Sunday, May 19, 2013

What's Up With NY Wind Turbines?

                                          Worker at the Gamesa factory near Pittsburg, Pa


Texas politicians, and especially right wing, usually Republican ones, tend to hate most things environmental. Oil, natural gas, tracking, horrid "cancer alleys" affiliated with petrochemical complexes, oil refineries and other industrial operations, the largest state CO2 pollution rate (and most other pollutions, too) and the 13th largest per capita CO2 pollutant rate in our country - to the right wing nut leaders, it is the smell of money, and a heady and intoxicating perfume, too (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_carbon_dioxide_emissions). In this state, business and evangelicals have forged an unholy alliance, and that entity now controls most parts of the state and especially the state government, or what passes for that. And despite horrible and worsening droughts (predicted to occur via Global Warming), most politicians refuse to acknowledge the science behind climatology is also the same science that makes prospecting for oil and gas possible, or oil refining something other than an exercise in magic. But when it comes to wind turbines, Texas is leading the way in this country, which makes sense when you consider that it has the biggest onshore and offshore wind resource of any state in our country. At the end of 2012, they had 12,212 MW of capacity installed, averaging a net output of around 32%. There are over 10,000 people employed in the wind biz in Texas, and a lot in the manufacturing of them, too. In the U.S. there was only a bit more than 60 GW installed (60,000 MW), so about 20% of the nation's wind power capacity resides in Texas.

Just don't expect most right wingers down there to get excited about the environmental benefits of wind turbine sourced electricity (averaging a delivered 3.6GW in 2012 in Texas, and with lots of Economic Curtailment, too). Some may not mind the pollution less electricity, and a few will boast about it, but with wind in Texas, it is strictly money that talks. Actually, the electricity without CO2 pollution doesn't have much meaning to that crew, but the ~ $25 billion invested in the "bidness of wind" and the cheaper electricity prices that result (via the Merit Order Effect) are quite popular (and very unpopular with owners of coal, nat gas and nuke based generation facilities). In the end, money rules the right wingers in Texas, and that's why they like wind energy in a state where politically, they should hate it. This impressive wind energy deployment (but barely scratching the surface of their 750 GW delivered wind energy potential) has been made possible via their Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power_in_Texas. Their toughest obstacle (more than the collapse in natural gas prices in 2009-2013) is their inability to store electrical energy (not much  water where it is hilly and/or where the electricity is made, so pumped hydro can't be used and more expensive routes such as compressed air or batteries has to be arranged). In general, it is windiest in the western part of the state where population density is low and it is a long way from major electricity markets (industry and air conditioning - to state summers in Texas as being oppressively hot is, in general, an understatement).

But, they "git er done"; the wind content of their electricity mix is around 8%, and Texas is THE biggest state in terms of electricity consumption in the U.S. They are also investing around $17 billion in a transmission array which will allow more wind to make it to the populated eastern parts of the state. But unlike turbine deployment, that process is a lot slower…

Meanwhile, in the so-called liberal enclave of NY State, things are different. A lot of our renewable energy programs seem to be driven by the "environmental-ness" of renewable energy, with frequent mention of how much CO2 pollution can be avoided by the use of renewables. We also have an RPS, but ours is different than the one in Texas (and the Texas version is quite common in a lot of the U.S.). But whenever the topic of a NY that is powered up by renewable energy pops up, hydroelectricity and wind turbines are sure to be mentioned. And why not - about 99% of the renewable portion of "Made in NY State" electricity is either hydropower (88%) or wind (11%). But since the hydropower potential of NY is pretty well tapped out, if the amount of renewables generated is to go up, it probably won't be done with hydro - it will need to come from wind, biomass, biogas, tidal, run-or-river or PV. And odds are, if costs are to be kept under control, it will be either biomass or commercial scale wind that will have to do the trick.

There are 338 dams and one "Niagara Falls", plus two pumped hydro units in NY - but the bulk of our hydro comes from the Niagara Power Project (52% of our hydro last year) and the St Lawrence River FDR dam (27% of our hydro last year). Only 2.9% was provided by pumped hydro; that has to rise as the renewables content of NY's electricity rises. But the big question concerns how to raise the renewables content of NY's "grid mix", since the original goal for NY ("25% x 2013" - with a starting base of 18.6% (2012 value) via hydro) - see http://www3.dps.ny.gov/W/PSCWeb.nsf/All/1008ED2F934294AE85257687006F38BD?OpenDocument - is nowhere near close to being achieved, despite the best of intentions. According to the schedule (see 2006 Performance Report, http://www.nyserda.ny.gov/Publications/Program-Planning-Status-and-Evaluation-Reports/Renewable-Portfolio-Standard-Reports.aspx), we managed to hit 36% of the 2012 target set back in 2004 from just wind; add in wood burners (35.4 MW) and a Brookhaven PV array (3.6 MW) and this boosts it up to ~ 390 MW, which is (almost) 2008's goal. Ooops…. The numbers about which renewable project got RPS awards and just the total installed renewable capacity are a pretty good fit, though slightly different (more on that in a bit). What both sets of capacity installs have in common is a significant failure to meet the very modest 2013 targets…. let alone the more aggressive 2015 ones.

In December of 2012, the last of the 70 of some of the largest turbines (in 2012, anyway) installed in the US were declared operational at the Marble River wind farm in the northeast corner of NY near the border with Quebec. Portugal's major electricity producer and one of its largest companies (EDPr) owns this project, which probably cost near $450 million. It features 70 of the Vestas V112 x 3 MW units on 94 meter tall towers. At the highest point in its rotation, the tip of a blade would be 150 meters (492 feet) above the ground. NY now has 1633 MW of wind turbine capacity, and this represents a decent, though inadequate, investment (about $3.3 billion) which also has created very few permanent jobs (about 300). Don't you just love conundrums…? And if all goes well with the Orangeville project (94 MW, slated for installation this summer), well, that still won't help meet the 2013 goal, though it might help with the 2014 numbers. And it also won't do much for permanent jobs, though any jobs - including the temporary construction ones associated with the NY part of the Orangeville project - are welcome at the present time.

A "new, improved" RPS goal of "30% x 2015" was established in 2009 in Governor Paterson's administration, but like the others, that one is more of an aspirational wish than a likely target, assuming the things keep going the way that they have been, er, "progressing". Obviously, stuff happened along the way so that the dream only got to maybe 40% achieved. If things go as expected and the Marble River adds its expected 70 MW average over a full year, NY's wind turbine output would average about 380 MW, and the RPS Main Tier goal of 1124 MW would be shy by 605 MW of average output, with the output of all RPS qualified renewables at less than ~ 40%% of the target. But adding approximately another 100 MW of delivered renewables is just not in the cards unless something changes drastically. Of course, there is no physical reason why it could not be reached other than a horribly flawed RPS system that has failed to deliver as promised....

As of 2012, the renewables installed under NY's RPS program were 1584.7 MW (plus the 92.8 MW for Orangeville, which is being installed this year) of wind (including 50 MW of Pa projects), 92 MW of biomass (mostly wood burners), 53.9 MW of biogas (mostly landfill gas) and 50.1 MW of hydroelectric (mostly small dams). The numbers listed as energy outputs in the glossy "2013-rps-report.pdf" report don't match the NYISO official data, and the inclusion of the biomass, biogas/LFG and hydro values (196 MW capacity) probably adds at least 100 MW onto their totals. This is how they can claim they are up to 47% of their goal….

The recent publication of the 2013 NYISO Goldbook ("Capacity and Load Data") provides a bit of information on every electricity generation unit with over 0.1 GW-hr/yr of power output in NY State. All but 4 wind turbines provided data (these used their electricity made on-site, from 5.05 MW of capacity), and since the NYISO is all about electricity put onto the grid, well, that makes sense. We now have 1628.4 MW of wind turbine capacity "online", and 1418 MW of that was operational for the full year. If these were performing as anticipated by the project owners, these would be kicking out around 400 MW on an average basis (35% net output). But, instead these are averaging around 23.4%, ranging from 19% to 28.6%. In general, the greater the rotor area to generator capacity ratio, the better the net efficiency, and the same goes for the taller the tower. Needless to say, there is room for improvement. And since most of the RPS expectations were based on wind, well, this probably knocks around 200 MW off of their hoped for energy output. Oh well, live and learn...

This can be contrasted with Kansas, which is a windier, flatter and much less "tree-infested" region than is NY State. For the 10 wind projects that have been operating since 2001 to 2010 and which have at least a year of operation, the total capacity is 1162 MW, and the average efficiency is 37.4%. In general, the turbines are often the same variety as those used in NY State, especially the GE 1.5 MW x 77 meter rotor diameter on an 80 meter tower. The efficiency of these wind projects ranges from 31.6% to 41.6%; obviously, having world class winds is helpful, but there appears to be more than that at play. The worst yielding turbines were the Vestas V90 x 3 MW units (which need faster winds than those present in Kansas to behave optimally). All of the wind projects in Kansas have long term Power Purchase Agreements (PPA's) between the project operator and the local electric utility monopoly, while there is nothing like that for almost all of NY's projects, and instead the price owners get paid is a combination of a small "extra" (the NY State RPS, ranging from 2.2 to 1.45 c/kw-hr) paid on top of the prevailing for the hour price on the NYISO pricing market as well as any of the Federal subsidies that the owners can get from the Federal Government via the avoidance of taxation on passive and active income. The Kansas projects just get the flat price of the PPA plus the same Federal subsidies, which are made more lucrative because of the greater efficiencies of the wind farms in Kansas.

In 2012, Kansas added 1588 MW of new capacity, including one mega project of 419 MW that uses GE's new 1.6 MW x 100 meter rotor blade units (their Low Wind Speed Turbine entrant in that market). This will add between 600 to 700 MW on a delivered basis to the Kansas wind turbine output, and much of this will be exported out of state, though it will also have the perverse effect of displacing natural gas extracted from some of the huge conventional natural gas fields in southwestern Kansas from the electrical market. Even in a region that went hard-core and then some conservative, the attempt by the Koch brothers to stop any growth in the Kansas wind market failed in a pretty resounding manner. It seems that farmers really love their turbines, and especially the money that comes in from essentially doing nothing - drought or no drought. And last year's drought in Kansas (a record setter and probable future trend due to Global Warming) did the job on agricultural output, especially the corn crop, but lack of water does nothing to "the wind crop".

So, NY could reach the 2015 goals, but it will certainly need to change its electricity pricing scheme for renewable energy, as the present one just does not seem to work. It would also help if the far below expectation yields of NY's wind turbines could be analyzed. After all, if the average yield was even 33% instead of 23%, an average increase in yield of 144 MW would result - allowing the 2009 goal to be achieved (544 MW). One of the prime rumored reasons is a phenomena called "Economic Curtailment", where wind turbine output is deliberately stopped when the outputs of turbines dumps enough electricity onto the NYISO market that prices crash/conceivably could go negative. And another would be that the wrong kinds of turbines have been bought for the NY area - LWST and tall towers (taller than 80 meters) are needed since we have trees and hills which more or less require tall towers. And perhaps the wind turbines are being located too close to each other, as losses due to "wind shadow" result from putting them too near each other. After all, at an average of $200 million per wind farm, wouldn't you want your investments operating at 35% to 40% of rated capacity and not 23%?

Based on the performance of the turbines in 2012, taller towers and a higher ration of rotor area to generator capacity does help a bit. And once the Orangeville units are installed the effect of LWST will be able to be observed (they anticipate a net yield of 34% with these). But the technical and engineering fixes to NY's poor wind turbine performance are the easy ones to accomplish. Things like Economic Curtailment may be tougher to fix. And of course, there is the money question - is the investment making any money, or is this just more speculation and "adventures in tax avoidance"? Of course, operating at 40% and not 23% would do wonders in the profitability area - almost cutting the cost of production in half. And isn't that a major goal of investors?

As for the pricing system… what to do with that steaming pile? In almost every state of the union where an RPS has been tried, the goal has been to get long term Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) in place between the wind turbine array owners and the grid monopoly that distributes the electricity to the mix of customers (residential, commercial, governmental and industrial). If you wanted to kill off a wind to electricity generation business segment, the easiest way to do it in a sneaky manner (so that politicians can pretend like they are for renewable energy when the opposite is really the case) is to tie the price of renewable electricity to a casino like market where the price can never be predicted, only guessed at. You would need to make sure that a predictable price cannot be arranged, and better yet, let the competition to renewables (natural gas) set the price for renewables, which is what the NYISO system does right now. Well, looks like it is "Mission Accomplished".

In our capitalist system, things that make money (in some manner, even if by converting avoided taxes into a definable income stream) experience a positive behavior modification reward - the money - which then encourages more of this behavior. That money is used by owners to buy things, pleasure, comfort, isolation from hardship and it also gives them status among their peers. And as long as the money making goes on, they can go to people with or entrusted with obscene amounts of money, borrow this and/or invest some of this to go do more money making. Hopefully (and actually, in the case of the wind business), this process will also create jobs for people, and increase the wealth and well-being of our society. And the wind biz is a great economic stimulus; it tends to make a lot of middle class, real wealth creating employment, and a lot of businesses along the way, too. But it has to be profitable, to make money. In our society, the $100 to $200 billion of needed investment in NY State to create a 21st century electricity generation system (and in some cases, up to $1 trillion, depending on how much spar sourced electricity is added to the mix) in the next decade or two will just NOT HAPPEN if it is not profitable.

A stable price offered for wind based electricity actually leads to profits AND lower prices to ratepayers. It does this by lowering the cost of borrowed money, because stable electricity prices means that a predictable cash flow can be defined (since energy output won't vary by much on a yearly basis), and bankers/investors like that sort of thing. If they can't get that, the price of money goes up, and since most of the cost of capital intensive investments like wind turbine based electricity generation is the cost of borrowed money/investor money, higher money costs means higher electricity prices and/or lower profits. And that is a negative behavior modification signal, big time.

Any comments? BTW, don't forget to contact your political leaders (local, state, Federal) if this situation sounds less than optimal to you. Most of the reasons that NY State cannot meet the really meager goals set for renewable energy are political. As in the present whacked out RPS system, and the need to tie wind turbine electricity pricing to the variable NYISO ones that seem to be set by the price of natural gas or coal based electricity from outside of NY State. There is no engineering or scientific fix for that insanity - its all political. Supposedly that's "voice of the people" and "will of the people" stuff. Supposedly. Oh well, renewable energy is part of the cure for future Frankenstorm Sandy's - and if the RPS /renewable electricity pricing system in NY State is not fixed, we are just maximizing the probability of even nastier storms and weather events like Sandy to come our way. So isn't some politicking on your behalf worth it?

Top Image from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/21/business/energy-environment/as-a-tax-credit-wanes-jobs-vanish-in-wind-power-industry.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0


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