Cold Weather and Wind

 

(This 1195th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on February 16, 2014.)

 

Our regional Wind Action Group (WAG) website is a forum for sharing information about the environmental, social and economic ramifications of wind energy. Its mission is to provide information about wind power and to advocate the development of wind energy in Western New York.

 

I turned to Dave Bradley, chair of WAG's engineering committee to obtain his thoughts about our cold winter with January temperatures 10° below those of recent years and a blizzard on January 6th and 7th. I asked him about a remark I overheard recently in a local market: "The one good thing about this cold weather: at least we don't have to worry about global warming."  

 

"Once again people are confusing weather with climate," he responded. "Weather is what the man in the market was talking about; climate is long term. Of course we get weather change, in fact climate change models predict wider variation, but climate takes into account changes in averages over longer periods."

 

"Not only that," he added, "but we should be concerned with national and world weather. Right now, for example, while we consider ourselves very cold, others find themselves very hot." And he trotted out some statistics.

 

Alaska set January high temperature records while Juneau had over ten inches of rain instead of snow. In January California saw an unprecedented 14 consecutive days of record-breaking high temperatures. Snow pack in the far west is less than a quarter of normal.

 

And farther afield: The Balkans are suffering monthly temperatures 13-16° above average, and new records beat old ones by 5-7°. For Australia 2013 was the hottest year ever recorded. The Open Tennis Tournament there was temporarily stopped last week due to a temperature of 110°.

 

Dave cited those statistics to suggest that weather varies while the average temperature continues to climb world-wide. In fact, this January’s average temperature nationally was probably close to normal despite our contribution. And worldwide: The year 2013 tied 2003 as the fourth warmest since records began in 1880.

 

The concern of Dave and Terry Yonker and others at WAG is, of course, how to increase the number of wind turbines to substitute the energy they produce for that provided by burning fossil fuels. Fossil fuels - coal, oil and natural gas - add carbon dioxide, the main contributor to global warming, to our atmosphere. Substituting the clean energy of wind power slows the so-far-steady march of temperature increase.

 

One of the main criticisms of wind power is its "failure" when the wind dies. Dave considers this a red herring. Energy is stored today by a variety of means, for example, by pumping water into raised storage for later power-generating release.

 

What bothers Dave is the fact that many roadblocks are being placed in the way of wind energy development, especially here in New York State. He makes his case at wagengineering.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-environment-economy-climate.html.

 

Dave's most compelling point is our failure to associate wind energy with creating New York State jobs. He says, "To date, 1734 megawatts of wind turbine capacity has been installed in this state, representing an investment of around $3.5 billion, and about $2.6 billion worth of actual wind turbines. That was around 39,000 job years of employment to manufacture those units. But, out of 560 wind turbine component/assembly facilities in the United States, only six are in this State, and of 70,000 jobs in the business, about 300 of them are New York-based." Compare this, he says, with the jobs created elsewhere: Quebec, 6000 jobs; Ontario, 12,000; Ohio, 7000; Pennsylvania 3500; and Texas, 10,000.

 

Instead of encouraging "home grown" wind development, Dave says, our state politicians are placing roadblocks in its way. As a result, the compelling association of jobs with clean energy here is lost.

 

Factored into this must be the increased pressure on middle class families, whose standard of living is declining. Even recognizing the environmental benefits of wind power, they are hard put to support even temporary additional taxes or electricity costs.

 

Clearly state action is necessary to address this situation.

 

Okay, so we're experiencing exceptionally cold weather here this winter. We'll have to live through it. But we certainly should not let it prevent us from addressing the problems of long-term warming.-- Gerry Rising