Category Archives: wind

Wind is shelved from the Pickens Plan

Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) speaks at a press ...

T. Boone Pickens (left) with Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND). Image via Wikipedia

The 2008 “Pickens Plan,” U.S. financier T. Boone Pickens’ proposal to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, anticipated that 20% of American power generation could come from wind while natural gas could power the nation’s transportation sector. At the time, he received support from unlikely sources, including the executive director of the Sierra Club, Carl Pope.

Pickens’ interest in wind generation, however, has been steadily decreasing since his plan was initially announced, and in a recent interview with Roll Call, he said he’s entirely shelving the wind portion of his plan. According to Pickens, wind is not financially viable because natural gas is too cheap. Until the cost of natural gas rises, wind generation doesn’t make economic sense. In the meantime, he is focusing entirely on getting natural gas into the energy market.

The move has produced a backlash from some of the environmentalists that formerly supported the Pickens Plan. They accuse Pickens of lobbying for incentives in order to make more money off natural gas, and they complain that the natural gas industry is too unregulated to be considered a clean source of fuel. The process known as “fracking,” which is used to produce natural gas, has been questioned as a possible source of groundwater contamination.

Meanwhile, supporters of wind power say Pickens’ move shouldn’t be seen as a reflection of the health of the wind industry as a whole, but as how things happen to be playing out in Texas at this particular time. Wind industry analyst Matt Kaplan, with IHS Emerging Energy Research, told Climate Progress that it’s very difficult right now for wind farms to beat out natural gas on the spot market. It’s also difficult for developers to find long-term agreements in Texas since Texan utilities have already purchased enough wind power to fulfill their required targets. Other markets, however, still have a lot of room for renewable energy development. California and the Northeastern states, in particular, are willing to sign power purchase agreements. Overall, Kaplan thinks development will stay relatively flat until the price of natural gas begins to rise.

“We think it’s really a more healthy trajectory for the industry – this moderation is going to make wind more cost competitive over the long term by forcing companies to improve technology, build better projects, and reduce costs,” Kaplan told Climate Progress.

Peter Kelley, the vice president of the American Wind Energy Association, told Roll Call, “We agree [with T. Boone Pickens] that natural gas prices won’t stay as low as they are today for very long, and that’s one of the reasons we believe wind energy needs to be a bigger part of our energy mix all along, so electric utilities can lock in long-term low rates today.” Indeed, Pickens’ organization stresses that wind power is still an important piece of America’s energy independence. They’re just not building large wind farms in Texas for the time being. Considering Pickens expects natural gas prices to rise by 2016, however, we have to wonder why it doesn’t make sense to continue planning for wind farm construction now.

Cape Wind is finally a go

The natural resource of wind powers these 5MW ...

Offshore wind turbine. Image via Wikipedia

After a decade of bureaucratic red tape, the first offshore wind farm in the U.S. has finally received approval to start construction. The Cape Wind project, located 5 miles off the coast in Massachusetts’ Nantucket Sound, will begin construction of its 130 turbine, 468 MW generating wind farm this fall.

The project has suffered a series of environmental and regulatory road blocks since it first began public hearings in 2001. Concerns over impacts to wildlife, worries of radar interference impacting air travel, and anger over the result the project would have on ocean views were just a few of the battles Cape Wind has had to overcome. The project earned powerful opponents as well, including Senator Ted Kennedy.

Although the project has finally earned permission to begin construction, the battle is far from over. Only half the anticipated generated energy has an identified buyer and opponents are still pursuing lawsuits. The fight over Cape Wind has been long and tedious and doesn’t offer much hope for similar projects in the future. Although offshore wind farms are capable of providing more generation capacity (due to larger turbines), the powerful Not-In-My-Back-Yard contingent makes it more likely that the wide open spaces of the Midwest and West will continue to be the sites for future wind farms.

To read more about Cape Wind, visit their website.

A whirlwind of a debate over wind

Modern wind energy plant in rural scenery.

Image via Wikipedia

Fast Company has been reporting on a debate between the John Muir Trust, a land conservation charity in the United Kingdom, and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

The John Muir Trust recently released a study that took issue with what it claimed were 5 common assertions made by the wind  industry:

1. “Wind turbines will generate on average 30% of their rated capacity over a year.”
2. “The wind is always blowing somewhere.”
3. “Periods of widespread low wind are infrequent.”
4. “The probability of very low wind output coinciding with peak electricity demand is slight.”
5. “Pumped storage hydro can fill the generation gap during prolonged low wind periods.”

In their study, the Trust found that these claims don’t hold up when the data is examined.

AWEA was quick to respond on their blog. For the most part, they noted that the issues for a small island shouldn’t be interpolated to a large country like the US. They also argued that an array of constantly improving technologies provide grid operators with an array of options, from more efficient turbines to methods for supplementing energy production during low wind periods.

Fast Company notes that while both sides make good points, AWEA is debating for wind power in general while the John Muir Trust is focused on the UK. Still, it’s worth noting that when arguing the effectiveness of wind energy, it’s only a piece in the solution of moving us away from carbon-intensive fossil fuels. Even if wind energy provides the full 20 percent of US energy a 2008 Department of Energy estimate said was possible, emissions will still be a problem unless the other 80 percent comes from something other than coal and petroleum.

Chu says wind, solar competitive with coal in decade

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu (left) meeting ...

Energy Secretary Chu and President Obama. Image via Wikipedia

In a March 23 event sponsored by the Pew Charitable trust in Washington DC, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that wind and solar power may compete with fossil fuels within the next decade, without additional assistance from government subsidies.

Although the Obama administration has been encouraging investments in green energy, the main interest in developing alternative energies has been led by other countries like China. Chu emphasized the need for the U.S. to stay competitive, saying, “… the country and the companies who develop those renewable energy and resources that become cost competitive without subsidy all of a sudden have a world market. And, boy, we can’t lost that world market.”

So far, many members of the Republican Party have argued that reducing dependence on fossil fuels is unneeded and would be too expensive. Moreover, there are both technological and political impediments to bringing too many renewable resources onto the U.S. electrical grid at once. Much of this has to do with the fact that wind and solar aren’t considered a base-load resource; they can’t provide energy at the flip of a switch. There are also issues surrounding state-by-state subsidies of renewable projects (for instance, a taxpayer- supported project in Missouri can’t allow the proceeds and energy to go to Kansas).

Both parties have defended the use of nuclear energy, which provides base-load power without carbon emissions, but after events following the March 11 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis in Japan, it is unclear how much nuclear power the population can stomach. The lack of nuclear development leaves a large gap in the U.S. energy infrastructure that, at first glance, can only be filled by either natural gas or coal.

Chu didn’t clarify how wind and solar can become more competitive other than to say, “This is a race.”

Stanford researcher determines global clean energy is within reach

Mark Z. JacobsonStanford News Service is reporting that a new study – co-authored by Stanford researcher Mark Z. Jacobson and UC-Davis researcher Mark A. Delucchi – analyzed what is needed to convert the world’s energy supplies to clean and sustainable sources and determined that it can be done with today’s technology at costs roughly comparable to conventional energy.

“Based on our findings, there are no technological or economic barriers to converting the entire world to clean, renewable energy sources,” said Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering. “It is a question of whether we have the societal and political will.”

The world they envision would run largely on electricity. Their plan calls for using wind, water and solar energy to generate power, with wind and solar power contributing 90 percent of the needed energy.

Geothermal and hydroelectric sources would each contribute about 4 percent in their plan (70 percent of the hydroelectric is already in place), with the remaining 2 percent from wave and tidal power.

“This really involves a large scale transformation,” Jacobsen said. “It would require an effort comparable to the Apollo moon project or constructing the interstate highway system.”

“But it is possible, without even having to go to new technologies,” he said.  “We really need to just decide collectively that this is the direction we want to head as a society.”

You can read the full article and see a related video on the Stanford News Service website.

Ranching the Sun

Hawaii’s Parker Ranch is one of the largest cattle ranches in the US, and one of the few that also ranches the sun and wind. Parker ranch uses solar and wind energy for their water pumping systems. We talked with Michael “Corky” Bryan, who has the fascinating title of “Vice President of Livestock”. To him, this is just a fancy title for a cowboy. Corky shows us around the solar and wind ranch. If footage is a little shaky at times it is because we did a lot of the talking in his large white pickup truck, of course.


The US turning into a major wind player

Some good news from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL): wind power in the US is growing rapidly. Below is the full article copied from their news article. Very glad to see wind taking off in the US. Of course we need to put this a little in perspective: in terms of percentage of total electricity generation, wind is still a small player in the US. But there is definitely progress being made.


The United States now leads the world in the amount of electricity it generates from wind energy, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). The trade group’s second-quarter market report, released on August 5, finds that the wind industry installed a total of 1,194 megawatts (MW) in the second quarter, bringing the total installed U.S. wind capacity to 19,549 MW. While that still lags behind the roughly 23,000 MW installed in Germany, the stronger winds in the United States are yielding greater power production despite the smaller generating capacity. According to AWEA, U.S. wind power capacity is on track to increase by more than 45% this year, but the upcoming expiration of the federal production tax credit at the end of this year is threatening to slow this progress. The trade group also notes that over the past year and a half, at least 41 manufacturing facilities to support the wind industry have been announced, opened, or expanded in the United States, and those new and expanded facilities will create more than 9,000 jobs when they reach their full capacity.


Despite the looming loss of tax credits, wind power developers have unveiled a number of large, ambitious wind projects in recent weeks. The leader is definitely a 5,050-MW wind project in South Dakota, which is being pursued by Clipper Windpower Plc and BP Alternative Energy under a joint venture agreement. Previously dubbed “Rolling Thunder,” and now called the Titan wind project, the project will be developed in multiple phases using Clipper’s 2.5-MW wind turbine. If completed as currently planned, it will be the world’s largest wind power plant. Meanwhile, the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council has approved a 909-MW wind facility that may hold the title of world’s largest wind project for at least a short while. The Shepherds Flat Wind Farm is being developed by Caithness Shepherds Flat, LLC, and will be located in north-central Oregon, just south of the Columbia River in Gilliam County. According to DOE’s Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), construction of the facility is slated to begin next summer, with full operation starting in 2010. BPA is building an addition to an existing substation to accommodate the new wind plant. See the press releases from Clipper Windpower and the Oregon Department of Energy, and see the Shepherds Flat Wind Interconnection page on the BPA Transmission Web site.


While large utility-scale wind turbines capture most of the attention in the United States, small wind turbines designed for homes and businesses are also growing in popularity. According to a report released by AWEA in mid-July, the U.S. small wind turbine market grew by 14% in 2007, adding 9.7 MW of new wind power capacity. Defined as wind turbines with capacities of 100 kilowatts or less, and including turbines smaller than 1 kilowatt in capacity, the small wind power market currently lacks federal incentives, although some states offer incentives. Despite that handicap, more than 9,000 small wind turbines worth more than $42 million were installed in the United States in 2007, increasing the nation’s total generating capacity from small wind turbines to roughly 60 MW. About 50 companies either manufacture or plan to manufacture small wind turbines in the United States.