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New wind transmission approach urged

Rather than see building more transmission as the solution, though, Bowman sees its drawbacks as a symptom of a bigger problem: a highly centralized power system. "I'm going to predict the day of very large transmission lines to carry energy from remote areas to urban centers are about over," he said. "What I do think you'll see happen is smaller projects that are built to accommodate the existing system you have in the rural electric districts and to move that power to the cities that way. I think there will be a different model."

Colorado Springs, Colo. - Imagine the widespread adoption of a process that converts wind energy into anhydrous ammonia, the common liquid fertilizer used on most farms, to be stored in tanks, trucked, railed or piped to generation stations without the need for expensive high voltage power lines.

That concept is on Mike Bowman's radar screen. And he says it is only one of many exciting technological developments capable of overcoming some of the limitations to expanding alternative energy use.

Bowman spent most of his life farming in northeastern Colorado - his family was among the first to raise cattle for the Coleman Natural Beef program and organic alfalfa for the region's dairies - but joined the renewable energy industry after getting involved in Colorado's 2004 citizen-led ballot initiative making the state the first to adopt its own renewable energy standard.

As a founding member of the national 25x25 coalition, he advocates a pledge to get at least 25 percent of all energy from renewable sources by 2025.

"In the last five years, there's been an explosion of technology," he said, while preparing to speak at the Colorado Sustainability Conference.... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Colorado Springs, Colo. - Imagine the widespread adoption of a process that converts wind energy into anhydrous ammonia, the common liquid fertilizer used on most farms, to be stored in tanks, trucked, railed or piped to generation stations without the need for expensive high voltage power lines.

That concept is on Mike Bowman's radar screen. And he says it is only one of many exciting technological developments capable of overcoming some of the limitations to expanding alternative energy use.

Bowman spent most of his life farming in northeastern Colorado - his family was among the first to raise cattle for the Coleman Natural Beef program and organic alfalfa for the region's dairies - but joined the renewable energy industry after getting involved in Colorado's 2004 citizen-led ballot initiative making the state the first to adopt its own renewable energy standard.

As a founding member of the national 25x25 coalition, he advocates a pledge to get at least 25 percent of all energy from renewable sources by 2025.

"In the last five years, there's been an explosion of technology," he said, while preparing to speak at the Colorado Sustainability Conference. "There is such a broad suite of renewable energies that are tied to wind, solar and biomass gasification, which is capable of turning biomass, not only into synthetic gas, but also into a bio-fuel."

He travels to Washington, D.C., regularly, serves on several task forces and consults with Sturman Industries of Woodland Park, an innovative engineering firm.

"Centralized coal power is thought to be the cheapest power there is, but that is rapidly changing," he added. "When you look around at these small communities, they have vast resources that aren't being developed."

For wind, progress meets challenges

Roping the wind is already helping some rural counties achieve a new level of prosperity. Logan County, Colo., for example, benefits from $1 billion generated annually by wind farms near the small towns of Peetz and Fleming.

In addition, public utilities are responding to federal and state mandates requiring more renewable energy use. Front Range municipal utility Xcel Energy recently made headlines by setting a new world record for the amount of renewals in its portfolio. At 4 a.m. on the morning of Oct. 6, it was getting more than 55 percent of its power from wind.

But transmitting vast amounts of wind power over an aging power grid is a significant challenge that reins in the industry. Not only do wind farms need to be connected to the country's main power grid, the grid itself often needs updating.

According to the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, two-thirds of the power needed to hit a threshold of 20 percent from wind by 2030 would require new transmission infrastructure.

In part that's due to the distance between the windy plains of states like Wyoming and large urban centers like Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

"Without further build-out of transmission, especially in Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico, I think we're done building large wind projects," predicts Bill Midcap, director of renewable energy for the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union in Denver.

Farmers Union recently hosted a panel of experts to talk about the issue in conjunction with their annual convention in Cheyenne, Wyo. The group is hoping to encourage wind transmission developers to sweeten their approach to private landowners, by negotiating more generously and flexibly with them instead of threatening use of eminent domain.

Across the West, angry landowners and resulting court battles are tying up developments for 10 to 15 years and discouraging investment. The one-time lump sum offered for an easement often pales compared to what farmers could make farming that same land, sometimes over multiple generations.

"Landowners are throwing up their hands," Midcap said from his office in Denver. "They see neighbors who are getting $10,000 per turbine per year, and these landowners are asking, ‘Why should I carry that energy across my property for a pittance, for just a one-time payment?'"

Bowman agrees, saying, "There is such a pushback on transmission right now. Nobody wants a 500 kilovolt transmission line in their backyard, so siting these transmission lines is a big issue."

Rather than see building more transmission as the solution, though, Bowman sees its drawbacks as a symptom of a bigger problem: a highly centralized power system.

"I'm going to predict the day of very large transmission lines to carry energy from remote areas to urban centers are about over," he said. "What I do think you'll see happen is smaller projects that are built to accommodate the existing system you have in the rural electric districts and to move that power to the cities that way. I think there will be a different model."

A 70-year history of large coal plants distributing power through large utilities might not prove as viable in the future, Bowman added.

"Wind and solar really do fit better within distributive models, where you have small projects all over the grid and you're developing a resource locally," he said.

He pointed to the city of Boulder, which recently dropped a 20-year-running contract with Xcel and hopes to replace it with a municipal utility that would be locally owned and managed.

When it comes to energy distribution, much of the new thinking is a mix of the latest technology and old school common sense. According to Assistant Secretary of Energy David Sandalow, who spoke recently at the Colorado Sustainability Conference, delivery of energy is being reevaluated at the highest levels of the U.S. government.
He shared the story of Lt. Gen Richard Zilmer, a commander serving in Iraq who pointed out that his troops were suffering most of their casualties protecting fuel convoys. He told his superiors, "I'm in a desert. There's a lot of sun. Why am I transporting fuel when there's all this solar energy available?"

As a result, mobile solar panels are now being deployed more frequently to power military operations in the Middle East.

Likewise, fully tapping the resources in America's rural areas requires looking at energy in a whole new way, Bowman contends.

"Prowers County is the Saudi Arabia of wind," he said. "It's impossible to build a transmission line big enough to get the wind out of there. But if we look at converting that into an alternative fuel like H3, you now have an alternative fertilizer source for the farmers, and you can ship it out of there to a delivery point on the Front Range in a very safe manner."

"We have to stop thinking of an electron as the only way to convert wind into a marketable product," he concluded.


Source: http://www.agjournalonline....

DEC 3 2011
http://www.windaction.org/posts/32653-new-wind-transmission-approach-urged
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