Monday, December 8, 2008

Wind Power: Ravenstahl and Comet Unite

To cut energy costs, Ravenstahl told the group the city is pursuing putting windmills atop Mt. Washington to generate electricity via wind-driven turbines. He acknowledged such a plan could prove difficult.

"You know how tricky it is even building a building on Mt. Washington, much less building a windmill up there to generate energy," Ravenstahl told the group. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

$4 Billion (by back-of-the-napkin estimates) is about to pour into the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from the federal government, for those projects explicitly such as alternative energy infrastructure which are both objectively worthwhile and "shovel-ready".

The narrative of a smoky old city figuratively fanning away the soot from its hellish past is astounding. Windmills, if done properly (no advertising) can be aesthetically charming, and would blend almost seamlessly with our "built environment" -- fancifully engineered bridges and inclines, industrial relics of all kinds riddled along the riverbank and up the slopes of Mt. Washington. These 21st-century energy mills could win renown as the greatest of the Seven Wonders of the Obaman World.

This is brilliant. If it works as it is supposed to (pending of course assessments of both neighborhood impacts and incidental environmental impacts), it will save the region money for decades to come and be a source of support, instead of exerting a continuing drag on our economy like some of the massive investments of the past.

This is how serious I am about this project: zoning and bureaucratic realities being what they are, and given the magnitude of this undertaking, I would not object to the City hiring for these purposes some kind of special consultant. He or she would have to be a zoning expert -- certified as an expert -- to present, negotiate, and advance the position of the Mayor in moving the project forward. And to do that and that alone, since it's obviously such a high-value, signature public investment, requiring total focus. I would welcome it.

Aside from that, Mr. Mayor -- what else can we do, quickly? President Obama will want a brief with something scrawled out upon it by the 3rd or 4th week of January. Isn't a lot of that property along the hill crest For Rent?

Photo: AP: Sandy Huffaker


  1. "This is brilliant"

    Bram - did you fail to read the rest of the Trib story? Unfortunately, you can't just put a wind turbine anywhere you please, there are several factors that have to be considered - the two most important being access to transmission lines, which Mount Washington has, and wind intensity, which Mount Washington lacks. When you factor in environmental concerns, aesthetics, then you should come to the conclusion that putting wind turbines on Mount Washington is a pipe dream, at best. If PA is going to get some of the Obama infrastructure money and if we plan to spend some of that on wind power it will go to projects in central PA, which has the highest concentrations of wind power capacity.

  2. "That's not something that we're pursuing currently," Baxter said after Ravenstahl's speech. "I think he mentioned that for the symbolism of it."

    Me too?

    Seriously, unless I'm being daft, your points about transmission lines and wind intensity do not appear in the article. Transmission lines strike me as the kind of thing you can work around -- or rather, move -- and I could swear I once read something discussing how our wind intensity up there was pretty good.

  3. Yeah, you forgot to include that part in your post! The thing to pursue is the solar panel thing, although, we need to set our aims higher than putting a single panel on a single rooftop here in the city. While we are not situated in the Southwestern Sun belt, Germany has shown the world that solar is feasible even in the most gloomy of regions. We only have a few hours of solar concentration per day (on average) but we do have plenty of flat rooftops, and we are home to two solar manufacturers, one traditional PV manufacturer in Solar Power Industries and another thin film solar manufacturer in Plextronics. The city would be wise to partner up with these two companies - it would be a shame if the mayor of Pittsburgh put solar panels made in China on the rooftops of city buildings instead of solar panels made right here in Southwestern PA.

  4. Solar panels in Pittsburgh? ROTFL. I'm thinking wind is the way to go, but by all means, let's put the geeks on it.

  5. "Germany’s generous solar subsidies covered the roofs of one of the world’s most sunless countries with solar cells, thus pushing up the price of silicon and reducing the cost-effectiveness of solar power in countries where it actually makes sense. Both subsidies [referencing US ethanol subsidies] promoted the wrong technologies; both wasted taxpayers’ money."

    From The Economist on 11.6.08

    I'm all for Pittsburgh getting out in front of the green for green, but I don't think the wind or the solar are large scale sustainable projects. Besides, Pittsburgh needs the infrastructure support (roads, bridges, tunnels) before green energy money.

  6. Heinz student - did anyone on here say "large scale" ? I'm talking about things like the solar cities initiative, which the sustainability coordinator for the city is looking into. In terms of ideal solar power options I'm in favor of solar thermal or solar concentrating power plants, which are currently under construction in the Southwest. Of course, hooking them up to the grid will be costly and there will be a lot of red tape to cut through but in terms of utility scale clean energy solar is where I would put my money.