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Wind

No free lunch

The Washington Post has a good article about the tough decisions that face lawmakers and renewable energy system planners regarding wildlife protection, other environmental concerns, and economic feasibility. It highlights a new transmission line, the SunZia line, that would connect New Mexico's renewable energy potential in wind and solar with Arizona's large cities' demand for electricity. The line would provide additional electricity to consumers that would prevent the need for new coal-fired plants, but its location threatens wildlife - its path is set to cross the Rio Grande, acres of grassland, and go along two national wildlife refuges.

One of the biggest challenges renewable-energy projects pose is that they often take up much more land than conventional sources, such as coal-fired power plants. A team of scientists, several of whom work for the Nature Conservancy, has written a paper that will appear in the journal PLoS One showing that it can take 300 times as much land to produce a given amount of energy from soy biodiesel as from a nuclear power plant. Regardless of the climate policy the nation adopts, the paper predicts that by 2030, energy production will occupy an additional 79,537 square miles of land.

The impact will be "substantial," said Jimmie Powell, the Nature Conservancy's national energy leader and one of the paper's co-authors. "It's important to know where the footprint is going to be."

In some cases, scientists are just beginning to discover the unintended effect of projects such as wind turbines. Grassland birds such as the lesser prairie chicken and the greater sage grouse, both of which are candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act, appear to avoid vertical structures such as wind turbines and transmission-line towers. This is proving to be a problem in states such as Kansas, an ideal site for wind power, because as more turbines are built, lesser prairie chickens will confine themselves to narrow ranges, fragmenting a population that must be connected to survive.

The more impacts and effects that are taken into account, the harder solving these problems seems to be.

Renewable Energy's Environmental Paradox

Study evaluates clean energy technologies and declares winners

And the winner is wind! According to a study done by Mark Z. Jacobsen, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, wind the cleanest of the "clean energy" technologies. Other winners, in order, are concentrated solar (the use of mirrors to heat a fluid), geothermal, tidal, solar photovoltaics (rooftop solar panels), wave, and hydroelectric. The losers include biofuels, nuclear, and "clean coal," which Jacobsen says are not nearly as clean as currently touted.

Not a huge surprise, but he used an apparently new method:

Jacobson has conducted the first quantitative, scientific evaluation of the proposed, major, energy-related solutions by assessing not only their potential for delivering energy for electricity and vehicles, but also their impacts on global warming, human health, energy security, water supply, space requirements, wildlife, water pollution, reliability and sustainability.

For more information, see:

Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security
Wind, Water, and Sun Beat Biofuels, Nuclear, and Coal for Clean Energy
Stanford University Professor - Mark Z Jacobsen

16 Buck Wind Turbine

Here's a great story about a kid in Malawi who built a wind turbine to provide electricity for his house and village on only an initial investment of $16.

German Wind Energy Commercial

Check out this German commercial for wind energy. It's hilarious.

Anti-wind, pro-coal

GreenJobs reports that Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) (hmm, I'm sure it's just coincidence that he's from coal-laden West Virginia) of the House Natural Resources Committee has introduced a new bill that is extremely hostile towards new and existing wind projects. The bill would require a cumbersome certification process by the Fish and Wildlife Service that would (in the words of the American Wind Energy Association):

Bar any new wind power project until new Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) rules are issued – a process likely to take years – and require FWS certification of every turbine * Require all existing turbines, even small residential units, to cease operating 6 months after issuance of new FWS rules until they are “certified,” an unwieldy bureaucratic process applying to many thousands of turbines that, again, will take years * Make it a crime, punishable by a $50,000 fine or a year in jail, to construct or generate electricity from an unapproved turbine, even for home use * Undermine state and federal efforts to promote renewable electricity generation and subvert the growing movement to reduce global warming pollution * Create an unworkable bureaucracy that will delay clean, emissions-free wind energy projects throughout the U.S.

Hopefully, this bill won't go anywhere, especially in light of promises to fight global warming by the House leadership.Meanwhile, the NY Times reports there is bipartisan support for federal subsidies for coal-to-liquid fuel plants. Dick Gephardt has even been signed on as a lobbyist for Peabody Energy, a major coal producer.

NAS on Wind Farms

Matthew L. Wald has a story in May 4's New York Times entitled "Wind Farms May Not Lower Air Pollution, Study Suggests." The subtitle is: "A new report says that wind-generated electricity can probably not reduce smog and acid rain but may slow the growth of heat-trapping gases."

Building thousands of wind turbines would probably not reduce the pollutants that cause smog and acid rain, but it would slow the growth in emissions of heat-trapping gases, according to a study released Thursday by the National Academy of Sciences.

The press release for the actual full report from the National Research Council's Committee on Environmental Impacts of Wind Energy Projects says

The committee concluded that use of wind energy to generate electricity probably would not significantly reduce emissions of two other pollutants, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, because current and expected regulations of these are largely based on cap-and-trade programs. The degree to which emissions would be further reduced through special provisions to encourage wind-energy use -- such as set-asides, in which a percentage of emissions allowed under the cap are retired to the extent they can be offset by wind energy -- is uncertain, the committee added.

Though there are caps on these 2 pollutants, I have to think that increasing wind power will allow us to reduce those caps more quickly than if we continue ramping up coal production. The less coal we burn, the cheaper it is for industry to abide by lower caps - therefore nasty emissions will decrease.

As for a popular anti-wind claim, that the turbines kill birds and bats,

Wind facilities can have certain adverse environmental effects on a local or regional level, by damaging habitat and killing birds and bats that fly into turbines. Among birds, the most frequent turbine fatalities are nocturnal, migrating songbirds, probably because of their abundance, the report says. However, the committee saw no evidence that fatalities from existing wind facilities are causing measurable changes in bird populations in the United States. A possible exception is deaths among birds of prey, such as eagles and hawks, near Altamont Pass, Calif. -- a facility with older, smaller turbines that appear more apt to kill such birds than newer turbines are.

Too little information is available to reliably predict how proposed new wind projects in the mid-Atlantic highlands would affect bird populations, the report says. As for bats, turbines placed on ridges -- as many are in the mid-Atlantic region -- appear more likely to kill them than turbines sited elsewhere. In fact, preliminary information indicates that in the mid-Atlantic highlands more bats are killed than expected based on experience with other regions, the committee said. Although scarce data make it hard to say how these deaths affect overall bat populations, the possibility of population effects is significant, especially if more turbines are added, given a general decline in several species of bats in the eastern United States.

Note the results - birds are not impacted outside of one area in California and there is not yet enough evidence (especially on modern turbines) to judge the effect on bat populations.

This study did not look at offshore wind - which may soon be a significant contributer to electricity production. Between Cape Wind in Massachusetts (468 MW) and Texas (at least 150 MW), major offshore wind farms will soon be a reality.

The important thing to remember is that wind power will play a role in the future but it must be coupled with things like energy efficiency and reduced consumption in order to actually decrease greenhouse gas emissions rather than merely slowing the rate of increase.

100% Wind Campus

Nope, not the University of Minnesota but I wanted to take a chance to tout my alma mater a bit. Colorado State University announced that they have committed to making the campus operate 100% on wind power for electricity. This will be done by building a wind farm on university land at the Maxwell Ranch located 30 miles north of Fort Collins, CO. The ranch has a total of 11,600 acres and maintains a herd of Hereford/Angus cross cows.  Capacity will be between 65 and 200 MW. The campus currently uses 16MW peak so there will be spare electricity to sell making this a revenue generator to the tune of about $30 million over the life of the project. The facility will also be used as a research laboratory for wind systems and the ecological and environmental management and integration of them. Area farmers will also be given then opportunity to be involved in the project with turbines located on their land. Supporting information from the Fact Book:

  • Main campus has 579 acres located in Fort Collins, CO, population 134,000
  • There are 24,670 students, 1,460 faculty, 1,378 graduate students, 2,039 admin professionals, 2,035 state classified staff over all campuses (most, by far, are on the main campus)

 

Introducing Green Options!

If you are looking for ways to "green the good life," then start today, because you now have a fantastic tool at your fingertips. Green Options is a site that provides practical, personal information on ways we can all live a more efficient, healthy, and eco-friendly lifestyle. I'm blogging daily there as well, covering the national renewable energy scene.

In addition to a blog hosted by a stable of writers covering issues like green business, politics (the site is strictly nonpartisan), and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) posts, Green Options features a Green Life Guide, discussion forums, daily green news, and other tools.

We haven't even been live for a full month yet, but we're adding more tools all the time and still have more to come. In response to suggestions that we cover more geographic areas then just green living in the United States, we've added a blogger from Israel and may be adding more. And stay tuned for more practical, applicable tools coming out in the near future to help you incorporate renewable energy into your life.

Bush acts on energy efficiency and renewable energy

The Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) office of the US Department of Energy is reporting today that President Bush signed Executive Order 13423 calling for increased energy efficiency in Federal Government operations and increased usage of energy from renewable sources.

Following are summaries of the directives in the order:

  • Agencies must reduce their energy intensity 3% per year or by 30% by 2015 relative to their 2003 baseline.
  • That at least half of mandated renewable energy use come from newer facilities. Agencies are also encouraged to work to have renewable energy sources constructed on agency property.
  • Agencies must reduce their water usage intensity by 2% annually or by 16% by 2015 relative to their 2003 baseline.
  • Requires increased sustainability in goods purchased and used by agencies. This includes requiring paper have at least 20% recycled content, use of bio-based products, and energy efficiency products.
  • Agencies to improve waste management including increasing recycling, reducing use and disposal of toxic materials, and improved waste handling.
  • Ensure that new buildings comply with the Guiding Principles for Federal Leadership in High Performance and Sustainable Buildings. 15% of all Federal buildings are to meet these guidelines by 2015.
  • The fleets reduce petroleum product usage by 2% annually and increase portion of fuel used that is non-petroleum-based (yes, it says non-petroleum instead of renewable) by 10% per year.
  • Increased use of Energy Star products.

Many of the provisions listed above are mandated by the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

CERTs conference summary

The MN CERTs conference was held on Tuesday and Wednesday this week...

 

MN CERTs Local Energy / Local Opportunities

Article Photo

On January 17, 2007 the Minnesota Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) held their annual conference, Local Energy/Local Opportunities, in St. Cloud. CERTs is a program that is funded by several state agencies, private foundations and the University of Minnesota. Here is a brief description of the program from the CERTs web site:

“The Clean Energy Resource Team project is your opportunity to play a role in shaping energy conservation and renewable energy implementation for your region of Minnesota. A growing number of Minnesotans envision an energy future built on using energy wisely and generating energy from local renewable resources like wind, solar, biomass, and even hydrogen from renewable sources. By relying more on community-scale renewable energy resources and energy conservation, communities can help prevent pollution and create local economic development opportunities.”

CONTINUED HERE

 

RES Thursday

The Senate Energy Committee is preparing to debate whether it will beef up the Renewable Energy Objective (requiring utilities to make good faith efforts toward providing x% of their power from renewable technologies) or a Renewable Energy Standard (mandating utilities provide x% of power from renewable energies).

These bills will be discussed in Room 123 of the Capitol at 3:00 on Thursday, 18 Jan, 2007.

According to the Senate Energy Committee schedule they will discuss S.F. 4 and S.F. 74 as well as S.F. 145 and S.F. 129. I have not had a chance to review the 2 latter bills, they appear to be more all-encompassing bills that will establish either a standard or objective while dealing with many other issues as well.

Currently, there are 3 RES/REO-only bills under consideration although 2 of them appear identical to me. I stared at S.F. 4 and S.F. 113 for a good 10 minutes and could not detect any difference between them. Both bills create a RES. The 3rd bill is S.F. 74 and that would beef up the REO.

The Senate bills each change the requirements on small hydro. Previously, hydroelectric generation had to be below 60MW in order to count toward the REO. The new REO or RES would change that to hydroelectric sources below 100MW. The REO and RES both do not count Xcel's mandates from the Prairie Island deals as progress toward the requirement. This remains a signficant additional burden on Xcel which is already the largest purchaser of wind power in the U.S.

The existing statute told the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to weight different renewable energies (so 2 solar credits might equal 1 wind credit) but that will be scrapped in any impending legislation. The PUC found those instructions cumbersome and lacking proper direction.

The bills revise Minnesota Statute 216B.1691. Let's look the beefed up REO first - S.F. 74.

The new REO requires 5% from eligible sources by 2010. From there, 11% is required by 2013, 15% by 2015, and 25% by 2020.

As before, the PUC has the authority to excuse a utility from meeting the REO if it would cause major problems (like increase rates too much).

The commission must delay or modify the standard for an electric utility if it finds that
compliance with a standard is not in the public interest because compliance will either
produce undesirable impacts on the reliability of the utility's system or on the utility's
ratepayers or if it finds that compliance is not technically feasible.

Subdivision 7 covers the compliance issue:

The commission must regularly investigate whether an
electric utility is in compliance with its standard obligation under subdivision 2a and if
it finds noncompliance must order the electric utility to construct facilities or purchase
credits to achieve compliance. If an electric utility fails to comply with an order under
this subdivision, the commission must impose a financial penalty on the electric utility
in an amount of five cents for each kilowatt hour the electric utility is out of compliance
with its standard obligation.

5 cents per kilowatt hour seems a fairly steep penalty. I could have sworn I heard 5 cents per megawatt hour in an energy committee meeting, but there it is in text. The difference between this new REO and an RES seems minimal given the financial penalty for not meeting. However, there is certainly more room to maneuver under the language of "good faith effort" rather than the RES demands.

The other major bill for consideration is S.F. 4, establishing a Renewable Energy Standard. If I am reading this correctly, it essentially maintains the REO until 2010, then uses the "thou shall" language instead of the "good faith effort" language after that to meet the same goals as above - 11% is required by 2013, 15% by 2015, and 25% by 2020.

As with the REO, the RES ends with a 5 cent per kilowatt hour penalty for each that it is out of compliance.

Given the similarity of the bills, I expect that the debate in the Senate Committee and later on the floor will be over why an RES is necessary when the current REO appears to be working and the new REO will nearly have the same penalties as the RES will.

Update: The RES thread continues with this post.

Senate Energy Committee Meets

The Minnesota Senate Energy Committee (technically, Energy, Utilities, Technology and Communications Committee) met on Thursday for the first time. It will regularly meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:00 - 4:30 in Room 123 of Capitol.

The new chair is Yvonne Prettner Solon (DFL 07). Ellen Anderson, the previous DFL chair has moved to chair the Finance - Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Budget Division Committee. The meeting started with the requisite round of introductions. Several members admitted to being science geeks - something I was rather surprised by. Have we computer geeks so normalized 'geekhood'?

Chair Prettner Solon started with a number of the questions she expected to deal with in the future. The one I found most interesting was the question of the ideal amount of renewable generation we want in the system. I have focused for so long on getting more, I never really gave much thought to how much is enough...

At any rate, Chair Prettner Solon outlined a rough schedule for passing an REO or RES. Two bills are scheduled to be discussed on Thursday, 18 January. They will discuss S.F. 4 and S.F. 74. Both relate the RES/REO. If no one else checks them out in depth, I will do so before Thursday. Chair Prettner Solon hopes to vote on the bills by 25 January or earlier if possible.

The PUC representatives announced that the M-RETS (Midwest Renewable Energy Tracking System) request for proposals is due today and they hope to have the renewable credit tracking program running by July. As a software geek, I wish them well but never expect software to be delivered on time.

There was some talk about the recent WindLogics study of integrating wind power into the grid. While the costs are remarkably low for integrating up to 25%, the study did not include any costs resulting from increasing transmission capacity. Thus, the study is still good news for wind, but hard work remains.

Assistant Commissioner Mike Bull from the Department of Commerce reported on the current status of the renewable energy objective (REO) in Minnesota. Overall, the news is good but his study is incomplete. The DoC will release a report on 16 Jan that has the full results of who is complying.

The news on the REO is quite good overall as Bull reported that the utilities that provide more than 90% of power in Minnesota have been found to be in compliance and an additional 7% are in review. He also noted that there is a misconception that the REO is voluntary. He said it is required but also noted that some utilities have more difficulty that others based upon their changing demand (rate of increase or decrease).

Update: Loon Commons has a post discussing MEP's view on the Committee

Wind Power Explanation

This is a post for people who are confused about wind power - specifically about how to support wind power. Shea Gunther has a post that explains how wind gets to the electrical grid and how you can support it.

I am posting it as a reference post for when we encounter people that have basic questions.

Update: The numbers in that post are suspect, but the principle is accurate.

WindLogics Study Podcast

Renewable Energy Access recently posted a podcast about the Windlogics study that looked at whether the electrical grid can handle larger scale wind integration.

A study released last week by the Minnesota legislature found that the state could get 25% of its energy from wind without affecting transmission reliability or significantly raising utility operating costs. The study proves that, in addition to being clean, wind can be a cost-effective and reliable resource for many parts of America. Mark Ahlstrom, President of WindLogics, talks about his company's role in the study what the findings mean for the American wind industry.

If you have a computer, you can listen to this audio show. You do not need to have an iPod or any personal media player. The entire show is around 25 minutes and the interview is in the middle.

PTC Extended

For those who missed this, Maria Energia ran a brief story about a one-year PTC extension.

The PTC is now available through December 31, 2008, giving the wind sector two full years of tax stability. The U.S. wind energy sector has been plagued by inconsistent growth because of the short-term, temporary nature of the PTC.

The PTC is crucial because it makes wind competitive with other sources of electricity generation. If you are going to build a wind turbine, the PTC is a tax credit of $.019 per kilowatt hour of energy produced. However, to qualify for the PTC, you have to begin producing power before it expires. I believe the tax credit is guaranteed for 10 years.

Thus, the extension of the PTC before it expires is very important to encouraging the wind industry. If the PTC were to expire in 6 months, few would contract to build new wind because it takes too long to build and it would begin producing power over the PTC expired.

Extending it early avoids the boom-and-bust model that has hurt the wind sector in the U.S. I think many of us would like to see it extended for several years in order to encourage firms to actually build factories to produce wind turbines here rather than having them mostly imported.

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