Wind Power Gains Force in New York State

The Brooklyn Brewery recently gave its customers one more reason to feel good about drinking beer: the company uses wind-generated energy to produce its beverages. Although supporting this renewable resource raised the New York-based company’s electric bill more than 15%, president Steve Hindy thought the extra expense was worth setting a community example. “I think we might be selling more beer because of it,” he speculates.

As the Brewery demonstrates, wind power is finally inching toward mainstream acceptance in New York State. Last year, ConEdison Solutions, a branch of utility company Consolidated Edison (ConEd), partnered with Community Energy, a developer of renewable energy resources, to offer customers the opportunity to switch anywhere from 1% to 100% of their power usage from energy produced by traditional means to energy produced by wind and/or hydropower. The result has been that New Yorkers ranging from individuals to corporations like real estate behemoth the Durst Organization are now giving wind power a spin, even if, as some admit, they don’t understand exactly how the energy is being delivered.

The system is easy to explain. In New York, the process often starts at the Fenner Wind Project, located upstate in Madison County. Fenner is the state’s largest wind farm and one of three used by ConEd; it has 20 turbines producing a combined 30 megawatts of energy. Although the 190-ton turbines are huge, they are surprisingly quiet. “Some days you hear a little swish, but it’s no more than a vehicle going down the road,” says Scott Griffin, a farmer who leases his land to the project and tends fields around the turbines’ bases.

A popular misconception is that wind-generated electricity runs directly from the farm to a consumer’s outlet. All available wind power is already in the power grid, and there is no way to deliver separately the wind-generated and more traditionally produced electricity. When a customer, business or residential, elects to use a percentage of wind power, he is supporting the use and future expansion of that energy. If demand continues to grow and exceeds the capacity of the current wind farms, “we build more,” says Peter Blom, a program manager for ConEd Solutions. “That’s the whole goal of the program.”

Many more wind farms could be added before saturating the power grid. Blom estimates about 10% of New York State’s electric power (i.e. 3,000 megawatts) could safely come from wind farms; ConEd Solution’s current output is a whisper at 50 megawatts.

In terms of the proliferation of wind power throughout the U.S., New York State is in its infancy. California easily leads the nation with a 2,043 megawatt capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA); even Iowa has 472 megawatts. But if it’s any consolation to competitive New Yorkers, 20 states—including numerous southwestern states, where the breeze just isn’t strong enough to generate power—don’t have plans for utility-scale wind projects.

The AWEA is aiming for the wind industry to provide six percent of the U.S.’s electricity by 2020. In New York, at least, that goal now can be supported in many ways—from electing to use wind-generated energy to power your lights to, well, buying a beer at the corner bar.

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