Google and it’s partners are proposing an offshore transmission “spine” that will tie together a necklace of offshore wind farms strung along the mid-Atlantic. A brilliant idea in that the New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and DC corridor among the most concentrated energy markets in the US. I sincerely hope this project gets built. However, expect there to be serious opposition from some environmental groups who will voice concern for migratory birds and mammals that traverse along this ocean corridor. Yet, Google’s green business unit and their partners are providing what has been lacking in offshore wind power – leadership+cash! A wonderful combination.
“With this decision, we are beginning a new direction in our nation’s energy future” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar
It is official, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar approved the now notorious Cape Wind offshore wind power project for Nantucket Sound – and it only took 9+years! While this Department of Interior approval represents the single biggest hurdle, others remain. There will certainly be lawsuits filed by the opposition and the project has yet to secure an agreement for the sale of the power it will produce. Regarding the latter, Cape Wind is presently negotiating a power purchase agreement (PPA) with National Grid. Regarding the lawsuits, it is anybodies guess how those will play out but Cape Wind plans on “breaking water” for the project later this year.
While a stunning victory for Cape Wind, as Salazar correctly stated today, “With this decision, we are beginning a new direction in our nation’s energy future.” The impact of this approval will be seismic for other offshore wind projects in that it signals to all the potential investors who have been patiently waiting in the wings, that money invested in offshore wind projects may finally yield attractive returns. And by all accounts the pay off will be huge because while it is more costly to build offshore, the offshore wind resource is so much more energetic offshore than on shore (wind class 5-7 offshore, compared to 3-5 onshore), that the projects can more than cover the higher, front-end costs of construction.
Now, finally, the US can begin the long road to try and catch up with Europe in terms of their long list of successful offshore wind power projects.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is expected to decide on the Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound and is so doing possibly pass judgment on the entire proposition of ocean wind energy for the foreseeable future here in the US. A decision not to allow Cape Wind to proceed will certainly put the Big Chill on offshore wind power. Conversely, a Cape Wind approval would be a a huge vote of confidence for an industry that is expected to provide nearly 400 billion dollars of economic activity over the next decade.
Personally, I am in favor of approving Cape Wind. While there are bona fide concerns regarding visual, historical, recreational, and environmental impacts, those impacts do not in my mind overwhelm the incredible benefits that will flow from opening up our near shore waters to clean energy development. Regarding projects of the size and scope of Cape Wind, somebody’s ox always gets gored. The only question is whether the good done is greater than the sum total of the impacts. And by all estimates, responsible development of near shore wind resources stands to provide huge benefits for a country that claims to want to burn less fossil fuels and make strides towards energy independence. Indeed, without tapping our near shore wind resources it is very unlikely that we will be able to provide much more than 5% of our nation’s energy from renewables and that is just not enough.
Yet, there are those who say the cost of the Cape Wind is prohibitively expensive, while others counter that while expensive, the project will still provide billions of dollars of savings over the course of its operational life.
In what many see as a giant step backwards, Salazar recently opened up much of the Mid Atlantic and Alaskan seaboards to offshore oil development. Was the offshore oil decision a foretelling of a Cape Wind approval or rather an indication of a total collapse of resolve on the part of the Obama administration to make good on their earlier claims of wanting to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and to foster green energy?
One thing is very sure, either way Salazar/Obama go regarding Cape Wind when coupled with the recent decision approving offshore drilling will very likely tell us what we can expect regarding offshore wind’s contribution to your nation’s energy mix for the foreseeable future.
Wind Industry Needs National Power Standard – But Will That Lead to a Net Decrease In Energy Sector Jobs?
A coalition of 29 state Governors are all calling on the federal government to mandate a national renewable energy standard. According to the coalition, this is the best and perhaps the only way to increase the role that wind power plays in the US’s energy mix. While growth has been very strong for US wind, wind’s contribution to overall electric generation is still under 2% of our total. And while the US still leads globally, Germany and especially China are coming on fast.
Global windpower capacity rose about 32 percent to 159,213 megawatts last year, according to the World Wind Energy Report 2009. U.S. capacity was the biggest with 35,159 megawatts, followed by China with 26,010 megawatts and Germany with 25,770. China will likely leap-frog the US in installed wind power in the next few years unless we match or surpass the very significant incentives China has put in place in recent years. Specifically, China in 2008 passed a stimulus package that allocated an astounding $586-billion to renewable energy projects. In 2009 a Chinese program offered a whopping 50% investment subsidies for solar power systems that were connected to their national grid.
Most states have passed some kind of renewable portfolio standard (RPS) to encourage electric generators and customers alike to move quickly towards the use of renewables. But a federal standard would replace all that with a national RPS though the fact that the south eastern states have limited onshore wind resources would have to be factored in some how. While it is unlikely that the US has the will to match these Chinese incentives – a federal RPS would at least standardize and nationalize what appears to be the will of most of the states.
But lets say we are successful and can get enough US wind power installed so that 5% or more of our electricity comes from renewables – essentially tripling our current installed base. Would such a transition result in an increase in the number of jobs, the same number of jobs, or net loss of jobs? I think it is fare to say the following – that to the extent that wind and other fuel-free renewable sources of energy replace fossil fuel based power sources that there will be a net loss of energy sector jobs. Why? Because many of the jobs associated with the refining and mining of fossil fuels would be increasing obsolete as demand for them declines. Indeed, if wind, hydro and solar really catch on and we approach not just 2% or 5% but 10% or 15% of our power from renewables, the loss of mining and refining jobs could be significant and would not be made up by the so called green jobs that Obama has been promising. The reason for this is that mega watt for mega watt renewable energy is just not as labor intensive as generating power fossil fuels. In the final analysis, renewable energy is simply more efficient than thermal energy – and while most of us should feel good about that (for example the near zero emissions from wind, hydro and solar), we may not feel good about simultaneously shedding high paying refining and mining jobs.
And the transition from fossil fuels to wind is happening at an astounding pass worldwide. This year alone the estimate from Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects a 9 percent increase in global installations of wind turbines in 2010, an addition of as much as 41 gigawatts of new generation capacity. 41 gigawatts is equivalent to 34 new nuclear power stations.
Once a significant proportion of our energy comes from wind, hydro, and solar we stand to lose a lot of mining and refining jobs in much the same way that we lost all the “dirt carters” last century when we transitioned from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles. In the old days a typical city horse produced between fifteen and thirty-five pounds of manure a day and about a quart of urine and it literally took an army of dirt carters to remove it each and every day. For example, in New York City alone thousands of loads of manure were gathered every day in special “manure-yards” where another army of men were employed to keep turning the manure so that it would decompose properly.
And while job leakage is one of the last thing this economy needs right now, there is one thing that is worse for our economy – continued reliance on fuels that are; a) finite, and, b) release toxins when they are burned.
Here is a nice roundup of the articles covering the decision Friday, March 5, 2010 NOT to protect the Greater Sage Grouse vis-á-vis the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This grouse species, along with most of the closely related wild fowl complex of about 6 species that inhabit the west, are in a nearly 100 year decline. The declines are due to a long history of habitat changes beginning with conversation of land to agriculture and cattle range and to oil and gas development. The latest land use concern is from wind power though much of the wind power is being installed in lands already degraded by previous land conversion. How does wind power impact grouse? The concern is that grouse habitat would be fragmented and disturbed by construction of wind projects and that the tall towers would be perceived as perches for birds of prey which are a major predator of grouse.
Listing of this species under the ESA could impose major delays or cancellation of wind projects proposed in grouse habitat. As it currently stands, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are requesting that wind developers provide up to a five mile buffer around each breeding unit of grouse called a lek. Listing under the ESA would mean that this and other requests would become requirements. So, with the March 5 decision comes as a bit of a reprieve in that ESA status was not conferred, not yet anyway. But here is the devil in the details – the FWS will be reevaluating whether to list the Greater Sage Grouse on a yearly basis. So, additional protections for this species could come at any time.
The best course of action for wind developers is to have a qualified team of field ornithologists conduct “lek counts” in the early spring on all their project lands. Better to know sooner than later if your project hosts any grouse species. The window for such surveys is mid March through the end of April. This is when grouse and prairie chickens form their leks and conduct the group courtship rituals that includes dancing and calling males watched and evaluated by surrounding females. The leks are most active in the hour before dawn up to about 2 hours post-sunrise. In the end, the best dancers and singers will be the favored males that will get to mate with the most females.
The West Virginia developer can construct 40 turbines but not the 140 they had hoped to build!
Why not all 140?
Because the developer underestimated the clout that the endangered Indiana Bat had with a Federal judge.
That represents a lot of renewable energy that won’t ever make it into the grid. My thoughts? I have these two thoughts; first, it may be true that 140 turbines would truly put this imperiled bat at risk or second, it may just be the case that the developer failed to reach out to government regulators early and often enough and provide them with the bat data they needed to make an informed decision. The MANY articles on this brouhaha can be accessed here.
The bottom line for me is that it is critical for wind developers to hire qualified biologists that can conduct flaw assessments of all their project sites and to meet early on and often with all federal and state regulators. By so doing developers can find out early-on exactly what they are signing up for regarding avoiding or minimizing risk to birds and bats.