Yates Councilman’s letter had many exaggerations about negatives from wind farm

Posted 13 August 2018 at 6:39 pm


I recently read the Letter to the Editor, “Yates councilman says many negatives for community with wind turbine project” by Mr. John Riggi, and the response by Mr. Paul Williamson from Apex Clean Energy, Inc., and wished to comment as a graduate of Barker Central School, one who has left the area and worked at many power plants around the country.

Mr. Riggi contends, “[Mr. Williamson] your impact on Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station (NFARS) is a clear and present danger to all of Western New York” as though wind turbines have an adverse effect upon the successful completion of US Air Force (or any military branch) flight missions. This couldn’t be any further from the truth. I grew up watching NFARS-based C-130s flying down the old Hojack line paralleling Lake Ontario. They have flown this route, night or day, winter or summer, good weather or bad, Somerset Power Plant’s (Somerset PP) 613-foot emissions stack or not, all without incident for decades.

This is pure unsupported speculation on Mr. Riggi’s part, or a regurgitation of Rep. Chris Collins attack on “propeller turbines” that supposedly threatens “[an] air base employ[ing] over 2,600 people” – not “3,500 breadwinners” as Mr. Riggi states.

Somerset Power Plant is 25 miles from NFARS, Rep. Collins – under investigation for insider trading and having suspended his election campaign this week – proposed a 40-mile “wind turbine exclusion zone,” one may suspect to cover all of Mr. Riggi’s Town of Yates. So, I decided to check military bases around the US for wind farms within a 30-mile radius.

I cross-referenced 17 U.S. bases with Synapse Energy Economics’ Google Earth database, a visual, GIS based representation of EIA – Energy Information Agency data. I identified 5 bases having no wind turbines within 30 miles. However, I found 12 to have wind turbines within the same 30-mile radius. Not only does this include NFARS itself, but also New York’s Fort Drum. For military buffs, Fort Drum is famous for its 10th Mountain Division and A-10 Warthogs, known to hug the ground in the execution of their missions.

In fact, Dyess Air Force Base outside Abilene, TX has over 2,200 Megawatts (MW) of operating wind turbines, roughly 1,000 units, or 7 times that in proximity to Fort Drum. Travis AFB, which hosts a similar compliment of aircraft as NFARS, has over 1,000 MW of operating wind turbines within 15 miles of it.

Mr. Riggi’s second point discusses – pH, lime[stone], Lake Ontario and aquifers, while creating a narrative of a mythical horror story to come with wind turbine. Ironic really, considering “lime” was used to reduce the pH (higher acidity) of “dead lakes” throughout the Northeast US and eastern Canada during the end of the 20th Century as well as regularly to treat high acidity agricultural fields. The cause of these “dead lakes”? High pH rain, more simply known as “acid rain.” What is the scientifically agreed upon cause of “acid rain”?  Burning high-Sulphur content coal at plants like in Somerset.

Over the lifetime of Somerset PP, lime[stone] has arrived by the train load as part of the “wet scrubbing” process required to remove Sulphur Oxides (SOx) from the emissions and minimize acidic rain formation downwind. Somerset PP has traditionally sourced its coal from high-Sulphur coal mines in western Pennsylvania. And the “mountain” that has grown since 1984, to the east of the power plant, is a combination of coal ash and the combined products of SOx and limestone.

Even with “wet scrubbing”, Somerset PP still emits SOx into the air. According to the EIA, Somerset PP, while only operating at 11% of its total possible output for the years 2015 and 2016, produced 1,385 and 1,632 tons of SOx – the key agent of acid rain – respectively.

In those same years, as limestone continues to be delivered by the trainload to Somerset PP, Maple Ridge Wind Farm near Fort Drum generated more electricity than Somerset PP, despite it being only one-half as large. And it did so, without any CO2 or SOx emissions. And what should put Mr. Riggi at ease, no new “environmental boogieman” he has referred to as either “lime” or “rebar concrete.”

Unfortunately, I am unaware of any scientific basis for Mr. Riggi’s fears over “rebar concrete or lime … leaching” into aquifers or Lake Ontario. I will let the reader perform their own “sniff test” of Mr. Riggi’s trumped-up fears.

However, most residents near Somerset PP are well aware of the heated water that is injected into Lake Ontario.  The industry terminology for this phenomenon is “waste heat” and simply put it must be “disposed of” into the environment as part of the steam cycle required to generate electricity.

For every 1 MW of electricity generated at a thermal power plant such as Somerset, 2 MW of thermal heat units are ejected or expelled during conversion of coal to electricity. For every 3 MMBTU (Million British Thermal Units) that arrives by rail car in the form of coal, 2 MMBTU are sent up the stack or out into Lake Ontario… as wasted energy. This is a fact of life for thermal power plants like Somerset.

What impacts has 30-plus years of adding massive amounts of heat to Lake Ontario done to once native fish species? Or has it aided in the growth of invasive species? I do not know, but I would suspect this would concern Mr. Riggi who is worried about migratory birds.

As to infrastructure losses, let’s be honest – initial construction of the wind farm may lead to some hard-to-quantify increased wear and tear to local roadways above the baseline of regular heavy equipment farm use and transport of agricultural products. But let’s not confuse the infrastructure damage Mr. Riggi assures us will happen from a wind farm development and 20 years of operation, to that of many rural towns and counties around the US, whom are confronted with massive infrastructure losses due to oil & gas exploration, drilling and production. The scale of the heavy truck traffic of an oil or gas field to that of a wind farm over the life of the project are not even in the same ball field, where many O&G wells require “work-over” every 3 to 5 years.

Mr. Riggi concludes his exaggerations and largely indefensible tirades, with an unfortunate lapse into “small town, small mind” bullying, through his loosely disguised threat to Mr. Williamson, “You need to get out of Town.”

As one who has left this area long ago, I can only suggest that Mr. Riggi himself “need[s] to get out of Town.” However, this is not bullying. I am simply encouraging Mr. Riggi to experience the world outside Niagara and Orleans counties. This may help him broaden his knowledge-base, “sharpen his pencil” on relevant, factually accurate information related to the energy industry, and better serve his community.

Hans Hyde


(Barker graduate in 1992)

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