In Brooklyn, Fertile Ground for a Wind Turbine

Source: By TATIANA SCHLOSSBERG, New York Times • Posted: Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Located in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, the city’s first commercial-scale wind turbine cost $750,000 to build, took four years to complete, tops 160 feet and can yield up to 100 kilowatts of power an hour. CreditJake Naughton for The New York Times 

Modern-day Don Quixotes looking to tilt at wind turbines can see their latest fearsome foe from far and wide: Lower Manhattan; Red Hook, Brooklyn; or the Gowanus Expressway.

In less than a month of operation, the first large-scale wind turbine to be installed in New York City, standing more than 160 feet tall, has produced enough energy to power two homes for over a year, or one 20-watt light bulb for over a century.

But this turbine, in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, was built to help power a recycling plant on a pier at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal. It is expected to provide 4 percent of the energy used by the plant, which is owned and operated by Sims Metal Management, an Australian company.

The plant, which has processed most of the city’s curbside metal, glass and plastic recyclables since opening in 2013, already fills 16 percent of its energy needs with solar powerharvested from panels on its roof; the remainder of its power comes from traditional sources.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday for the wind turbine, which has been operating since Dec. 17, Thomas Outerbridge, general manager of the Sims plant, spoke about the sometimes arduous, four-year process of turning windblown dreams into reality.

“They say, ‘If you can do it in New York, you can do it anywhere,’ ” Mr. Outerbridge said. “And if you do it in Brooklyn, you can do it anywhere and you can be very cool.”

The Sunset Park turbine can generate up to 100 kilowatts of electricity. Its predecessors in the city, which help power residential or smaller commercial buildings, including the Whole Foods store in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, are one kilowatt, and typically about 20 feet tall.

Steady winds of at least 10 miles per hour are required for the new turbine’s blades to spin; the spinning stops when winds reach 55 m.p.h. In Sunset Park, the prevailing winds come from the west at an average annual speed of 11.85 m.p.h.

Steady winds can be difficult to find in New York, where breezes can blow at around 3 m.p.h. and gusts can rage at 30 m.p.h. The density of development in the city is another obstacle, alternately blocking or tunneling the wind. The Sunset Park waterfront’s wide-open nature makes it a prime spot for harvesting wind, said Nils Behn of Aegis Renewables, which installed the turbine there.

The push to bring the turbine to Brooklyn began in 2008, Mr. Outerbridge said, adding that he hoped the installation would give wind power and other forms of renewable energy more legitimacy in the city.

The turbine is expected to generate 4 percent of the energy consumed by a Brooklyn plant that handles most of the city’s curbside metal, glass and plastic recyclables.CreditJake Naughton for The New York Times 

He said he first applied for a permit with the Buildings Department in 2010.

“The Buildings Department had a process set up for building-mounted turbines, but nothing for commercial-scale turbines,” he said. “It was bit of a learning curve for all of us.”

A spokesman for the department said it had developed a protocol for handling turbine permits in 2011.

While many wind turbine proposals attract opposition on aesthetic grounds, or because of their potential to cause damage to bird and bat habitats, Mr. Outerbridge said the Sunset Park project had received a positive response from the community as well as representatives of nearby Green-Wood Cemetery and the Audubon Society.

All told, the turbine cost $750,000 to build, and Mr. Outerbridge said he expected it to pay for itself within five years.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which awards grants for renewable energy projects, provided $130,000 toward the cost of the turbine. The agency has given out grants for 200 windmills in the state over the last eight years. So far, no other turbines are planned for New York City, said Mark Mayhew, a project manager for the agency.

Donna DeConstanzo, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that, although her organization was not involved with the Sunset Park project, “wherever you have an opportunity to generate clean, renewable energy in New York City, that’s significant and exciting.”

She added that solar power was a more viable renewable energy source in the city, but that New York offered many opportunities for harvesting offshore wind.

Other wind projects have been proposed in the city, but none have yet materialized. Among the locations that have been suggested: the former landfill on Staten Island that is now Freshkills Park; New York Harbor; and the Atlantic floor, off the Rockaways.

Eric L. Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, said at the ribbon-cutting on Wednesday that he hoped to add more renewable energy initiatives in the borough.

“Just like that slow-running F train,” he said, “we’re going to put wind power on the express track.”