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Winter 2013 Issue of the Finger Lakes Sierran

Black Oak Wind Farm

by Marguerite Wells, Project Manager

Black Oak is the first commercial scale wind farm in the East that is owned by local investors. Located in Enfield, NY, about 10 miles west of Ithaca, the project will hopefully be online in spring 2014. It is small by wind farm standards, only 7 turbines, and has been under development slowly for about 8 years. The power generated will be enough to supply around 3,000 households.

The project is located on and around Buck Hill, just north of Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area, along both sides of Black Oak Road. It has been subject to vigorous environmental review, and happily nothing of note has come up in terms of being on a flyway, or having habitat for any rare species. Bird work has been done by Bill Evans of Old Bird, Inc., and bat studies were done by Dr. Kathleen Moore of Berne, NY. We are currently completing the local and grid permitting processes, and finalizing layout and road details.

The power will be distributed and consumed locally. There is a high volt-age line crossing the site already, with which we will connect. The power will then get delivered to Montour Falls and Ithaca, the two ends of that line. From there, it will flow wherever the grid requires it, but no one will actually be in charge of that. The grid is like a river- you can put water in upstream, you can take water out downstream, but there is no telling which water you’re getting. Once in the river, all water is the same. The grid works the same way. We put power in at certain locations; we take it out at others, no person controls which watt of energy goes here or there. Only the larger flows and balances can be managed. On paper, our customers will be large commercial and institutional power users, most likely local ones, whom we are seeking currently.

The turbines will be ‘regular’ commercial size turbines, like those seen elsewhere in Central NY and Pennsylvania. From a distance they’re all about the same size with slight variations in tower height and blade length. From afar, they’re impossible to differentiate, though! To be precise, our turbines will be 1.8 megawatts, 80 meters at the hub, 100 meter span of the blades. Construction will be performed by local contractors for the most part — excavation, electrical, and concrete will all be local workers, with specialized trades brought in from elsewhere in the state.

The wind on Buck Hill is stronger than almost any other location in Tompkins County, at an average speed of 17 miles an hour. The difference between 14 mile an hour winds, which many sites have in the region, and 17 mile an hour winds, which this site has, is the difference between a viable wind farm and not. That three mile an hour difference in wind speed is nearly a doubling of total power output, since electrical power output is the cube of the wind speed. However, turbines are becoming much more efficient, and are being designed for lower wind speeds all the time, so there may come a time in future when lower wind speeds become economically viable.

The federal tax incentives passed as part of the fiscal cliff deal are a critical part of making our project financially feasible. Unsurprisingly to some, New York is an expensive place to build a wind project, so alt-hough we have higher power prices, we also have a higher cost of doing business, so fed-eral and state incentives are critical to making the project possible. However, it will be a good investment for the 81 current owners of the project. If you would like to know more about our work, contact the Project Manager, Marguerite Wells, at enfieldenergy at gmail.com, or 607-342-6805.

The Howard NY wind project, which has very similar landscape and turbines to what our project will use in Enfield, so it fairly visually representative of what we plan to build.