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Wind Power Monthly: “Wind ‘competitive with gas’ in US”

Posted By Lowell F. on April 1st, 2014

The decline in the cost of wind power has been impressive over the past few decades, and it’s continuing. As this graphic by the American Wind Energy Association demonstrates. the cost of wind power in the U.S. has fallen from around 55 cents per kilowatthour in 1980 to less than 10 cents per kilowatthour today.  The result is that wind power is rapidly becoming cost competitive with natural gas-fired electricity.

The Visualising the Production Tax Credit for Wind Energy study by the University of California and Syracuse University shows wind costing only $0.0035/kWh more than gas when levelised over the 20-year life of a typical wind project.

This is the result of taking into account the cost of the environmental impact of gas power stations, as well as the predicted volatility of wholesale gas prices…

… adding in the other factors finds an adjusted levelised cost of electricity for wind of 0.092/kWh, versus 0.0885/kWh for gas.

No wonder why major companies like General Electric are pouring billions of dollars into wind power, and why Vestas Wind just boosted its revolving credit line to $1.4 billion.

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For Wind Power, a “Big Empty Space Down South”

Posted By Lowell F. on March 6th, 2014

Over at Earth Techling, writer Pete Danko explains why a map of U.S. wind turbines shows a “big empty space down South.” There are three main obstacles to bringing wind power to the southern U.S.  First, there’s the wind resource itself.

The Southeastern U.S. is devoid of wind power and has been for a simple reason: It is an area with generally poor wind resource. Check out this map (below) of the predicted mean annual wind speeds at 80 meters, typical turbine height, keeping in mind that it takes average winds of around 6.5 meters per second  “to have a wind resource suitable for wind development,” according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Second, a lack of transmission lines.

….more and better transmission lines are needed, including high-voltage, direct-current lines that can move massive amounts of power with less electrical losses compared to AC lines. DC lines, for technical reasons, also make for a more flexible and stable grid.

And third, an unfriendly regulatory environment.

…just last week the Alabama state Senate passed a bill that would set up stringent regulations on any wind farms – so stringent, Pioneer Green Energytold the local Gadsen Times, that if it becomes law, the wind farms won’t be built.

For one thing, a noise limit would measure decibel levels at property lines, not at actual residences. The bill also “requires the towers to be set back from residential or commercial structures or public use areas a distance equivalent to five times the towers’ height,” the Times reported, a very restrictive standard.

Clearly, there’s not much that can be done about the first problem (although offshore wind resources are excellent along much of the East Coast). The second and third obstacles, however, are a different story entirely. Those obstacles are largely the result of (bad) policy choices made by politicians, many of whom are far too friendly to fossil fuels and far too unfriendly to clean, renewable energy. That’s an obstacle we can and should change at the ballot box.

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Cool New USGS Map of Every Single Known U.S. Wind Farm

Posted By Lowell F. on February 12th, 2014

Nope, wind power most certainly is NOT boring! To the contrary:

Wind has become so predictable and commonplace that it’s hard to imagine where all the U.S. turbines could be hiding — currently enough to power more than 12 million homes. Fortunately, we don’t have to imagine anymore.

Click on the image below to check out a new data visualization by the U.S. Geological Survey (a group of data junkies with a boring name). It’s a map of the U.S. with pins dropped on every single known wind farm. Those dots you see? Zoom in using the magnifying glass in the upper left corner and they will explode into more dots. Zoom in further and those dots will become massive wind turbines.

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Yet Another Reason Clean Energy Will Dominate the Future: Water Scarcity

Posted By Lowell F. on December 18th, 2013

Stories like this one are why water-conserving, clean energy technologies need to – and hopefully will – dominate the future.

Climate change could put millions more people at risk of water scarcity, a new study suggests.

Forty percent more people will be put at risk of chronic or absolute water scarcity due to changes in rainfall and evaporation that result from climate change, according to a report published Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Climate change will “substantially aggravate the water scarcity problem” globally, the report says.

“We conclude that the combination of unmitigated climate change and further population growth will expose a significant fraction of the world population to chronic or absolute water scarcity,” the report adds.

How much water do fossil fuels use? A lot. For instance, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) reports that “total water used for coal mining in the United States (including water use for coal washing and cooling of drilling equipment) ranges from 70 million to 260 million gallons a day.” Then,  to transport the coal, “slurry pipelines withdraw hundreds of gallons of water for every megawatt-hour of electricity produced.”  And then there are coal-fired power plants, which the UCS says can use up to “20 to 50 gallons per kilowatt-hour—even without considering the water needed to mine coal or store coal waste.” As for natural gas fracking, this report finds that in Colorado, fracking uses as much as 39,500 acre-feet, “[e]nough water for 66,400 to 118,400 homes in Colorado.” That’s a lot of water — water we can’t afford to waste in a world of increasing scarcity.

In stark contrast, according to the UCS, “[s]olar PV cells do not use water for generating electricity.” As for wind power, UCS reports that “[t]here is no water impact associated with the operation of wind turbines.” So here’s the choice for the 21st century: continue on with polluting, water-wasting fossil fuels, or switch to clean, water-saving renewable energy. This is not a difficult choice, especially given the plummeting cost of clean energy.

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AWEA Statement on Fish & Wildlife Eagle Take Permit

Posted By Lowell F. on December 6th, 2013

Earlier today, the Fish & Wildlife Service released its new rule on the eagle “take” permit. In response, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has issued a statement, in which AWEA’s Director of Siting Policy John Anderson argues that “[t]his permit program promotes eagle conservation.” Anderson adds that “Congress actually sanctioned it decades ago by specifically authorizing a permit program under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.”  A few more key points worth highlighting:

  • The new rule “will allow permittees, including wind farm operators, to provide conservation benefits for eagles while granting wind energy companies, and other potential permittees – such as oil and gas exploration and production, mining, military bases, airports, telecommunication tower developers, utility line owners, etc. – a degree of longer-term legal and financial certainty, which is important to the viability of any business.”
  • The wind industry does more to address its impacts on eagles than any of the other, far greater sources of eagle fatalities known to wildlife experts.”
  • “Fatalities of golden eagles at modern wind facilities represent less than 2 percent of all documented sources of human-caused eagle fatalities.”
  • “Wind energy already reduces carbon dioxide pollution by nearly 100 million tons per year in the United States, and expanding its development is one of the cheapest, fastest, most readily scalable ways available now to address climate change – which experts and the leading wildlife conservation groups widely view as the single greatest threat to eagles and other wildlife.”

Also worth highlighting is the following language from the Department of Interior:

…this rulemaking is not expected to have any potentially significant environmental effects on future protection of eagles or other environmental resources. Similarly, the effects of this rule are not highly controversial as they mainly involve procedural alterations to regulatory permit provisions that are not anticipated to have any meaningful or significant environmental effects on eagle populations.

And finally:

All permits will be closely monitored to ensure that allowable take numbers are not exceeded and that conservation measures are in place and effective over the life of the permit. Steps taken today will increase transparency and accountability by making annual reports and five-year compilations of eagle fatalities available to the public.

The bottom line is that wind power development – done in an environmentally responsible manner, of course – is a crucial part of this nation’s efforts to move off carbon-based fuels which contribute to climate change, which destroy habitat, and which harm wildlife in a myriad number of ways. The goal should be to accelerate that (environmentally responsible) development, not to slow it down.

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