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Environment

Windmills on NYC Skyscrapers Sound Cool, but Wouldn't Work

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New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg made news yesterday when he proposed perching windmills on top of the city's skyscrapers and bridges, and building windfarms off the coasts of Queens and Brooklyn. The move would make the city less dependent on the national energy grid, he said, and would also express the city's commitment to renewable energy. As Bloomberg put it:

"I would think that it would be a thing of beauty if, when Lady Liberty looks out on the horizon, she not only welcomes new immigrants to our shores, but lights their way with a torch powered by an ocean wind farm" [Washington Post].

However, the day after the announcement, experts are expressing numerous doubts over the plan's feasibility.

Skyscrapers would have to be designed — or retrofitted at great cost — to accommodate the extra weight, vibration and swaying of the turbines. Insurers would have to be persuaded that turbines are worth the risk. And New York is not a particularly windy city, so a few buildings facing New York Harbor might be the only sites that make sense [The New York Times].

And while new, smaller, eggbeater-shaped windmills don't pose the same major construction hurdles, they may not produce enough electricity to make them worth the cost. Few U.S. cities have experimented with wind power, because tall buildings tend to disrupt air currents.

"Turbulence makes urban wind development difficult," said Christine Real de Azua, spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association. "New York is more likely to get offshore wind parks than on top of buildings or the Brooklyn Bridge" [Bloomberg].

But U.S. energy companies have been slow to develop offshore windfarms, citing high startup costs and low profits. Last year, the Long Island Power Authority canceled a plan to build 140 offshore wind turbines when costs soared to $800 million. Faced with a barrage of criticism, Bloomberg backed away from his proposal today, saying that windmills are just one part of the city's energy strategy, which also includes increasing solar and tidal power and pushing for energy conservation. There are many hurdles to the windmill plan, Bloomberg admitted, including irritable New Yorkers who don't want the skyline altered.

"There are aesthetic considerations," Bloomberg said. "No. 2, I have absolutely no idea whether that makes any sense from a scientific, from a practical point of view" [AP].

Meanwhile, DISCOVER checks out the latest wind power technology in the article, "Wind Turbine That Imitates Flippers Could Increase Efficiency."

Image: flickr/rasmithuk

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