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Cover of the May 10th issue of The New Yorker magazine. Cover by Bob Staake.

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.

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The U.S. Department of Energy has proposed an ambitious plan to increase wind energy’s contribution to the U.S. electricity supply. The goal is for wind energy to provide 20% of U.S. electricity needs by 2030. The U.S. Department of Energy has identified transmission limitations as the greatest obstacle to realizing this goal. 300,000 MW of wind energy are needed to meet this goal, which would require the installation of nearly 12,000 miles of high voltage, 765 kV transmission lines. Although several transmission line initiatives exist, few have plans to install transmission lines at this high capacity level. However, one transmission provider, ITC Holdings Corporation, has responded by developing a plan for a network of transmission lines referred to as the “Green Power Express”. The Green Power Express will include up to 3,000 miles of high-voltage, 765 kV transmission lines that will efficiently carry up to 12,000 MW of renewable energy.

To promote additional renewable energy, the transmission grid must be built to link areas with vast wind energy potential to areas that have high demand for electric power. New power lines that would carry electricity from remote to populated areas have been termed “green power superhighways”. The Green Power Express will facilitate the movement of power through these green power superhighways from wind-abundant areas in the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Iowa to Midwest load centers such as Chicago, southeastern Wisconsin, Minneapolis, and other states that demand clean, renewable energy.

Our current system has introduced several obstacles that have previously limited the creation of new transmission. Policy obstacles severely impede the construction of green power superhighways. For example, regulators in a single state can reject an entire multi-state transmission network simply be not granting the necessary permits. Generally this would occur if the state felt that they wouldn’t receive an adequate share of the project’s benefits.

Many private companies also feel that they won’t receive benefits from investing in transmission infrastructure. Few private firms have stepped forward to invest in transmission in the first place because the existing regulatory structure gives companies little or no economic incentive.

In order to meet renewable energy goals, major investments and well-developed plans for new transmission are needed. The Green Power Express seeks to create an ideal transmission grid – one which would provide consumers with access to lower-cost electricity where they do not have to rely on a single retailer. Additionally, a new transmission infrastructure would increase competition in the power markets also lowering costs of electricity.

Several reforms in our current transmission infrastructure have been proposed to facilitate this ideal grid. Federal legislation must provide new mission statements, adequate resources, and specific timelines for action. Siting processes must be revamped to allow the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to act as the lead agency for permitting and coordinating siting approval. Finally, facilities identified as necessary for the development of green power superhighways should be eligible for broad, regional cost allocation.

Though the upfront cost of investing in the transmission infrastructure may seem large and there are many advancements that need to be made, the long-term economic and environmental benefits of these changes will greatly outweigh their initial costs. ITC’s Green Power Express will seek to create one portion of this new, robust transmission grid, helping eliminate the existing constraints associated with our current transmission system.

Like any other substantial decision, the choice of a wind turbine is one that requires significant consideration. The selection depends on factors such as the wind resource, the goals of the project, and the price, reliability, and availability of the turbines.

The total size of the wind project depends on a number of factors such as the area of land available, the number of turbine placement sites, the number of investors in the project and the size of their contributions, the financing available, and the distribution grid’s ability to accommodate the energy. Turbine size is selected to maximize energy production efficiency and return on investment.

Wind turbine designs are based on specific wind resource and environmental standards. Four International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) classes (I-IV) summarize these criteria. When considering wind turbine models, it is important to regard a turbine’s past track records in areas with similar wind resource and climate as the site in question. The selected turbine must fit the project and site requirements and be available for purchase within the project’s construction time frame.

To maximize cost efficiency of a wind project, it is important to not only pick the turbine well-suited to the site, but to also minimize maintenance issues. It is therefore important to select a turbine manufacturer that has a good track record in the field and a positive reputation for quality equipment. Furthermore, it is necessary that the manufacturer provides a quick response if problems do arise so that the project can remain profitable.

Most wind turbine manufacturers provide a customary 2-year warranty which covers turbine parts and labor. Some manufacturers offer an extended warranty of up to 5 years, generally at an additional cost. National Wind hires on-site Operation and Maintenance (O&M) teams in each project area, which significantly decreases costs of travel and reduces response-time to unscheduled maintenance needs.

Choosing the best wind turbine for a project requires consideration of many features and conditions. However, with the right amount of planning and analysis, wind projects can operate in an efficient and valuable way!

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