Renewable energy will save our future

This is in response to the commentary noting turbines in Lake Erie would be “irresponsible.” (Dec. 26).

To tell you the truth, my first thought on reading the commentary on wind turbines in Lake Erie was, huh? Climate change won’t be mitigated by renewable wind power? Turbines are a bigger pollution threat than fossil fuels? Are we living in the same world?

Some of the writer’s concerns do require more explanation to allay, but let’s begin at the beginning. Renewable energy is how we are going to reduce our burning of fossil fuels. Reducing the use of fossil fuels and replacing them with wind and other forms of renewable power is how we can mitigate climate change. That should be straightforward. As soon as the turbines start spinning, and displacing fossil fuels, you’ll see a reduction of air pollution and an improvement in the health of people and wildlife. In the long run, we hope that renewable energy will help stave off the worst of the climate change disaster that is already evident around us. Upstate New York may even become a wildfire risk with our new hotter, drier climate.

Lake Erie is a terrific source of wind power which can contribute substantially, along with other wind projects across the state, to reducing our electric grid’s reliance on fossil fuels. The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act mandates that by 2030, we’ll have a 70% renewable electric grid, and by 2040, a carbon neutral one. According to the NYISO, these are eminently doable attainments, and the law, signed by state Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year, benefits all New Yorkers.

Lake Erie’s wind resources, in addition to being a gift to New York state, could create an economic future for the area. Turbines and support structures could be built in Buffalo and floated into position. The manufacturing and logistics of these operations will create bountiful employment both in short-term construction and long-term operations. There will have to be training and preparation of the local workforce for this future economy. The potential for the development of innovative technology is high. Related businesses may also spring up to serve the wind energy supply chain.

When the writer gets into the nitty-gritty of wind energy, facts start to get twisted. Wind turbines aren’t powered by the electric grid. They are powered by wind which creates energy for the electric grid, and the more wind energy we have, the less gas and oil we’ll be using.

Wind turbines in Lake Erie will not add pollutants to the water to any discernible degree, in fact, likely none at all. Each individual turbine has about 50 gallons of gear oil in a sealed gear box with a tray to catch leaks. On the rare occasion of a leak, only a small fraction of oil escapes. Compare that with the spill risk of a barge or tanker carrying 100,000 barrels or more of crude oil. Concerns about water pollution from wind turbines is either entirely misguided, or disingenuous.

The writer is also legitimately concerned about the disturbance of toxic industrial “legacy pollution,” like PCBs and heavy metals on the lake floor by the construction of wind turbines. However, look at all the concrete and steel structures and piers we already have in the lake. There have been no known impacts from them.

In addition, high voltage transmission lines may have hazards, but we, of necessity, have lived with them for a long time. As far as underwater routing, sampling must be carefully done, particularly around the site of the abandoned Bethlehem Steel site. Cable could go around or beneath it.

Far from being a threat to fish, if the Block Island, Rhode Island wind farm is an example, fish love these projects for their artificial reef effect, which positively encourages fish to enter the turbine area. Fish populations have actually increased. Marine mammals will also be left in peace because the lake floor shale formations preclude hammering pilings into it. Instead, large concrete bases will be lowered onto and rest on the lake floor to support the turbines.

As an aside, I want to correct an oddity in the commentary. NYSERDA is a state agency, not a lobbying group.

We must develop renewable energy now. The speed of climate change, as we see in dangerous storms, freakish weather, out of control wildfires and melting glaciers, is accelerating. Wildfires in New York? The powerful winds of Lake Erie will help blow out the flames.

Marcia Johnson is a Fredonia resident.


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