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 responding from you earlier email:
> I found it interesting that the average kW demand per person in Tompkins
> County is smaller than my 3.2 kW array (generates about 2800 kwh annually).
> My system cost me only $7000 net of $27,000 after incentives and tax
> credits.  Not everybody, but lots of people can afford that (I am on very
> modest income).  So, it is also about choices, not just costs.

Solar modules are rated by peak output. As you mentioned, your 3.2 kw
array has an annual output of 2800 kwh, so it has an average output of
2800 kwh/(24*365) or 320 watts. My guess is the typical family uses an
13,000 kwh of electricity annually. After you add energy used for
heating, transportation, agriculture, and manufacturing, the total
more than triples.

I actually not pessimistic about the possibilities, though I believe
we need to start with an objective assessment of the requirements.



Gay Nicholson

<> Tue, Jul 26, 2011 at 2:57 PM 
Hi Milt,

Very interesting work and could be very useful to focus conversations about our energy future.  One note: I believe that energy efficiency and conservation, including lifestyle adjustments, could ramp down our energy demand much more than 30%.  People aren't even really trying yet.  I worked part-time as the regional EnergySmart Communities coordinator for several years, so I know where the general public is at on energy.  Another side note: not sure what you mean by "recreational solar" -- don't think that is the correct term if you mean residential solar or distributed solar arrays.

ST is working with a large coalition of groups to launch a countywide energy efficiency campaign this fall.  It's a broad campaign that also relates to food, transportation, and waste issues to create multiple points of engagement.  Hopefully, the average citizen will get more engaged through this process.

I'd like to suggest that you (and any faculty/students) ask to present this work at a monthly meeting of TCCPI (Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative).  We meet the fourth Fridays at 9 am.  Would you be interested in doing that?  I think the area of use comparisons are a useful starting point, but it would be good to build upon that to create a systems analysis of total impacts and costs of each energy source.  I also think that if local citizens began to see the full picture of those costs/impacts, that suddenly energy conservation will shine a bit more brightly as something they should be doing.  The smaller our consumption, the smaller the footprint of any energy source we choose.

I found it interesting that the average kW demand per person in Tompkins County is smaller than my 3.2 kW array (generates about 2800 kwh annually).  My system cost me only $7000 net of $27,000 after incentives and tax credits.  Not everybody, but lots of people can afford that (I am on very modest income).  So, it is also about choices, not just costs.

Let me know about TCCPI and I will put you in touch.  Also, we are launching an ST blog and I wondered if you'd be interested in having your article appear there.


July 11 Trip report from a bicycle tour of Bradford County

Observing the natural gas industry in Bradford County made me think about my own energy used in the ride.

1. My Garmin indicated we climbed 7300 ft. Using an estimated personal weight of me and my bike of 200 lbs, and assuming no uphill glide from the previous downhill, the hill climbing work was 1,460,000 ft-lbs or 550 watt-hrs or 472 Calories.

2. My Powertap indicated an average of 125 watts over 8 hours or 1000 watt-hrs or 860 Calories. Presumably the difference between this and (1) is wind and rolling resistance.

3. According to, the typical biological to mechanical conversion efficiency of the human body is 22%. So roughly 4000 Calories of food would be required to generate my 1000 watt-hrs.

4. Since my food Calories most come from the food industry, fossil fuels are used to fertilize, cultivate, harvest and transport my food. According to, the energy efficiency is roughly x3. So my store food would require roughly 12,000 Calories or 48,000 Btu or 0.34 gal of diesel or 0.38 gal of gasoline.

This is actually a bit of a surprise to me that my bike ride directly required so much fossil fuel!!!

Besides fuel for my body engine, I should consider other energy related costs for the ride. JD give me a ride in his Toyota Prius to the ride start in Elmira. My guess is we drove 100 miles at 50 mpg; so we used 2 gal. of gasoline.

Afterwards I took a hot shower, which used 20 gal of water heated from 50F to 110F. This required 8000 Btu. Since I heated the water with electricity that uses coal at about 30% efficiency, my ride required about 3 lbs of coal to clean me afterwards.

A full energy analysis should probably include additional energy costs including: energy used in the manufacturing and marketing of my over $4000 cost of cycling gear (bike, Garmin, Powertap, shorts, jersey, shoes, etc). Perhaps I should consider my full energy footprint (240 kwh/per day for the typical American), deduct whatever percent can be fairly considered a positive productive benefit to others in the world and consider all or some portion of the balance to be the energy footprint of my ride.

My point is even as a cyclist I use a substantial amount of energy for my sport and life. As may be obvious from reading this, I have spent some time thinking about our energy needs, more ideas which are presented on a website here:


More particularly regarding the ride, there was an obvious impact of gas development in Bradford County, though my view was somewhat different from John Dennis. I would view the negative impact of gas development as something to be definitely minimized but also accepted as part of our modern lifestyle, just as roads and electric transmission lines are accepted. The positive clearly outweighs the negative.
More particularly, I thought the roads were actually improved over my visit last year. It seems a bit irresponsible to suggest with no evidence whatsoever that "residual waste" from well drilling is being spread on the roads as a binder.
Certainly GK's situation with his well water is a concern. With regards to his well water, after the ride I contacted Todd Walter, a Cornell hydrologist with access to a water testing lab, who indicated he will be interested in obtaining a water sample to help further investigate the water contamination issue.
Milt Taam
Town of Caroline
July 11, 2011
Dear Mr. Cathles, 

I found the reports prepared by your students to be very informative. It was refreshing to read educational material about our energy choices which was factual and science based. The approach of looking at this as a local community issue with a range of solutions really helps to bring our energy choices into perspective which the average person can relate to. We all need energy to heat our homes, for transportation, and to support our many industries and businesses. There are a limited number of options currently available to provide this energy, and the group's work was very helpfull in terms of comparing those options and putting them into a comparable perspective.

Congratulations to you and the group on a job well done!

Paul Speranza, P.E.
Endicott, NY
May 12, 2011 
Dear Dr. Cathles and Students of EAS 4010/5010:
I recently ran across your EAS 4010/5010 Combined Final Presentations on the Internet and I wanted to congratulate all of you on a fine job. I reviewed your data, calculations and analysis and was very impressed with both the accuracy and lack of bias.
I wanted to add a few comments that you may want to consider going forward in regard to the tax implications and economics of the various options. In particular I refer to the NY property tax implications since some of the project options are considered real property in NY. A single Marcellus well on 80 acres of subsurface might ultimately generate an average of 4 BCF (3MMCF/day first year and declining rapidly thereafter) over its life which amounts to approximately $1 million of local combined NY county, school, town property taxes (varies by local tax rates of course) much of which is front-loaded in the first few years of the well. An 8-well pad (4-5 acres) would then yield approximately $8 million in local property tax as well as $32 million in local landowner royalty (assuming $4/mcf and 1/8 royalty). The real property taxes are paid by the well operator and not the landowner although the landowner will then be taxed on the royalty income. The ad-valorem taxation of oil and gas production is quite straightforward in NY and computed as simply the unit of production rate established by the office of real property times the amount of production to obtain the yearly assessment and then the local tax rates applied to that yearly assessment.
The relative contributions to taxes for wind and solar would be more difficult to quantify but are likely de-minimus. Section 487 of the NY State Real Property Law provides a 15 year real property tax exemption for wind and solar. The exemption is optional for a local government but naturally no wind farm operator is going to erect a wind-farm without the exemption so it is in reality a de-facto tax exemption in contract to the mandatory tax assessment of oil and gas operations.
I agree with your calculations of wind surface impact and I think one should think about whether 700 windmills 400 foot tall with their associated foundations, roads and transmission lines would have any acceptability in the Finger Lakes region. I doubt it.
These are all real costs and benefits that you may want to further evaluate and which I think further enhance the economics of shale gas development over the other alternatives.
Also, in reality the AES coal fired plant would unlikely be converted to natural gas although it is an interesting theoretical exercise. I am not sure if you aware of it but the AES plant was retrofitted in 1995 with “clean coal” technology that was being developed at the time including flue gas desulphurization (FGD), burners to reduce NOx emissions and new electrostatic precipitators. So converting the plant to natural gas is unlikely. However older plants such as the recently closed AES Dresden, NY facility may have conversion potential.  
I think former Cornell chair of geological sciences Jack Oliver who passed away just this year would be proud of your work. Jack, a collaborator with all stakeholders including industry, always sought to understand, improve upon and understand processes. He led Cornell’s geological science department from relative obscurity in the 1960s to that of a top 10 geological science department during his leadership. It appears that you are all continuing in that tradition. I only wish that more of such leadership and collaboration at solving problems was evident within the current Cornell faculty. Your work is certainly a step in the right direction and I hope it gains widespread recognition.
Scott C., Stanley, NY
BS geological science
MS, PhD Petroleum Engineering


May 9, 2011
RE: Tompkins County Energy Study
Ms. Laura Bowler
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14830
Dear Ms. Bowler,
As one of the solar alternatives in your study did you consider using tracking solar dishes with concentrated solar photovoltaics?  It seems that the 40% efficiency of CPV would have been much better than the 9% efficiency of thin film.  This approach was suggested at an MIT presentation by Roger Angel as cost competitive at current rates. (see last 1/3 of video)
An ultra low cost, two-axis, dish concentrator is currently in the public domain and was described by Amory Lovins at "Reinventing Fire", an April 11 pitch to investors in Seattle, as "the most cost effective solar energy technology in the world".
It would seem that in capturing the waste heat from the PVs into storage tanks of Isentropic's technology that the efficiency could be further boosted to 57% which is the value listed by another report of the Tompkins County study for the coal/steam-turbine/generator alternative.  (see my email to Isentropic and press release attached).  Use of the Isentropic technology would also provide a storage option.  If wind was included as a hybrid alternative the heat tanks could be pumped at night.
Professor Cathles may have required that you consider only available technology, but given the 5 year litigation lag time that all solar farms have experienced with opposition lawsuits, the Isentropic technology would certainly be mature by the time construction would begin.  And if not, a fallback position would be to use SustainX by Dartmouth which uses compressed gas instead of heat for energy storage but offers higher round trip efficiency of 94.5%.
By improving the efficiency from 9 % to 57 % the amount of land required for the solar farm would be only one sixth of that required by the approach your team took.
I assume that the reason your study was posted on the Google web site was to encourage some form of peer review.  I would be interested to hear your response.
Dick G.
Class 1970

Thanks very much for the comments which seem uite sound to me and are an interesting contribution to the discussion.
I did not steer the students in what they could consider.  Concentrating solar should be on the table for sure.  If you don't mind we can add your comments to our website.
Best wishes,
Larry Cathles


Apr 29, 2011
Regarding a recent Ithaca Journal article I have a few questions.
1) Why dismiss conservation efforts? Even if conservation only reduced use by 20% that is 20% less energy we need to produce = less pollution etc.
2) Why is hydro considered to be a small opportunity? With the numbers of year round flowing waterways it would seem that hydro and micro-hydro could provide significant opportunities.
3) What about placing solar (or wind) on AES / old NYSEG sites. These sites are already ugly and vast. The sites of the old NYSEG and current AES fly ash dumps are what I am thinking of.
4) What is the percentage of AES generated power that is used in this area? I thought that much of their generation capacity went out of the area.

And then a comment - thank goodness the nuclear option was never built. Instead of fly ash dumps we would have had spent fuel rod pits.

-- Joyce L.
Then she was the dangerous performer........ striding up and down the carpet in the spike heels, flinging provocative ideas like handfuls of colored jelly beans into their black ranks" Gail Godwin 

1. I think conservation is important. But when you mention 20% conservation, where would you suggest the other 80% come from?
2. Local hydro as a generation source is worthwhile, but would generate less that one percent of our electric needs. As we mentioned, hydro seems to have more possibility as a storage option for wind power.
3. I think siting hydro on a water storage reservoir is an interesting options. I don't know if there is enough space on the AES site.
4. I think most of the AES power is used locally. We get some electric power from Niagara Falls, as well as share  power with other electric generating plants in the region on a give and take basis for grid stability and reliability.

Thanks for your questions. I'm interested in any other thoughts you may have on the issue.