General and Energy Policy
"Cleaner air and cheaper energy" was the slogan when voters mandated wind and other renewable sources for 10 percent of the state's electric generation with Amendment 37 in 2004. Democratic legislators liked the idea so much that they upped the mandate to 20 percent in 2007 and boosted it this year to 30 percent.
One small problem: Neither half of the slogan is true.
Doug Rooks is correct about at least one thing (May 9). There is a growing backlash to industrial-scale wind turbines on Maine's mountains. People who care about Maine's present and future are refusing to roll over for the short-term interests of the wind industry and its largely unfounded claims.
Col. Howard "Dave" Belote, commander of the 99th Air Base Wing at the Nellis Air Force Training Range, pledged to work together early in the process on projects like renewable energy in an attempt to dispel the military's image as an obstacle.
"We're not trying to stop development, but we want to say we're here, we're going to be here for a long time," Belote told Nye County Commissioners Tuesday.
Not surprisingly, wind companies from all over are lining up for a piece of the free money. Little citizens' groups have sprung up across the province to try to stop them from erecting 35-storey wind turbines in their backyards. But the Premier's energy minister, George Smitherman (a.k.a. The Enforcer), has declared that he will squash the NIMBYs like a bug.
I have wind turbines coming to my backyard, too. I wouldn't mind - if only they made sense. If only they could really help us break our addiction to coal and oil, cut our emissions etc. But they can't.
Why has California basically stalled, while other states have forged ahead? I put the question to V. John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies in Sacramento.
First, Mr. White pointed out, California was the early leader in wind power - it installed several big projects in the 1980s (one of which, Altamont Pass, has been criticized for harming birds). Not much has happened since, however, and the fact that California moved early "means that the easy projects are already in," said Mr. White.
The problem with the green revolution argument is that it doesn't trouble itself about efficiency. It is most often lauded for supplying new jobs, but billions of dollars in tax subsidies would create plenty of new jobs in almost any sector. The point is that many less-capital-intensive sectors would create many more jobs for a given investment of taxpayers' money.
Similarly, green initiatives will open new markets only if other nations subsidize inefficient technologies bought abroad. Thus, the real game becomes which nations get to suck up other nations' tax-financed subsidies. Apart from the resulting global inefficiency, this also creates a whole new raft of industry players that will keep pushing inefficient legislation simply because it fills their coffers.
I would simply like simple answers to simple questions, i.e., what happens when the wind doesn't blow?; what happens when the wind blows too hard?; how many dirty power plants will be decommissioned as a result of embracing wind power?; how many projected new plants now on the books will be scrapped?; will the air over the Smoky Mountains become cleaner and clearer as a result of wind turbines?; will ozone alerts become fewer and farther between?; where are we going to put 300,000 wind turbines to meet the proposed goal of generating 20 percent of the nation's electricity by 2025?
For an East Coast liberal hoping to make it to Denver for next month's Democratic National Convention, air or car travel can create quite the carbon-foot printed nightmare. While the DNCC has attempted to help limit the number of guilty consciences by offering to sell delegates carbon credits alleged to help offset damage to mother earth, it turns out that a primary source of these credits is a sham. ...an eastern Colorado wind turbine "tapped for the [DNC's] carbon-offset problem has one problem: It doesn't generate any electricity."
Driven by record high oil prices, as well as concerns about how burning fossil fuels affects climate change, wind power may continue its upward trajectory. This translates into the potential for growth for wind power companies -- and for their investors as well.
But if you're thinking about investing in this industry, be aware of three risks.
The citizens of Washington recently passed I-937 which requires the use of narrowly defined renewable energy sources by utilities serving over 25,000 customers. PSE is required to build generating resources to meet this requirement. Never mind that the legislation effectively creates a government-mandated market for basically only one renewable energy source (commercial wind power); we should all be happy that Washington is a "leader in becoming energy independent" and we are also solving the world-wide problem of climate change. To accomplish this goal requires large amounts of capital - in fact, PSE needs to spend $5.7 billion on infrastructure in the next five years - more than the company was worth last October!
But wait a minute, haven't we been told wind power is the cheapest, most cost competitive energy source available today?
Only George Orwell could have invented - and named - the British Government's Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) that came into operation yesterday. It is the latest in a long line of measures intended to ease the conscience of the rich while keeping the poor miserable, in this case spectacularly so. ...The British Government has been persuaded by the wind turbine manufacturers to commit a third of its annual renewables subsidy to this uniquely inefficient energy source, advertising over hill and dale the cabinet's horror of making a decision on nuclear power. ...If all these fancy subsidies and market manipulations were withdrawn tomorrow and government action confined to energy-saving regulation, I am convinced the world would be a cheaper and a safer place, and the poor would not be threatened with starvation.
Just now, for reasons not all of which are "green", commodity prices are soaring. Leave them. Send food parcels to the starving, but let demand evoke supply and stop curbing trade. The marketplace is never perfect, but in this matter it could not be worse than government action. Playing these games has so far made a few people very rich at the cost of the taxpayer. Now the cost is in famine and starvation. This is no longer a game.
Small Montana wind energy producers are challenging NWE's proposal to charge them more for "integrating" their product into the portfolio. The wind producers contend that the costs NWE wants them to pay are more than what "integrating" their electricity actually costs. Further, the wind energy producers say NWE's proposed pricing could put them out of business. NWE has said that its customers will have to pay these costs if the wind energy producers don't.
In its portfolio proposals, NWE assumes a carbon tax will be implemented in the future, making coal a less appealing source than in the past. The proposed portfolio also assumes the customer will increase energy conservation.
What's telling is that the European interest hasn't wavered even though U.S. federal subsidies for clean energy are slated to expire this year and have yet to be extended. Historically, the federal tax-credits have been make-or-break for the industry. Now, though, it appears other factors weigh more heavily.
EDP is so anxious to expand in the U.S. that it ordered more wind turbines from India's Suzlon this week, even though those Suzlon machines have had technical glitches. The big drivers? State incentives for renewable energy, like those in Texas; a slow but inexorable shift in the U.S. toward cleaner energy; and the high-quality wind resources in the U.S., which dwarf those of Europe (and other parts of the world.)
While wind energy is being wildly supported by many in the U.S., there have always been drawbacks to the performance and costs of these machines. The U.S. has had a heavily subsidized romance with them for nearly 40 years and too few of the state and federal policy makers have taken a close look at what the tens of billions in subsidies have actually done for the taxpayers.
These wind energy programs have made many companies such as Florida Power and Light very wealthy because of the heavy subsidies, tax credits, and accelerated depreciation allowance. Additional benefits come from local taxing authorities. This source of energy remains very unreliable and limited, having produced only about 1% of the nation's energy for decades.
By giving organized Maine expedited status for wind developments, the state's task force has invited developers to consider these areas for projects. It's an incentive, plain and simple, to know where planning reviews will have priority, and where they will not.
Reaction in Byron indicates towns and cities won't take to this designation, even if they think alternative energies are necessary. The belief somewhere else, or some other energy technology, is more appropriate is just too strong.
It was in Byron, and if a reputed repeal effort in Roxbury gains strength, there, too. And these are emblematic of the towns wind companies should target - rural, mountainous and with low populations, and therefore low impact.
But it's a choice to accept wind power, as communities and commissions have myriad reasons to reject proposals.
The message gets repetitious: There needs to be more electrical power transmission capacity in and from North Dakota ... more transmission capacity ... more ...
So, isn't the answer as simple as stringing a bunch of lines?
The fact is, no. The power has to have somewhere to go and must travel by an extraordinarily complex network of technology. For our area it's managed by a strange entity called the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator. ...The snag is the process of hooking in a new power source. ...Midwest's queue has 224 wind projects, a 64 percent increase in one year. Not all will make it through the process; actually only 32 percent will end up connecting and producing. About 40 percent of requests drop out before even commencing the required FERC study. And 10 percent of those in the queue don't help matters at all, because they're just sitting on approvals ...
The Florida Public Service Commission demands that electrical utilities provide reliable power at reasonable rates. Despite this mandate, Gov. Charlie Crist signed a series of executive orders requiring utility companies to begin work by Sept. 1 towards generating at least 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources with an emphasis on solar and wind energy.
Although well-intentioned, these executive orders were apparently signed without considering that Florida does not have high-intensity sunlight as found in low-humidity deserts and lacks sufficient wind energy to make wind turbines feasible.
The greens favour high oil prices because consumers use less of the stuff when it costs more, and because high prices for oil make other forms of energy more competitive. Nuclear power, solar energy, wind power or any of the other substitutes for fossil fuels can become more economically viable only if oil prices stay about where they are - and politicians stump up some generous subsidies, sceptics would add.
Meanwhile, the hunt for the proverbial free lunch is on. The most efficient way to cut the use of fossil fuels is to make them more expensive by taxing them, or the emissions they create. But politicians are as unenthusiastic about transparency in the cost of cleaning up the environment as they are about increasing the transparency of the funding of political parties. So most proposals to cut carbon emissions are built around a single proposition: hide their cost from voters. ...Even the emerging favourite in the United States and Europe, a cap on emissions followed by a trading of permits, is a hide-the-cost device: costs of compliance will be passed on as higher prices. So the blame will go to car makers, supermarkets, electricity utilities, and oil companies, the applause to politicians. All so politicians can avoid the transparent device of a tax on carbon or carbon emissions.
John Hutton, the UK business secretary, announced plans yesterday to increase Britain's production of electricity from wind. According to Hutton, by 2020 the UK will produce 33 gigawatts (GW) from wind power, mainly from offshore turbines ...The reaction of environmentalists to these developments shows how apparently strong principles can be set aside in favour of certain right-on technologies. ...Because wind generation is immensely erratic and hard to forecast it is almost impossible to incorporate it into the grid without compromising reliability. Detailed study of inflow and outflow between Germany and Scandanavia demonstrates that as much as 84 per cent of west Denmark's wind power is exported to Norway (at a loss to Danish consumers of about £100million) (4). Norway's electrical supply is 100 per cent hydro, generated by water falling through turbines in river dams, and the Danish wind power is simply used to pump water back up into reservoirs - in effect, storing the electricity (and currently the only practical way to store power). Hydro and wind are extremely complementary, but the people of Denmark are paying the compliment and the people of Norway being flattered.
Currently, the Danish Wind Industry Association (DWIA) admits: ‘Danish wind power only contributes to adequacy [of supply] with a capacity value of zero.'
Shell, the oil company that recently trumpeted its commitment to a low carbon future by signing a pre-Bali conference communique, has quietly sold off most of its solar business.
The move, taken with rival BP's decision last week to invest in the world's dirtiest oil production in Canada's tar sands, indicates that Big Oil might be giving up its flirtation with renewables and going back to its roots. ...The oil group said it was continuing to move its renewables interests into a mainstream business and hoped to find one new power source that would "achieve materiality" for it. Shell continues to invest in a number of wind farm schemes, such as the London Array offshore scheme, which has government approval. Shell has also been concentrating its efforts on biofuels, but declined to say whether it had given up on solar power even though many smaller rivals continue to believe the technology has a bright future.