NewEnergyNews: 12/01/2011 - 01/01/2012

NewEnergyNews

Gleanings from the web and the world, condensed for convenience, illustrated for enlightenment, arranged for impact...

The new challenge: To make every day Earth Day.

YESTERDAY

  • ORIGINAL REPORTING: HAWAII'S UTILITIES PLAN FOR 67% RENEWABLES BY 2030
  • ORIGINAL REPORTING: CAN WARREN BUFFETT'S PACIFICORP BRING THE NORTHWEST'S RENEWABLE RICHES TO MARKET?
  • THE DAY BEFORE

  • ORIGINAL REPORTING: A UTILITY IN THE MAKING: THE MUNICIPALIZATION OF BOULDER, COLORADO
  • ORIGINAL REPORTING: WHAT HAPPENED TO THAT NATIONAL HIGH VOLTAGE TRANSMISSION SYSTEM?
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    GET THE DAILY HEADLINES EMAIL: CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS OR SEND YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS TO: herman@NewEnergyNews.net

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    THE DAY BEFORE THE DAY BEFORE

  • ORIGINAL REPORTING: THE STATE OF THE U.S. WIND INDUSTRY (AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR UTILITIES)
  • ORIGINAL REPORTING: HOW SACRAMENTO'S PUBLIC UTILITY IS GETTING IN THE RESIDENTIAL SOLAR BUSINESS
  • THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • ORIGINAL REPORTING: HAS APS INVENTED A ROOFTOP SOLAR BUSINESS MODEL FOR UTILITIES?
  • ORIGINAL REPORTING: THE GRID NEEDS INDEPENDENT DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM OPERATORS
  • AND THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • ORIGINAL REPORTING: HOW SHOULD UTILITIES VALUE SOLAR?
  • ORIGINAL REPORTING: IS PUERTO RICO THE NEW POSTER CHILD FOR THE UTILITY DEATH SPIRAL?
  • THE LAST DAY UP HERE

  • Weekend Video: Reindeer Stresses
  • Weekend Video: Pink Fracking
  • Weekend Video: Fighting Duke For Solar
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    Anne B. Butterfield of Daily Camera and Huffington Post, is an occasional contributor to NewEnergyNews

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    Some of Anne's contributions:

  • Another Tipping Point: US Coal Supply Decline So Real Even West Virginia Concurs (REPORT), November 26, 2013
  • SOLAR FOR ME BUT NOT FOR THEE ~ Xcel's Push to Undermine Rooftop Solar, September 20, 2013
  • NEW BILLS AND NEW BIRDS in Colorado's recent session, May 20, 2013
  • Lies, damned lies and politicians (October 8, 2012)
  • Colorado's Elegant Solution to Fracking (April 23, 2012)
  • Shale Gas: From Geologic Bubble to Economic Bubble (March 15, 2012)
  • Taken for granted no more (February 5, 2012)
  • The Republican clown car circus (January 6, 2012)
  • Twenty-Somethings of Colorado With Skin in the Game (November 22, 2011)
  • Occupy, Xcel, and the Mother of All Cliffs (October 31, 2011)
  • Boulder Can Own Its Power With Distributed Generation (June 7, 2011)
  • The Plunging Cost of Renewables and Boulder's Energy Future (April 19, 2011)
  • Paddling Down the River Denial (January 12, 2011)
  • The Fox (News) That Jumped the Shark (December 16, 2010)
  • Click here for an archive of Butterfield columns

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    Some details about NewEnergyNews and the man behind the curtain: Herman K. Trabish, Agua Dulce, CA., Doctor with my hands, Writer with my head, Student of New Energy and Human Experience with my heart

    email: herman@NewEnergyNews.net

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    Your intrepid reporter

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      A tip of the NewEnergyNews cap to Phillip Garcia for crucial assistance in the design implementation of this site. Thanks, Phillip.

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    Pay a visit to the HARRY BOYKOFF page at Basketball Reference, sponsored by NewEnergyNews and Oil In Their Blood.

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  • Saturday, December 31, 2011

    A Bear Went Looking For A Job


    Here’s a little climate change humor and an invitation to folks in Maine for a New Year’s Eve swim. From ReVisionEnergy via YouTube

    Climate Denial Crock Of The Week – Sun, Cosmic Rays


    Like the preceding video, this is climate change humor, too. But the joke is on anybody who thinks the sun and/or its cosmic rays – and not greenhouse gas emissions generated from humans’ burning of fossil fuels – are the root cause of global weirding. From greenman3610 via YouTube

    Happy Kissing


    For those who aren’t planning an icy plunge tonight like the one in the lead video above, here’s an alternative. Be safe. From AMKGD via YouTube

    Friday, December 30, 2011

    HOLIDAY READING: Wind Turbines and Birds

    During this holiday season, NewEnergyNews will feature selections from its original reporting for Greentech Media. Enjoy.

    Wind Turbines and Bird Fatalities; A bird mortality event at a wind farm had nothing to do with wind turbines. If you want to protect birds, outlaw cats. And windows.
    Herman K. Trabish, November 22, 2011 (Greentech Media)

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    Last month, biologists found 484 bird carcasses at the AES-owned Laurel Mountain wind installation in West Virginia.

    The mass mortality event did not involve turbines.

    Despite the carnage that lies ahead for turkeys this holiday season in the U.S., most people are pro-bird. There are very few anti-bird initiatives. And nobody wants to connect the naturalists’ phrase 'mass mortality event' with them.

    But mass mortality events happen. They happen to whales. And seals. And the bees and the birds.

    Also known as die-offs, small events are common with birds and large events are not unusual, especially for birds that flock and migrate. The primary causes are things like disease, storms or predators. Pollution and collisions with vehicles, buildings and power lines also kill birds in large numbers. And it seems mass mortality events are becoming more common as the distance between birds and humans narrows.

    In the case of the AES wind installation, the likely cause was that migrating birds were drawn to lights left on at the facility’s electrical substation in cold foggy weather. The birds, it is theorized, were galvanized and disoriented by the bright lights and circled until they died and fell out of the sky.

    “The first thing to understand is that this had nothing to do with wind turbines,” said John Anderson, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) Director of Siting Policy. “It was a lighting issue,” Anderson explained, “and [was also attributable to] low visibility conditions.”

    At a high school in Elkins, West Virginia, the closest town to the Laurel Mountain wind project, “A similar event occurred about three years ago, and in that instance, more than 500 birds were killed in one evening,” Anderson added. “Mass mortality events happen pretty regularly.”

    "The mass mortality event in West Virginia was not the first to happen there,” agreed renowned biologist and bird fatality expert Paul Kerlinger. Nor was it the first to happen at a wind project site there.

    Steadily burning lights attract migrating birds, especially in foggy and drizzly weather, Dr. Kerlinger said, citing detailed findings he has reported throughout a distinguished academic and research career in many published papers on avian fatalities from collisions with tall towers and wind turbines.

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    “I’ve warned people many times about this,” Kerlinger said. He noted “an event at a pumping station in Kansas where 5,000 birds died in a single night.” Mass mortality events have happened “over and over again at different types of facilities,” he said. “A Holiday Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia had a large-scale event involving hundreds of dead birds in a single night.”

    Anderson noted, “The National Academy of Sciences reported in 2007 that three out of every 100,000 human-related sources of bird fatalities could be attributed to wind.”
    Kerlinger said he had been a peer-reviewer for the paper Anderson referenced and endorsed its accuracy.

    According to Kerlinger’s January 2011 paper, “Approximately 100,000 birds are killed by wind turbines each year in the U.S., based on an average of about 3+ birds per turbine per year times 30,000 turbines.” He added that this “does not appear to be causing significant impacts to populations.”

    In the same paper, Kerlinger reported that 4 million to 50 million birds are estimated to be killed yearly by communication towers, which is 40 to 500 times more than those killed wind turbines. Both numbers are expected to increase as more turbines and communications towers are built. But, Kerlinger added, “There is an easy solution.”

    In Michigan, where his recommendations were heeded, steadily burning lights on communications towers were replaced by flashing lights “and the fatality rates went down by 50 percent to 70 percent.”

    Laurel Mountain is a 98-megawatt wind installation near Elkins, West Virginia, with 61 1.6-megawatt GE turbines. More relevantly, it is the site of a 32-megawatt battery storage installation designed to provide transmission system operator PJM with instantaneous load regulating capacity vital to the grid integration of renewables.

    The batteries were supplied by A123 Systems and operated by AES Energy Storage. It was the transmission substation and battery storage illumination that was left on and tragically attracted the migrating birds.

    “My expectation is that AES, the owner-operator, is going to make sure the lights are kept off,” Anderson said of future Laurel Mountain wind project operations, “except for emergency situations.”

    “The industry still needs to embrace simple, bird-smart principles that would dramatically reduce incidents,” Kelly Fuller, the American Bird Conservancy Wind Campaign Coordinator, said in a press statement.

    Anderson called leaving the lights on “operator error” and said “it can be avoided in the future” because, thanks in large part to the work of Kerlinger and his colleagues, the industry and the relevant regulatory agencies are aware of the kind of lighting required.

    “The basic message is that the wind power industry deeply regrets this,” Anderson said, “but the important thing to note is that this is an anomaly. We pride ourselves in studying, monitoring and mitigating for impacts,” he added. “Most of what we do is above and beyond what is legally required [and] we expect that in time we will improve and do more.”

    A wildlife expert at AES said the company has turned off the lights at the electrical substation. The lights were on, the source who asked not to be identified said, both to prevent vandalism and because since September 11, 2001, transmission interconnections have been regarded as potential terrorist targets.

    The lights will remain off, the source said, until they can be replaced with fixtures that do not attract migrating birds. Alternative security measures have been put in place.

    HOLIDAY READING: Wind, National Defense, and Radar Make Peace

    During this holiday season, NewEnergyNews will feature selections from its original reporting for Greentech Media. Enjoy.

    Wind, National Defense, and Radar Make Peace; Aveillant’s holographic radar and the DoD’s clearinghouse are freeing up thousands of new megawatts.
    Herman K. Trabish, November 17, 2011 (Greentech Media)

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    In 2009, more than 9,000 megawatts of wind capacity was held up by Department of Defense (DoD) concerns about radar interference from turbines. A year later, there were 10,000 megawatts on hold. But in the last 18 months, things have changed.

    “The DoD energy siting clearinghouse,” explained Tom Vinson, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) Senior Director of Federal Regulatory Affairs, “went through a backlog of pending projects and cleared several thousand megawatts.”

    Section 358 of the National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law last January, established what Vinson called “a one-stop shop where developers can go to get their projects vetted by everyone within DoD.”

    Under the Act, delaying a project now requires the “fairly high threshold” of “significant adverse impact to national security,” and, according to Vinson, individual bases can no longer block development. “They have to go up through Pentagon headquarters.”

    In addition, the Act requires the DoD -- for the first time -- to consider mitigation options before stopping development.

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    Some mitigation efforts are being deployed and a range of advanced radar solutions are proposed. “Because of the variety of radars affected, the variety of turbine impacts and the variety of missions the DoD, the National Weather Service, the FAA and the Department of Homeland Security must protect,” Vinson said, “there’s not a single mitigation that’s going to work everywhere. The more options we have, the better.”

    Vinson noted an MIT software fix that cleared “several thousand megawatts in the Columbia Gorge area.” Raytheon, Vinson said, also has a software fix that is being implemented. And there are, he added, hardware upgrades to existing radars that can help, as well.

    As to new radars, Vinson said, Lockheed-Martin has proposed its advanced TPS-77
    phased-array hardware as a solution. “Existing radar sends out waves at three different heights,” Vinson explained. “If data is corrupted in any of those three waves, the entire return is corrupted.” Lockheed-Martin’s phased array “sends out more than twenty different waves.” If a wind turbine interferes with “the first or the second wave,” Vinson said, “others will be fine.”

    A group of offshore wind developers, Vinson said, recently jointly purchased and deployed the Lockheed-Martin technology and won the release of “three thousand megawatts of offshore wind projects” from the U.K. Ministry of Defense (MoD).

    Vinson also mentioned “a holographic radar” that is being developed by Aveillant, a new company backed by U.K. venture capital powerhouse Cambridge Consultants.

    According to Aveillant, radar interference issues continue to impede 6,500 megawatts of U.K. wind capacity. According to Aveillant Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Gordon Oswald, 3-D holographic radar is an advanced hardware technology that is effective in even the most demanding airspace.

    Traditional radar, Dr. Oswald explained, is like scanning for moving targets in a dark room with a flashlight; Aveillant’s 3-D holographic radar, he said, is like turning on the room’s overhead light.

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    Aveillant hardware is built at or near a wind farm. “We illuminate the whole sky,” Dr. Oswald said. “The enabling feature” is “teraflops” worth of computing capacity with which Aveillant can see all the moving pieces and detect when something different enters the radar’s field. “It is this positioning and the ability to continuously observe and track an object,” Dr. Oswald said, that allows Aveillant to “distinguish between wind turbine and aircraft.”

    Aveillant’s technology has already proved itself in two controlled MoD field tests and is being put in place at Scotland’s Prestwick Airport for its first full-scale test next year.
    Following validation, Dr. Oswald said, the company anticipates “entering into commercial relationships with the wind industry.”

    BP Wind CEO Sir John Graham has noted that one of the problems that has limited deployment is the cost of radar issue fixes and who pays for them.

    “It will have to be paid for by the wind farm operators,” Dr. Oswald said. “It’s going to be something in the region of one percent of their capital and operating costs.” Though burdensome, Dr. Oswald noted, “if it makes a difference between being able to build and operate the wind farm and not, that’s a reasonable cost.”

    According to AWEA’s Vinson, the Lockheed-Martin TPS-77 hardware costs $15 million to $25 million. “Whole new radar systems are expensive,” he said. “It’s difficult to believe that an individual project could absorb that cost.” Multiple developers and multiple projects facing the issue could, however, form a consortium and share the cost, he noted.

    Software solutions and hardware upgrade solutions, Vinson said, are more affordable, falling in the “couple-hundred-thousand-dollar range.” One or two have been successfully deployed. “But we don’t have a lot of experience at mitigating this yet,” he said, because many proposed solutions are not yet FAA-approved. However, the involved agencies -- DoD, FAA, DOE, DHS, NOAA -- have plans for detailed assessment of “off-the-shelf technologies that can be field tested” in 2012.

    "Industry and the agencies see the path forward and are working as quickly as possible to get to a point where it is not an issue," Vinson said.

    “New radars will be relevant as a solution in some cases, but they won’t necessary be so in all cases. As the wind build-out continues, we’re going to continue to see instances in which there are potential conflicts with air space needs, whether civilian or national security-related, because the easy sites are already taken. It’s going to be an ongoing issue. But there are also near-term, validated solutions.”

    Thursday, December 29, 2011

    HOLIDAY READING: The Reality of a Successful US Wind Industry in 2011

    During this holiday season, NewEnergyNews will feature selections from its original reporting for Greentech Media. Enjoy.

    The Reality of a Successful US Wind Industry in 2011; “This is what a successful business looks like with stable tax policy.”
    Herman K. Trabish, October 27, 2011 (Greentech Media)

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    The U.S. wind industry’s third quarter report shows the sector continuing to build and adapt to political and economic turmoil -- and something more.

    Cumulatively, the most mature of the renewable industries has built 43,461 megawatts of installed capacity, enough to supply electricity to 10 million U.S. homes. As of July 2011, wind power was producing three percent of the nation’s electricity.

    The wind industry built 1,204 megawatts in Q3 2011, bringing the year’s total to 3,355 megawatts. But growth is not news for wind. It has grown regularly for more than a decade -- except when the politicians pull its production tax credit (PTC).

    Unlike the fossil and nuclear industries’ multiple and fixed federal incentives, the industry relies largely on the one tax incentive. When Congress has in the past threatened to withhold renewal of it, developers were forced to put one of the nation’s most effective emerging sources of blue collar jobs and local revenues on hold until the politicians came to their senses.

    The most important of this quarter’s numbers is the 8,482 megawatts presently under construction. That’s the busiest quarter the U.S. wind industry has had since 2008 and its third busiest quarter on record. There are more than 90 projects in the works across 29 states. In the third quarter of 2011 alone, the industry started construction on 2,130 megawatts.

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    Developers are pretty certain that the current Congress will not renew the Recovery Act’s 1603 Treasury Grant Program that saw all the renewables through the worst of the recession. And they believe this Congress might once again withhold the PTC, despite a long track record proving how unwise that course of action could be.

    There are four possible scenarios in which the PTC could be renewed, according to American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) Senior Vice President for Public Policy Rob Gramlich:

    1) In a tax extenders package similar to the one the President negotiated with the lame duck Congress at the end of 2010 (but don’t count on it because this bunch is too lame to be negotiators);

    2) In the package from the super-committee appointed to settle the budget crisis (but don’t count on it because lawmakers haven’t shown much interest in tax credits or energy and most insiders expect compromise to be Kryptonite to the super-committee);

    3) In a March tax extenders package (but it will be the same lame-duck Congress in March);

    4) In a 2012-ending tax extenders package (same Congress but with an election behind them and their terms expiring, they might be differently inclined -- or even lamer).

    So wind builders are getting everything they can into the ground as soon as they can.

    They are scrambling to make equipment and components deals and sign any power purchase agreement (PPA) possible. Whatever they don’t get started this year (in time to take advantage of the 1603 Program), they want to get started early enough in 2012 to be sure they at least qualify for the PTC before it expires at year-end, according to Liz Salerno, AWEA’s Director of industry data and analysis.

    The question, however, is this: If Congress believes wind isn’t worth funding, who is going to buy all the capacity the industry is building?

    Anybody who can, it turns out. Ohio is building several 0.75-megawatt turbines for its schools; the University of Minnesota is building a 1.65-megawatt turbine for itself; the Hawaii Electric Company (HECO) will buy the 30 megawatts generated by a project on Oahu; and Oregon’s 845-megawatt Shepherd’s Flat, the biggest onshore project in the world, will sell its electricity to California mega-utility Southern California Edison.

    The variety of states that want wind is expanding. In the third quarter of 2011, Colorado installed the most new capacity (501 megawatts), followed by Minnesota (163), Oklahoma (130), West Virginia (98), and Texas (88).

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    The list of utilities buying in is long and distinguished: AEP, Xcel Energy, Consumers Energy, MidAmerican Energy and Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD), among many others.

    Perhaps most noteworthy, Alabama Power, a subsidiary of long-time coal advocate and renewables opponent Southern Company, recently signed a PPA for the electricity generated by TradeWind Energy’s 202-megawatt Chisholm Wind project in Oklahoma.

    According to the Alabama Public Service Commission, “The delivered price of energy from the wind facility is expected to be lower than the cost the Company would incur to produce that energy from its own resource,” resulting in “energy savings flowing directly to the Company’s customers.”

    An especially interesting number is the percentage of new wind being purchased by utilities. In the third quarter of 2011, this figure went from the 15 percent level it had been at for the last few years to 21 percent. Utilities are increasingly aware, Salerno said, of wind’s economic benefits. “If you’re thinking about building new gas, new coal, new nuclear,” Salerno said, “wind is a pretty affordable option.”

    “This is what a successful business looks like with stable tax policy,” AWEA CEO Denise Bode noted. “Utilities are locking in a great deal for their electric customers while it’s available. We’re keeping rates down all across the U.S., even in the heart of the South.”

    Only the U.S. Southeast has no operating wind projects, Salerno added, but more reliable, efficient, productive wind turbines, with higher hub heights, bigger rotors, better blades and other advanced technologies that make even modest winds economically harvestable mean that “the Southeast will be on the map very soon.”

    HOLIDAY READING: Wind Industry in a Fight for Its Life

    During this holiday season, NewEnergyNews will feature selections from its original reporting for Greentech Media. Enjoy.

    Wind Industry in a Fight for Its Life; Leaders ask Congress for tax credits to ‘finish the job’ of building a US renewable energy industry.
    Herman K. Trabish, December 13, 2011 (Greentech Media)

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    The wind industry’s production tax credit (PTC) expires at the end of 2012. The solar industry’s investment tax credit (ITC) extends to 2016. The wind industry is aggressively pursuing a PTC extension to 2016. In support of the industry’s claim, Navigant Consulting did a study of a range of impacts that would follow either expiration or extension. The contrast is stark.

    The economic impacts are large enough to have repercussions on state, regional and national economies. If the PTC is not extended, Navigant found it will likely cost the country nearly 40,000 of today’s jobs and drain nearly ten billion dollars out of the current economy. If the PTC is extended through 2016, it will add more than 25,000 new jobs and grow the wind industry to the extent of an additional billion dollars.

    “The PTC extension,” according to Navigant Director and Project Manager Bruce Hamilton, "would provide a net benefit to taxpayers of some $25.6 billion at a net cost of $13.6 billion. [...] This amounts to a return on investment of 87 percent,” he said.

    The 2008 stimulus bill and 2009 Recovery Act infused the renewables industries with $65 billion, according to a recent Reznick Group report. With the special benefits in that legislation ending this year, only the PTC would be left to the wind industry.

    The Reznick report estimated the wind industry will need over seven billion dollars in tax equity to sustain it. The money is there: Over $137 billion was paid in taxes last year by the 500 biggest U.S. public companies. The inclination is there: Historically, such companies invested in the PTC at about the seven-billion-dollar level, according to Reznick.

    The question is whether the current penny-pinching Congress will be willing to continue returning 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour as a tax credit to investors.

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    Congress has used the PTC as a political football in the past. When the tax credit was allowed to lapse in 1999, the wind industry’s installed capacity fell 93 percent. When it lapsed in 2001, the drop was 73 percent. The 2003 lapse produced a 77 percent drop.

    But this time is different because “the wind manufacturing sector has really grown over the last four or five years,” according to American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) CEO Denise Bode, from “25 percent of our component parts being manufactured in the U.S. to over 60 percent. You have not had the PTC expire at a time when you had such significant [numbers of] manufacturing jobs at stake.”

    The uncertain fate of the PTC already has the industry’s supply chain near a turning point, said John Purcell, Vice President for Wind at LeedCo Steel, a provider of steel plating for wind turbines. “I would say by July or August of next year there will be a tremendous amount of uncertainty on what the build schedule will be.” There already is, he added, “a tremendous amount of investment bottled up and manufacturing jobs that could be started quickly to support what would be very good outlook for that 2013-to-2016 timeframe” on hold. “We need to have this done sooner rather than later.”

    A bill was recently introduced in the House, H.R. 3307, which would extend the PTC four years. It has bipartisan support, including, Bode said, “12 Republican co-sponsors as well as Democratic sponsors.” In the Senate, she added, “both Senator Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Harkin (D-IA) are taking the lead, because Iowa is one of the top wind manufacturing states in the country and gets over 20 percent of its electricity from wind.”

    The bill is also, Bode said, backed by 30 governors, representing both parties. Allies totaling over 370 groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the Farm Bureau, the Edison Electric Institute and the United Steelworkers, Bode said, are lobbying hard for it.

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    But Congress watchers do not expect any such standalone legislation to survive such volatile political times. Normally, an issue with such bipartisan backing could be folded into an end-of-the-year tax extenders package. But this year is not normal.

    Many expect the current bickering over the payroll tax, the Keystone XL pipeline and ancillary issues to block progress on more substantive issues. Some say a tax extenders package containing the PTC could be brought up early next spring. But there is no reason to think partisanship will ease before the November Presidential election.

    Realistically, the PTC is most likely to be extended, if at all, at the very end of 2012, in a lame duck session similar to the one at the end of 2010 that led to landmark compromises.

    Navigant did not account for what might happen if the industry goes the entire year with the PTC on hold. Industry insiders expect a year of frantic early activity with the industry slowing toward numbers in the study’s “no-extension” scenario in 2013. Navigant makes chillingly clear what 2013 and beyond will look like if the PTC does not make the December 2012 cut.

    “It’s different this time,” Bode stressed, “because we are scaling up right now to a point that we’re actually reducing the cost of wind energy. It is one of the most competitive sources of energy out there. If we are allowed to finish the job, then we can produce on a very competitive basis. We’re not asking for permanent support forever. We just want to finish the job.”

    Wednesday, December 28, 2011

    HOLIDAY READING: Offshore Wind Is Power Near the People

    During this holiday season, NewEnergyNews will feature selections from its original reporting for Greentech Media. Enjoy.

    NRG Bluewater: Offshore Wind Is Power Near the People; That’s why the DOE just funded an ABB-led consortium to determine the cost of bringing it ashore
    Herman K. Trabish, November 15, 2011 (Greentech Media)

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    NRG Bluewater Wind President Peter Mandelstam used the proceeds from the 2001 sale of a wind project he built in Montana to found Bluewater Wind and focus on ocean wind.

    “I stopped doing on-land projects,” Mandelstam said, “because I could see the market was crowded, all the best sites were going to be taken up and the transmission was a challenge.” By contrast, he said, “The three-word pitch for offshore wind in the United States is proximity to load.”

    “More than 55 million people live along the Eastern Seaboard between North Carolina and Boston,” he said. There is also a wide, shallow continental shelf that makes construction of wind farms far out to sea, beyond the sight of significant opposition, relatively less difficult and costly.

    “Those 55 million people have difficulty getting power at any price,” Mandelstam said.
    But there are, he explained, rich wind resources adjacent to some of the nation’s highest-priced utility districts. Offshore wind-generated electricity would be “a terrific deal for ratepayers, given the incredibly high and ever-increasing prices.”

    Mandelstam and Cape Wind’s Jim Gordon pioneered U.S. offshore wind. A decade later, Cape Wind may be on the verge of freeing itself from regulatory snares in Nantucket Sound off Cape Cod, and Bluewater Wind’s proposed Mid-Atlantic installation off Delaware has a power purchase agreement and anticipates its initial federal lease soon.

    The Obama administration has done much to reverse what Mandelstam called a “reactive” U.S. energy policy that has inhibited development. Under the Smart from the Start program, DOE’s Offshore Wind Initiative will invest $43 million in 41 projects across 20 states over the next five years.

    Among the winners of recent DOE awards, under its National Offshore Wind Energy Grid Interconnection Study, was an ABB-led consortium that includes AWS Truepower, Duke Energy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and the University of Pittsburgh.

    John Daniel, an ABB Power Systems Senior Principle Consultant, said his team will “identify and remove market barriers to building transmission for offshore projects.”

    ABB’s experience in the European offshore wind business makes it a natural choice to lead, Daniel said. AWS Truepower brings forecasting expertise. Duke offers a utility’s perspective. NREL did the definitive onshore transmission integration studies. And the University of Pittsburgh brings ties to manufacturing.

    They will, Daniel said, consider issues such as: 1) AC versus high-voltage DC; 2) radial transmission systems versus a grid versus a backbone system that feeds into select onshore substations; 3) needed advances in technology; 4) operational methods that maximize efficiency; and 5) the impact of offshore wind on the land-based grid system.

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    The study, according to ABB, will provide the data necessary for a roadmap to deploying of 54 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity over the next two decades.

    Federal policy and planning could be the determining factor. In the U.S., a lack of consistent policy, Mandelstam said, “on the regulatory [side] and on the tax side,” has made offshore wind development “very challenging.”

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision, following Fukushima, to abandon nuclear development was possible because early offshore wind projects developed under a stable, long-term federal feed-in tariff program proved the engineering practicality, and because Germany’s comprehensive RAVE research program proved both the North Sea’s resource potential and the wind industry’s technology are ready to join other renewables in meeting German electricity demand.

    DOE loan guarantees did not support offshore wind, Mandelstam explained, because they required faster-paced progress than the technology allows. As a result, “There are no banks in the world willing to finance offshore wind in the United States,” whereas at least nine European ocean wind projects have found bank support.

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    The federal Production Tax Credit (PTC), U.S. wind’s historically crucial incentive that is now threatened by current budget negotiations, has been inadequate to support the development of offshore wind. While onshore wind projects can be developed in a protracted time line, even the streamlining of offshore development made possible by DOE’s newest initiatives doesn’t truncate the process enough to attract financial institutions.

    “What really focuses a banker’s attention is the prospect of closing a deal within six months,” Mandelstam said. Offshore wind’s opportunity costs discourage institutions from providing the billion-dollar financing needed for ocean wind projects.

    The PTC is paid according to yearly production over the first ten years of a project’s life. Offshore developers need, Mandelstam said, the option of an Investment Tax Credit (ITC) that rewards investment.

    Financial institutions, Mandelstam continued, are not yet confident that offshore wind -- including the resource, the turbine technology, the operations and maintenance process, the transmission infrastructure and the many other elements -- can be relied on to produce consistently for 10 years. There are “fifty issues the banks are worried about,” Mandelstam said, though “all of those technology risks have been eliminated.”

    A policy that gives onshore developers a PTC and offshore developers an ITC, combined with the DOE’s goals and programs, will spur wind’s growth. “I believe in planning and policy,” Mandelstam said. Sound planning and stable, long-term policies and incentives have driven the installation of over 1,000 megawatts of capacity in Europe, where 8,000 megawatts more are planned.

    The same thing can happen in the U.S., because offshore wind is not a partisan issue, according to Mandelstam. “We have complete unity of purpose in terms of labor and business, environmentalists, Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “This is something both political parties can agree on.”

    HOLIDAY READING: For Wind, Sudden Dramatic Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude

    During this holiday season, NewEnergyNews will feature selections from its original reporting for Greentech Media. Enjoy.

    For Wind, Sudden Dramatic Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude; Moves by NRG Energy and Goldwind USA suggest that if the US abandons wind, wind may return the favor.
    Herman K. Trabish, December 16, 2011 (Greentech Media)

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    Major players in the wind industry are moving fast -- but the moves are not good for U.S. wind’s future.

    The big news: Despite the Obama administration’s best efforts to streamline the way forward for U.S. offshore wind, NRG Energy is selling off Bluewater Wind, one of the sector’s brightest stars. (More on that shortly.)

    A smaller item: Goldwind USA, the subsidiary of China’s second-biggest turbine maker located in Chicago to do deals in the Americas, sold 23 of its state-of-the-art 1.5-megawatt GW87 turbines to Mainstream Renewables for the 34.5-megawatt Negrete Cuel project in Chile, after selling 10 of the same machines to Ecuador’s 15-megawatt Villonaco project.

    Goldwind USA CEO Tim Rosenzweig said the company remains interested in U.S. projects like the 109-megawatt Shady Oaks installation it is building with Mainstream Renewables in Illinois and the seven other deals it has added to domestic economic activity in its twenty months in the U.S., but at present, it has more and bigger Latin American activity in the works.

    Policies now in place in Latin America, such as feed-in tariffs, renewables standards, fiscal incentives and financing and loan plans, according to Global Energy Network Institute President Peter Miesen, are expected to drive growth and reduce costs for renewables. Just as importantly, Miesen said, countries such as Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay have recently earned high scores from the World Bank for governance and rule of law.

    Ecuador has a feed-in tariff and a tax equity program for renewables. Chile has a renewables standard, as well as loans, tax equity, tax relief, and other incentive programs.

    click to enlarge

    “Latin America is positioned to do a lot,” said Rosenzweig. “Once you get the first one through in a stable regime like Chile with a robust power market, a lot will get done quickly.”

    Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress is on the verge of indefinitely leaving the domestic wind industry in turmoil by withholding extension of the 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour production tax credit (PTC), wind’s only remaining substantial federal policy incentive.
    The PTC expires at the end of 2012.

    That is the main reason NRG Energy has decided to get out of the offshore wind business.

    Divesting its offshore holdings was the reasonable decision for NRG Energy CEO David Crane, though “the technical side of this business has never been better,” said NRG Bluewater Wind CEO Peter Mandelstam. “David Crane said that he couldn’t in good conscience continue to spend money without a reasonable expectation of a return. The challenges David cited were principally the defunding of the DOE loan guarantee and the anticipated expiration of both the investment tax credit (ITC) and the production tax credit (PTC).”

    Neither DOE loan guarantees nor the PTC serve offshore projects, because they take too long to get built and too long to provide a return on production, Mandelstam explained in calling for a PTC for onshore developers and an ITC for offshore developers.

    The offshore industry was successful in getting precisely crafted legislation introduced into Congress (SB 1397/HR 3238) that would provide it with a five-year extension of the present ITC (which sunsets at the end of 2012). But that bill now has little hope of success. Even the PTC, which has been in place since 1992 and extended eight times, is threatened by the current penny-pinching Congress.

    Asked twice about offshore wind’s ITC at a recent press conference called to highlight the industry’s lobbying efforts on behalf of a PTC extension, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) CEO Denise Bode did not even address the ITC question, focused as she was on the dire threat to the onshore industry’s last remaining incentive lifeline.

    click to enlarge

    Mandelstam remains hopeful for the timely passage for both tax credit provisions, but few Congress watchers expect anything to happen before the November 2012 election. That will keep AWEA in desperate pursuit of a PTC extension and leave offshore wind treading water -- or sinking.

    Mandelstam said he is trying to find a purchaser of Bluewater Wind’s assets, the most important of which are a pending lease for a sector of ocean off Delaware and a power purchase agreement (PPA) with Delaware’s Delmarva Power & Light, U.S. offshore wind’s first with a major utility. If a buyer is not in place by December 23, the PPA must be sacrificed to prevent an additional $4 million from being lost.

    The Goldwind-Mainstream Renewables project is expected to create 150 to 250 Chilean jobs in construction, transportation and manufacturing. Mainstream Renewables is planning a development facility in Santiago, as well.

    In addition, Goldwind is backed by Chinese banks’ abundance of capital. “In Latin America, capital is an important part of the equation,” Rosenzweig said. “People buy our machines because they are of high quality and we are trying to complement that with investment to make the projects work for our customers.”

    Goldwind could be investing that money in U.S. wind companies.

    Europe has 20 years of experience in offshore development, construction and maintenance of offshore wind, Mandelstam said. It is “a major and robust industry” with “9,700 megawatts of steel in water, projects in construction or in operation.” The success, he added is due to “20 years of regular public policy.” Decaying ports and port cities in the U.K. and Germany are undergoing renovation and rejuvenation as the result of the offshore industry’s gathering momentum.

    Those same things could be happening here.

    Tuesday, December 27, 2011

    HOLIDAY READING: Can First Solar Play Nice With the Locals?

    During this holiday season, NewEnergyNews will feature selections from its original reporting for Greentech Media. Enjoy.

    Can First Solar Play Nice With the Locals? If this is First Solar being a good neighbor, renewables are in trouble.
    Herman K. Trabish, October 28, 2011 (Greentech Media)

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    A renewable energy boom in California’s Antelope Valley has developers scrambling to build utility-scale solar and wind projects and hotly pursuing power purchase agreements (PPAs), with utilities seeking to meet Governor Jerry Brown’s goal of getting a third of the state’s power from renewables by 2020.

    Promising support from his office, the governor recently told a conference of renewables developers there are “some kinds of opposition you have to crush,” adding, “You have to push ... [or] we’re not going to get to the goal.”

    First Solar is building Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One (AVSR1), a 230-megawatt photovoltaic (PV) solar power plant it bought from eSolar and sold to Exelon. NRG Solar, Element Power, NextEra Energy, Silverado Power and Renewable Resources Group are planning other projects in the area.

    More are lined up behind them. According to the California Energy Commission, 61 solar projects representing 3,340 megawatts and 20 wind projects representing some 2,500 megawatts are in the permitting stage.

    But some Antelope Valley residents believe they are being invaded and that their way of life is about to disappear forever. Some are seizing the profit-taking opportunity. Some are resisting. Most are still trying to grasp the implications of tens of thousands of acres of mountainsides and valley floor being turned into a renewable energy mecca.

    The Antelope Valley will, within a few years, look like nothing anybody on this earth has ever seen.

    Before First Solar broke ground on AVSR1, the company engaged the local communities. Because of serious concerns about elements of the company’s announced plans, there was vocal resistance and the threat of delaying tactics on the part of those who live nearest the project.

    “First Solar is committed to the communities it works in,” Jim Woodruff, First Solar’s Vice President for State and Local Affairs, responded to one such group. “We want to get on the right foot going forward.” When opposition eased, he added that the company was “happy to be making progress with our neighbors.”

    Less than two months later, residents say First Solar has forgotten neighborliness in its pursuit of solar megawatts. The list of its alleged violations of commitments made to the community is long and growing longer.

    First, it hired outsiders -- instead of locals, as promised -- to do biological reconnaissance at the site. These workers caused a fire that threatened nearby residents.

    Subsequently, heavy-duty construction vehicles have been using roads First Solar promised it would not use, increasing traffic, obstacles, wear and tear, and accidents.

    click to enlarge

    They promised to clear and grade the desert floor carefully, yet created dust storms.

    click to enlarge

    The company promised to use precious desert water frugally, yet by one calculation is on track to use its entire allotment in three months.

    click to enlarge

    Locals familiar with construction site safety laws are documenting a list of violations. First Solar promised not to build prison-like fencing, but photos show it is doing so.

    click to enlarge

    The firm promised to be available for dialogue but has reportedly responded to locals’ questions with “We’ll get back to you” -- and often does not follow up on these promises.
    When there has been a response, locals say, builder First Solar has replied it cannot answer for the owners and owner Exelon has replied it cannot answer for the builder.

    Despite First Solar’s promise of transparency, emails show they have urged that media be excluded from talks with local leaders. First Solar promised it would develop its workforce locally but community leaders say it is inflating its local hires by relocating former employees to the community and then hiring them. In meetings with the community, First Solar continues to promise to be a good neighbor, but complaints continue to accrue.

    The politics of the situation are simple: The governor and other elected officials will win far more political popularity by being well along toward 33 percent than by demanding that renewables developers behave honorably.

    The economics are just as simple: Developers will earn a lot by getting their projects built and almost nothing from a sticking to a good-neighbor policy.

    But the decisive question is also simple: What serves the greater good?

    Without Antelope Valley’s resources, California may be hard pressed to achieve its 33 percent goal. So if developers fail to push hard, they do a disservice not only to their stockholders but also to the people of the state, the nation and a planet challenged by climate change.

    But if developers ride roughshod over local communities, they may be doing a long-term disservice to renewable energy. The public presently supports renewables and the state’s goals. But doing the right thing the wrong way will change that.

    Where small pockets of locals are stepped on by overzealous, overly dedicated or overly greedy developers, they will eventually refuse to go away quietly.

    It was a challenge for renewables to carve out a niche in an expanding marketplace. In these difficult times, it is even more difficult. But making new enemies is unwise. Now more than ever, it is vital for renewables developers to do the right thing the right way.

    HOLIDAY READING: Can First Solar March On?

    During this holiday season, NewEnergyNews will feature selections from its original reporting for Greentech Media. Enjoy.

    Can First Solar March On? Will the company be able to bring home a controversial 230-megawatt PV power plant despite management turmoil, share price woes, and local opponents?
    Herman K. Trabish, December 6, 2011 (Greentech Media)

    click to enlarge

    On California Governor Brown’s marching orders, First Solar is pushing ahead on one of the world’s biggest solar photovoltaic (PV) projects.

    “Some kinds of opposition you have to crush,” the Governor recently told a conference of renewables developers, adding, “You have to push [... or] we’re not going to get to the goal” of providing the state with a third of its power from renewable energy by 2020.

    Despite management and economic challenges reported by GTM's Eric Wesoff, First Solar is moving aggressively on the Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One (AVSR1), a 230-megawatt PV solar power plant.

    “We are well into construction,” First Solar Vice President Jim Woodruff said, “and making good progress.”

    click to enlarge

    The company may also be making progress on what have been contentious relations with leaders of the Western Antelope Valley (AV) communities around the sprawling 2,000-acre AVSR1 site it bought from NextLight and sold to and is developing for Exelon.

    As construction jobs go to Valley residents, questions about the use of outsiders quiet.
    “We have hired over 100 local residents,” Woodruff said. “There may be some difference about what we mean by 'local.' But certainly within the immediately adjacent area, as well as the broader Palmdale-Lancaster area, a lot of those folks are gainfully employed on the site.”

    “Everybody wishes there were more jobs,” said Mel Layne, President of the Greater Antelope Valley Economic Alliance. But, he added, with the recessionary economy and the housing construction slowdown, “It’s more than we have.”

    Factors such as a road closure and the use by heavy-duty construction vehicles of local commuting routes continue to create traffic and safety complaints.

    Woodruff said the county-permitted temporary closure of one route (which he termed “an inconvenience, but fortunately, a temporary inconvenience”) was necessary, while First Solar reinforced a California Aqueduct crossing with concrete to protect the flow of water. That route has now reopened.

    In addition, Woodruff said the company has asked the community to report traffic and safety issues so it can respond. “There are 800 numbers, email addresses, and cell phone numbers available at the site,” he said, adding that locals can also contact the Highway Patrol. “Safety is a very significant concern for First Solar.”

    The community was in a furor over dust storms created when the ground was cleared for building. “The response to that has been to have 24/7 (including weekends) monitoring on site,” Woodruff said. “It’s a high-wind area,” he added, “so we try to respond as quickly as we can.”

    According to community leaders, First Solar expressed a willingness to spare them from having to live with prison-like fencing around the site’s perimeter. Yet photos show chain-link and razor wire, the fencing that was approved in the company’s permit before the communities implored First Solar to change their plans.

    “We’ve heard concerns,” Woodruff acknowledged, “about the visual effect.” But, he said, “We are building a large solar project [... and] it’s in our interest and the community’s interest to have a secure perimeter. And the fencing type that was used was authorized by the county.”

    Whiskey is for drinkin’ and water is for fightin’, according to an old desert maxim. Residents who seem to know a lot about water usage and are watching carefully claim First Solar is exceeding its permitted water consumption level.

    “There is an annual allotment during construction of 150 acre-feet per year, and we are well within that allotment,” Woodruff said. “It’s not in our interest -- or anybody’s interest -- to fail to comply with the conditions imposed with our conditional use permit.”

    Based on data being carefully collected by the LA Regional Planning Commission on behalf of the County, and by independent sources, First Solar has not exceeded its 2011 allotment since construction began in September, according to the region’s Deputy County Supervisor Norm Hickling.

    Water use, Hickling said, will continue to be monitored by the Planning Commission. And, he noted, the County has a Public Works Inspector specifically tasked to the issue. The meter, Hickling added, will start over on January 1, 2012.

    click to enlarge

    Perhaps the biggest question for both locals and outside observers is why First Solar insists on excluding the media from its talks with community leaders about these and other contentious issues.

    All the elected officials participating in the discussions have urged that the meetings be open and transparent. Hickling, on behalf of the County, has gone out of his way to open the discussions to the media.

    Yet First Solar demands they remain closed.

    “People understand the power of the media and so they act and say things differently,” explained Alan Bernheimer, the First Solar Director of Communications, and “we think we can resolve these things more amicably and more rapidly if differences aren’t amplified in the media.”

    Differences remain and new ones are expected to arise as construction proceeds. “The project is fully permitted and going forward,” Bernheimer added. “But neighbors have concerns, and we’d like to hear them and do what we can.”

    The meetings, closed by First Solar to the media, are expected to continue.

    “It’s understandable that there will be concerns and it’s only reasonable for the community to expect that we’ll provide a forum within which to talk about issues and concerns, and that’s what we’ve done,” Woodruff said. “That is part of a responsible project development approach.”

    But, the community and others wonder, is it responsible to resist openness?

    Monday, December 26, 2011

    HOLIDAY READING: Jobs and the Keystone XL Pipeline Controversy

    During this holiday season, NewEnergyNews will feature selections from its original reporting for Greentech Media. Enjoy.

    HOLIDAY READING: Jobs and the Keystone XL Pipeline Controversy
    Jobs and the Keystone XL Pipeline Controversy; Some factions want the pipeline, some hate the idea. Would the project help a floundering economy and increase employment?
    Herman K. Trabish, November 10, 2011 (Greentech Media)

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    President Obama faces a moment of truth as he confronts the decision of whether to allow or stop TransCanada Corporation’s proposed Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline. The question the president must answer is whether the pipeline is in the country's best interest.

    The pipeline would be an international undertaking to move oil eked out of the Athabasca tar sands in the Canadian province of Alberta 1,700 miles to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. It would be a new supply of North American petroleum that is likely the quantitative match of the world’s richest oil reserves.

    The American Petroleum Institute has declared that stopping the pipeline would “weaken America’s energy security” and be a significant failure for the nation’s “energy future.”

    Environmental advocates say the project undermines the emerging greentech economy. Renowned NASA climate scientist James Hansen has called unrestrained development of the tar sands “game over” for the planet.

    With scrutiny, questions have emerged about the State Department’s environmental review of the project, which found that protection measures would prevent “significant impacts.” State’s inspector general therefore announced a "special review" of KXL. This gives the president time to reach a final, politically fraught decision, which the White House has said is “months away.”

    click to enlarge

    Tar sands are not exactly oil, but rather a mix of tarry crude (called bitumen) with sand, clay and water. Getting at the tar sands is not a matter of drilling but of digging.

    Greentech Media Editor-in-Chief Eric Wesoff conclusively made the case against petroleum products extracted from tar sands some time back. Exploiting it and refining it into useable form is prohibitively expensive. That will help keep the price of gas at the pump high.

    Exploiting the tar sands deposits is also devastating to the environment. To access the tar sands, boreal forests are torn away. Bringing the product up requires vast quantities of water, as well as toxic chemicals, and leaves lakes of toxins behind, often near waterways.

    Oil industry plans call for piping the raw extract to Gulf Coast refineries which, with the help of costly high-tech retrofits, will be able to turn it into useable fuels. A September 2011 Oil Change International paper reported that those refined fuels will be largely used for export.

    Resistance to TransCanada Corporation’s proposed Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline has grown from a small group of dedicated activists to opponents across the political spectrum.

    At one end of the spectrum are Midwestern conservatives determined to conserve the Ogallala Aquifer, which KXL is routed to pass through. A spill would threaten drinking water for two million people in eight states and a $20 billion agriculture industry.

    At the other end, activists surrounding the White House last weekend linked their “Stop the Pipeline” cause to the ongoing Occupy movement, marching under signs bearing the slogan “Occupy Earth.”

    click to enlarge

    But polls show that the public’s attention is focused on the economy and jobs -- and there
    is important news concerning KXL on that front.

    The American Petroleum Institute and TransCanada have research showing the pipeline will support some 85,000 U.S. jobs in 2020 and that development of the tar sands could create 600,000 U.S. jobs by 2035.

    However, Pipe Dreams? Jobs Gained, Jobs Lost by the Construction of Keystone XL, a recent report from the Cornell University Global Labor Institute, found some shortcomings and oversights in the API study:

    1. The API claims assume a $7 billion KXL budget, whereas the actual figure bearing on U.S. jobs is $3 billion to $4 billion;

    2. TransCanada supplied data to the U.S. State Department showing no more than 2,500 to 4,650 temporary direct construction jobs over two years, and there is no substantiation for its related claim that KXL will create 20,000 direct U.S. construction and manufacturing jobs;

    3. Much of the line’s steel pipe has already been contracted for or manufactured. The steel came largely not from the U.S. but from India, and much of the steel for the rest the line will come from India or Russia;

    4. The API claim there will be 119,000 total (direct, indirect, and induced) jobs is based on a flawed and poorly documented Perryman Group study commissioned by TransCanada that wrongly includes more than $1 billion in spending and 10,000+ person-years of employment for a part of the project in Kansas and Oklahoma that is not part of KXL and has already been built;

    5. Even if the Perryman study were an accurate description of the jobs from KXL and they were filled immediately, U.S. unemployment would remain at the nine percent level;

    6. By sending tar sands products now supplying Midwest refineries to Gulf Coast refineries, KXL could increase the price of gas and diesel fuel in the Midwest. Such additional costs, estimated at $2 billion to $4 billion, could suppress other spending and further cost jobs;

    7. Tar sands petroleum product is higher in emissions than sweet crude and therefore causes more respiratory and other health harms and adds to climate instability;

    8. Remaining dependent on the oil industry impedes the growth of renewables and a green economy that has generated 2.7 million U.S. jobs and is just beginning to grow.

    HOLIDAY READING: Is Google Really Abandoning Renewables?

    During this holiday season, NewEnergyNews will feature selections from its original reporting for Greentech Media. Enjoy.

    Is Google Really Abandoning Renewables? RE < Coal is gone but there’s a lot more to the story.
    Herman K. Trabish, December 22, 2011 (Greentech Media)

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    "I just read that Google is ending its involvement in green energy projects," a GTM commenter recently wrote. Nothing could be farther from the truth, it turns out. Google is more committed than ever to renewables and energy efficiency.

    The company closed down a series of programs, largely unassociated with renewables, in 2011. “It’s a broader effort at Google to focus our engineering work,” said Google Clean Energy spokesperson Parag Chokshi, "and has nothing to do with energy.”

    Among the programs closed down was RE less than C, an engineering effort focused, Chokshi said, “on solar power tower technology research and development.” The group produced “eight or nine technical papers that are published now and available on our website detailing all the work they did,” he explained. “We just decided there are other organizations in a better position to take the research forward.”

    As an example, Chokshi pointed out that the research had turned up specifics on materials used in the construction of solar power plant heliostats that the company believes can best be exploited by materials engineers or heliostat manufacturers.

    Google’s corporate commitment to renewables, however, is unwavering. In June, it released "The Impact of Clean Energy Innovation," a study that extolled the possibilities and benefits of energy innovation. “Our highest impact efforts in renewable energy are continuing unchanged. In fact, we’re really excited about expanding those efforts,” Chokshi said.

    click to enlarge

    Google has worked at energy efficiency since its founding, Chokshi said, noting especially its efforts to streamline data center energy consumption. “And it’s not just the large data centers we build,” Chokshi said. “Smaller organizations can take advantage of these strategies.”

    Google also wants to operate its data centers, whenever possible, on renewables. They have signed “two deals to procure wind energy for our operations and we’re actively looking for more to do there,” Chokshi said. “Our operations are now about 25 percent renewables-powered,” he said. “The ultimate goal is 100 percent, so we’re trying to work that percentage up. We’re hoping to be at 35 percent next year.”

    Google is also completely carbon-neutral, thanks to purchases of “very high quality offsets that we think are additional, financially and environmentally,” Chokshi said. “But offsets are the least best option,” he added, which is why the company remains intent on renewables.

    They just announced a new, $94-million, utility-scale solar PV investment in four Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) projects, once again opening up new dimensions in a renewables investment portfolio that now totals $915 million dollars.

    The newest solar buy, 88 megawatts in total and scheduled to start service in 2012, is Google’s first U.S. utility-scale PV undertaking, its first participation in a feed-in tariff-based program, which also brings mega-investor Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR) into that company’s first U.S. sun deal.

    click to enlarge

    Google’s portfolio also includes:

    -$75 million in a fund operated by Clean Power Finance (CPF) that will finance 3,000 rooftop solar home installations;
    -$280 million in a fund operated by SolarCity that will extend that company’s lease program to some 8,000 new system owners;
    -$168 million in BrightSource Energy’s Mojave Desert utility-scale CSP solar power tower facility that will supply 392 megawatts of electricity to California power suppliers SCE and PG&E (following an initial $10 million investment in the company itself);
    -a 37.5 percent early equity stake in the Atlantic Wind Connection, a transmission backbone that will ultimately cost approximately $5 billion and deliver 7,000 megawatts of offshore wind-generated electricity from a 2,000-megawatt-capacity, high-voltage, direct-current, 250-mile transmission path between southern Virginia and northern New Jersey;
    -$157 million in 270 megawatts of wind being built at the Alta Wind Center in Southern California’s Tehachapi Mountains;
    -$100 million in the 845-megawatt Shepherd’s Flat project in Oregon, the biggest on-land wind farm in the world;
    -$38.8 million in two North Dakota wind farms with a total capacity of 169.5 megawatts, the first production tax credit deal done after the 2008 economic crash;
    -€3.5 million (~$5 million) for 49 percent of an 18.65-megawatt PV solar installation in Brandenburg, Germany.

    It is a pretty standard portfolio approach. “We’re investing Google’s capital,” Chokshi said. “We want to make sure we are diversifying.” But “in a more general sense,” he added, “we think we need to invest in a wide range of technologies to get to the ultimate goal which is a clean energy future. That’s going to involve all the clean energy technologies.”

    Though some opponents of renewables have tried to do so, there is simply no way to spin this kind of commitment of money and attention as some kind of wavering.

    “We remain committed to the sector,” Chokshi said. “We see it both as a business opportunity and as an important sector to support, because as a company we think a long-term, cost-effective supply of renewable energy is critical to our business and to the world. We’ll continue to invest.”

    Sunday, December 25, 2011

    A Christmas Song


    For too many, today is yet another Christmas in the trenches. We no longer share the same holidays and holiday carols as our opponents. And perhaps the weapons reach from one human epoch to another. But it is still the case that the ones who call the shots are not among the dead and lame. And at each end of the weapons we still remain the same. From FolkFaves via YouTube

    A Hard Christmas


    Suppose the Prince of Peace set foot on this good earth this very afternoon. How pleased would he be with those to whom are entrusted stewardship? Would he be bedazzled by a bunch of bright Christmas lights and candy canes? Or would he react as Santa does here to the budding tragedy this planet’s keepers have wrought? From ZeldaandtheUnibrows

    The Character Of A Country At Christmas


    It’s worth remembering: “Such a tidal wave of good will…” From BrttyTxn via YouTube

    Saturday, December 24, 2011

    Youth Takes Action – To The Tune Of Jingle Bell Rock

    A flash mob of young people wearing Santa caps has something to say about the climate change that is going to make a huge difference in their lives. From butchnews via YouTube

    Youth Takes Action – We Mean Green


    This is a story. It has a beginning, a middle and a great, cliffhanger ending. Can’t wait for the sequel. Meeting the characters in this story makes it easy to understand why the anti-coal movement has been so successful for so long. From ZombieSlayerZ via YouTube

    Youth Takes Action – The Most Important Action Of All


    Piezoelectric materials capture energy from movement and turn it into electricity. These kids are learning about their future while burning off excess exuberance, giving their parents a double merry Christmas. From midsummerplacecentre via YouTube

    Friday, December 23, 2011

    HOLIDAY READING: DEAR SANTA – WIND’S WISH LIST

    During this holiday season, NewEnergyNews will feature selections from its original reporting for Greentech Media. Enjoy.

    Dear Santa: The Wind Industry Christmas Wish List; The wind industry has behaved nicely this year. Some gifts would be appreciated.
    Herman K. Trabish, December 19, 2011 (Greentech Media)

    (from WikiCommons-click to enlarge)

    These Christmas wishes would make the wind industry’s future much merrier. There are eight, so they will also light up Hanukkah’s nights.

    1.) Santa must convince this Scrooge-like Congress to open its cold, calculating heart to an extension of the wind industry’s production tax credit (PTC) until 2016, matching the duration of solar’s investment tax credit (ITC).

    Wind’s tax credit will expire at the end of 2012. It returns 2.3 cents for every kilowatt-hour of electricity produced in the project’s first 10 years. It has been up for extension eight times. The three times it was delayed, installations dropped 73 percent, 77 percent, and 93 percent, respectively. A just-released study showed a failure to extend could cost nearly 40,000 jobs and almost 10 billion dollars. If the credit is extended through 2016, the struggling U.S. economy would receive a wind industry that is bigger by $1 billion, as well as 25,000 new jobs.

    2.) Santa could also renew the ITC Treasury Cash Grant options and renew the manufacturing tax credit for wind.

    The ITC allows investors a 30 percent tax credit at the end of the first year of a project’s life instead of the PTC. The Cash Grant allows developers to take the 30 percent ITC as an upfront cash rebate. The manufacturing tax credits support the renewables’ supply chains.

    Congress' resistance to extending these programs raises taxes on renewables developers and manufacturers, otherwise known as job creators.

    click to enlarge

    3.) New transmission would be a wonderful gift. Wind is curtailed when there is more electricity being supplied than there are lines to carry it. Wind and the other renewables would profit greatly with more wires from resource-rich remote regions to populated areas where people are hungry for electricity.

    4.) Wind needs better PR. Opponents of wind have seen it grow to 35 percent of new U.S. electricity generation, while coal’s share fell to 44 percent. Wind’s opponents want their market share back.

    That likely explains why the media has recently been filled with claims that wind increases greenhouse gas emissions, that it drives up power prices, and that it is a serious threat to avian life.

    “Silence is taken as ‘pour it on,’” a political consultant recently noted. “If you don’t respond to what people say, it becomes true.” Santa could help wind’s supporters spread the good word.

    5.) If Santa brings grid operators up-to-date technologies and flexibility services with their new transmission, wind and the other renewables can do without scaled up energy storage for another two decades. Still, without adequate transmission, storage is the best alternative.

    Experiments in energy storage are ongoing. Pumped hydro has proven itself. Compressed air energy storage (CAES) shows signs of being economic, if not always practical. And battery storage is being used for grid management. If Santa could leave cost-effective 20-megawatt battery packs under the trees of wire-limited grid operators, they could put more wind to work.

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    6.) Offshore wind. Europe has over 40 offshore wind farms with an installed capacity of 2,396 megawatts and 16 more projects, totaling an additional 3,972 megawatts, under construction. China has 102 megawatts of offshore wind in operation and some 2,300 megawatts in construction. But despite the Obama administration’s best efforts to facilitate and streamline, the U.S. has zero megawatts installed or under construction.

    Santa could deliver passage of the specially structured ITC now before Congress that addresses offshore wind’s double whammy of high cost and protracted development. Bills have bipartisan support in both houses.

    7.) An equitable intellectual property environment. Uneasy trade relations with China exploded this year. Sino-Wind troubles surround the legal battle between AMSC, a U.S. advanced technologies provider, and Sinovel, China’s leading turbine manufacturer.

    The confession and conviction of a former employee of AMSC subsidiary WindTec for intellectual property (IP) theft and collusion with Sinovel make it hard not to believe in the Chinese company’s guilt. Evidence allegedly shows Sinovel requested the stolen IP, received it, had a $1.5-million-plus contract with the employee, and has been using the stolen software.

    What the wind industry needs from Santa is, first, an equitable settlement between AMSC and Sinovel and, second, contractual certainty with which the industry can go back to work in the world’s biggest wind market.

    Wind companies in China and around the world will profit enormously from this gift, but it could cost Sinovel a trillion-dollar settlement, so this will be a tough one. If Santa fails, the Chinese courts will take over.

    (from WikiCommons - click to enlarge)

    8.) A consensus on dealing with greenhouse gases. This is the toughest one. Timely, scaled implementation of renewables requires a price on greenhouse gas emissions. Europeans widely accept the idea of climate change, are working on pricing emissions, and are rapidly building renewables. U.S. political opinion is less aligned. The wind industry needs a U.S. policy which addresses greenhouse gases and climate change.

    Happy holidays.

    HOLIDAY READING: MOST READ 2011 – SUN IS A BETTER BUY THAN OLD ENERGIES

    During this holiday season, NewEnergyNews will feature selections from its original reporting for Greentech Media. This was the most trafficked and talked about story done by NewEnergyNews this year. Enjoy.

    New Study: Solar Grid Parity Is Here Today; A definitive new LCOE study says solar has achieved parity.
    Herman K. Trabish, December 7, 2011 (Greentech Media)

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    Solar materials prices are down, financing is more accessible and technology has extended solar system life. The result: The price of solar energy-generated electricity, calculated by a legitimate levelized cost of energy (LCOE) method, is now competitive in many regions with the price of electricity generated by conventional sources.

    To be clear, this review of solar photovoltaic LCOE is not one of those “if coal and nuclear paid for the real harm they do” analyses. It is a hard look at the actual numbers.

    The study’s biggest surprise, said co-author Joshua Pearce, Materials Science and Mechanical Engineering Professor at Queen’s University and Michigan Technological University, was how much outdated information and misinformation there is about the price of residential and small/medium system solar energy. “We have reached a tipping point,” he said. “Solar has gone past grid parity.”

    Parity, according to the study, is “the lifetime generation cost of the electricity from PV being comparable with the electricity prices for conventional sources on the grid.” The metric of LCOE is used “when comparing electricity generation technologies or considering grid parity for emerging technologies.”

    Based on the study’s LCOE calculations, “It is still a common misconception that solar PV technology has a short life and is therefore extremely expensive.” However, he continued, “Depending on the location, the cost of solar PV has already dropped below that of conventional sources.”

    For the study, Pearce and co-authors K. Branker and M.J.M. Pathak, also Materials Science and Mechanical Engineering specialists at Queen’s University, reviewed “every residential and small/medium PV solar system LCOE [calculation] that has been done,” Pearce said, identifying five key factors: “The choice of discount rate, average system price, financing method, average system lifetime and degradation of energy generation over the lifetime.”

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    'Discount rate' is the economist’s term for the interest rate charged on upfront costs. “The major generation cost for solar PV,” the study states, “is the upfront cost and the cost of financing.”

    Discounting the future, Pearce said, is saying money “ten years from now is not worth as much as it is today,” and that makes running a coal plant seem a better investment, “even though it is going to have major operating expenses in the future” that solar won’t have.

    This is especially problematic in energy economics. “The energy escalation rate can be higher than the discount rate [... because] the cost of energy over time is generally going up,” Pearce said.

    Historically, Pearce said, LCOE calculations for solar have been conservative and on the high side. Given the state of knowledge of what the production of a PV system will be and what the return on the investment will be, the discount rate should be low. “As a proven technology,” the study pointed out, “solar PV should be able to obtain similar financing methods as other energy technologies, although this is not necessarily the case.”

    Because it found financing so crucial, the study speculated that zero interest financing might be a more effective incentive than a feed-in tariff or a tax credit.

    Previous LCOE studies' conclusions are irrelevant to today’s residential and small/medium solar systems, Pearce said, because “the cost of the panels themselves has been dropping like a rock.” This is also true, the study found, for balance of system (BOS) costs. “And maintenance costs are nothing,” Pearce added. Furthermore, he said, economies of scale in the supply chain and efficiencies coming to installation labor will bring costs down further.

    Solar panel durability has also increased. Degradation of output, even for panels made in the 1980s with much older technologies, is significantly slower than the one percent rate used in previous LCOE calculations and for loan considerations.

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    A panel “has no moving parts; it’s all electronic and a solid-state device,” meaning that should last “a long, long time,” Pearce said. This means “we should be doing our economic analysis at least on a 30-year lifetime,” but there is not yet adequate data, he explained.

    “A degradation rate of 0.2 to 0.5 percent per year,” the study reported, “is considered reasonable given the technological advances.”

    “Over 90 percent of the American public is pro-solar,” Pearce said. “What holds them back is the ability to finance. But costs have dropped by more than half in the last couple of years. When you compare the average cost of a home and the average cost of the solar system, you need to provide the average electricity you need for that home -- it’s not a significant fraction.”

    Pearce noted that in cost terms, the homeowner’s choice is between a solar system and other options. “Before we hit the majority of the American public, which the Department of Energy puts out only a few more years,” Pearce said, “we still need to push the economics down a little further.”

    The shift to solar “is not going to happen all at once,” Pearce said. “Two pockets of the country,” he predicted, will “open up to solar first.” Solar will most quickly be noticed as competitive where electricity rates are high or where utilities have inordinate monthly charges.

    Where PV becomes “economically viable,” Pearce said, will be when “the banks get comfortable with it and it becomes something that you just put on your mortgage, a normal thing that everybody in the neighborhood is doing because they can save a little every month on their utility bill.”

    “It is clear PV has already obtained grid parity in specific locations,” the study concludes, “and as installed costs continue to decline, grid electricity prices continue to escalate, and industry experience increases, PV will become an increasingly economically advantageous source of electricity over expanding geographical regions.”

    Here's a question: What will a tariff on Chinese solar panels resulting from the recent SolarWorld trade claim do to this hard-fought grid parity?

    Thursday, December 22, 2011

    TODAY’S STUDY: THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON HEALTH

    Health and Climate Change: Accounting for Costs
    November 2011 (Natural Resources Defense Council)

    Climate change endangers human health, and costs us money in both lost and interrupted lives and increased health care. In a study published in the journal Health Affairs, a team of scientists from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) partnered with university economists to investigate the health costs of six climate change-related events, and found the estimated costs totaled more than $14 billion (in 2008 U.S. dollars).1 The study team selected six types of events that will worsen with climate change in ways likely to harm human health—ozone smog pollution, heat waves, hurricanes, mosquito-borne infectious disease, river flooding, and wildfires. The health effects and related costs of these events offer an indication of the threats we will increasingly face under a warming climate.

    The projected health and economic burden of climate related events will be enormous if global warming continues unchecked and communities are not prepared. Public health preparedness can reduce climate-related health costs. Measures to reduce carbon pollution are urgently needed. As this analysis illustrates, an investment in preparedness today could save billions of dollars in future health costs, and could also save lives. Actions to counteract extreme events cost four to five times less than paying for event-related health consequences…

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    This is the first study that links health data from the scientific literature to U.S. events projected to worsen with climate change, and develops a uniform method of quantifying the associated health costs.

    For each of six case studies, the team of scientists researched an event that occurred between 2002 and 2009 for which health outcomes had been quantified. The team used economic methods and state-collected or published data on the number of deaths, hospitalizations, and emergency room visits to calculate the health cost of each event and the total from all six events. (More details are provided in the online Methods section.) This is a conservative analysis, since it does not include all climate change-related events that affected health from 2002 to 2009 in the United States.

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    Health costs have seldom been included in valuations of climate change damages, resulting in substantial underestimates of climate change costs. For example, SwissRe’s 2010 report Weathering Climate Change found that global insured economic losses from climate-related disasters, not including health costs, had soared from $5 billion to $27 billion U.S. dollars annually from 1970 to 2010…Our finding that health costs from just these six U.S. events topped $14 billion demonstrates how much higher the true costs of climate change are and will be in the future.

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    Over a two-week heat wave, 655 deaths, 1,620 hospitalizations, and more than 16,000 excess emergency room visits, resulted in nearly $5.4 billion dollars in costs. Major heat waves such as this are expected to occur more frequently in the future.

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    These fires burned more than 736,000 acres and resulted in 69 deaths, 778 hospitalizations, and more than 47,600 outpatient visits. Together, this resulted in health-related costs exceeding $578 million. Conditions conducive to wildfires, including drought and extreme heat, are expected to worsen in many parts of the country due to climate change.

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    During the Red River and associated floods, two deaths, 263 emergency room visits, and an estimated 3,000 outpatient visits resulted in nearly $20.4 million in health-related costs. Seasonal river flooding will increasingly affect many areas of the country, resulting in more injuries and deaths. Increased heavy downpours are projected from climate change as temperatures rise, raising levels of both evaporation and precipitation in many areas.

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    Across the U.S. in 2002, nearly 288 million Americans were exposed to ozone smog levels above the health-based standard, which was then 80 ppb. This exposure hastened death for 795 people, and caused 4,150 hospitalizations and more than 365,000 outpatient visits, at a cost of $6.5 billion. Smog levels are anticipated to rise in the coming years, in the absence of strategies to reduce precursor emissions, because as climate change increases temperatures, ozone-forming chemical reactions also increase.

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    Four major hurricanes caused 144 premature deaths, nearly 2,200 hospitalizations, 2,600 emergency visits, and $1.4 billion in health related costs. Climate change is projected to increase the intensity of hurricanes, as sea surface temperature rise in the North Atlantic and provide more energy to drive storm systems. Some climate models project a doubling in the most intense hurricanes (Category 4 and 5) by late in this century

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    An outbreak of West Nile Virus in Louisiana in 2002 resulted in an estimated 24 premature deaths, 204 hospitalizations, and nearly 5,800 outpatient visits. Health-related costs totaled $207 million. Mosquito-borne diseases are expected to emerge and spread into more northern climates as temperatures increase and create more habitable environments for mosquitoes.

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    Recommendations

    The increasing threat of extreme events with climate change cannot be ignored. As a June 2011 Scientific American article noted, “Now we can make the statement that particular events would not have happened in the same way without global warming.”…A report from the international reinsurance company MunichRe, which has studied extreme events from 1980 through 2011, concluded that the frequency of extreme events in the United States is on the rise…To improve our understanding and ability to reduce and prepare for future health costs from climate change, we need:

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    -Better Cost Analysis. More comprehensive analyses of the health costs of climate change are needed at the national and local level to inform policy making.

    -Improved Tracking. Increased funding can support tracking and monitoring of climate change-related outcomes and environmental indicators related to climate change. To this end, it is crucial to fund the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Environmental Public Health Tracking program and other research initiatives.

    -Preparedness in Communities. Only 13 U.S. states currently include public health measures in their climate change adaptation plans. Climate-adaptive strategic planning should become a priority at the local, state, regional, and national levels. Some examples include issuing heat-related health advisories, early warning systems, public cooling centers, providing better disease surveillance, redesigning communities to withstand floods and storms, and reducing wildfire risks.

    -Reduced Climate Change Pollution. Carbon pollution needs to be reduced to limit the most serious health effects related to climate change. NRDC strongly supports the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to limit carbon pollution.

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    The degree to which climate change affects the likelihood or severity of health effects is an important question, but determining it was not the goal of this study. The team of scientist-authors did not try to establish a yearly figure for costs, since only six U.S. case study sites were represented, and thus an annualized figure would be an underestimate. The goal of this study was to quantify the health-related costs from some of the types of already documented extreme events that are projected to increase further under a changing climate. Health costs are seldom included in government valuations of climate change damages. While we have used a conservative estimate of more than $14 billion, the total health-related cost of the six events could actually be as high as $40 billion if all the possible sources of variability in the estimated health effects, and the methods used to place cost values on health effects, are included. This study is a first step toward comprehensive inclusion of human health costs among the important economic damages of climate change.

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