Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Wind in Sight

I went to visit my parents over the long weekend and participate in a trail race at Camp Pok-o-MacCready. I took the ferry across Lake Champlain from Grand Isle, VT to Plattsburgh, NY. While I am biased because I grew up there, I still think the Champlain Valley is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Wedged between the Green Mountains to the east and the Adirondacks to the west, the Champlain Valley is a real gem.

I've crossed the lake on this ferry hundreds of times. This was the first time though that I noticed the wind parks just north of Plattsburgh. Last summer, the Noble Ellenburg Windpark, the Noble Clinton Windpark, and the Noble Altona Windpark were completed. On top of a small ridge I could count dozens of wind turbines spinning in the distance. Actually there are over 175 turbines spinning at these three sites that generate enough electricity to power 93,000 homes. Noble has also built a wind park in Franklin County that generates enough power for 35,500 homes. Combined, the wind parks constructed in this part of the North Country generate enough electricity to supply all the homes in Clinton, Franklin, Essex ,and Warren Counties.

The economic benefits to the North Country are well documented. Hundreds of jobs were created during the construction phase. Permanent jobs will remain in place to maintain the operations. Land owners receive lease payments. The town and county will receive tax revenue. The development of this wind park brought some needed relief to two rural towns of Ellenburg and Clinton. In the 1980s and 1990s rural communities fought for prison construction in their towns for economic development. Are wind parks the prisons of the 2000s?

The remaining question though is how does the construction of 175 wind turbines that are over 390 feet impact the scenic beauty of this region? While they can be seen from Lake Champlain and presumably from some of the summits of mountains in the northern Adirondacks, I think the turbines are all right. They weren't built in the middle of the Adirondack wilderness but rather north of the mountains. They actually generate some excitement, "Look, there are the wind turbines!"

This is a part of the country that has been devastated by the impacts of the coal industry. The pollutants from the burning of coal in states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania fall as acid rain in the Adirondacks. The forests and lakes are impacted. Almost 700 of the lakes in the Adirondacks are so acidic they have lost aquatic plants and wildlife. I'm not worried about the construction of wind turbines altering the viewshed, I'm worried about an increase in the burning of coal that will continue to alter the chemistry of the forests, lakes and streams. I'm glad the residents of the North Country allowed this wind project to move forward. I hope residents continue to put pressure on Washington to shift how we power America and reduce the burning of coal.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Green Office Champions

Potter Hall wins!

When first measured in March things were ugly in Potter Hall. The building had the highest electricity use per person, occupants generated tons of waste, and recycling was not a habit. Many occupants of Potter were critical of my blog posts. They did not like being labeled environmentally unfriendly.

While they were angry, they changed. With help from students in Environmental Science (ENV211), occupants in Potter Hall took important steps to reduce their environmental impact. Refrigerators were uplugged, computers were powered down overnight, and more material made it to the recycling bin. During the Green Office Challenge Week, Potter Hall realized a 53% recycling rate (up from 20%). They also managed to reduce electricity consumption by 35%.

Potter Hall did not cruise to victory though. The occupants of Plummer Hall were committed to winning. Every watt of energy possible was conserved in this building as they reduced electricity consumption by 46%. Plummer also had the highest recycling rate during the competition week (54%) but their total waste was up 43%.

Based on recycling, waste, and electricity Plummer actually had an edge over Potter. But occupants in Potter stepped up in one additional category- vehicle miles traveled. During the competition week, a few occupants of Potter changed and either walked to work instead of driving or carpooled. This change in behavior was not seen in any other building. Thanks to the effort of these individuals, Potter Hall was the clear winner. Look for the Green Office Challenge Award on the door of Potter soon! Congratulations!

I must recognize the efforts of all the occupants of Plummer, Potter, Bancroft, and Klingbeil. Thank you for taking the competition seriously and for working with my students. I always appreciate your willingness to help students with their academic projects. I hope you will continue to take measures to reduce your environmental impact in the office.

Finally, Klingbeil deserves recognition for being green to begin with. While they did not come close to winning the Green Office Challenge, this building was already quite environmentally friendly. Electricity consumption and waste generation were already low, and recycling was already high. Dramatic improvements such as those seen in Plummer or Potter were difficult when things were already quite lean. Keep up the good work Klingbeil!

I've pasted the table of final results below.