Is Wind Energy Making a Dent in New York’s Carbon pollution?

November 29, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Guest post by Candace Sheppard

Wind energy production in New York State is expected to double in the next five years.
Wind energy production in New York State is expected to double in the next five years. Photo by U.S. Department of Energy.

A day after a study was released last week about wind turbines killing more than 600,000 bats in the United States in 2012, the Environment America Research Policy Center released its second report about wind energy’s growing environmental and health benefits and the rapid rise of wind energy in the United States.

Maybe the timely release of the report was a bit of damage control. Some additional good news about renewable energy came from the group Environment New York, which asserted, in a separate report, that wind power was providing “huge environmental benefits for the state.” In its news release, the group claimed that wind energy allows New York state to offset “more than 1, 834,576 metric tons of climate-altering carbon pollution which is the equivalent of taking 382,203 cars off the road.” To put it another way, the group says recent increases in wind energy have helped New Yorkers avoid “1,724 tons of smog-causing nitrogen oxides which contributes to asthma, and 2,130 tons of sulfur dioxide which is a major component of acid rain.”

Those numbers sound impressive given that New York State, according to the report, is now the 14th windiest state in the U.S. as of 2012.

However, some context is in order. All told, wind energy  provides about two percent of the state’s electricity, playing a very small role in New York’s renewable energy mix, which includes solar, hydropower, biofuel, and geothermal energy.  It’s also worth pointing out that, according to the state’s Department of Energy Conservation, renewable energy only accounts for 11 percent of New York’s energy needs.

“Wind energy is not a gigantic portion of New York State’s energy mix, but it is growing rapidly,” says Eric Whelan of Environment New York. The group’s report demonstrates “the environmental benefits that we could capture if we move forward in building more clean energy,” Whelan adds.

Those benefits would be greater if there was more investment in the nascent wind industry, say renewable energy advocates. Indeed, the Environment New York report comes just as federal tax credit incentives for wind energy are due to expire at the end of the year. But even if wind energy production is on pace to double in five years in New York, as the report predicts, would the environmental benefits be anything near what nuclear energy has done to reduce emissions in the state?

But nuclear also has some big environmental negatives. For example, Whelan points out that “wind and solar don’t require massive water consumption like nuclear power.” The Environmental Protection Agency says that the downside to nuclear power plants using large quantities of water from lakes and rivers is the impact on marine life. Then there’s the nuclear waste issue which has yet to be resolved.

No energy source has zero impacts. Both wind and nuclear power affect ecosystems: the former kills bats (and birds) and the latter may be hazardous to the health of future generations. Which of these two energy sources people prefer probably depends on which environmental benefits they like best–or which risks posed by each energy source they are more willing to accept.


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  • “Which of these two energy sources people prefer probably depends on which environmental benefits they like best”

    No…wind energy systems(systems to convert wind into useful work) have been around since the 9th century.

    So far no one has managed to get them to work in a cost effective manner when the wind is not blowing or when the wind is blowing exceptionally hard.

    As far as wind not consuming water resources…I can say with certainty that since the wind and the rain go together like a horse and carriage…the amount of hydro resource that gets wasted due to lack of demand increases with the more wind power one installs.

    The wind farms in New York State are in rural upper New York state which is predominantly served by HydroQuebec.

    I would guess the wind farms are displacing quite a bit of clean Canadian Hydro Power due to the inadequate transmission lines to urban NYC.

    The question isn’t an ‘either/or’ nuclear,hydro,wind,solar,gas,coal.

    Anyone who is posing that question doesn’t understand the nature of electricity supply and demand.

    The question is what combination of energy generating technologies can be employed in a manner that produces a positive cost/benefit relationship for society as a whole.

    If my entire energy system is reliant on wind and hydro, eventually I am going to get an extended heat wave/cold snap where I won’t have hydro or wind. Energy delivery problems on abnormally cold days or abnormally hot days usually results in ‘excess deaths’.

    Wind energy advocates will claim that wind can be effectively load balanced with hydro at a rate of 3 parts wind to 1 part hydro. The experience in the US Pacific Northwest is that over generation events begin occurring at 1 part wind, 3 parts hydro.

  • As harrywr2 notes, decisions about energy sources more crucially depend on weighing the benefits against the impacts. Since wind must always rely on the presence of other sources to balance its variability and intermittency, its impacts are always an addition, not an alternative, and its benefits must always remain minimal.

  • if wind energy production is on pace to double in five years…

    Consumption growth (0.5-1.0% annually nation wide) will consume all of that growth and the proportion of wind power in NY’s mix will actually shrink.

    Now just imagine if, through some unforeseeable and bizarre set of events, electric cars became both economic and popular during the next five years!

  • I think a far more important consideration is the effect on the whole energy system.

    German Agora Energiewende project has published their insights into renewable energy future. One striking conclusion they make is that wind and solar-based electricity production system requires that we get rid of traditional energy markets altogether:

    http://www.agora-energiewende.org/topics/the-energiewende/detail-view/article/12-insights-on-the-energiewende/
    It is simple: Since large-scale wind and solar production drive electricity price to zero or negative when it shines or blows, they cannot earn money on the markets and must be subsidized. Rest of the power production acts as capacity markets for renewables and also receives subsidies.
    Of course, this is Germany with no nuclear in the future and little hydro.

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