Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hats Off: Matt Wald on Transmission

Kudos to Matt Wald for today's excellent article in the New York Times on transmission and why it is needed for wind power to reach its full potential in the United States. This is a central electricity issue facing the next Administration.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Wind Power Factory Watch: Colorado Cashes In

Well, I'm pretty much stupefied by lack of sleep, but ought to write something nonetheless about today's press event at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. It took place in front of a 131-foot-long, made-in-Colorado wind turbine blade, which provided a spectacular, if camera-angle-challenging, backdrop symbolizing the new manufacturing jobs that wind power is bringing across America.

Notables present included Roby Roberts, Senior Vice President of External Relations for turbine manufacturer Vestas; Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, U.S. Representatives Mark Udall and Ed Perlmutter, and American Wind Energy Association Executive Director Randall Swisher. You can read the Vestas press release here.

In recent days, Vestas has announced plans for two additional plants in Colorado, and now expects to have four plants operating by 2010 with more than 2,000 employees.

The positive ingredients in this success story? Colorado's strong Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), passed by the state's voters at the polls in November, 2004, and the federal wind energy production tax credit. With a national RES (more than half of the states have already passed one) and a long-term extension of the production tax credit, we could all be seeing the powerful wind job-creating machine at work.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Wind Power Comes to Climate-Changed Forest

A wind farm or two has been built on abandoned strip-mine land, and there's one in Buffalo, Steel Winds, built on the grounds of a sprawling, shuttered steel mill, but a new wind project in British Columbia may be the first in the equally starkly symbolic location of a climate-changed forest.

The wind farm will be located on Dokie Ridge west of Chetwynd, B.C., in a forest that is currently being devastated by the pine beetle, whose range is thought to be changing due to a warming climate.

Too bad we all didn't get started on renewable energy years ago. Let's make up for lost time.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Wind Powering New York City?

Big press day yesterday at AWEA, with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg calling for Gotham to be powered by renewable energy, including wind. (The best headline I saw was in the New York Daily News: "Big Green Apple.")

The mayor deserves a big hand for recognizing the need (making a transition to renewable energy) and spotlighting it at an important location--a Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas with a number of dignitaries in attendance. New York is one of the untold stories of the U.S. wind boom, with several sizable wind farms opening upstate over the past few years. Currently, the Empire state ranks 9th in the nation in installed wind generating capacity, with a number of hard-pressed rural counties reaping the benefits in new jobs and tax revenue, and it has the resources, both onshore and offshore, to do much more.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

U.S. Wind Seen Increasing 7-Fold by 2020

Earth2Tech notes a recent report from Emerging Energy Research (EER) that forecasts that installed U.S. wind power capacity could reach 150,000 megawatts by 2020 (up from approximately 20,000 today). That would be more wind power than is installed today in the entire world (94,000 MW as of the end of 2007, according to the Global Wind Energy Council). Such an increase would mean tens of thousands of new construction and manufacturing jobs across the U.S.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Commentary: Denmark Takes a Backward Step

After two decades of success with wind, Svend Auken, vice president of the Danish Parliament, informs us in a letter to the New York Times that Denmark's greenhouse gas emissions are once more on the rise, due to government backsliding:
The current conservative government slammed on the brakes when it took over in December 2001. In a free-market, climate-skeptic spree, it canceled three offshore wind farms, abolished government schemes for energy conservation, slashed research in renewables and recently abolished Denmark’s historic freeze on coal-fired power stations.
What a shame.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Commentary: EnergyBiz Insider on Natural Gas

A few reactions to comments from the August 13 issue of the electronic publication EnergyBiz Insider:
"Natural gas producers don't need special subsidies," says Marc Smith, executive director of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States.
Well, heck, no. On the other hand, the price of natural gas has roughly quadrupled over the past seven years. That money isn't coming from taxpayers--it's coming from utility customers, for heat and electricity.
"The good news is that these new state-of-the-art gas-fired plants are clean and efficient and they can be located in urban and suburban areas adjacent to the electric load," says David Manning, executive vice president for U.S. external affairs at the National Grid."
True. On the other hand, their fuel does not magically appear where it's burned--instead, it depends upon an extensive system of pipelines to transport the gas from remote areas where it is produced to the cities where it is used.
Proponents of additional drilling rights say that the two causes do not contradict one another. Advances in technology and safety mean that exploration is safer and less noticeable than ever before. They also say that natural gas does not compete with renewable energy, noting that two are destined to grow in tandem. Wind and solar power are intermittent and must therefore have a back-up energy source.
Agreed, wind/solar and natural gas are natural partners. Gas plants have flexible output that can be turned up and down as needed to follow the variable patterns of electricity demand during the day, or the variable patterns of wind generation.

Still, it's not quite right to say that wind "must have a back-up energy source." Every power plant, whether it's wind, nuclear, coal or gas, must have a backup source, because no power plant operates 100% of the time. What is true is that conventional fueled power plants are needed to meet "peak load"--periods of peak customer demand. Wind's great strengths are that it saves fuel (helping to moderate the impact of fuel price swings) and that it cuts greenhouse gas emissions.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Wind Power Factory Watch: Colorado

Given the growing stagnation in the U.S. economy (inflation increasing, wages slipping, unemployment growing), it's great to see the wind power industry continuing to boom and add new manufacturing jobs. The latest announcement comes from Vestas, which said today that it will build two new factories in Colorado that will support 1,350 new jobs.

Folks, the writing is on the wall: wind power means new U.S. manufacturing jobs. With the dollar weak, transportation costs soaring due to high oil prices, and most of all, the fact that the U.S. is likely to be the world's premier market for wind, no company that aspires to be a player in the global wind energy business can afford not to be making products here.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Wind Power Booms, Still Threatened

August 5, 2008 Contact:
Christine Real de Azua (202) 383-2508


U.S. now leads world in wind energy generation but delay in extending federal tax credit places 2009 project pipeline on hold, discourages manufacturing investment

U.S. wind farms now generate more electricity than any other nation in the world and are on track to expand by over 45% this year, but the expiration of the federal production tax credit (PTC) less than five months from now threatens this spectacular progress, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) said today in its second quarter market report.

“The U.S. is now the world’s largest wind energy producer, with wind development sparking job creation and economic opportunity in a troubled economy,” said AWEA Executive Director Randall Swisher. “But the current figures hide a dire reality: the pipeline of investment for 2009 has been on hold for months, with escalating risks and costs for the industry, because of the uncertainty about the production tax credit. At a time when unemployment is at a 4-year high and the economy needs every stimulus it can get, a rapid extension of the credit should be on any economic priority list for Congress.”

The U.S. is now the world leader in wind electricity generation. While Germany still has more generating capacity installed (about 23,000 megawatts), the U.S. is producing more electricity from wind because of its much stronger winds.

Total U.S. installed wind power capacity now stands at 19,549 megawatts (MW). The industry installed 1,194 MW in the second quarter, down from 1,532 MW during the first. This brings the year’s new capacity to 2,725 MW, more than was installed in any year except 2007. More is under construction for completion either by the end of this year or the beginning of next year, depending on when the PTC is extended. Uncertainty regarding the PTC is causing a rush to complete projects by the end of the year, with increased risks and costs for the industry and eventually for customers. Under the best-case scenario for the industry, Congress will move quickly in September to extend the credit and the pressure will be eased for immediate project completion while reopening the pipeline for 2009. Under that scenario, AWEA projects at least 7,500 MW of new capacity to be added in 2008.

AWEA also reports a strong increase in domestic investment in wind turbine and wind turbine component manufacturing facilities over the past year and a half. At least 41 facilities have been announced, opened, or expanded over that period of time. These facilities will create over 9,000 jobs when they are at full capacity. Uncertainty about the PTC threatens that level of investment as well.

“It’s clear that wind power is not only a major technology with which to fight climate change, but also one of the most promising and dynamic economic engines we have today,” said Swisher. “The nation needs an ambitious plan to promote the deployment of wind and other renewable energy technologies—and the urgent first step it must take is to rapidly extend the expiring renewable energy credits, which are the primary incentive that the nation provides for these technologies today.”

The report is available on the AWEA Web site.

Wind Turbines and Epilepsy ... Not

One of the stranger accusations sometimes leveled at wind projects is that the flickering shadows from wind turbines' rotating blades can trigger seizures in epileptic individuals. Here and here are useful resources that refute this myth.

More generally, shadow flicker is a very well-known phenomenon that occurs seasonally when the sun is very low in the sky (casting longer shadows). Determining the number of hours in a year that a property neighboring a wind farm will experience flicker, and exactly where, is a straightforward calculation. Noble Environmental Power, a wind developer, has developed an excellent fact sheet on shadow flicker. Here is what it says on epilepsy:
Is there a connection between shadow flicker and epilepsy?

No. Shadow flicker from wind turbines cannot trigger epileptic seizures in individuals suffering from photosensitivity, as some opponents have claimed. The frequency, or the number of times something happens per second, is measured in Hertz (Hz). Shadow flicker from wind turbines has a frequency between 0.5 Hz and 1.25 Hz, which is equivalent to between 1 to approximately 1.25 alternations per second. This is well below the range of frequencies that can trigger epileptic seizures, which is 5 to 30 Hz, according to the American Epilepsy Foundation. Thus, shadowing from wind turbines poses absolutely no threat to the health of people with epilepsy or other individuals who are photosensitive.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Wind Power and Water Worries

This Scranton (Pa.) Times article underscores an important but little-mentioned advantage of wind power: it uses no water. Why is that important? Sample quotes:
Energy use already accounts for a majority of the water consumed in the Susquehanna River Basin, which drains a wide section of Pennsylvania and parts of New York and Maryland.

Experts forecast that water consumed by energy projects in the basin could double by 2025 as new uses emerge, including:

■ Upgrades to increase generating capacity at Susquehanna Units 1 and 2 by 13 percent each during 2008-2010.

■ The possible third nuclear reactor at the Susquehanna plant.

■ Proposed ethanol plants in Lackawanna, Lancaster and Schuylkill counties.

■ New air scrubbers and cooling towers installed at power plants to meet federal emissions rules.

■ The water-intensive drilling of wells as the Marcellus Shale becomes the new locus of exploration for natural gas companies.

You can get the full lowdown on this issue from a Wind Powering America fact sheet, The Wind-Water Nexus. Very impressive.

Thoughtful Piece on Wind and Nuclear

Hats off to Jean Marbella of the Baltimore Sun for this thoughtful column on local resistance to the siting of wind power plants. A "think piece" in the best sense of the word. Sample excerpt:
Concerns remain over how the turbines would affect the vistas from Ocean City and other beaches - strange concerns, I think, given the neon-lit and Big Peckers-type of bars and amusements that already mar our coastline - but surely they would be a small price to pay for the state not going dark in the coming years from a predicted shortage of electricity.

Dramatic Video Features Wind

Irish hurling causes a wind farm to over-produce in this imaginative sports drink video.


Monday, August 11, 2008

When You Hear About Wind Subsidies ...

... Here is a useful factoid to keep in mind:

It took nuclear power 10 years to go from <0.1% to 1% of U.S. electricity generation, then an additional 23 years to go from 1% to 20% (23 years sounds a lot like 20% wind by 2030, and wind is at just over 1% today). This achievement by nuclear power occurred with essentially full government support, R&D (research & development) incentives of approximately $50-60 billion over that period (in 2003$), plus the government limiting the financial liability from a major accident through the Price-Anderson Act.

Today, nuclear power is a valuable and significant part of the U.S. electric power system, but it's important to understand that its development did not come about solely through free market forces. Substantial and persistent government assistance played a critical role.

What Happens When the Atom Doesn't Split?

One of the favorite whipping boys of anti-wind commentators is wind's variability: "What happens when the wind doesn't blow?"

As this news item makes clear, no power plant runs all of the time. Utility system operators must be prepared to compensate for the loss of one or more generating plants to balance supply and demand and ensure that the lights stay on.

Important excerpt:
Aug. 9--The Tennessee Valley Authority shut down Browns Ferry Unit 1 on Friday after reducing it and the other two units to half power Thursday.

TVA also shut down Watts Bar Nuclear Plant on Thursday after dropping it to half power Wednesday.

Of six nuclear plants in the TVA system, only two -- both at Sequoyah -- are operating at full power. Systemwide, TVA's nuclear power generation is at half-mast.

TVA took Browns Ferry Unit 1 offline Friday at 5:30 a.m. because of a steam leak in the thermal well, one of the devices that tracks the temperature of steam in the main steam tunnel.

Given a situation like this, talk about wind's "unreliability" must be viewed with a grain of salt.


Friday, August 08, 2008

Fact Check: Backup Power

From Eric Garretson of Lake Forest, Calif., comes a letter to the Orange County Register that includes this passage:
Wind power is a viable source to a point, but there is a problem with wind because sometimes it stops blowing. What do you do then? You need a 100 percent source of energy backup with coal, gas or nuclear source to make up the difference when the wind turbines are off-line.

This is true of every power plant. Sometimes it is out of service for repairs or maintenance, and other power plants are used to supply customer demand.

More broadly:

- Wind power is variable, but so is customer demand for electricity. It varies throughout the day, and utility system operators turn power plants on or off as needed to balance supply and demand. Wind power can supply 20% or more of the total electricity on a system without adding significantly to normal variability.

- Wind power is variable, and therefore is not an efficient way to meet peak electricity demand. The following very simplified example cases are designed to illustrate this:

Case 1: You have 1,000 MW of load and 1,000 MW of conventional generation. You add 200 MW of wind. You don’t need any additional conventional generation.

Case 2: You have 1,400 MW of load and 1,000 MW of conventional generation. You add 200 MW of wind. You still need 400 MW (roughly) of conventional generation. Since in Case 1, we know that wind can be added without the need for additional “backup,” the reason you need 400 MW of conventional generation is actually to meet peak loads.

In both cases, adding 200 MW of wind reduces fuel combustion and greenhouse gas emissions—addressing two of the most serious problems with our current electricity supply system (fuel price spikes and global warming). For example, adding 200 MW of wind to the average U.S. utility mix results in a reduction in emissions of 380,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually, equivalent to taking 58,000 vehicles off the road. Looking through the other end of the telescope, we could say: "It's fine to add conventional generators to meet peak load, but you still need wind power to protect against fuel price spikes and reduce global warming pollution."


Case 1: Depending on the fuel mix of the system, additional conventional generation might be required. A system with heavy reliance on nuclear and, to a lesser extent, coal would not have much “flexibility” and might need more quick-response hydro or gas generators to deal with wind’s variability.

Case 2: Adding 200 MW of wind does make it slightly easier to meet peak load, so a few megawatts less than 400 (perhaps as little as 350) of conventional generation might be needed to balance the system.

More on Texas Wind Farm

Yesterday, I noted the approval of a major wind project on the Texas Gulf Coast. Interested readers can learn much more about the tussle over this project from this excellent article at NewEnergyNews.

Fact Check: Washington Post Plays Up Alleged Wind Flaws

A story by Anita Kumar for the Washington Post on wind power in Virginia plays up concerns, with this opening:
RICHMOND - Miles of mountain ridges hugging the state's western border could hold the key to Virginia's search for alternative energy sources.

That is where developers are looking to build more than 100 wind turbines taller than the Statue of Liberty, side by side, on 18 miles of the George Washington National Forest.

FreedomWorks, a company with projects in four states, wants to generate electricity for the power-hungry Washington area and beyond, despite concerns about disturbing wildlife, spoiling untouched lands, and creating noise and light pollution.

The story goes on to discuss environmental groups' worry about wind projects, while giving Virginia's current energy use this offhand mention:
More than half of Virginia's energy comes from coal, a third from nuclear and a small amount from gas, oil and other sources.

There is no mention of any environmental issues or concerns connected with coal or other energy sources--even though those issues dwarf the alleged problems with wind, and even though wind combats those problems, by reducing global warming pollution, air pollution, water pollution, water use for power generation, and more.

The Post is a great newspaper. It can do better.

Fact Check: Misleading EIA Study of Energy Subsidies

Today's Watertown (N.Y.) Daily News contains a letter from John Droz, Jr., who describes himself as "a physicist and energy expert." In proceeding to attack wind power, Mr. Droz says in part:
The U.S. Energy Information Administration recently concluded that: "Wind power is subsidized to the tune of $23 per megawatt-hour. By contrast, normal coal receives 44 cents per megawatt-hour, natural gas 25 cents, hydroelectric 67 cents, and nuclear power $1.59."

The EIA study is misleading, comparing current subsidies for wind with those for technologies that have been around for decades and are fully mature. It does not look at the subsidies those technologies received during the early years of their development. A further analysis of this report can be found here.

Mr. Droz also repeats the canard that wind power does not reduce carbon dioxide emissions:
Wind power is one of the absolute worst alternative sources of electrical energy. It is a trivial saver of carbon dioxide, uneconomic on its own and an environmental violator.

But it does reduce carbon dioxide emissions, enormously, as documented in the U.S. Department of Energy's 20% Wind by 2030 Technical Report. According to that report, if wind generates 20% of U.S. electricity in 2030, it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the electric sector by 25% in that year.

I'm not sure what sort of energy Mr. Droz is an expert in, but it isn't wind power.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

Good News Dept: Wind Farm Approved in Texas

HOUSTON, Aug. 7 /eMediaWorld/ -- Babcock & Brown, a leader in wind energy, today announced that a federal court in Texas dismissed a final lawsuit, clearing the path to bring wind energy to South Texas.

Babcock & Brown's wind farm on the Texas Gulf Coast, which will provide enough clean and renewable energy to power 80,000 Texas homes, will be completed and operational later this year. The wind farm is located on the property of the Kenedy Memorial Foundation, a non-profit organization that will utilize the royalties to support charitable purposes in South Texas.

Read more here.

Excellent Video on Wind

This very well done 9-minute video is from Puget Sound Energy, an investor-owned utility.

Fact Check: Minyanville Analysis of Wind Power

An article by Jill Delender on green energy sources (nuclear, wind and solar) from Minyanville, which appears to be an investing advice site, contains a number of factual errors about wind:
In 2007, the US added 5,243 megawatts of wind power to its electric grid, the largest amount ever added by a single country in a single year. Globally, wind power has increased almost fivefold from 2000 to 2007.

Despite this increase, wind only accounts for 1% of worldwide electricity use and 5% of US energy.

Actually, wind accounts for about 1% of both world and U.S. electricity use.
This may be due to the fact that modern turbines are massive and cost-prohibitive, making smaller facilities unviable.

This is incorrect. Larger turbines are more cost-effective. Industry is not making them just for fun, but because the amount of energy a turbine can capture from the wind is a function of the rotor's swept area, and a small increase in blade length leads to a large increase in swept area. Also, wind speeds increase with altitude, and large turbines stand higher off the ground.

All other things being equal, small wind facilities are less economical than large ones because "balance of plant" expenses (such as equipment to connect to the utility system) can be spread over a larger number of turbines.
Not having to pay fuel costs for wind is a perk, but the level of subsidies, the paucity of energy needs met and the uncertain financial return of wind projects make wind power inferior to other energy sources.

This is incorrect. First, all energy sources are subsidized. Second, nuclear power enjoyed enormous subsidies during its early years of development. Third, wind projects are having no problems obtaining financing.
Wind power doesn’t displace fossil fuel’s generating capacity on a one-to-one basis. And some say it doesn’t actually reduce carbon dioxide emissions, because its inconsistent output keeps it dependent on fossil fuel plants.

Some do indeed say that, but they are mistaken. The purpose of an article such as this one should be to distinguish between facts and misinformation. It is quite true that wind power doesn't displace fossil fuel generating capacity on a one-for-one basis. But it does reduce carbon dioxide emissions, enormously, as documented in the U.S. Department of Energy's 20% Wind by 2030 Technical Report. According to that report, if wind generates 20% of U.S. electricity in 2030, it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the electric sector by 25% in that year.
Many environmentalists, as well as politicians like Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, have raised objections to wind power on environmental grounds - particularly since wooded land may be cleared to accommodate wind farms, destroying trees and displacing wildlife.

This is a trivial issue compared with wind's benefits in reducing mining and drilling, global warming pollution, air pollution, water pollution, and water use for power generation.