Captain Carbon on Wind Farms – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Captain Carbon on Wind Farms

Associate Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies Thomas Drennen, known on campus as “Captain Carbon,” was quoted in a May 4 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle article about wind farms in the region. According to Drennen, federal renewable energy production tax credits make wind energy a viable and inexpensive source of power. Drennen is the author of a new book, “Pathways to a Hydrogen Future,” which seeks to untangle competing visions of a hydrogen economy, explain the trade-offs and obstacles, and offer recommendations for a path forward. The results are based on “The Hydrogen Futures Simulation Model,” developed at Sandia National Laboratories, where he is senior economist. A member of the HWS faculty since 1995, he earned a B.S. in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an M.A. in Public Affairs from the University of Minnesota, and a Ph.D. in resource economics from Cornell University. In 2006, he received the Hobart and William Smith Excellence in Teaching Award.


Rochester Democrat and Chronicle Wind farms sprout in western New York Matthew Daneman • Staff writer • May 4, 2008 Wyoming County has 43,000 people, 46,000 dairy cows and a lot of wind. Planted among the wide fields in the southern part of the county are numerous towering wind turbines — giant white windmills which at their highest stand about as tall as Kodak Tower. The whooshing whine of the long blades, sounding vaguely like a far-off jetliner, is occasionally drowned out by a passing pickup truck. Noble Environmental Power, a Connecticut-based wind energy company, last year put up 67 turbines in the town of Eagle, about 60 miles southwest of Rochester. The turbines — standing 265 feet tall, with blades extending an additional 123 feet — turn out 100 megawatts of electricity that is fed into the national power grid and then sold to businesses and homes. Noble plans to erect 84 more turbines this year in Eagle and the adjacent town of Wethersfield. Combined, the two projects will represent a $450 million investment. Wind energy companies see potential gold in New York’s hills. Aside from Wyoming County, there are 62 other wind energy projects proposed across the state, according to the New York Independent System Operator. They include plans by Massachusetts-based First Wind for two projects in Ontario County and one in Genesee County; a 120-megawatt wind farm in Orleans County by Airtricity Inc. of Ireland; and a 75-megawatt wind farm in Genesee County by Tonawanda Creek Wind LLC. First Wind, which last week changed its name from UPC Wind, also is planning a wind farm in Prattsburgh, Yates County, and has a pair of wind farms under development in Steuben County. And Noble is planning 67 more turbines in the Southern Tier, primarily in Allegany County. It also has wind farms under development in Cattaraugus, Franklin and Clinton counties. Iberdrola’s presence Noble’s Wethersfield towers will be a short distance from the small Wethersfield Wind farm of 10 towers owned by a Pennsylvania subsidiary of Spanish energy giant Iberdrola SA, the company that seeks to acquire the parent of Rochester Gas and Electric Corp. and New York State Electric and Gas Corp. In all, Wyoming is home to two of the six wind farms currently operating in the state. The others are in Lewis, Madison and Erie counties. According to paperwork filed with the New York Independent System Operator, the nonprofit organization that oversees the state’s electricity transmission grid, Chicago-based Invenergy LLC and Texas-based Horizon Wind Energy both have proposals for wind farms in Wyoming County. Wyoming has “really, really great wind — probably the best overall in New York state,” said Sherry Grugel, Noble’s western New York community outreach associate. Fanning all this wind farm activity is the federal government’s renewable energy production tax credit of about 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, said Thomas Drennen, a professor of economics and environmental studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva. Combined with increased turbine efficiency and growing consumer demand for wind power, the tax credit makes wind energy a viable business despite its large capital investment requirements, Drennen said. According to research by Drennen, the cost of wind power is 6.37 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared with 5.57 cents for nuclear power, 4.94 cents for coal and more than 7 cents for natural gas. Along with the tax credit, “It doesn’t hurt that the price at which we can sell our power in New York is reasonable,” said Bob Maxwell, Noble’s vice president of development for the state. Electricity costs in New York traditionally are well above national averages. Wyoming County has not had to market itself to wind energy companies, said county Planning and Development Director Drew Shapiro. “They find you,” Shapiro said. “They know the areas that are fertile.” Noble has signed easement rights agreements with the owners of 10,000 acres in Wyoming County, giving the company the right to go in and build turbines and access roads in exchange for payments of about $7,000 a year per turbine. “Some of these farmers are doing really, really well having these,” Grugel said. While Noble’s office in Eagle employs 30, the rural town isn’t expecting to see big economic development from the turbines going up across its landscape, said town Supervisor Joseph R. Kushner. But payments Noble has made have let the town eliminate its town tax altogether, Kushner said, which seems to have led to a small housing construction boom. Low density Aside from the obvious — having lots of wind — Noble also looks for areas that have a low population density. “You couldn’t do one of these in Long Island,” Maxwell said as he sat in one of the portable buildings that make up Noble’s Wyoming County offices. “Here we have large parcels of open land. We don’t have steep hills, we don’t have rock outcroppings.” Cattle rancher Anthony George has one Noble wind turbine on his 75-acre farm in Eagle. The turbine sits about 1,500 feet from his home, and the noise is minor, George said. “Today I can’t hear it at all,” he said, then added, “I don’t know if I’d want one sitting 1,000 feet from the house.” But as they graze in the tower’s shadow on warm days, George said, “The cattle actually seem to like it.”