Day 3: Lake water cooling, hydro power, coming into Pennsylvania and our first sighting of fracking

Hi, this is Matt!

So after two successful days we woke up at the crack of dawn to leave the hospitality of Ren’s house, and the friendship of Ben and Alice, to continue our exploration of fracking and our trip into Pennsylvania. On the road we brushed off fatigue and looked out at the beautiful scenery of Ithaca, NY as we road to the Lake Source Cooling facility on Cayuga lake. Arriving early, we briefly got to kill some time skipping rocks on the lake.

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Then we got into the meat and potatoes, the nuts and bolts of a complicated process that was both incredibly simple and overwhelmingly complex. Lake source cooling centers around the philosophy of working with nature, using nature to do the work for you instead of trying to force nature to work for you, and this was incredibly cool to me.

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To put it simply, all year round the majority of the lake (below 80 feet) retains the cold of winter while a small portion of the lakes surface is heated by the spring and summer weather. So, the facility uses piping to pull cold water from the bottom of the lake and send it through piping to the university. The cold water is then circulated through university buildings and absorbs the heat of the summer months. The hot water is then sent back down to into the lake and is released at a shallow end. Also, this is entirely a closed system, so the elevation of the piping creates a natural siphon that creates most of the force necessary to move the water to and from the lake. However, the devil is in the details. The precise physics in moving the massive quantities of water involved in this process and ensuring that everything runs smoothly is something that is way over my head.  However, Lanny Joyce did an amazing job explaining the process to us!

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All together, though, this is an incredibly efficient and green system that utilizes the unique local environment of Cayuga lake to solve man’s problems. I think one of the best things about this project is the example it sets for a new kind of philosophy in utilizing technology to benefit humanity: working with nature while protecting instead of against it. And best of all this approach has proved incredibly successful.

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After this our team headed to the combined heat & Power Plant at Cornell. We took a walk on the other side of the fence and learned about the efficiency of burning natural gas compared to burning coal, especially when using the combined heat and power technique. If I remember correctly, this technique captures the heat the would be expelled during the normal process of burning natural gas and use it to create more energy. Altogether making a more efficient process leading to less energy expenditure and less emissions. While I personally would be more happy to see more of a switch from gas to renewable, even if the gas is used more efficiently, it was very interesting to learn the about the process of using natural gas and coming to terms with the reality that we have to use it, it was comforting to know that we are using it as efficiently as possible.  Shout out to Tim Peer, our excellent guide through the Central Energy Plant, where we got to wear hard helmets!

Next we got to visit Cornell’s Hydro electric plant!

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We got to learn the tech behind the the power, and see the machinery first hand. Amazingly enough the plant is still using the original pipping from 100 years ago!

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Next we hit up the politics behind the scene in New York, talking to one of the youngest elected councilman who is taking a stand to stop fracking in New York. Dominic was an inspiring speaker. He spoke of background, his inspiration for joining politics and his current work in New York. As a 22 year old international relations student, interested in sustainable development and joining the peace corps our meeting today was somewhat of an awakening moment for me as I think about the future. It was very refreshing to see someone around my own age getting involved in politics and making a difference, here and now. Too often I feel the game of politics is left to older generations, and defined as a place of realism, where as I think it can become and a place for the practical application of idealism.

Finally, we arrived in Pennsylvania. We are in the real countryside now, a big change from Washington DC, and it feels good and comforting. We’re staying at a local’s house, Frank Perry, who is involved in the anti-fracking movement. As soon as we got to the Frank’s we unpacked and decided to go on a hike in the woods behind his house. After about a 10 minute hike we moved to the top of a hill to see the bright yellow orange flare of a fracking well burning in the distance. We had really arrived in Pennsylvania, the heart of the fracking controversy.

In process of completion, will finish tomorrow

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One response to “Day 3: Lake water cooling, hydro power, coming into Pennsylvania and our first sighting of fracking”

  1. Shoshanna says :

    This makes me so happy!!!! I’m so glad you are learning a lot, reflecting and having fun. Yay for Alt Breaks at AU!

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