The stillness of the air across the Great Lakes during Thanksgiving week made us think of James Burke's fabulous documentary series ''Connections'' from 30-some years ago. Those of you old enough to have seen and been fascinated by the series remember that Burke wove the threads of seemingly unconnected technological developments to show the genesis of today's technology.
We agree the connection between what we saw in the calm and warm weather of Thanksgiving week and a recently announced plan by the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities is not nearly as complicated as connections Burke drew. Do you remember the episode that showed the connection between the invention of the cannon and the development of the movie projector?
In any case, the point is the same: the development of technology is connected, but not usually in a predictable and straight line.
What we saw at Thanksgiving was that, until a weather front with snow and wind moved in at the end of the week, the electric-generating wind turbines along the lakeshore from Buffalo to Cleveland were still. There was little to no wind for several days that week and so whatever power those turbines usually produced was missing from the electric grids.
There is a connection to the Jamestown BPU board's proposal to look to convert one of the utility's coal-fired boilers to run on natural gas to produce electricity. The conversion is projected to cost $2.2 million, which the BPU will fund and expect to recoup over time in payments from the New York Independent System Operator for maintaining the generating capacity.
The unit would be capable of producing about 12 megawatts and would serve as an on-demand backup to the 43-megawatt LM6000 natural gas turbine. That unit is usually put into service during months of the year when electricity use is the greatest.
As David Leathers, general manager of the BPU, explains, the demands on the BPU and the electric grid in Western New York shoots up primarily in the winter, but also in the summer months. At times, the Jamestown utility needs as much as 100 megawatts to meet the energy needs of its customers.
Instead of pulling the entire load from the region's electric grid, the BPU's LM6000 natural gas turbine is used to generate some of the extra electricity. This is done deliberately and to ease the burden on the grid at a time when demand for electricity is high all throughout Western New York.
Playing into all of this, too, is the BPU's concerns about the electricity import limitations - or reliability exposures - at the BPU Dow Street inter-connect with the Western New York grid if its natural gas turbine is out of commission.
To get back to where we started, the connection we see is that as the BPU transitions away from coal to more diversified energy, the technology is not yet there to leap all the way to purely "green" energy - wind, for example. Even this past week there were days when the wind along the Lake Erie shore was not strong enough to move the turbines. Electricity had to be generated in some other way. Right now, technology is such that the ''other way'' is with cleaner-burning and affordable natural gas.
So for now, there is no doubt that having natural gas powering a converted coal boiler in Jamestown clearly is an economical and logical way to ensure the BPU service area always has the power it needs.
Meanwhile, as James Burke showed us, technology will continue to evolve and develop, probably in ways we cannot imagine or predict.
Some day, some other form of energy we have not even considered may be the better answer.