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With much of the industry at this week’s WINDPOWER Expo in Dallas—including National Wind, check us out at booth #407—we thought this might be a good time to run down a variety of recent wind energy stories.

  • First up, a new study has been released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory that adds to their 2008 study, 20% Wind by 2030. On the surface, this new study isn’t quite as sexy—it’s title, after all, is the Western Wind and Solar Integration Study—but it’s conclusions are just as promising.

    A bit of background: The WWSIS study was conducted to investigate the potential impact of a significant addition of wind and solar energy to the power system of West Connect, a series of affiliated utilities throughout Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming. Specifically, the study focused on the feasibility of the group generating 30% of its load from wind energy and 5% from solar. The study concluded that achieving such a high penetration is feasible and would require only a few key change to current practices. Chief among these changes would be creating better systems for aggregating renewable energy over large geographic areas—thus reducing overall variability—and scheduling energy disbursements at more frequent intervals.

    The study mentions a number of the benefits to the Western states should they implement West Connect’s plan. Most strikingly,”operating costs drop by $20 billion/yr, resulting in a 40% savings due to offset fuel and
    emissions.” While this drop in operating costs does not include the cost of constructing a wind farm, it illustrates how much money a wind farm can save over fossil fuels while operating.

  • In other news, “Ontario’s chief medical officer of health says there’s no evidence that the noise from wind turbines leads to adverse health effects.” While Dr. Arlene King offers that some people living near turbines may experience headaches or sleep disturbances, she concludes that wind turbine noise is not sufficient to cause hearing loss or other health effects. While this shouldn’t come as a surprise to regular readers, it’s always nice to receive validation from someone with Dr. King’s credentials.

  • Former President George W. Bush was the keynote speaker at this week’s WINDPOWER conference. He was apparently well received—”The audience welcomed Mr. Bush enthusiastically, giving him standing ovations at the beginning and end of his speech,” the article states—and spent much of the talk discussing signing Texas’ renewable portfolio standard in 1999 when he was governor, and about the country’s need to transition to renewable forms of energy. He said he’s enjoying retired life, living back on his ranch and being out of the limelight.

Well that about wraps it up. Keep your eye on AWEA Into the Wind blog for more updates on the WINDPOWER expo.

Last week’s issue of The New Yorker magazine featured one of my favorite recent covers. As displayed on the left, the cover depicts the morass of Cape Wind, the oft-covered wind farm proposed off the coast of Massachusetts: a pilgrim sails out from the colony of Cape Cod, joust in hand, prepared for a duel with the turbines in front of him. I’ll try and contain the English major side of my personality that really wants to textually analyze the illustration, except to say that I think the allusions to Don Quixote are apt and ferociously clever, as Cape Wind’s journey over the past decade has been nothing if not quixotic.

The last few weeks have provided a veritable flood of news about Cape Wind, and since we haven’t talked about the project in a little while, we wanted to fill you in and ensure that you’re up to date on all the latest developments:

  • First, and perhaps most importantly, on April 27th the US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that Cape Wind had been given regulatory approval to proceed. Hurdles still remain, however. Groups opposed to the project, including the Wampanoag tribe–who believe the wind farm would violate their tribal rights to unobstructed views of the sunrise for sacred ceremonies–are likely to file lawsuits that could delay the project for years. Having said that, Mr. Salazar stated that he does not believe the lawsuits will ultimately derail the project. Another hurdled faced by the project is that when its approval was announced, no agreement had been reached with a utility company to offtake the electricity produced by the turbines. However…
  • …on May 7th, utility company National Grid announced that they would buy half of the project’s output, or a nameplate capacity of 150 MW. That electricity would make up about 3% of the load that National Grid generates or buys. While the electricity produced by Cape Wind will cost more per kilowatt hour than electricity generated by other sources, Jim Gordon, the President of Cape Wind Associates, says National Grid’s customers will see their rates rise by only five cents a day as a result of the purchase. While Cape Wind will need to find an off taker for the second half of their output before securing financing and beginning construction can begin, Gordon said their deal with National Grid will provide a helpful framework when working with other utilities.

So there’s your Cape Wind update in a nutshell. We’ll continue to keep you posted on updates to the project and other cool New Yorker covers.

Yesterday, Colorado governor Bill Ritter signed legislation increasing his state’s renewable portfolio standard from 20% to 30%. The law will require large utilities to generate 30% of their electricity from renewable sources by the year 2020.

Colorado’s 30% standard is one of the most aggressive in the country. About half of the states currently have some form of renewable energy standard in place; California’s standard—33% by 2020—is the country’s strictest.

A spokesperson for Xcel Energy, the state’s leading electric utility, has announced the company’s support of the law.

National Wind is currently developing one project in Colorado, NECO Wind, a 650 megawatt project in Logan, Sedgwick and Phillips Counties. NECO has signed 92,000 acres, and planning for the project’s first phase, 30 MW located in Phillips County, is well underway.

AWEA’s Into the Wind blog links to a story from Fox Toledo about how the residents of Fowler, Indiana have reacted to a nearby wind farm:

And when it comes to noise, nobody seems to take issue.

“I don’t hear them at all,” said Charlene Deckard.

“In the house I hear nothing,” Elmira Deckard said.

And from Don Clute: “If a train goes by a mile away it makes more noise than I’ve ever heard from a wind tower.”

The residents of Fowler appear to feel overwhelmingly positive about the turbines—one resident, Charlene Deckard, even calls them attractive—and the economic benefit that they provide.

If nothing else, this only goes to show that there’s nothing like spending time near a turbine to make one realize that noise isn’t much of an issue at all.

Here at National Wind, we’re really very fond of the the 2008 report from the Department of Energy, 20 Percent Wind Energy by 2030. Well, last month the National Renewable Energy Laboratory released a report which found that the United States is well on its way to achieving that goal, a whole six years early. (As proof of the industry’s progress so far, the Energy Information Administration projects wind to provide 5% of all electricity consumed in the US by 2012.)

The biggest hurdle to reaching that level of wind energy penetration continues to be transmission. Dave Corbus, who oversaw the study for NREL, summed up the problem: “We can bring more wind power online, but if we don’t have the proper infrastructure to move that power around, it’s like buying a hybrid car and leaving it in the garage.” However, even that obstacle isn’t insurmountable. The report estimates that the costs associated with integrating even such a large amount of wind energy into the grid amount to roughly two cents per household per day — a mere $7.30 per year.

This study was released just before another report from NREL that found the United State’s wind potential to be three times higher than previously thought. The new study reports that wind energy could provide 37 million gigawatt hours of electricity a year, nine times more energy than the country currently consumes. Expressed in watts, the United State is capable of producing 10,000 GW of electricity, an enormous number considering covering 20% of the nation’s electric needs would require only 300 GW of wind energy.

The new estimates of the US’s wind resources take into account the enormous strides in turbine technology made since 1993, the last time the country’s wind potential was measured. These numbers only include onshore wind energy potential, not taking into account the nation’s potential offshore wind resources.

For Denise Bode, the CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, these new numbers provide all the more reason to pass a comprehensive renewable energy standard:

The wind resource is there, vast and inexhaustible, waiting for us. Meanwhile, the economy can’t wait, job creation can’t wait, and America can’t wait. We need Congress to act now and pass a comprehensive climate and energy bill that includes a strong national Renewable Electricity Standard.

Here’s something cool. Debbie Jacklich-Kuiken, National Wind Assessment’s resident meteorologist/mechanical engineer extraordinaire was recently featured on the cover of PE magazine. The cover was promoting a feature highlighting the accomplishments of 20 young engineers, one of whom was, obviously, Debbie.

National Wind and National Wind Assessments congratulate Debbie on the honor, and thank her for all of her hard work doing wind assessment.

Also, I want one of those sweet National Wind jackets. Can anybody help me out with that?

Here’s the inside blurb on her extraordinary work:

[note: this OpEd was sent out to and picked up by news organizations last week]

Today’s farmers are interested in wind energy because they’re good managers; farming is all about maximizing profits and reducing risk. Wind energy does both. It’s an additional, steady source of income that doesn’t require extra work, a second crop that can be harvested without effort or significant use of land.

Some people might believe because wind turbines are such large structures that they take substantial acres of property out of production. This is a common misconception. In reality, wind turbines occupy a small area, leaving 99% of farmland in production.

A rule of thumb regarding wind farm land use is that, while each turbine generally needs a plot of about 100 acres separating it from other turbines, the actual footprint of each turbine is less than one acre. This footprint includes the area surrounding the turbine and all access roads. Therefore, each turbine occupies less than 1% of the open land required by a wind farm, leaving the other 99% of the property available as farmland or pasture.

To examine the impact wind energy can make on a small amount of land, let’s envision a hypothetical farmer, John, who grows corn on 500 acres of land. According to the 2008 Riverland Community College Farm Business Management Annual Report for Southeast Minnesota, the average return per acre of corn from 1999-2008 was $60.13 per acre. A total of 500 acres of corn at $60.13 profit equals $30,065 per year. This is the farmer’s return on labor and management after investing capital, labor, management and taking commodity and weather risks.

Now, imagine that John has five turbines on his farm, occupying five of his cropping acres, leaving him with 495 acres of corn. His farming conditions are the same, so from those acres he’ll make $29,764 in profit, based on the 10 year average profit of $60.13 per acre. But add in the revenue from the turbines—$35,000 total assuming $7,000 per turbine (on the low end of what National Wind pays)—and his total profits increase to $64,764 per year. This would be almost double his profits from growing only corn without turbines. Under National Wind’s community model, the profit structure may be even better if landowners take an ownership stake in a project company and share in the actual profits generated.

What if there is heavy flooding or drought next summer, and John is only able to harvest a fraction of expected yield? His revenue could drop to a level below his expenses. Maybe he would break even with the help of crop insurance, but he won’t see a cent of profit. If he had turbines on his property, he would still earn $35,000 in profits. Turbine revenues help to buffer against these acts of God and resulting price volatilities. This allows the farmer to diversify his income and reduce risk.

Wind is another crop that more and more farmers are harvesting. With a small initial outlay of land, a turbine can continue to provide income for years into the future. After construction is complete, the practice of farming continues as it has for generations, with the bonus of added financial security.

Patrick Pelstring is the Co-Founder and Co-Chair of National Wind.

A new study conducted by a panel of seven experts from a variety of technical backgrounds has concluded that there are no indications that wind turbines have an adverse impact on the health of those living nearby. The study, a joint project between the Canadian Wind Energy Association and the American Wind Energy Association, attempts to delegitimize medical complaints by those living near wind farms.

In the study’s conclusion, it stated:

1. Sound from wind turbines does not pose a risk of hearing loss or any other adverse health effect in humans.
2. Subaudible, low frequency sound and infrasound from wind turbines do not present a risk to human health.
3. Some people may be annoyed at the presence of sound from wind turbines. Annoyance is not a pathological entity.
4. A major cause of concern about wind turbine sound is its fluctuating nature. Some may find this sound annoying, a reaction that depends primarily on personal characteristics as opposed to the intensity of the sound level.

This issue of annoyance was the one concession the panel was willing to grant, allowing that the swishing sound made by turbine blades could be perceived as an irritant by some. However, they tempered that concession by stating that this swishing sound was no louder than the ambient noise in an urban environment.

The authors also address Wind Turbine Syndrome in particular:

In particular, the panel considered “wind turbine syndrome” and vibroacoustic disease, which have been claimed as causes of adverse health effects. The evidence indicates that “wind turbine syndrome” is based on misinterpretation of physiologic data and that the features of the so-called syndrome are merely a subset of annoyance reactions. The evidence for vibroacoustic disease (tissue inflammation and fibrosis associated with sound exposure) is extremely dubious at levels of sound associated with wind turbines.

Because the study was funded by the wind industry—though, as one of the authors of the study, Dr. Robert McCunney, stated, “We had almost total independence doing this paper”—it is unlikely to sway the minds of those committed to the idea of wind turbine syndrome. To everybody else, however, it should be viewed as conclusive.

Read the entire study here.

We’ve got a couple exciting bits of news for you today about offshore wind power.

First up: the nation’s first offshore wind farm is slowly moving closer to reality. Cape Wind, a proposed 400+ MW wind farm off the coast of the Nantucket Sound, has entered into power purchase talks with National Grid, a major utility in New England. This is an important step for the troubled project and signals that progress is being made, however slowly.

The project is hoping to qualify for the Depart of Energy cash grants offered in President Obama’s stimulus bill. In order to receive the grant—equal to 30% of a project’s costs—the wind farm will need to begin operating in 2012. Ian Bowles, Massachusetts’ energy and environment secretary, describes Cape Wind as “the only offshore wind project that has any possibility of being built in President Obama’s first term.”

Switching focus to a different part of the world where offshore wind is more than just a vision of the future, nine European nations have banded together to create a “supergrid” in the North Sea to aid transmission from offshore wind farms and supply electricity to the mainland. According to the European Wind Energy Association, 100 GW (yes, gigawatts) of offshore wind in the North Sea are in the planning stages. That would be enough electricity to power roughly 10% of the entire European Union.

The agreement to build the supergrid took place at the Copenhagen climate summit yesterday in Denmark. Coincidentally, Denmark already gets 4.5% of its electricity from offshore wind farms. The Danes know how to get it done.

In an article in the November issue of Scientific American, Stanford professor Mark Jacobson (who we’ve written about before on the blog) released a plan where 100% of the world’s energy consumption comes from renewable sources by the year 2030. This is obviously an ambitious plan, but Jacobson (and his coauthor, Mark Delucchi), say it is achievable with worldwide governmental support.

In the plan, 51% of energy generation across the globe would come from wind energy. That amount of generation would require building 3.8 million 5 MW wind turbines. While that seems like an outrageous number, Jacobson mentions that 73 million cars and light trucks are manufactured every year. The remaining 49% of generation would come from solar and hydro .

In Jacobson’s vision, renewable sources will provide electric power for heating and transportation. While this will require large changes in infrastructure–and the mass adoption of electric vehicles–it will actually save on energy use over time, as electric power runs more efficiently than traditional fossil fuels. (For example, in a vehicle with an internal combustion engine, 80% of the energy in gasoline is wasted as heat. In an electric vehicle, only about 20% of energy is wasted.)

A major limiting factor in the plan is cost–the paper estimates that the massive undertaking could cost $100 trillion. Aside from cost, shortages of necessary materials and lack of political will are seen as the primary stumbling blocks.

The writers acknowledge at the end of the paper that their vision is something of a pipe dream–more of a concept of what is possible than what is feasible.

With sensible policies, nations could set a goal of generating 25 percent of their new energy supply with WWS [wind, water, solar] sources in 10 to 15 years and almost 100 percent of new supply in 20 to 30 years. With extremely aggressive policies, all existing fossil-fuel capacity could theoretically be retired and replaced in the same period, but with more modest and likely policies full replacement may take 40 to 50 years. Either way, clear leadership is needed, or else nations will keep trying technologies promoted by industries rather than vetted by scientists.

Let’s hope legislators the world over are listening.

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