Wednesday, June 17, 2009

North Coast Deepwater Wind Turbines

The Great Lakes form one of the "North Coasts" of the USA - the other north coasts being in Alaska, the northern part of the Atlantic and Pacific shorelines of the continental USA, as well as those tropical isles such as Hawaii and Puerto Rico. The coasts tend to experience stronger winds than inland areas, and as one proceeds offshore, the winds get even stronger. Here is a map (from the Canadian Wind Atlas).

There has been a lot of activity with regards to Great Lakes wind energy lately, including the passing of the Feed-In Laws in Ontario (Green Energy Act) and NYPA's recent foray into buying offshore electricity made in NY (Lake Erie, Ontario or and/or offshore of Long Island). As you can see in the map, the areas with the best winds (orange/red colors) tend to be on the waters, especially where a decent fetch can take place. If you have the time, check out the Atlas at - it has some new features that allows a decent estimation of the winds at any given site (and by season, too).

For a "typical" offshore turbine, about 60% of the cost is associated with the "offshore" part (foundation, ship/barge/crane rental, underwater electric cables, and environmental aspects associated with the offshore aspect), with 40% going to the turbine manufacture - including some "extra" aspects - like a helicopter pad - needed so that these can operate in a marine environment. The economics greatly favor large scale, and also large turbines. And this trend is accentuated by placing the turbines further and further offshore.

Today, Europe is undoubtedly the leader in this technology - most installations are in British and Danish waters, but Germany will soon be the leader in offshore wind installations. Here are some really handy sites for information on existing (1463 MW), under construction (2599 MW) and planned (13,320 MW) projects. The offshore wind turbine business will soon become one of the dominant forms of marine construction, and significant contributors to the German economy. And at about $4 million per MW installed costs, these are big investments, and lots of business/employment opportunities arise. Consider it a Keynesian economic stimulus that is done with essentially zero expenditure of tax money. Such installations are financed via either long term Power Purchase Agreements (PPA's), or by a special form of a PPA that is allowed by Feed-In Laws. The price for offshore wind in Germany is about 13 Eurocents/kw-hr, or about 18 c/kw-hr in US money (June, 2009).

When it comes to offshore wind, the water depth is a matter of great concern. Here is a site that shows the Great Lakes bathymetry (depths). The shallowest is Lake St Claire (maximum depth is 6 meters), and the average depths (shallowest to deepest) are in the following order - Erie, Huron, Ontario, Michigan and Superior. The faster winds move across Superior and parts of Lake Huron.

Here is a map of the Great Lakes, depth wise. The red area is the 0 to 20 meters range (0 to 66 feet), yellow 20 to 40 meter range, green is 40 to 80 meter depths light blue is 80 to 160 meters and dark blue is deeper than 160 meters (> 525 feet).
Most offshore wind turbines have been installed in less than 20 meters of water. The most common way this is done is the monopole approach - where a giant pipe is rammed into the seabed, a transition piece is placed on that, and then the turbine tower/nacelle/rotor/blades is attached. This "pipe" is made by rolling 2" thick or more steel plate into a cylinder, welding that, and then welding these "cans" into a long cylinder. These can be 50 meters or more (164 feet) long and are at least 4 meters (13+ feet) in diameter, and weigh a lot. For example, a 2.5" thick wall by 164 ft long monopole (50 meters long) would weigh over 324 tons - and that's just the pole coming up to a bit more than the waterline for a 2 MW or so wind turbine. About 90% of exsiting turbines are installed this way; the others use a "caison" approach. This is suited to shallower waters near a port, where the 1800 ton concrete system can be floated out to the location, sunk to the seabed, and the turbine tower placed on that. In Finland, one recently constructed in the Baltic Sea (Kemi Ajos I+II) involved making artificial islands for 8 x 3 MW WinWinD "multibrid" low speed generator units (also made in Finland).

One of the main purposes of the foundation is to prevent the turbine from tipping over, and for offshore turbines, there is also the need to keep water sensitive parts high enough above the water level (including tides and waves) to avoid water damage - for example, to the generator and transformer. For places like the Great Lakes and the Baltic Sea, the foundation must also be able to resist the push of icebergs, and wind driven pack ice.

In the last few years, offshore turbines have started to get really big. One of the more popular models (as of June, 2009) is the Siemens 3.6 MW S-107 unit (107 meter blade length). However, there are three 5 MW units (RE Power, Multibrid (Areva) and Bard), and two 6 MW units (RE Power and Enercon) now commercially available. These 5 MW units tend to need a different approach to foundations, especially in waters further out to sea, where winds are better but waters tend to be deeper. Many of the proposed wind farms in Germany are in 40 meters or more of depth, but where winds average 9.5 m/s (which is really fast). The most popular foundation for these "big boys" is the tripod. For water depths between 50 to 120 meters, the jack-up foundation (very popular for offshore oil and gas drilling platforms/oil and gas processing centers) seem like a good choice.

However, water depths less than 50 meters deep with high wind speeds near populated areas (with an already established electrical transmission grid) are not uniformally dispersed. In fact, the U.S. Pacific coast is characterized by steeply plunging seabeds (the Atlantic coast tends to be shallow for a considerable distance offshore). Thus, a new type of turbine foundation is needed for such areas. For our region, these would be ideal for Lake Ontario, a lot of Lake Michigan and most of Lake Superior. Here is a bathymetric map of this lake (numbers in meters).

As can be seen, most of Lake Ontario's waters in the New York part are more than 100 meters deep - the main exception being the Thousand Islands region at the exit of the lake/beginning of the St Lawrence River. And for those regions, the islands may be a great "pseudo-offshore" platform - such as the recently completed 198 MW Wolfe Island (Ontario) project, or the proposed Gallo Island (NY) project.

But, the NY portion of Lake Ontario measures about 2500 square miles, and the average wind speed is near 8 m/s at 80 meter heights above the water. That is enough wind resource/area to power up most of NY State (averaging more than 16 GW) on average, were there a will to do it (at present, no sign of that, however). This poses a problem - how could this wind resource get tapped in waters so deep?

Well, one solution is called a spar platform - an approach commonly used in the offshore oil and gas drilling/platform business. In Norway, Siemens and Statoil (Norway's nationalized oil company) where a humongous offshore oil and gas business exists, an experiment called the Hywind project is underway. A Siemens 2.3 MW wind turbine was attached to a 100 meter long spar/foundation - basically a hollow pipe weighetd on one end and anchored to the seabed. At this location, winds average near 9.5 m/s - like the North Sea, a nasty piece of water that is rarely calm. So, check out the videos at the Hywind website.... Should this come to pass in NY, we are talking about tens of thousands of jobs. In fact, too bad NYPA couldn't run the experiment offshore of Rochester.....

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

New York State Would Benefit by use of a Feed-in Tariff to Stimulate Renewable Energy Production

This article was written by Derek Bateman. He can be reached at

Executive Summary
It has been the policy of New York State to stimulate the production of renewable energy through the use of a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Despite the successes of this policy, this paper proposes a Feed-in Tariff policy in addition to the RPS to accelerate the development of renewable energy in New York State because this program design would be: faster, cheaper, more certain to meet capacity goals, more equitable to small developers and community-owned renewable energy projects, more likely to stimulate immature technologies like solar energy, more likely to bring renewable energy manufacturers to the state, and more likely to bring about consistent development over time.

Our Current “Renewable Portfolio Standard” Policy

It has been almost five years (September 24, 2004) since the PSC ruled on
Case 03-E-0188 which initiated the Retail Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) for New York State(1).

The Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) set the goal of increasing the proportion of renewable energy generated in New York State from 19.4% in 2004 (mostly hydropower from Niagara Falls and Massena) to a total of 25% by the year 2013(2). The policy asked NYSERDA to schedule a
series of “Main Tier” auctions where developers of large renewable facilities bid to supply Renewable Energy Certificates (REC) for each Megawatt hour of power they generate from renewable sources(3). The RECs represent the environmental qualities of a Megawatt hour of renewably generated power. The power itself would be sold to the New York System Operator (NYISO), at the wholesale price. NYSERDA would essentially pay a premium or subsidy to the developer for a period of ten years to compensate for the additional capital cost required to develop and produce clean power in New York State. In this way, the RPS has encouraged the development of an industry of commercial scale renewable power facilities in New York State.

The State agreed to initiate the RPS to meet a variety of public policy goals including:

• Create New York State jobs (renewable energy creates more jobs per MW than fossil fuel plants)(4)

• Improve the environment of the state, (reduce air pollutions emissions of NOx 6.8%, SO2 5.9%, and CO2 7.7%)(5)

• Provide additional property tax income to municipalities within the state (Payments in Lieu of Taxes or PILOT payments average $5,100 MW/year for 15 years and estimated tax income could be $10,000 to $20,000 a MW/year thereafter)(6)

• Increase fuel diversity in the state

• Keep our New York energy dollars within the New York state economy (7)

In the first two and a half years this program completed two “Main Tier” auctions and signed contracts with NYSERDA to subsidize a total of 837 MW of renewable capacity(8). In addition, another 369 MW of renewable “merchant power” capacity was generated within the state during this time (renewable capacity developed in the state but not under contract with NYSERDA)(9). This resulted in a total of 1,206 MW capacity of new renewable facilities within New York State during that first two and a half period(10).

Problems with the RPS Policy

Despite this success, there are some shortcomings of the current RPS policy.

The PSC wanted to develop additional renewable capacity at the lowest possible cost to the ratepayers of the state. This goal was accomplished but the design of this program prevented all but the largest developers from participating. Small and medium-sized developers were “structurally disadvantaged” (11) by this program design and unlike Minnesota or Germany or Denmark (12), there has been no community, nor cooperative ownership of renewable generation in the state through the “Main Tier” component of the program. Despite the short-term success of the RPS, the experience in Germany and Denmark shows that over the life of their programs, Feed-in tariff designs provide renewable generation development at lower costs than the RPS/Quota model currently used by New York State (13).

The RPS program design guarantees non-participation of immature industries (like solar), and prevents geographical equity. A well crafted Feed-in tariff can provide financial incentives for immature industries by setting the purchase prices of energy generated by solar, for example, at a rate high enough to incent developers to install solar. As the industry matures and the production costs fall, the policy can allow the sales price of the energy produced by solar to fall as well, to a point where at the lower production costs the developers are still generating a reasonable profit. Similarly, regions of the state that could benefit from the production of solar power but are not as sunny as other parts of the state, can benefit from a regional price of solar produced electricity that is somewhat higher, to entice developers to produce solar power in the cloudier region. The RPS approach would focus investment exclusively on the sunniest parts of the state or the regions of the state where solar energy received the highest prices.

The RPS has not developed renewable projects nor reduced overall CO2 emissions in New York State fast enough. We don’t know where the exact tipping point is for additional CO2 emissions to cause a run-away greenhouse effect. But the writings from the United State’s premier climate scientist, Jim Hansen, suggest that we are dangerously close to a point of no return (14). He proposes a “command and control” policy of banning all new coal-fired plants (15). I would argue that our RPS policy is not moving us fast enough toward the goal of constraining CO2 emissions from New York State. The 2002 State Energy Plan mandates a goal of CO2 reductions of 5%

below 1990 levels by 2010 and 10% by 2020 (16). As of 2004, CO2 emissions in the State were up almost 7% above 1990 levels (12% higher than the 2010 goal) (17).

The Feed-In Tariff Policy

I am proposing that IN ADDITION to the RPS the State implement a feed-in tariff or Standard Offer Contract (SOC) for renewable projects.

The Province of Ontario recently started a feed-in tariff program, known in Ontario as the “Standard Offer Contract” (SOC). This program provides any developer a fixed price 20 year contract for renewable power generated within the province as long as the project is less than 10 MW in capacity (18) (to stimulate their economy and promote more rapid generation of renewable energy in Ontario, this 10 MW cap has recently been lifted). The program is designed to make projects eligible for bank financing and simple to administrate. The fixed price is designed to offer a reasonable profit to the developer similar to the “cost recovery allowance” offered to regulated utilities on their capital investments (19). The states of Minnesota, Rhode Island and Illinois, have been considering Feed-in tariffs in addition to the RPS programs they already have (20, 21).

There is a “social altruistic” environmental reason for the above proposals. According to Jim Hansen, the planet is fast approaching a “tipping point”, which, if we cross it, may result in a “run-away” greenhouse effect that humanity will no longer be able to control. Hanson suggests that we aim for no more than 350 parts per million (ppm) of total CO2 in the atmosphere (and

he says that even this figure may be too high) (22). The planet currently has 385 ppm and this is increasing 2 ppm a year (23). If we allow this concentration to get much higher, according to Hansen, we run the risk of melting Arctic sea ice, melting frozen Arctic methane deposits, shutting off the Gulf Stream, and drying out the Amazon, any of which, will exacerbate the climate change problem even further. We in New York State have an investment in this because approximately half the population of the state lives in and around low lying areas of the New York City Metropolitan region, which is vulnerable to flooding should ocean levels rise. This could cost the state Billions of dollars in damages and if you count the real estate, Trillions of dollars in damage (a business as usual policy of CO2 emissions, according to Hansen would over time generate a global temperature rise of 5 degrees Fahrenheit which, the last time this happened 3 million years ago, resulted in ocean levels that were 80 feet higher than we have today) (24). The Great Lakes portions of the State would experience summertime droughts, which would impair the agricultural industry of this part of the State (the largest single industry in Western New York). This is not to discount the suffering that would occur in other parts of the planet, for instance, the hundreds of millions of environmental refugees who would be flooded out in Bangladesh, China, and India or the drought victims in Sub-Saharan Africa and South America. The RPS as of now, has not been fast enough to meet the State-wide goal for reduced CO2 emissions and even this goal may be too low.

There is a more short-term economically self-interested reason why the State may want to include a Feed-in tariff strategy.

The State of New York is very much exposed to fossil fuel price spikes. In electricity production, New York State is more vulnerable than the United States with 42% of electricity production fueled by natural gas and 19% by oil (in 2007 (25a) ) compared to figures of 13% and 3% nationwide (25b). New England is even more dependent on natural gas for their electricity production (40% by 2003 and 49% projected in 2010 (26) ) which means their demand will push up the regional price for natural gas even higher. Fossil fuels have shown wide price swings lately with natural gas prices missing projections by 50% even 100% over short periods of time (27). An acceleration of renewable energy capacity will drive down the demand for natural gas and act to moderate the price for natural gas. The price for renewable energy is practically all capital cost, so once the projects are constructed, they offer the potential of a much more certain, almost fixed price, compared to volatile fossil fuel prices. Renewable energy offers a physical hedge with the potential of a 20 to 40 year lifetime (28). Because of high capital costs, the marginal cost of renewable energy demands a premium over the marginal cost of natural gas fired electricity. But, the higher the price of volatile natural gas, the lower the resulting renewable energy premium. I suggest it is worth paying a premium now, to develop renewable energy to hedge against natural gas price spikes in the future. As an added benefit, any downward pressure on natural gas pricing resulting from renewable energy capacity will also generate “substantial consumer savings outside the electric sector.” (29)

Advantages of the Feed-in Tariff Policy
There are numerous advantages of the Feed-in tariff (or SOC) approach over our current RPS policy.

The Feed-in tariff approach is conducive to faster development than our RPS. Ontario announced their SOC program in 2006 with the goal of reaching 1,000 MW of capacity by 2016 (30). In a little over a year they generated 326 projects and 1,300 MW of capacity under contract (31). In contrast, in its first two and a half years, NYS’s RPS generated 837 MW of capacity under contract (32). In Germany after they implemented a feed-in tariff in the year 2000 renewable energy’s share of the market almost doubled from 6.3% to 11.6% in only 6 years! (33) It is hard to imagine how New York State could meet the Governor’s goal of increasing renewable energy production within New York State by 50% by 2020 without a Feed-in tariff program.

Research is suggesting that the Feed-in tariff approach is cheaper for society in the long-run than the RPS policy. The Feed-in tariff lowers risk to the developer and this lowers the “risk surcharge” their financiers impose on renewable projects. The Standard Offer Contract also lowers the developer’s demand for higher profits to compensate for this risk, because unlike the RPS, the contracted electricity sales prices are stable. A recent study “Comparison of Feed-in Tariff, Quota and Auction Mechanisms to Support Wind Power Development” by Lucy Butler and Karsten Neuhoff of Cambridge University found “the resource-adjusted cost to society of the feed-in tariff is currently lower than the cost of the ROC [Britain’s RPS], when averaged over the lifetime of the project.” (34) The falling bid prices of the RPS, which its supporters have suggested is evidence of its superior efficiency, resulted in 40% and 60% of the developers losing money on the later rounds of the RPS bidding in the UK (35).

This same phenomenon may be happening in NYS where the developers of 369 MW (30.1%) of the 1,206 MW of renewable capacity developed since the beginning of the RPS, have sold their RECs to other buyers rather than participate in the New York program (36).

Not only is the Feed-in approach faster, it is more likely to succeed in meeting capacity targets. In 1990 when the UK started their RPS program they had 10 MW of capacity and in following 13 years grew this to 649 MW (37). In the same years, Germany with their feed-in tariff grew their capacity from 48 MW in 1990 to 14,609 MW in 2003 (38). Germany, with over 20,000 MW of capacity today, has the largest renewable energy industry in the world (39). According to the German Wind Energy Association, in the UK with their RPS “neither investors nor bankers have an interest in reaching the target quota … the consequence would be a crash in the green certificate price due to excess supply and, therefore a massive drop in revenue …” (40) “More than 70% of the newly-installed wind energy capacity in Europe occurred” in Spain and Germany where a feed-in tariff policy is currently in operation (41).

The Feed-in tariff policy offers more equity. It does not “structurally disadvantage” small and medium-sized businesses nor does it preclude cooperative or community ownership like the RPS (42). Denmark’s feed-in tariff has resulted in 83% of the turbines owned by individuals and cooperatives (43). Germany has experienced 45% local ownership (44). According to the German Wind Association’s Study of the RPS model “the resulting decrease in the range of players leads to oligopolistic” competition and “price increasing effects” (45).

The Feed-in tariff approach opens participation, spreads the benefits to the communities that host the wind turbines, and allows small investors to contribute to the industry’s rapid expansion. One could imagine how rural areas in New York State would be more likely to welcome wind development if a Feed-in tariff allowed them to actually benefit financially from the wind developments in their community.

The Feed-in tariff is more likely to provide “geographical equity” and spread renewable generation all over the state. There is a benefit to promoting “distributed generation” (DG) where electrical generating facilities are located near where the power is used. DG strengthens the grid by generating power at the extremities of the grid and pushing it back toward the center. It also reduces line loss. With an RPS, all renewable development tends to concentrate in the highest wind areas (most profitable locations) and leave vast areas of the state with no renewable development at all. A Feed-in tariff program, like the program in Germany, can offer lower tariffs in high wind areas and offer larger tariffs in areas that would normally be over looked, to spread development closer to the load centers.

A Feed-in tariff model can accelerate the development of immature technologies like solar. The RPS model will favor the most cost efficient technology “exhaust[ing] low-cost technologies first and then move to more expensive technologies” (46). A Feed-in design can provide a higher price for power generated by the immature technology. Germany has developed 2,500 MW of solar (47) and in Ontario 34% of the renewable contracts are for solar (48). There is practically no solar development the countries operating RPS models.

The Solar resource is distributed more evenly than wind, and in the long run, solar offers more potential to benefit the State and release our dependence on imported fossil fuel than wind power. New York State has an interest in seeing solar energy become commercially feasible.

A Feed-in tariff model is more likely to attract renewable manufacturing to the state. The Cambridge study mentioned Lauber (2004) who suggested that the feed-in model “facilitated the development of the turbine industry” (49) where in the RPS countries of UK, Italy and Sweden they “have no production industry to speak of” according to a German Wind Industry report (50). The Cambridge study stated that “most of the economic value comes from manufacturing” (51).

The Feed-in tariff model promotes consistent development as opposed to the RPS model that imposes a stop-and-go cycle on the industry. The Cambridge study reported that the “long and unpredictable time lags between … auctions inhibited the development of a competitive market” (52).

The Feed-in tariff program design will work from where we are regarding our “initial conditions” and “present institutions” (53). This policy design is supportive of private property rights, is conducive to existing institutional arrangements and give license to entrepreneurial initiative.

The Feed-in tariff program design is flexible and can adapt to changed conditions. This is important because as our human awareness changes, these policies will need to change to adapt to our new understanding. Ontario revised their Standard Offer Contract program within a year to accommodate the unexpected rush of applications. Now they limit one 10 MW project to any substation and no developer can have more than 50 MW under development at a time (54). Germany recently amended their program to promote riskier off-shore wind projects by offering a richer tariff price to incent these developments.

Given the urgency and challenge presented by Global Climate change/Peak Oil and the fact that these are the first of what will become a whole series of critical resource shortages in the future, implementing a Feed-in tariff policy that stabilizes our environment, increases our economic security and improves our quality of life, could not come fast enough.

1. (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority)
2. (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority)
3. (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, 2007), p 2
4. (Office of the State Comptroller, 2005), p11
5. (State of New York Public Service Commission, 2004), p10
6. (Hale, 2005). P 5
7. (Office of the State Comptroller, 2005), p 9
8. (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, 2007), p 6
9. (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, 2007), p 6
10. (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, 2007), p 1
11. (German Wind Energy Association (BWE), 2005), p 8
12. (Farrell, 2008), p 2
13. (German Wind Energy Association (BWE), 2005), p 2
14. (MSNBC News Service, 2006)
15. (Hansen, 2008)
16. (Energy Coordinating Working Group, 2006), p 7 of 12
17. (Energy Coordinating Working Group, 2006), p 32 of 40
18. (Ontario Power Authority, 2007)
19. (Farrell, 2008), p 3
20. (Farrell, 2008), p 3
21. (United States Department of Energy, 2007)
22. (Hansen, 2008)
23. (Hansen, 2008)
24. (Hansen, The Threat to the Planet, 2006)
25a. (, Table 4)
25b. (Energy Coordinating Working Group, 2006), p 8 of 12
26. (Keith, Biewald, White, Sommer, & Chen, 2003), p 13
27. (Keith, Biewald, White, Sommer, & Chen, 2003), p 22
28. (Keith, Biewald, White, Sommer, & Chen, 2003), p 23
29. (Keith, Biewald, White, Sommer, & Chen, 2003), p 17
30. (Ontario Power Authority, 2008)
31. (Ontario Power Authority, 2008)
32. (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, 2007), p 6
33. (Renewable Energy Sources Act - Progress Report 2007), p 2
34. (Butler & Neuhoff, 2004), p 31
35. (Butler & Neuhoff, 2004), p 12
36. (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, 2007), p 7
37. (Butler & Neuhoff, 2004), p 5
38. (Butler & Neuhoff, 2004), p 5
39. (Farrell, 2008), p 1
40. (German Wind Energy Association (BWE), 2005), p 4
41. (German Wind Energy Association (BWE), 2005), p 5
42. (German Wind Energy Association (BWE), 2005), p 8
43. (Farrell, 2008), p 2
44. (Farrell, 2008), p 2
45. (German Wind Energy Association (BWE), 2005), p 6
46. (Farrell, 2008), p 4
47. (Farrell, 2008), p 1
48. (Ontario Power Authority, 2008)
49. (Butler & Neuhoff, 2004). P 28
50. (German Wind Energy Association (BWE), 2005), p 6
51. (Butler & Neuhoff, 2004), p 29
52. (Butler & Neuhoff, 2004), p 29
53. (Daly & Joshua, 2004), p 362
54. (Ontario Power Authority, 2008)

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