this before, but it is important to remember that wind typically generates at dawn and dusk, which is when you don't need the energy.  In fact, the "market" price for energy can dip below zero during those times because there isn't enough load to take up all the base capacity (stuff that doesn't like to turn off and on).   

  4. Brett says:

    Not that I agree with all the subsidies for renewables, but I think it's completely fair to report the rated capacity of a wind farm. We do the exact same thing with all types of power plants. Granted a wind turbine is much more intermittent than a coal plant, but coal plants are very frequently producing less than their maximum capacity due to maintenance, outages, and off-peak demand.

    Reporting the wattage of any facility is problematic because it is a rate. It's like reporting the top speed of a car. The actual energy produced obviously also depends on how long you're producing at a given rate. But estimating the actual output is generally confusing (with the ridiculous energy units of kW-hr) and rather unpredictable. It would be like selling a new car with a rating of how many total miles you'd get out of it.

    Also, the company reported that 125 MW would power about 50,000 homes, which is half the number you'd get using your estimate of 2,000 homes per 2.5 MW.   Even with a 30% load factor, that would still be 30,000 homes (again using 2,000 homes per turbine at 100%).  The 15,000 you claim is double discounting.  It would be interesting to see the actual production data, but the company's number could very well be accurate.  

  5. […] and NYS nearby and lots of natural gas fired generation, oh, and a little wind from places like Cohocton.  Do our green authors know this? Or are they assuming that 100% of these energy savings are […]

  6. Kara Hume says:

    we where looking for a home for my mom to move but when we saw that naples and bristol have been converted to wind farm area, we decided not to go near there. Having experience in my own town where folks got really sick from these turbines near their homes. That was just one turbine mind you. Regardless, I would not go near that area now and I am guessing that is why everyone wants to move out now. what a crime that is. really to serve such a few to ruin once nice communities. how could bristol and naples even allow this.
    kara; a once lover of that area. Now not even interested in a visit. not with those things around. Go solar folks. keep it on your own property and keep in within your own visual and auditory realm. Really just as we all learn at such a young age. Not fair to ruin your neighbors life for your own profit. Shame on them.

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