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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.

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.

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.

Today concludes the last official day of AWEA’s Wind Power 2009 Conference. The day began with a 5k run to support AWEA’s Educational Scholarship Program, and will end with a closing cocktail. The conference, which shattered AWEA records with more than 22,000 people in attendance, featured scores of informational workshops, networking opportunities, and talks from giants in the wind industry such as T. Boone Pickens.

The proposed National Renewable Energy Standard (RES) of 25% renewable energy by 2025 was on everyone’s mind at the conference. A National RES would catalyze forthcoming wind development projects by providing the financial and political incentives necessary to develop large quantities of wind. Furthermore, it would create massive quantities of green jobs- 297,000 according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

AWEA conference attendances remained optimistic that the bill would pass. “We’re going to have an energy plan for America, I can promise you that,” T. Boone Pickens announced. “When the American people want something, it’s going to happen.” The Vice President of Renewable Energy for GE Energy, Vic Abate, voiced similar sentiments. “The next 10-12 months will [set the tone] for the next 10-12 years.” As National Wind Employees head home today, it is clear that one thing will be on their minds – it sure is an exciting time to be in the wind industry.

As mentioned in previous National Wind blogs, the wind power industry has been continuously growing and expanding, especially in recent years. However, in the current economy, can that trend continue?
In the last five years, the annual growth rate of the wind industry averaged 32% (up from 28% in the five previous years). According to the American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) 2009 wind industry outlook released last week, America’s installed wind capacity is predicted grow by at least 20% in 2009, equating to an addition of approximately 5,000 MW. This estimation is greatly dependent on the implementation of certain federal incentives and regulations, but confidence is high due to President Obama’s support of the wind industry.

Currently, the United States is leading the world in total installed wind capacity and annual additions its wind portfolio. The United States currently has 25,369 MW in operation, which allowed it to pull ahead of long-time leader Germany at the end of 2008. Furthermore, the U.S. added 8,545 MW of new installations in 2008, edging out China, which installed 6,300 MW last year.

Some factors of the wind industry that have previously remained fairly constant are facing probable change in 2009. For example, the average capacity of turbines installed in 2008 is 1.67 MW, which is only a slight increase from previous years. With a variety of 2 to 3 MW turbines arriving on the market, the average turbine capacity could increase significantly in 2009. Meanwhile, domestic turbine manufacturing is also increasing its capacity. With a promising outlook on US wind development and some of the best wind regimes in the world, the US is quickly growing its market share of wind turbine technology. Manufacturers, looking to produce where their product is in high demand, are opening up new plants across the U.S. Six (soon to be seven) of the world’s top 10 utility-scale wind turbine manufactures have a presence in the United States. This growth is creating local jobs and helping boost the American economy.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) joined over 220 other companies and organizations in signing a letter to Congress endorsing a national renewable electricity standard (RES). A national RES will provide the long-term policy commitment needed to require businesses to invest in clean, renewable energy. Legislation introduced in to the House and Senate would require utilities in every state to generate at least 25% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

Implementing such a standard could ease many of the nation’s current problems by putting Americans back to work, building up the economy, lowering the cost of living, and reducing negative environmental impacts.

The proposed RES would add nearly 300,000 jobs to the economy according to a new study released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The jobs, created in fields as diverse as management, manufacturing and construction, would add to the 85,000 jobs the wind industry already supports. Additionally, the 25%-by-2025 scenario would prompt roughly $263 billion of capital investment in the economy and provide an estimated $13.5 billion of income to landowners.

The American consumer would in turn see economic savings. A 25% RES would lower annual natural gas prices by about 4.1%, and average electricity prices would be reduced by as much as 7.6%. These reductions would be achieved by diversifying the energy supply, producing more energy from domestic sources, protecting consumers against price spikes, and reducing demand for foreign natural gas.

Besides the economic benefits, an RES is also a strong step in tackling emissions that cause global climate change. A national RES would help reduce dependence on fossil fuels, decreasing environmental degradation from the extraction, transportation, and burning of fossil fuels.

The study conducted by UCS highlights countless benefits of an RES and comes at a crucial time in the national debate over such legislation. The letter, along with the momentum it has gained, urges Congress to adopt a national RES this year. House and Senate committees plan to consider energy legislation, including a national RES, later this spring.

According to a recent survey from the Saint Consulting Group the number of Americans who support wind energy is on the rise. A full 82% of Americans surveyed this year said that they would favor wind energy developments in their hometown. This percentage is up from 76% last year. The greatest acclaim for wind power comes from the Midwest, where a massive 86% of respondents said that they would be supportive of wind development in their communities.

Why might the number be on the rise? One likely explanation is that all the recent press on energy issues has brought a heightened sense of awareness of how the American economy benefits when power is generated locally. According to the Saint Consulting Group, support for all kinds of local power generation is increasing, suggesting that Americans are becoming progressively more in favor of improving America’s energy independence and energy security.

Another likely reason for the augmented support for wind energy is that people are becoming more aware of the potential human and environmental consequences of global climate change. Research conducted at the end of 2008 by the Yale Project on Climate Change and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication showed that 72 percent of Americans felt that global warming was personally important to them. Furthermore, an impressive 90 percent of Americans said that they would be willing to undergo economic losses if the United States were willing to act to reduce climate change. For instance, 72 percent of respondents said that they would support an initiative to increase the average annual household electric bill by 100 dollars if it meant that 20% of their electricity would come from renewable sources.

These figures are particularly significant when compared to a 2007 Gallup Poll that showed that only 60% of Americans believed that global warming was starting to occur. People are increasingly realizing how wind power can contribute much needed rejuvenation to the current economic and environmental situations.

While previous research has shown that support is often not as high when wind projects are actually proposed in communities as when they are theoretically suggested, it is nevertheless encouraging that Americans are increasingly thinking about the benefits that wind energy provides. Furthermore, it is important to note that projects developed by National Wind generally face very little opposition, if any, due to our strong emphasis on community involvement, from project founding through operation. Local community members are key stakeholders in our projects financially and also provide significant input via regular advisory board meetings and landowner forums during the development process. Non-community-owned wind projects, on the other hand, often face opposition because they fail to offer landowners these benefits.

20% wind energy by 2030. According to the Department of Energy and the American Wind Energy Association, this staggering yet inspiring number is quite feasible. Not only would harnessing 20% of our energy from wind by 2030 mean a much cleaner environment, but it would also mean tremendous job growth. The US Department of Energy’s “20% wind energy by 2030” report finds if wind represented a fifth of America’s wind supply, over half a million domestic jobs could be created.

The wind industry creates jobs in manufacturing, construction, transportation, legal, financial, safety, and maintenance.

The manufacturing jobs created are varied and diverse. Every 1000 MW of wind power developed creates a potential for 3000 jobs in manufacturing, 700 jobs in installation and 600 in operations and maintenance according to a study conducted by the Renewable Energy Policy Project (REPP). A wind turbine’s four main components (the tower, rotor, nacelle and controls, gearbox and drive train, and generator and power elextronics) are divided into 20 sub-components. Because each sub-component requires a vast level of technical expertise to manufacture, separate facilities are utilized to complete the job. This creates a variety of manufacturing jobs in the areas of measuring and controlling devices, ball and roller bearings, iron and steel fabrication, power transmission equipment, industrial commercial fans and blowers, printed circuits and electronics assemblies, plastics and rubber products and motors and generators.

Also, wind energy technicians are needed to assist with the construction and upkeep of turbines while wind research specialists are needed to use climatology to assess wind potential in various locations.

Direct wind industry job growth would also increase jobs in related industries. For instance, large-load transportation specialists are needed to transport the turbines from the manufacturing facility to the wind farm, while lawyers are needed to deal with legal fees and regulations associated with the turbines.

The largest number of jobs can be expected to occur in Texas, California, and the Great Lakes region where it is estimated that by 2030 30,000+ jobs a year will be created. Furthermore, with policy initiatives for wind in America becoming more stable and abundant in recent years, more and more companies are choosing to locate domestically instead of overseas. In the past two years, domestic wind manufacturing has doubled and over 50 new or expanded wind energy manufacturing plants have opened.

What’s especially encouraging about America’s wind industry growth is its capability to create more jobs than traditional energy sources.

The Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California in Berkeley reports that the renewable energy sector generates more jobs per megawatt of power installed, per unit of energy produced, and per dollar of investment, than the fossil fuel-based energy sector.

How’s that for an argument to increase wind energy development in a time of economic downturn?

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