Wednesday, June 29, 2011

General Electric's New Low Wind Speed Turbine

Last month GE introduced a new model of wind turbine that is based on their extremely successful 1.5 MW unit (the 1.5 sle, which has a 77 meter rotor and (usually) an 80 meter tall tower). There are more than 10,000 of the GE 1.5 MW turbines installed in North America, which is about 30% of the US-Canada market. The new unit is their 1.6-100 - a turbine with a 100 meter rotor diameter and a 1.6 MW generator, incorporating a variable speed generator and their own "IGBT" variable frequency to 60 Hz converter. For example, here was one of the first announcements of this product, just in time for AWEA's annual convention/product exposition:

If you have been to one of the AWEA annual conferences, it is a bit of a giant sales pitch/show and tell/deal making session. Many of the main salespersons carry just about every form of personal communication device on them, and sometimes multiples ones of these, and they all look both confident and very hyper. There are many multi-million and multi-hundred million dollar deals made at these sessions, or right after them, when wind turbine farm developers and product vendors meet, compare prices/services/claims and try to do a deal. Sometimes these deals can be worth billions. And that's got to be some intense stress....

At their product launch, GE stated that they have about 500 MW of sales commitments for their new turbine, which, to them is about $1 billion in sales of just the turbine (and another $250 million would be needed to install them). So, not a bad day in sales.

Speaking of sales, here is the product brochure:

GE's entrance into the Low Wind Speed Turbines (LWST) market segment of commercial wind turbines follows several others, including Vestas (their V100 x 1.8 MW unit), RE Power (1.8 MW x 100 meter rotor diameter), Nordex (N117, a 2.4 MW x 117 meter rotor diameter), Siemens, and a few others. The LWST and the offshore segments are probably going to experience the greatest growth in the wind energy business for some time, and at the present, there are still a relatively few models/manufacturers of them compared to "regular" or fast speed ones.

A LWST is characterized by a power ratio of more than 4:1 (rotor area in square meters divided by the generator rating in kilowatts). The power ratios of the Vestas, Nordex and new GE models are 4.36, 4.48 and 4.91, respectively, while the "regular GE 1.5 sle has a power ratio of 3.10, which makes the "regular" model great for high wind speed locations but a poor performer in places where wind speeds are more average. By this measure, GE has the most "low wind speed friendly" unit on the market, at present. But who knows, maybe there will be a LWST technology race - it sure beats the arms race, after all.

About 13% of the land area of the US is well suited to "regular" models, while over 50% of the U.S. land area is more suitable for LWST units. So, potentially, this is a huge market. Furthermore, in most high population areas, wind speeds tend to be moderate, so the LWST are well targeted to where the electricity demand is located, which is different than the wind resource. In many cases, it makes more sense (is lower or equivalent cost) to install a LWST close to a load center (electricity consuming region) than it is to install mass quantities of high or medium wind speed units in a fast wind location (U.S. Great Plains, such as Montana or Wyoming, for example) and then also install one to two thousand miles of very expensive transmission line. Those lines can cost up to $3 million per mile, so this adds up...

Of course, it costs more to make a LWST with the same rating as a regular unit, and much of this is tied up in the blades and also the towers. Bigger blades mean stronger towers, even at the same heights used as a regular unit. And bigger blades weigh more, which means more of that expensive epoxy resin is required. Blade mass goes up at approximately the 2.5 power of the blade length, so the mass of a 48 meter blade is about twice that of a 36 meter blade. And mass is money.... In addition, taller towers are often used, which also means more money, and more mass per tower length for the bottom tower section. The GE 1.6-100 will probably cost about $4 million to buy and install, while the regular GE 1.5sl would cost about $3 million to buy and install. But, the benefit is greater energy production from a given wind speed.

The LWST era has come of age, and these units are especially appropriate for NY State and most of the inland regions of the Great Lakes region. One of the first large installations of these is going to be in central Michigan, just north of Lansing, where 300 MW of the Nordex N117 units are presently being installed (made in Arkansas). There have been several 50 to 100 MW V100 projects sales announced in the US (to be made in Colorado) in the last year, though none so far in NY. LWST are THE key technology needed to replace ALL pollution sourced electricity (coal, nukes, natural gas) in NY State, and will produce energy at lower costs than are possible than with offshore turbines (though using both, and offshore especially for Long Island) is the wise way to go).

Too bad there is no indication of a combined large sales/installation effort coupled to large scale manufacturing of these IN NY state. This could provide somewhere in the area of 100,000 manufacturing jobs for NY, providing there was a will to replace pollution sourced electricity generation that is often dangerous and risky (nukes), a major money bleed (coal and natural gas purchases from out of state) or just plain a big source of air and water pollution (Marcellus Shale gas, coal). And those jobs would be real wealth creating jobs, and difficult to outsource. Plus, since transporting 48 meter long blades, 50 ton tower sections and 50 to 100 ton nacelles long distances is costly, making them locally can save up to 10 to 15% on the installed cost.

For "community wind" applications (like the water/sewage plant in communities, or to provide some of the electricity for a town/school), these LWST units have a lot of potential. Or for projects where there is only room for one or a few turbines, these new wind turbines will produce far more energy than a comparable single /few units of "regular" wind turbines. Here is a graph that compares the average power output (kw-hr per year divided by 8766 average hours in a year) versus the wind speed for a GE-1.5 sle and a GE 1.6 x 100 m unit. If you've only got room for one, this is the way to go...

So, there's today's "room for improvement" idea.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Mortgage Mess and lack of Wind Energy Connection

Installing Siemens 3.6 MW x 120 meter rotor wind turbines recently, in Great Britain. For perspective, the hub height is 90 meters off the surface at Walney2 (yellow part is 20 meters above the water, white tower is 70 meters long, blades are about 58 meters long). Impressive!

One of the reasons for the lack of investment in the wind biz in the U.S. in general and especially in NY State has been the "availability" of other investments, particularly property, both residential and business. But, looks like that was significantly not so (in that, there really was very little REAL viable investments to be made in real estate), and the investors who put a lot of the money into real estate via "Mortgage Backed Securities" (MBS) in the last decade were defrauded by the hundreds of billions of dollars. Looks like counties were also defrauded out of mortgage recording fees for good measure, too, though that seems to be chump change in comparison.

So these never were valid investments. Meanwhile, the hundreds of billions worth of investments in wind turbines needed to replace pollution sourced electricity and the bonds that should have been issued for mass transit construction (and thus replacing oil consumption) never happened in the U.S. Nor did the jobs associated with real wealth creation that go with renewable energy and non-petroleum based transportation.

So far, this story is largely buried, and the public remains unaware of this. And so far, almost all of the perps of these frauds have got away with their crimes, and with a lot of money too. Crime did pay very nicely, while our country will pay for this bad investment "in the concept of air" versus investing in things that require manufacturing, and avoid the need to pollute to make electricity.

Also, along those lines:
More nuke FUBAR - no, not another Fuku type event, just more "drip,drip, drip" on these wretchedly bad investments (money, morality, ecology, job creation, lots of levels....):

And on the good side of things:
Ontario (unlike NY State), where RENEWABLES = LOTS OF JOBS: (also downloadable report)

And ANOTHER darn offshore wind farm gets commissioned and is now "ON" in Europe:
This one is "only 184 MW, "only" cost about $US 800 million to install, "only" created about 13000 job-yrs of direct employment, and is only Part 1 of the Walney complex, with part 2 now under construction: Part two will also create a similar number of jobs, and in combination, Walney 1 and 2 will displace the natural gas that would have been needed to supply
a 165 MW natural gas facility running at 90% of the time, and displacing 8.8 billion cubic feet of methane that Britain would otherwise have to import in return for the export of $53 million/yr at today's low prices (historically, the price should at least be double the present price) - money that Britain would also have to borrow, as their imports now exceed their exports, significantly.

Sound familiar?

Geez, you only have your unemployment to lose, in return for installing renewables on a significant scale. Do you like all that unemployment that seems to be so abundant on the Niagara Frontier these days? So what's the problem? We could make such turbines, and make the vessels that installed them. We could make items like this substation and the underwater electric cables that connect this substation to land, and also the vessel that installed this unit, too:
That we aren't helps explain the lack of employment, and high unemployment in these here parts.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

The June 2011 NYSERDA RPS Analysis

The June 2011 NYSERDA Renewable Portfolio results are out (see for RFP 2226), and 315 MW of Renewable Energy Credits (REC's) were auctioned at an average price of $22.01/MW-hr with a total value of about $191 million. Over a 10 year period, this means that an average of 867,873 MW-hr per year of electricity (or an average of 99 MW of net production) will be aided by about 2.2 c/kw-hr. This is part of goal of getting more non-polluting electricity into the NY State electricity supply, up to a value of at least 30% by 2015.

Most of the awards went to wind farms, though there were also awards for landfill gas systems (each one of those is about 4 to 6 MW in size, and there were 7 of those). Some of the winning bids for wind farms are also split across 2 years (for example, half of the output one year (at one price) and half at another price - this minimizes the risk of a low price degrading the economic viability of a given project. And lately, many of the proposed wind farms get canceled because even with a higher RPS bid, the baseline (= NYISO generated price) is just too low, even with the Federal and state subsidies. However, maybe this year we will get lucky.

The wind turbine awards were for the following projects:

a) Stony Creek, Wyoming County (Orangeville), 52.5 MW (GE 1.5 MW) Invenergy
b) Howard, Steuben County, 65.5 MW, (Nordex 2.5 MW N100), EverPower
c) Allegany, Cataraugus County, 72.5 MW, (Nordex 2.5 MW N100), EverPower
d) Marbel River, Clinton County, 218 MW (Gamesa 2 MW), Horizon*

* The Horizon project will be spread over this RFP and the previous one (March 2010), which has a similar average RPS price.

In all of these projects, a ridiculously low NYISO price of under 4 cents/kw-hr will prevail for some time, and this is not good as far as project financial viability goes. The 2.2 c/kw-hr will raise the effective electricity price to 6.2 cents/kw-hr or less for the next few years, until prices finally are pulled up by increasing coal and natural gas prices, and maybe (if we are lucky) by an improving economy generating increased demand for all kinds of things, including electricity.

Another motivating factor for these projects was the coming end to the Section 1603 Grants, which can be used for suitable project owners instead of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) (owners must be capable of utilizing the PTC, even if they choose the Sec 1603 approach). The Sec 1603 Grants work best when the average net efficiency of the wind projects is 30% or less of the nameplate capacity of the project. And since every project installed in NY to date fits that approach, odds are, this is what will be used.

In the S1603 approach, upon completion by a certain year as well as start by a certain year, the project owner gets 30% of the value of the wind farm invested back as a cash grant. That is approximately what the PTC would have been worth, once the time value of money is computed. But, since money now is worth more than in the future, almost all wind farms since 2009 installed in the U.S. have been done via the S1603 approach (see

Many of these projects have been years in the making - for example, the Howard farm project was first started in 2004. It has been delayed by 3 years due to the financial collapse (was scheduled for completion by 2008) wrought by George Bu$h's Great Recession. However, this delay may be advantageous, as the wind turbines proposed are now much better suited to NY winds than they were 3 years ago - especially with respect to the larger blade size to generator rating ratio.

The only wind farm of significance in the last two years installed in NY was the Hardscrabble wind farm (74 MW, Gamesa 2 MW G-90 units on 100 meter tall towers), which cost $200 million, or about $2.7 million per MW of capacity. This project was estimated to have a 30% net output, so the capital cost would be $9 million per delivered MW. It also used the S1603 credits instead of the amazingly complicated PTC system. That extra 20 meters of tower height (typical wind turbine towers in the US are 80 meters high) cost at least $500,000 extra per tower.

In today's economics, a wind project owner has to come up with at least 60% of the installation/purchase cost (equity) to be lucky enough to get a loan from a bank for the
remaining 40%. The interest on the loan gets added to the cost of the project to determine the amount of tax deduction income (convoluted, but that's how it goes). The rapid depreciation (MACRS) incentive is by far the most important financial incentive for wind turbine projects, and interest payments on loans add to the amount of deductions on other income that project owners can monetize.

For the Hardscrable project (similar to the Allegany one), a $200 million project cost is also a $60 million S1603 grant. The loan portion of the project would be $80 million (40%), and over a 6 year period, the interest on that would be around $36 million. Add that to the $200 million investment, and total deductions from taxable income (usually not associated with a wind farm) would be $236 million. At a 35% Federal tax rate and an 8% State income tax rate, this gives a legal tax avoidance of close to $100 in 6 years. Thus, for a $200 million investment, total avoidances of other taxes would be nearly $160 million, or close to 80% of the project cost. Odds are, the $60 million S1603 grant would be used to pay back a part of the equity (a short term investor who would otherwise charge a high rate of return for loans/equity), leaving approximately an equal split between loan and equity in the project. But all projects have their special twists.

So what would the cost to operate such a facility be? In general, the taxes/insurance/land lease/other costs add up to $20/MW-hr, according to a study last year (see also The rest of this is capital costs (15% return on investment is the target) and loan/principal payments. At $8 million/yr for the bank loan ($41/MW-hr) and $10.5 million for the equity return ($70 million (includes a $10 million "fee") after the $60 million S1603 repayments, or about $54/MW-hr), this adds up to roughly $95/MW-hr. However, there is that $100 million in MACRS/interest on loan avoided tax, which is the same as "tax income". Over a 20 year period this is roughly $5 million/yr, though instead it comes in mostly in the first 3 years. That would "average" about $25/MW-hr. So subtracting the $25/MW-hr from the $95/MW-hr leaves $70/MW-hr in capital repayments and $20/MW-hr in O&M expenses, or a total of $90/MW-hr as a needed electricity price.

If the electricity price managed to get to $40/MW-hr, and NYSERDA's RPS payments were $22/MW-hr for the initial 10 years, the initial income stream would be around $62/MW-hr, which is not $90/MW-hr, and instead is $28/MW-hr shy of the target, or about $5.5 million per year less than needed. The only way this can be rectified is if bank interest rates were lower (not likely, even though the cost of money for banks is really low these days), the price of electricity was to rise back to normal levels of around $60/MW-hr or else lower equity payments were used, at least for the initial few years. If the loan was to only last 10 years, payments during this time would be higher even at a 5% interest rate (which is not really possible to get), though afterwords, that burden would go away. Another possibility is that other projects would not be as costly as the Hardscrabble one was (80 meter tower heights used, saving $500,000 per turbine), which would save about 10% on the project cost).

These turbine projects look really financially iffy at present, but were probably hurried along by the imminent demise of the Section 1603 program, as well as the unlikelihood of a renewal of it with Republicans in control of the House and in de-facto control of the Senate via the filibuster process. In many ways, they are a bet on higher future electricity (NYISO) prices, as they are nowhere near viable at existing prices. The higher future electricity prices are a bet on higher Eastern U.S. coal prices (due to Chinese/Indian purchases of West Virginia coal) and higher natural gas prices (after all, with the required marginal price for minimal return on investments now near $10/MBtu without proper fracking waste-water disposal (and more with proper disposal), but current Henry Hub gas prices not even reaching $5/MBtu - see, it does seem like a reasonable bet. But then, most bankers who could be financing more wind projects don't like gambling anymore - that didn't work out so well for most, as that is what caused the Great Recession of 2007 and effectively still in progress...

With a combination of a rise in NYISO electricity prices back to the historical average of $55/MW-hr, and lower initial equity returns, the loss in the initial 10 years could be minimal However, once the NYSERDA RPS payments disappear, only a higher electricity price will save this project from that dreaded "failed to meet earnings projections" declaration.

Anyway, we wish these project owners good luck, and maybe they have tapped into some patient, less expensive capital and loans. The simplified version of the production cost may also be higher than certain people can obtain via a better financial analysis, lower cost loans and more patient capital.

On another note, the NY RPS schedule (old one, not the enhanced one) more or less called for roughly 480 MW of new wind turbine capacity to be installed each year, on average. At the end of 2010 there should have been about 686 MW of average power output, but instead, there was only about 290 MW average output. So far, it is hard to view this as a success, and perhaps the term "not a complete failure" might be more accurate. The combination of lower than expected net outputs (22% vs 30%) and lower installed capacity (1276 MW vs. 2288 MW) at the end of 2010 is also one of those "fails to meet expectations" moments.

And more importantly no significant wind turbine manufacturing and assembly factories are operating in NY State to date. That is the real failure, as that is where the jobs are. The Gamesa wind turbines are largely assembly/manufactured (towers, blades, nacelles) in Pennsylvania. And those Nordex units (especially blades and nacelles) are manufactured in Arkansas. Given the significant cost adders for transporting these (even by train, it adds up), NY has still failed to make the sale that most regions with lots of wind turbine installation potential do make, even those with equivalent or higher labor costs. Part of this may be the hit or miss nature of the RPS, but much of this is because of the way that wind turbine electricity is priced.

Meanwhile, across the border in both Quebec and especially Ontario, the renewable energy gold rush (especially wind turbines) continues, using policies specifically designed to get manufacturing jobs for these provinces from wind turbines. The use of the "magic invisible hand of the marketplace" has also once again proved to be, like the NYISO pricing system, ill suited to Green Energy and Green Jobs. And that certainly leaves room for improvement.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Merit Order Effect in WNY in 2010

In 2010, several wind farms had at least a full year of commercial operation - and one of them (Wethersfield 1) has been going for 10 years. Thus, it is possible to test if there is a likely Merit Order Effect (MOE) present in our part of NY. Apparently there is one, and one to the benefit of WNY electricity consumers and one NOT to the benefit of WNY pollution sourced electricity generator owners. The estimate is that customers were saved $31 million on their 2010 electricity bill ($604 million was spent to make an average of 1762 MW at an average price of nearly $39.22/MW-hr). Without wind power in the region, that extra $31 million net would have been scarfed up by (mostly) the AES and NRG corporations.

So, here is a link to the paper (12 pages, with some graphs) in .pdf format (214 kb):
titled "Estimate of the Wind Power Merit Order Effect in Western New York State in 2010".

There are many examples where adding significant quantities of wind energy into a "NYISO-like" market (where hourly auctions determine the marginal price, and where all bidders for that hourly period get that marginal price, regardless of the actual cost or a steady price needed to obtain a reasonable return on investment (profit rate)) drops the marginal price. In Europe, prices can even go negative - that is, for some time periods, polluters using coal or nuclear generated electricity actually have to PAY people to take their electricity for that time period. Here are some examples:

And here is the a reason why the owners of coal burners, nukes and natural gas suppliers are not happy with wind turbine installations:

In places like Texas, negative prices are not allowed, so when prices drop to some preset limit, wind turbine generators are forced to shut down. This is called "economic curtailment", and in 2009, about 17% of the wind energy that could have been sold was prevented from being sold because it would have resulted in negative prices for electricity not sold under Power Purchase Agreements (most wind sourced electricity is sold via PPA's in Texas). This basically ruins the profitability of wind farm investments. And if it was your task to hobble any competition to pollution sourced electricity and for the fossil and nuclear fuels that are needed by these non-renewable generation systems, that would be a fine approach to pursue. After all, isn't Business a bit like Hockey Night in Buffalo, the "on the boards" part?

In 2008, German customers had a net savings of Euro 5 billion due to the MOE. In effect, this came out of the extraordinary profits that polluters can make whenever demand has to be supplied by a combination of mostly low production costs (nukes, coal) sources and some high priced ones (natural gas, oil). In addition, there were about E2.9 billion in avoided imports of natural gas and less need for coal (mostly imported in Germany) (E2.7 billion). Finally, the employment resulting from the manufacture of (plus some installation jobs) all those renewable energy systems avoided over E5 billion in unemployment costs. After all, where else do you employ ~ 300,000 people in high value added manufacturing these days? Furthermore, there were lower natural gas prices that resulted from lower demand for natural gas and coal caused by not using as much natural gas and coal to make electricity, so industrial and residential/commercial users also saved money.

And just what does it mean to cream off the extraordinary profits that, in WNY, would have gone to the 3 major coal burning plants (NRG Huntley, NRG Dunkirk, AES Somerset) if wind turbines had not made an average of 85.1 MW during the year? Odds, are, much more than all the protests of environmentalists who protest against the use of coal to make electricity, despite their best intentions of trying to do some good.

Most importantly, maybe the marginal pricing system (scam?) might finally get exposed to public scrutiny. The marginal pricing auction system (Locational Based Marginal Pricing, or LBMP) was supposed to introduce competition into the formerly monopoly centered electricity generation business, and thus deliver the lowest price to consumers. But, that is theory; reality is quite different. In reality, the owners of low priced generators have discovered that they do not want to be the only generators in a region (as in NYISO A, or NYISO West), because then prices would remain at rock bottom levels. Besides, who needs an auction when there is no effective competition between fuel source suppliers.... Instead, to maximize the profits of low cost electricity producers, it is desirable to have most of the electricity sourced in NYISO Zone A by these ultra low cost, fully paid off coal burners and some of the electricity provided by higher cost natural gas sources. Even though natural gas (Ngas) prices are currently in the pits, brand new combined cycle (ultra efficient) plants cannot compete with the big coal burners. The thermal cost of Ngas delivered to WNY is about $6/MBtu (Ngas at $4.70/MBtu plus delivery at $1.30/MBtu), while coal, even at an expensive price of $75/ton for Appalachian still is only $3/MBtu on a thermal basis. The slightly better efficiency (50% for Ngas, 40% for coal) of methane gas turbine combined cycle systems (GTCC) just can't overcome the difference. And Ngas prices are presently only 50% of where they need to be to justify further investments in new wells.... In WNY, over 450 MW of coal burner capacity has been taken out of the market (boilers shut down), yet still, prices are deemed too low for new electricity generation capacity...

So, that's how big profits can get made by coal burners in WNY, and when wind energy comes on line, it replaces some or all of the Ngas sourced electricity for that given hour, and thus drops the bid price of electricity. So the owners of the coal unit can make a regular profit for that hour, but not an extraordinary one. And since that is what they really crave, and what the executive management gets compensated for by extra bonuses, that is mostly what they care about. So, by forcing those operations to survive on regular profits, consumers get a better deal, but the owners of the coal burners don't get those fabulous extraordinary profits.

Of course, Ngas suppliers are not made happy by this turn of events, either. Ngas prices are quite sensitive to changes in demand for Ngas, and if less Ngas is being burned to make electricity, that puts pressure on suppliers to lower their price or at least keep prices less than they would rise to if demand for Ngas (and that includes fracked Marcellus and Utica Shale Ngas) was to increase. And since they, too, crave extraordinary profits like a junkie craves their fix and they really hate the thought of being saddled by regular profits (they would not have invested in the well if they thought that competitive pricing and regular profits, if any, would be the outcome of their investment), the Ngas supplier's happiness (and consumer's sadness) is affected by how electricity gets made and the prices that are paid for this electricity. But, if you use Ngas for home and business heat, or don't like paying higher taxes for schools or governmental operations (caused by various governments paying higher prices for Ngas AND electricity), then you won't have much sympathy for the Ngas folks.

Besides, coal and Ngas tend to be bought from outside of NY, and we have to export money to import those fossil fuels. Thus, wind energy also helps keep local money local, though there are ways to do a better job at that than is presently the case. And wind turbine derived electricity prevents the export of our wealth and income to people who often really hate NY'ers, like the oil and gas people in Texas and Oklahoma, or the truly despicable management in companies like Massey Energy (who in a just world would be on trail for murder of 29 coal miners in West Virgina from last year). But then, we have room for improvement on the justice aspect, too, as the Golden Rule seems to morph into the Rule of Gold far too frequently these days.

Anyway, if you get a chance, check out the paper. Got any comments?



Web Analytics