Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Stony Creek - A New Wyoming County Adveventure in Wind

A close-up of a GE 1.6 XLE wind turbine, from http://www.ge-renewable-energy.com/uploads/tx_spdownloads/GE_1.6-100_wtg_02.jpg used by permission for us non-profits. This 1.6 MW wind turbine features a 100 meter rotor diameter, and it is an example of a new trend in wind turbines that are very appropriate for NY State's wind resource. These are the so called Low Wind Speed Turbines (LWST), which can squeeze an average of 19% extra energy from the wind versus the "standard" GE 1.6 MW unit which features an 82.5 meter rotor diameter - see http://www.ge-renewable-energy.com/en/wind/products/product-range/15-16/ on an 80 meter tall tower. Invenergy will be installing 59 of this in the town of Orangeville, a ~ 6 mile x 6 mile sized municipal entity, which is located about 5 miles east of Warsaw, in Wyoming County this summer and fall, as otherwise they can't collect their Federal incentives that can allow wind energy to be sold at 3 c/kw-hr and perhaps break even...(well, maybe 4 c/kw-hr..)... Invenergy and its lenders will be spending around $240 million on this project, with roughly 20% of that spent on installation and engineering/design and permitting.

Invenery has been exploring a site in Orangeville (and yes, it has its own Wikipedia entry - how cool is that...http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orangeville,_New_York) for many years. It's got some great aspects going for it.... the area is reasonably windy (on a top of a hill/plateau), located close to a 230 kv transmission line rated for at least 430 MW, and this is in the heart of dairy land, with pretty sad rural economics. The chance to earn somewhere between $10,000 to $15,000/yr for leasing some land (probably more profit than from a big herd of dairy cows, or from selling hay or corn to dairy farmers) proved quite attractive to a number of landholders. And the town residents can forget about having to pay much in the way of property taxes if this works out like it did in Sheldon and Bliss (Payments in Lieu of Taxes - alias PILOT fees) would be similar to or larger than lease payments. For 59 units plus a substation the PILOT fees could well be around $1 million a year. After all, there were only 1301 residents listed in the 2000 Census....

Invenergy initially proposed using the "standard" GE turbines (1.5 MW x 77 meter rotor x 80 meter towers), and then upscaled to the 1.6 MW x 82.5 m rotor units. Invenergy normally buys GE wind turbines in roughly billion dollar or more chunks once a year, and then uses these in their various windfarms. They probably are not too happy with the so-so performance  of the Sheldon High Winds project, which is around 24% net output (GE 1.5 MW x 77 m), so the 19% increase (to 28.6%) with the GE 1.6 MW xle (100 m rotor) sounded like a good deal.

There has been some spirited NIMBYism by a few Orangeville residents with some help from anti-turbine friends, but so far this has not delayed things too much. But they have resulted in a huge EIS document, and lots of money has been spent on providing answers to subjects like avian interactions, shadow flicker, noise and related efforts. In this 486 page document (available via http://documents.dps.ny.gov/public/Common/ViewDoc.aspx?DocRefId=%7BC3B838BE-B790-4E74-8E2C-4D9BA1727504%7D), you can find out about previous avian impact studies at the Sheldon wind farm (average of less than 1.5 birds/turbine-yr and 3.15 bats/turbine-yr), or the projected sound levels (much less than the road noise for residences on busy roads going through the project). But, there may be no pleasing everybody, especially when emotions are whipped up to a fever pitch and facts become irrelevant.

Of course, if maximum electricity output was being pursued from this farm, one possibility is to use taller towers than 80 meter. Both RE Power and Nordex have recently announced 143 m and 141 meter towers respectively for some of their units (a 3.2 MW MM114 unit by RE Power - see http://www.repower.de/en/press/press-releases/detail-press/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=8091&cHash=967ae35eb6668e666a998ae21f22015c ) and a 2.4 MW LWST (Nordex - see http://www.nordex-online.com/fileadmin/MEDIA/Kundenzeitschrift/EN/Nordex_WPU_34_en.pdf). Nordex claims a 47% net output from a windy site for the N117 x 91 meter unit (hub height wind speed of 7.4 m/s), and says that for light wind areas, a 21% average energy increase is possible just going from a 91 meter tower to a 141 meter tower, as the winds are about 7% faster at the taller height versus the lower one.

Somewhere in the forest regions of southern (and not too windy) Germany - from http://www.nordex-online.com/fileadmin/MEDIA/Kundenzeitschrift/EN/Nordex_WPU_34_en.pdf.

So, using the tall tower approach and the LWST, the Stony Creek site might crank up output from around 236 GW-hr/yr (28.6% net output) to 286 GW-hr/yr (around 34.6% net output), or roughly an extra 5.7 MW. Oh well, every little bit helps, and maybe some time in the future, if and when the wind industry recovers from the Republican (though also due to Democratic Party incompetence) initiated legislative hostage taking that they seem to be so good at and that sets in at the end of 2012.


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Big Fast Wind Projects - Get 'em While You Can...

From http://academic.emporia.edu/aberjame/student/corley4/index.htm a view of some of the 111 x 1.8 MW Vestas V90 wind turbines, with a distant of of an older wind farm in the Flint Hills of Kansas

Kansas is now one of the central infection points of the "Teabagger" epidemic that have swept across our country starting a couple of years ago (this plague seems to have peaked, though the consequences live on...). They are totally Republican dominated; when doctors who provide abortions get assassinated so many leader seems to encourage this behavior or at least spend all their time condemming abortion and not murder. And they have swallowed the Faux News lines about the Confidence Fairy and economics (if you just give rich people more money, the economy will grow, and if you keep cutting money to the poor and middle class from government collected taxes, good times will be had for all....). Since most people are not rich and yet democracy is supposedly our form of government, to elect their brand of Republicans, the majority of voters have to vote AGAINST their own economic interests, and yet this happens with the regularity of the sun coming up every morning. Actually, they believe in oil and natural gas (the Koch family started off in this state), and Kansas is (or was) a big natural gas producer. But, as per Republican dogma, most people don't think that Global Warming is occurring due to the combustion of fossil fuels, which especially pleases the oil and gas industry. Which is ironic, as the "high pressure dome" over the midwest this summer ("the bake") has been particularly devastating to agriculture and is also what the predicted effect of Global Warming WILL BE in the near future on a more regular basis as the CO2 content of the atmosphere keeps rising. But then, Teabaggers and facts go together as well as oil and water minus any surfactant... oh well, old news to anyone who has read or heard about the book "What's the Matter with Kansas"....

And yet, Kansas is a really windy state, and the Flint Hills is one of the windiest parts of this state. It is a ridge formed by gentle rise in altitude that is oriented (N-S direction) perpendicular to the prevailing winds (west to east). This state has the second largest wind potential of any state (450 GW using "regular" wind speed turbines at 100 meter tower heights) in the continental US, which is roughly equal to the ENTIRE amount of electricity used in this country. It has at least 8.4% of our country's onshore fast wind potential (by comparison NY State only has 19.7 GW of "regular wind" energy potential and just a sliver of Kansas' possible capacity). The numbers can be found here - http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov/pdfs/wind_maps/wind_potential.pdf and the nifty colored wind speed maps can be seen here: http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov/windmaps/.

So while their state's prairie and prime and quite productive agricultural lands are devolving to deserts via Global Warming, they've got the cure for pollution sourced electricity in the air moving across the land. You could run the entire country, electrically speaking, on Kansas winds, though if they were smart, that wind resource could be a massive economic engine. For example, instead of making ammonia from natural gas or petroleum coke (as is done in Coffeeville), wind and water could make hydrogen and oxygen; then nitrogen from the air could be used to make ammonia, which is needed for about half of the protein grown in this country. For starts...

Well, as it turns out, this wind farm was supposed to be banned, as the Flint Hills (a big oil and gas section of the state) is home to some of the last stretches of prairie grass in the state. Of course, wind turbines go just fine with prairie grass, but evidently not with prairie palaces (trophy homes put up by rich people who think they own the view). The present Governor is not necessarily a "friend of wind" though there is a lot of money to be made in the wind biz in Kansas. And Republicans do love their money.... as well as corporations making money form natural resources....

The Caney wind farm is about 200 MW in capacity, and probably cost around $400 million to build. The turbines were made in Colorado in one of the world's larger wind turbine manufacturing facilities. It is being developed/mostly owned by Enel, one of Italy's largest companies, worth roughly $US 168 billion, give or take a few gigabucks (Enel also owns the 6.6 MW Whethersfield 1 project, which is NY's first one, too). Enel is partly owned by the government of Italy (in total, a bit over 30%), and is Europe's second biggest non-bank company by market capitalization. They are also a major player in oil and gas as well as electricity generation and distribution. This project was partly helped by a Section 1603 grant of $99 million, as well as some partners in the banking and finance biz (JP Morgan, Wells Fargo and Met Life), and that is what such companies are SUPPOSED TO DO. The financing behind this project is byzantine to say the least but that is how to comply with US Law and obtain the benefits of the financial incentives that make this project possible.

As for the winds.... they would average at least 8 m/s at hub height, and probably more. According to Enel's website (http://www.enelgreenpower.com/en-GB/media_investor/press_releases/release.aspx?iddoc=1653865), the average power output is expected to be 750 GW-hr/yr, or about 86 MW, for a net efficiency of 42.8% (after including array losses, too) - this is almost 80% greater than what NY wind farms can put out. But, sometimes nature endows resources in strange ways....

Anyway, there will be no more of this kind of development in the Flint Hills if Governor Brownback has his way. And due to the expiration of the Federal incentives (especially the MACRS rapid depreciation and the Section 1603 grant) on Dec 31, 2012, he will get his wish. But that formerly lush land seems more like a desert every day, so if he wants agriculture to remain viable, he's going to have to start paying attention to climate forecasts, and then do something about the facts they provide. Tough call, religious fanatical-like adherence to a belief system that also used to be enormously financially rewarding for a lot of his friends, or heeding the science that gives future weather predictions with increasing accuracy in what used to be considered part of the breadbasket of America.

And meanwhile, the wind keeps on blowing over an area turning into a new desert in North America. Oops, that's a solar resource in the making, though that will never rival Kansas wind  energy in terms of the cost of production....


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pushing the Wind Energy Envelope

The last of the transition pieces for the 111 turbine x 400 MW Anholt wind farm in Denmark. These are the sections placed between the monopole foundation (a 500 ton or more "pipe" that is is about 200 to 250 feet long and about 20 feet in diameter) that is pounded into the seabed and the wind turbine tower. From http://www.rechargenews.com/energy/wind/article318340.ece. Additional information on how this ~ $US 2.1 billion project is being assembled can be seen at http://www.dongenergy.com/anholt/EN/News/anholt_nyheder/News/Pages/AnholtOffshoreWindFarm-NewsletterJuly2012.aspx

If you want to do something about Global Warming, talk is really cheap, so enough with the talk. Actually, so are some forms of energy efficiency, like switching from incandescents to fluorescent and LEDs, or better yet, turning the lightbulb off when it is not required to be on. But after the easy stuff is done, there comes the generation of renewable electricity part. And it turns out that delivering serious quantities of electricity at affordable prices is possible, is being done, is creating lots of employment and business opportunities, all at once, but sometimes it also requires some serious investments. In this case, the major electric utility in Denmark (Dong Energy) joined forces with a pair of pension funds (these purchased half of this project for ~ $US 1 billion - see http://blog.ewea.org/2012/04/financing-offshore-wind-farms-requires-new-capital-sources/) and they also got a $US 310 million loan from a bank (Nordic Investment Bank), so that Dong will "only" need to come up with around $US 800 million. And then they will repeat the process for subsequent wind farms of a similar size now beginning construction, including one called "West of Duddon Sands" in British waters. This company has become one of the foremost offshore wind developers in the world: http://www.dongenergy.co.uk/en/uk_business_activities/renewables/Pages/Renewables.aspx

But, you can only get pension funds to invest in projects if these are conservative (= not risky) investments, and Danish pension funds are as cautious as just about any in the world. What makes this project possible is the fact that it has a power purchase agreement for the sale of the electricity for a long term (~ 25 years) and that projects such as these are no longer experimental curiosities but are becoming commonplace. This project should supply an average of at least 160 MW and deliver approximately 4% of Denmark's electricity consumption. This will push up the wind turbine derived part of Denmark's electricity to about 32.2%. In other words, by the time this project is completed (early 2013), about one third of the electricity of this country of 6 million will be supplied by wind sourced electricity. In 2011, about 28% of Denmark's electricity was wind sourced, and on average, these were putting out 28.5% of their rated capacity. Their goal of achieving a 50% wind based electricity system by 2020 seems to be quite possible.

So far, about 22% of Denmark's wind turbine capacity is located offshore, but that is bound to increase. Unfortunately, this is not cheap, though maybe that is not so unfortunate, as that investment also translates into economic activity, especially if very little of it "leaks" out of Denmark via importing stuff for this project. Part of the reason their economy is not in the tank like much of Europe presently finds itself is that they are undertaking investments like the Anholt project, which is both capital intensive and massively job creating. These investments will be repaid by electricity customers via their electricity billsover at least two decades, so this is not "government subsidized", though it is "government facilitated" via the long term Power Purchase Agreement. There are over 5000 commercial scale wind turbines operating in that country, and a number of the smaller and less efficient ones have had their capital investment paid off. These are now very inexpensive generators of electricity, with a production cost near 2 c/kw-hr, and this trend is going to accelerate between now and 2020. Thus, the increase in wind sourced electricity from the more expensive offshore arrays will be compensated by the large numbers of paid off turbines generating at their marginal cost. It also turns out that many of these older units are likely to outlast their expected 20 year life. Despite incentives to replace the older units with bigger and more efficient ones, a lot of the 150,000 owners of turbines in Denmark are sticking with their older, more modest sized (200 to 1000 MW) turbines, which are among the lowest cost generation systems in Europe (no capital costs...).

It turns out that there are now about 4.2 GW of offshore wind farms "on line" and generating electricity, with most of the turbines in just a few countries in northern Europe. However, there are now about 8.6 GW of offshore wind under construction in 23 wind projects. And as can be seen at this website -  http://www.thewindpower.net/windfarms_offshore_en.php - there are lots in the planning stages. Very shortly, the US will even have one being built - the 468 MW Cape Wind project in Massachusetts...

In the U.S., there are a couple of states (small population, large area, big wind resources) where there is now a very high percentage of wind in the state electricity grid - notably Iowa (20% by 2012) and South Dakota (22% in 2011), while North Dakota, Minnesota and Wyoming all had at least 10% of their electricity supplied by wind turbines (http://www.earth-policy.org/data_highlights/2012/highlights27). By the end of 2012, there will be a significant concentration of states in the midwest (Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas as well as Texas-Oklahoma-Kansas) with very significant wind energy contributions to their electricity grids.

In general, "experts" have warned about grid instability as the wind content of the electricity grid gets near 20% and greater. But this may be unsupported by facts - especially since Denmark will be zooming past the 32% level shortly, and seem to be doing fine at the 28% level. It may also be the extremely dour and conservative view that gird operators and managers have on life and of any changes in ANYTHING. After all, part of their job is to assume massive failure of their grids and to plan accordingly, all the while keeping massively underfunded. I guess that can breed a certain attitude....

But, wind being a major, and soon DOMINANT factor in the electricity mix of certain regions is not just a fantasy of some hippies who like renewable energy. It's now becoming a reality, and some of the benefits include the fact that the wind resource does not deplete (in North America, Global Warming will tend to produce faster winds for much of the country...), it's "homegrown energy", it makes electricity without CO2 pollution, is most definitely a job creation and wealth creation "engine", and once the systems are paid off, it makes amazingly low cost electricity. Oh, and zero chance of nuke meltdowns with subsequent mass poisoning and massive loss of life (Chernobyl's legacy is around a million prematurely dead people from cancer and degraded immune systems caused by ingestion or inhalation of radioisotiopes which should not have been polluting the regions in which these people lived). Life in Japan is definitely going to be adversely affected by the Fukushima FUBAR, in addition to the (so far) $US 50 billion tap for that "oops" event.

About the only drawback about wind going big time is the constant rants from anti-renewable energy people and organizations, many funded or aligned with pollution based energy concerns, and which basically boil down to screeches of "we can't do it" and "it won't work". Oh well, they do get boring, even if they are horridly well funded by the likes of Exxon-Mobil and those possibly evil Koch-fiend Sith Twins running Koch Industries. And like most things that are boring, it takes greater and greater amounts of money to get a smaller and smaller effect, much like opiate and meth addiction, so the foes of a sane energy systems can look forward to spending more money to achieve lesser and lesser propaganda effectiveness. But, they do have a whole lot of money at their disposal.... So be prepared for another assault on reason and truth by our "friends" in the fossil fuel industry, and especially the natural gas biz, which will be centered on converting gas to electricity.  Since "unnatural gas" competes directly with wind based electricity, and once gas goes back up in price to levels needed to make money on drilling for it/delivering it to market (especially via fracking), it will be less expensive to make electricity via wind turbines in much of the U.S., and that will not make the frackers in this country into "happy campers". After all, mined methane is just SO 20th century, and rumor has it, this is now the 21st century.

In the meantime, if you want to do something about making the world a better place, one good first step is to get a sensible renewable energy pricing system installed somewhere in the U.S. Once such an arrangement gets instituted, it will spread, since this is also a job creation arrangement, and that is real popular these days. And while it may sound trivial, it is not - the trivial part is making and installing transition pieces like in the picture.....

The initial 30 MW phase of the Thornton Bank wind farm (Belgium) - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorntonbank_Wind_Farm. It will soon be a 300 MW array..


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Dunkirk Debacle and Press Stenography

Harvesting willow for use in a biomass burner - these saplings are 3 years old.
From http://www.fao.org/docrep/008/a0026e/a0026e11.htm - an article on phytoremediation, or how to clean up an environmental mess with willow and get energy raw materials and economic activity out of the deal at the same time.

Recently, the 520 MW coal burner in Dunkirk and those dependent on it have fallen on hard times, as have many of the workers (employment is down considerably due to these hard times). The owner (NRG, who bought the Huntley and Dunkirk facilities from Niagara Mohawk/National Grid in a fire sale in the early part of the 2000's), has extracted massive profits from these units - they helped haul NRG back out of a bankruptcy brought on by the Enron crimewave and (with hindsight) a really stupid reliance on natural gas fired facilities. But, in typical "what have you done for me lately" corporate mode, losses are not to be tolerated, even if they are only likely to be temporary - in this case from others selling natural gas far below the actual cost to produce this gas, thus making electricity made from this money losing gas also artificially low in price/cost to produce this electricity.

However, even with coal delivered to Dunkirk at less than $43/ton from Wyoming (where it now sells for $8/ton at these massive open pit mines), it is still less expensive to make electricity with coal in WNY than it is with ultra-depressed in price natural gas. That's why less than 1.7% of the electricity made in WNY came form natural gas in 2011. Another reason the Dunkirk unit is uneconomical is due to the low utilization rate (last year, about 43.5% of its rated capacity). However, last year NYPA generated a record amount of electricity from their Niagara Falls facility - on average, 248 MW more than in 2010. And since electricity demand in WNY was about the same as 2010, the additional hydropower (made for 0.2 c/kw-hr, and way cheaper than anyone else can make it in NY State) displaced both natural gas and AND coal. About 256 MW less coal based electricity was made in WNY in 2011 versus 2010 (810 MW vs. 1066 MW on average), while 15 MW less natural gas sourced electricity was made (31 MW vs. 46 MW on average). Natural gas facilities were used less than 6% of their rated capacity - how's that for an efficient utilization of assets valued at over half a billion dollars?

In a recent Buffalo New article (see http://www.buffalonews.com/business/article946652.ece), the economic bad news and tragic likely outcome were discussed, along with the severely misinformed statement that low gas prices are driving coal burners out of business in WNY (remember, natural gas usage in WNY ALSO dropped from really low to really, really low levels in the 2010-2011period). The article mentioned the local taxes paid by NRG ($8.3 million/yr), but did not mention RGGI payments (at $1.80/ton of CO2 pollutant emitted, they would have had to pay around $3.7 million last year). But the really newsworthy item was NRG's claim that they lost $73 million on operations last year at Dunkirk.

In 2011, the Dunkirk facility made 1,983,300 MW-hr (averaging 226.4 MW). The average price paid to generators in WNY last year was around 3.4 cents/kw-hr ($34/MW-hr), so their sales of electricity would have been at least $67.4 million. This probably understates their actual electricity sales, since they tend to decrease the plant output when prices are low (11 pm to 7am on weekdays and most times on weekends) and maximize production when prices are higher (noon to 8 pm, especially in the summer and on weekdays). Then there is the "ICAP" income, which was way down for 2011 ($2.8 million for Dunkirk) - see http://icap.nyiso.com/ucap/public/auc_view_monthly_detail.do. ICAP payments are for electricity generation units that have the capacity to produce electricity with a bit of notification, in case the grid demand spikes or another generator ceases operation unexpectedly. This ICAP plus generation income would have totaled $70.2 million (or more). in the NY City region, ICAP prices are a significant portion of electricity plant operations - about 10 times what they are for upstate

Since they consumed around 1 million tons of coal last year to make this electricity, that would have been around $43 million spent on the raw material.  Adding up taxes and RGGI fees would have bumped expenses to around $55 million. Using this very conservative analysis, that would have left about $15 million for wages and benefits, as well as profits, taxes and O&M items purchased. Odds are, the plant would have lost some money, as the $15 million probably got used up for wages and benefits (about $80,000 per employee, roughly half of that being wages). So, no profits, no income taxes, and these losses could have been offset on profits made at other NRG facilities throughout the country.

However, in the article, NRG claims to have lost $73 million at the Dunkirk facility last year, or roughly $38.60/MW-hr. Adding the loss to the sales means that the cost of running the Dunkirk unit would have been ($38.60 + $35.40)/MW-hr, or $74/MW-hr. This, to put it mildly, is very bizarre, since most generation facilities in WNY have been surviving for years in the $30 to $40/MW-hr range. And since the sales of electricity and the ICAP revenue more than cover the cost of coal, local property taxes, RGGI fees and wages, what could that $73 million represent, and where did it come from?

Odds are, the $73 million is a paper loss. NRG spent well over $100 million on upgrading the boiler exhaust air filters at both Dunkirk and Huntley recently (mostly to remove the small, micron sized particulates made by burning pulverized coal). It sounds like they decided to declare that this long-term capital investment had to be paid back in one or two years, and normally this would be an absurd idea, since electricity is supposed to be a "competitive", capital intensive industry in NY State. Oh well, Hollywood accounting, meet Dunkirk, NY. This is as good as an excuse as any to shut this facility down in the hopes that the price of electricity will rise (less supply, same demand, higher prices). The NRG Huntley plant (375 MW) and the AES Somerset plant (680 MW) still have a combined capacity of 1055 MW, and since the demand for non-NYPA coal based electricity last year was only 810 MW, these two units could have an operating rate of close to 77% if Dunkirk shuts down and the same demand as in 2011 happened. However, since this year seems really hot and DRY, maybe NYPA will produce a lot less electricity this year (less water down the Niagara River means less electricity generated) than last year, and this would allow NRG and AES to make greater profits due to a higher demand for coal based electricity.

Another thing that might occur is that slightly more electricity might get made from the 565 MW of natural gas capacity (now down to around 515 MW due to the closure of one of them). Whenever that happens, electricity prices go up, even at the present below the cost to produce it natural gas prices. And that rise in price will translate into greater profits for the coal burners. However, even LESS natural gas is likely to be used in WNY because of greater wind energy production once the new Stony Creek wind farm (Orangeville, near Warsaw in Wyoming County) comes online, so that strategy seems to make no sense.

In the Buffalo News article, there is mention of the bizarre thought about building a new facility in Dunkirk, to be powered with natural gas exclusively - a combined cycle facility (jet engine with the hot exhaust used to boil water and spin a steam turbine) costing around $700 million. Such a plant can only use natural gas or super-pricey oil to run it, and the increase in gas demand would help raise the price of gas for heating and electricity production, which would also raise electricity prices in WNY. The frackers cannot forever lose money on their gas - even Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon-Mobil is complaining about the lack of profitability in the nat gas biz (Exxon-Mobil is the largest producer of methane in North America). So, unless you want higher electricity prices in the future, you should oppose this new gas burner in WNY. After all, NRG went bankrupt already in the early 2000's due to their excessive construction of combined cycle natural gas burning plants. Maybe once was not enough, and twice as many bankruptcies would be twice as fun. But, who knows what goes on in the minds of corporate CEO's in this country anymore? They hardly seem human, let alone of this planet.

Meanwhile, the possibility of converting the Dunkirk facility to biomass (one boiler at a time; Dunkirk has four operational ones) seems to receed into the future. This would be an enormous job-creation and economic boom to WNY, as the $42 million exported out of WNY for coal (or much more for natural gas if that option is pursued) could be instead recycled to local farmers, growers and processors of biomass like corn stover and willow. That $42 million, at $25,000/yr per job, is roughly 1720 direct jobs, and several times that in "multiplier effects". There are also very impressive subsidies for that - the RPS one from NYSERDA (last valued at 2.8 c/kw-hr for 10 years), the PTC (2.2 c/kw-hr) and of course, the MACRS rapid depreciation incentive for expenses related to the conversion of the facility to burn biomass (similar to burning coal, but differences in ash characteristics, feed handling, etc) and also upgrading the until to a binary cycle (waste heat in the steam turbine exhaust steam is used to also generate electricity). Of course, a Feed-In Tariff like deal could also be arranged with NYPA if NRG agrees to convert Dunkirk from pollution based electricity to renewable (biomass) based electricity.

from a National Renewable Energy lab report on biomass for heat and electricity generation, report 48073 (May 2010) - see http://www1.eere.energy.gov/deployment/pdfs/48073.pdf

But, job creation - and especially rural job creation - seems to be irrelevant in WNY leaders these these days, despite the atrociously high real (U6 value) unemployment rate in this region. And when the press acts like stenographers so that the claims that NRG's makes using Hollywood-style accounting go unchallenged, well, we sort of deserve the jobless future that will result from present trends. But only "sort of", because with more depth in the reporting, well, some good things might happen.

Oh, and by the way, notice anything about the weather lately? This season will be considered a cool one when Global Warming comes home to roost, when WNY will experience even hotter and drier summers. Oh, and guess what happens when less snowfall and less rain happen in the Great Lakes year after year - the quantity of water flowing down the Niagara shrinks considerably. AS DOES THE OUTPUT OF THE NIAGARA POWER PROJECT. Oops...

There is a song with a line that goes: "The future's so bright, I gotta wear sunglasses". Maybe we should have taken the warning seriously....


Sunday, July 8, 2012

So What? - the Climate Sanity Connundrum

From the Tea Party section of the new Alice in Wonderland movie, where Alice meets some very questionable and well past the borderline of sanity tea partiers... http://www.bigmoviezone.com/filmsearch/clips/clip.html?uniq=932. And this is a fine introduction to any discussion of Global Climate Change in this country at the present time. As you might already know, this Climate Change now taking place is largely largely wrought by too much CO2 pollution dumped into our atmosphere in too short a time period (where "CO2 pollution" is defined as one of the by-products of burning fossil fuels that gets dumped into the air), with nary a care as to what this might do, eventually.

And guess what, it appears to be that "eventually" is seeming to be more and more like "nowadays". I bet you can't wait till we get to experience the real deal, eh? Yeah right...

Since the onset of the Industrial Revolution and the commercialization of the steam engine, CO2 concentrations have been rising in the atmosphere, and this is directly related to the quantity of fossil fuels - coal, methane (unnatural gas) and oil, though the destruction of forests/burning trees faster than they can grow back has not been helpful to minimizing Global Warming's adverse effects, either. In this article there is a nifty chart about global CO2 pollution in the last century (anthropogenic CO2 emissions): http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/07/07/511194/what-is-causing-the-climate-to-unravel/. We humans have dumped a trillion tonnes (1.1 trillion tons) of CO2 into our atmosphere since roughly 1950 - very impressive in a sad way. As a result, our planet now absorbs slightly more energy from the sun than it radiates out into outer space - about 0.75 watt per square meter of surface area. And the higher the CO2 concentration, the greater that amount (called a forcing) gets. There was essentially no forcing - that is, the energy radiated out into space matched the energy absorbed from the sun - for roughly the last 11,000 years, until basically the 20th century (see CO2 chart). Our planet's atmosphere has not had CO2 concentrations this high (around 396 ppm) for several million years, back when we had no polar icecaps and ocean levels were a lot higher (75 meters, or about 246 feet). But, we've also had times when lower CO2 levels were present (a by-product of the rise of the Himalaya Mountains following the collision of India with Eurasia), and those time periods are called ice ages, when our planet's ecosystem and climate was a lot colder.

Anyway, those are the facts, really simplified. And if we wish to continue with a similar climate to that which gave rise to human civilizations for the last 11,000 years, we have to get those CO2 levels down back around the 300 ppm level, ASAP. Since the ocean is the major sponge for CO2, that means that we need to stop putting so much CO2 pollution in the air - less than the oceans absorb, basically. We also have problems with methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), but the big gorilla in the room of greenhouse gases is CO2. Actually, adjustment of CO2 concentrations in our atmosphere is how the biology of the earth acts to keep the climate in a "sweet spot", but we are way past this "sweet spot" and definitely in a "hot spot". However, if we keep dumping more CO2 into the air than is pulled out by oceans, lakes and by trees/other plants and algae, well, it won't be good. Here is a little taste of what's been going down lately:


But, as Steven Colbert is prone to say, facts do have a liberal bias, and in the interest of fairness and balance, maybe some non-facts need to be offered up. Or maybe not right now... Actually, this climate sanity denialism is a major industry in itself, and often it is almost unavoidable - almost like the air we breathe. But despite all of the sophistication that the SCIENCE of modern advertising, propaganda dissemination and "big lie" implementation can bring to bear, there had to be fertile soil for that vile little seed of doubt to sprout, allowing blissful ignorance and a whole spate of characteristics most people do not find acceptable in other situations to blossom forth. After all, while behaving in a mode consistent with climate insanity might cut it for this crew (see picture below), is this wise for most of our country? After all, if you can believe the history of how Alice in Wonderland was written, these Tea Partiers would be seriously bent out of shape, so at least they HAVE and excuse to ignore Climate Change, not discuss it and especially not do anything about it.

But what is our excuse? Like, did we ever go to school, learn to read and operate a cell-phone and a TV remote as well as drive a car? And while the majority of this country sort of know about our "CO2 issue", collectively we basically refuse to do much about it. And there really is not much use in understanding that Global Climate Change is human made (and a good part of it is Made in America), bound to bring us all kinds of grief and misery and yet not doing much about it. Perhaps the analogy of a nation behaving like an alcoholic on a bender is the appropriate one to describe this situation...

And so, in the Case of Global Warming and CO2 pollution, facts mean little, and it is unlikely that they will mean much until we get past the disaster that is Peak Oil when it really starts hurting (about 5 to 10 years from now), and intense and epic disaster weather "outliers" are no longer unusual. It is unlikely that the U.S. people will elect officials who will do things to stop our awesome rate of CO2 pollution and get it below the rate at which oceans, trees and possibly other actions (like biochar production from biomass) and pulling down that CO2 from our atmosphere in the near future. BUt, if by some miracle we did motivate on the Climate Problem, we may have to impose serious import duties on countries that are living large (well at least the rich and powerful in those countries) on CO2 pollution, especially slave labor societies like China who derive competitive advantage from coal use to make electricity, heat and chemicals, especially ammonia. OMG, more expensive crap in Walmarts, Targets and Home Depot! Eeks, we might even have to manufacture our own computers, cellphones and solar PV panels! And they might cost more! More Eeks! Now it's time to start throwing teacups (and watch out for that Rabbit, as he throws a mean teacup!)!

Here is a well meaning discussion on the morality of the CO2 pollution problem, and it shows this "Alice in Wonderland" problem of "when logic and proportion, is falling on its head" with respect to climate issues": http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/07/06/511517/why-climate-change-our-biggest-moral-challenge-doesnt-act-like-one/. Climate change wrought by CO2 pollution may be a big problem of morality, and a crime against those who will live in the future, but by and large, if it might require work, taxes, higher prices for fossil fuels and less consumption of fossil fuels, not to mention the gradual (and just how gradual?) abandonment of suburbs and a cutting back on car dependency, it is not going to happen. So it's immoral. So what? What is the minority of people advocating an even greater retrenchment in the standard of living for most Americans (via higher costs for energy) going to do - throw the majority in jail? Fine them for doing bad things (and collectively, we ARE doing bad things by our climate)? Not. Going. To. Happen. It may be more likely to throw climate sanity advocates in jail, and not a nice one, either...

Most people in America are very short term and economic survival oriented these days - that is a by-product of the poor economic performance that gross inequality and the aftermath of a balance sheet recession (see http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/06/what-can-the-fed-do.html) tends to bring. With so much short term stuff like staying employed, climbing out of debt and out of de-facto debtors prisons/homelessness to worry about, who really has the time to worry about what lies ahead in 10 to 20 years. That's called a "high discount rate" view. Besides, if you don't make it past the short term, the longer term stuff is irrelevant, anyway.

So if climate sanity advocates wish to discuss solutions to the climatic abyss coming down the pike, "fire and brimstone" lectures are not going to cut it for MOST people. Odds are, ways to get a jobs and make the world a better place, and increased economic activity from a massive green energy program (such as via using a FIT renewable energy pricing system) would be more appropriate. And maybe some stress on getting the most bang for the buck (such as installing renewables that deliver low per unit energy costs instead of the most expensive ones) might also be wise - and ones where there are decent and appropriate for our country employment possibilities. And if some renewable approaches get chosen that involve importing the renewable energy systems from outside of the country, abandon those right away. With at least 15 million people in need of a job and another 10 million in need of a better one, importing things like solar PV panels is criminal, or at least immoral. And how can you claim a more moral energy approach by importing PVs made with slave labor? That kind of antic is something the Koch fiends will truly relish exploiting.....

In Alice in Wonderland, there WAS logic at play, but it was more complex than it appeared at first glance. We know the "doom and gloom unless you change your evil ways" approach to climate change is itself a doom and gloom scenario, as it will produce no good result, and allow those profiting and profiteering from fossil fuels to enjoy more good times, and keep the CO2 pollution rate "maxed out" till we sort of run out of highly profitable fossil fuel deposits. For capitalists such as those ruling Exxon-Mobil, capitalism is like a super-intense multi-dimension video game with variable rules except for one - he (or she) who dies with the most money WINS! They only respect money and the political, social and economic power that it brings. Morality... it is such a "So What?"
thing. It's for losers, in their eyes and in their world view. Those who revel in such concepts like "morality" are...immoral, unfit to lead and unfit to be listened to. The only way such capitalists will come around to a more climate sane position is if they can't make as much money on fossil fuels (nowadays quite true for natural gas, new nukes and somewhat for coal) and they (as in the same corporation or in different ones) can make some money in renewables. Money talks in their worldview. If you can't talk money, you can't talk to them, and those people (especially political leaders) they rented/purchased, either.

And right now, renewable energy systems in the US are not money makers. However, that's one of the beauties of the Feed-In Tariff pricing system - it allows renewables to be money makers, and not just ways to avoid paying taxes made from other activities, while at the same time keeping electricity prices reasonable as long as the selection of technologies (which ones and to what extent) is chosen appropriately. Granted, there will be disputes over how much money (what is the profit rate), and renewables will not likely rival oil in profitability for a while. But, presumably us "moral energy" advocates have to start from somewhere, especially in this country...

So what are your views on energy, morality climate change and how to go from where we are to where you think we need to be and in the shortest amount of time, too? Care to jump into the Rabbit Hole?

(image from the same movie).


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Grand Scale Wind Projects

from http://users.skynet.be/tony.aerts/Enercon-E-126-wind-turbines.html

The Enercon E126 wind turbine - STILL the biggest in the world on most scales - at 7.5 MW capacity, and a standard 135 meter tall tower. Available ONLY in Europe, and most especially, NOT in the USA, where it would really excel... The picture is of the Estinnes wind farm under construction (11 of these were put into service in 2010). Note that the blades come in two parts that are assembled on the turbine (total length of them is around 61 meters, or 200 feet, when put together).

Word came today of one of the (to date) world's larger proposed wind farms - this one in Carbon County, Wyoming (home of the Powder River coal fields) - the Chokeberry/Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project (see http://www.powercompanyofwyoming.com/index.shtml). This project will be composed of 1000 wind turbines and will have a rated capacity of between 2.5 to 3 GW, depending on which turbines are selected. The region has excellent winds (Class 6 to 7 on the U.S. scale). The net output from this one wind farm will be greater than the average output of a large nuclear reactor (such as Indian Point 2 or 3), and since the average output would exceed the average demand from the State of Wyoming, the electrical output is destined for export to places like Denver, Las Vegas and California. This will use wind turbines capable of operating efficiently in fast wind speed regimes - which are very different that the kind needed for places like NY State. Lots of big wind turbine companies will be vying for this contract (valued at a total of nearly $6 billion, including close to $4.5 billion for just the wind turbines).

Such projects attempt to take advantage of economies of scale but they require lots of land and as they become larger certain dis-economies start to crop up. Such mega projects can only happen in a small set of locations, because the combination of a great wind resource and large land area is usually not found near populated areas - the California wind canyons (Tehachapi and Altamont are good examples) seem to be the rare exception. Big power requires big transmission lines rated at high capacity - in this case, a pair of 3 GW capacity lines traveling over 1000 miles might be needed (if one goes down because of, say, forest fires, the other line will still work). Long distance high power lines are made for a technology called HVDC (high voltage direct current), and the HVDC converter stations are also fabulously expensive (but only two wires per set are needed, versus 3 for AC).

At present, the Horse Hollow wind farm in Texas (746 MW) is the biggest operating wind array in the US, though this will soon be displaced by an 845 MW wind farm in Oregon - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shepherds_Flat_Wind_Farm - which should be starting up in August of 2012. There are lots of big arrays in this country that are prodigious electricity producers - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wind_farms_in_the_United_States. And in Sweden of all places a 3 GW set of arrays is being assembled in the north of that country using very tall towers (Enercon turbines) to overcome the effects of the Northern Boreal forest, where these units will be placed - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Markbygden_Wind_Farm.

Wind arrays like this require long term power purchase agreements (PPAs), such as can be had with Feed-In Tariffs (FITs) - though other arrangements of PPAs also work at this scale. The thing is, nobody does investments like these without knowing exactly what the price of electricity from this project will be over the course of the project, and that pretty much rules out NY State , with its casino style spot market electricity pricing system. This project gets built with borrowed money, and that's where another dis-economy crops up. The money may originate in the US (US banks like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan-Chase loan it to Canadian and European banks), but it is most likely European and Canadian banks who will be the majority of banks in this financing syndicate. And there is trouble with Eurobanks these days, including the recent criminal bid rigging LIBOR scam that Barclays just plead guilty to and forked over close to $0.5 BILLION to mostly US authorities (in return for leniency and squealing on the other Malefactors such as Bank of America and JP Morgan-Chase) - see http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/07/mirabile-dictu-barclays-ceo-bob-diamond-resigns-over-libor-scandal.html. With projects this big and with serious money lined up as well as a schedule that needs to be met or else financial losses snowball to an incredible extent, nobody need any extraneous drama with regards to banks acting up and acting out. What is needed is old fashioned investment banking, not fancy "dollar swaps" derivatives and the Wall Street equivalent of 3 card monty.

Offshore wind is also tailor made for bigness - after all, even the shallow portions of some parts of the ocean are vast in area, and the wind resource in some parts like te North Sea puts even the Carbon County winds to shame. The new record holder for biggest offshore wind farm is the 367 MW Walney array in the Irish Sea near Wales (England) - see http://www.dongenergy.com/walney/Pages/index.aspx. However, this will soon be surpassed by several 400 MW wind farms (for example, the Anholt one off of Denmark). Lastly there is the "London Array" rated near 1 GW, and ones even larger planned, especially for "Round 3" in Great Britain ......

Of course, large numbers of wind turbines per array is not a pre-condition needed  to install large wind turbines, as the Estinnes wind farm attests to. Large wind turbines deliver the lowest cost electricity from wind because of physics and engineering. Wind speeds increase with the height above ground until about 200 meters above the ground (though this is site specific), generally in a logarithmic manner. Power production increases with the cube of the wind speed, and the square of the blade length, so tall towers are good. But tall towers and associated big foundations are expensive, so you need lots of electricity made to justify the investment in a tall tower. In addition, installing one nacelle, one tower, one foundation, one step up transformer and one set of 3 blades is just more efficient that doing that several times in order to get a given quantity of electricity, even if the unit cost is greater. And since project economics rule and wind probably has the least subsidies/support (especially compared to solar PV and nukes) of commercial scale electricity generation systems, installers have to go with the economics. Besides, for small numbers of big wind turbines (in the one to ten range, for example), a lot of niche applications are possible. For example, it looks like the SUNY Canton (northern NY State) - in other words, an direct investment in wind turbines by the NY State government - will finally get a real commercial scale wind turbine to deliver low cost electricity (net metering or on-site) to the campus - see http://www.nawindpower.com/e107_plugins/content/content.php?content.10077. Cool. It's about freaking time! It will go good with their 2 MW-hr lithium battery system, for good measure...

Anyway, to make all our electricity in the US without pollution but at the lowest cost (presumably this lowest cost aspect is important), about 1000 GW of wind turbine capacity will need to be installed in the US - making a system mostly wind but with some geyser, hydropower and biomass/biogas sources. Translated, this is about 400,000 of the 2.5 MW turbines we see in Lakawanna these days. This will cost around $2.5 trillion - some offshore, some low wind speed turbines and some fast wind big arrays like the one proposed in Wyoming or an even more ambitious one proposed by Clipper wind in the Dakotas (5 GW). On the other hand, this $2.5 trillion is also $2.5 trillion worth of jobs (about 3.9 million job-years for just the direct ones, and several times that for the indirect ones), and hopefully all made in USA jobs, too. That would be a good way to cure a recession/slow and lengthy economic depression (see Paul Krugman's "End This Depression Now!" book), or at least a major component of such a project. And then we can go after replacing the natural gas used for residential and commercial heating (probably another $1.5 trillion project). And whether in humongous wind turbine arrays or one turbine at a time, it is large commercial scale turbines that will provide the bulk of the electricity from wind in this country. Some people will never like the looks of that, but most will, as they will also see non-polluting electricity, an undepletable energy source and especially jobs, jobs jobs as those blades spin in the breeze. I guess there is no pleasing everyone, but a a song by the Ohio group Ekoostik Hookah  - Deal With It - may need some airplay, and seems relevant to the problem at hand:

Oh well, astrotrurfers such as these - http://www.triplepundit.com/2012/05/fake-grassroots-campaign-wind-industry/ - may have a hissy fit, but I really think they should play the tune...



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