There are 5 sort of commercial scale wind turbines working in Antarctica (three at New Zealand’s base and two at Australia’s), and they are among the more productive ones presently operating in the world (defined as average output divided by rated output) – all are Enercon gearless units with either 30 or 33 meter rotors (E-30and E-33). The high net output comes from the fact that the air is cold and thus dense, and it is really windy on that continent – one recent month had an average wind speed of 20 m/s at NZ’s Scott Base, or twice what is considered an awesome average wind resource of 10 m/s at hub height. Total installed capacity is 1.6 MW for that still-frozen continent, and probably more are on the way. That is more than the installed capacity of of all but 8 of NY State’s 62 counties, so that obviously leaves a lot of room for improvement in NY State…

It is really difficult and expensive to install wind turbines in such extreme conditions and ones so far away from anything. First a concrete “foundation” has to be made of precast concrete blocks that are bolted/tied together once some bedrock is found; these are often “glued in place” with some water that rapidly turns to ice, and a metal base (“spider”) is also put on top of the concrete blocks. Not only do the wind turbine parts (and foundation blocks) but also the crane to install them (and just plain everything…) have to be shipped in by an icebreaker rated cargo vessel, often with icebreaker assistance. The construction season might last a couple of months (summer is December and January, with average temps still below the freezing point of water), when hopefully a few relatively calm days will be found (cranes can’t do any serious lifting if it is too windy, as was noted during the installation of Steelwinds 1 in Lackawanna). But it is worth it, because the electricity made displaces diesel fuel, which is also really expensive to haul down there, just like the turbines and crane. Plus, these turbines don’t pollute the air (particulates, CO2 and water vapor), and have negligible waste heat (though that is often desired at these scientific outposts). Such air pollution can make a mess out of the measurements and experiments being run at these bases, and besides, they ever seem to run out of those Katabatic winds (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katabatic_wind). And they sure beat the disaster of a “mini-nuke” that was installed at the U.S. McMurdo Sound base (lots of rad-waste spills) and operated from 1962 to 1972 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McMurdo_Station).

But seriously, outperformed by outposts at the “edge of the world”? Granted, wind turbines in the five NY City boroughs might need to be situated in the water, as it is very crowded, but what about the other 49 counties? What does it take to get serious about producing renewable energy in NY to replace the 13,000 MW of pollution sourced electricity we now use? Or what about replacing the roughly 700 billion cubic feet per year of natural gas (out of roughly 1.2 trillion) just used for residential and office/commercial heating via (mostly) electrically powered heat pumps? When are we going to catch up with the 21st century? Hey folks, here’s a hint – it’s here already….

Actually, for NY State, it will probably take a whole new way to price renewable energy, and an understanding that replacing the pollution sourced electricity (nukes, natural gas, coal) can provide a working career for hundreds of thousands of NY’ers. That would put a dent in the estimated 1 million NY’ers who need a decent paying jobs, or just plain any job, even though it would not drop the “official” U3 unemployment rate one bit. Yes, a massive capital upgrade of our electricity generation system is also a massive jobs program, whether it is paid out of taxpayer or ratepayer dollars. So are things like transmission system upgrades, new transmission lines between upstate and downstate and pumped hydro facilities that would allow NY to go 100% renewable for all of its electricity.

The existing way that renewable electricity, and in particular, the lowest cost to produce renewable after our existing hydro facilities (wind turbine sourced electricity), is not going to be installed in meaningful quantities using the existing way that renewable electricity is priced in NY State. And since the to date $2.7 billion of wind turbine investment has only created in NY State a tiny fraction of the manufacturing jobs associated with these (total of 40,500 job-years associated with the manufacture and installation, most of that being manufacture) as well as the “spin-offs” from the “multiplier effect” of around 160,000 job-years, maybe we should try a system that actually works….

The most successful pricing system for renewables are known as FITs, for Feed-In Tariffs (Ontario, Spain, Germany, Denmark), and the second most successful one is the variation of the Quota/Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) one where ratepayers pay the full tab (Quebec is a good example of that one). New manufacturing jobs, supply chain, real wealth creation are the goals, and the by-product is clean electricity that displaces pollution based electricity and often fuel imports that also require money (= real wealth) exports.

An effort is presently being undertaken to have the Western New York Environmental Alliance (WNYEA) adopt FITs as an integral part of an environmental advocacy effort. No matter what you particular “flavor” of environmentalism is, odds are, FITs fit in nicely. After all, even the most efficient society will still need energy (and especially electricity) if food, heat, transportation, communication, lights and industry (which allows population levels we now have to exist without massive human “die-backs”) are desired. And unless renewable energy is economically viable, it is just fluff – a hobby, a subterfuge, a ruse to justify an unsustainable, pollution based energy system powering our society, and one where depletion of fossil fuels is finally starting to get noticed (which seems to be more than can be said for Global Climate Change – see http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2012/03/01/428764/ddrop-in-warming-requires-rapid-massive-deployment039-of-zero-carbon-power-not-gas/, http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2012/03/02/434413/economist-william-nordhaus-slams-global-warming-deniers-cost-of-delay-is-4-trillion/, and http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2012/03/03/437051/syria-climate-change-drought-and-social-unrest/, for starts).

So, if you want details of how FITs work and what they can do, here’s another link to the most excellent Green Paper written by Bill Nowak for the Sierra Club:
http://newyork.sierraclub.org/documents/Clean-fitreport.pdf

And if you want a high condensed summary in the form of a powerpoint presentation (.pdf format), check out the easy on the eyes one recently given at the Climate and Energy committee of WNYEA: http://www.4shared.com/office/309Y4MUC/bwag022612e.html (it takes a 20 second delay to download – it’s the price of “free”). And if you are interested in a presentation/discussion of this for a group, email me at Tantalum73@verizon.net. After all, there is a lot of “misunderstanding” and “lack of awareness” as to what renewable energy can do. In Germany, it’s their industrial policy, nuclear reactor replacement and their “economic stimulus” all rolled into one. And with the exception of their North Sea wind resource, they are over-populated and “under renewable energy resourced”, unlike our country/NY State – so we should be “sitting pretty” with such efforts, but we are not. All you need for starts is a will to do right by the world, and if you don’t know about FITs, a will to learn about them. For starts…