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Posts Tagged ‘Wind Energy’

ALYSSA DANIGELIS, October 2010, news.discovery.com

Noise from wind turbine blades, inadvertent bat and bird kills and even the way wind turbines look have made installing them anything but a breeze. New York design firm Atelier DNA has an alternative concept that ditches blades in favor of stalks.

Resembling thin cattails, the Windstalks generate electricity when the wind sets them waving. The designers came up with the idea for the planned city Masdar, a 2.3-square-mile, automobile-free area being built outside of Abu Dhabi. Atelier DNA’s “Windstalk”project came in second in the Land Art Generator competition a contest sponsored by Madsar to identify the best work of art that generates renewable energy from a pool of international submissions.

The proposed design calls for 1,203 ““stalks,” each 180-feet high with concrete bases that are between about 33- and 66-feet wide. The carbon-fiber stalks, reinforced with resin, are about a foot wide at the base tapering to about 2 inches at the top. Each stalk will contain alternating layers of electrodes and ceramic discs made from piezoelectric material, which generates a current when put under pressure. In the case of the stalks, the discs will compress as they sway in the wind, creating a charge.

“The idea came from trying to find kinetic models in nature that could be tapped to produce energy,” explained Atelier DNA founding partner Darío Núñez-Ameni.

In the proposal for Masdar, the Windstalk wind farm spans 280,000 square feet. Based on rough estimates, said Núñez-Ameni the output would be comparable to that of a conventional wind farm covering the same area.

“Our system is very efficient in that there is no friction loss associated with more mechanical systems such as conventional wind turbines,” he said.

Each base is slightly different, and is sloped so that rain will funnel into the areas between the concrete to help plants grow wild. These bases form a sort of public park space and serve a technological purpose. Each one contains a torque generator that converts the kinetic energy from the stalk into energy using shock absorber cylinders similar to the kind being developed by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Levant Power .

Wind isn’t constant, though, so Núñez-Ameni says two large chambers below the whole site will work like a battery to store energy. The idea is based on existing hydroelectric pumped storage systems. Water in the upper chamber will flow through turbines to the lower chamber, releasing stored energy until the wind starts up again.

The top of each tall stalk has an LED lamp that glows when the wind is blowing — more intensely during strong winds and not all when the air is still. The firm anticipates that the stalks will behave naturally, vibrating and fluttering in the air.

“Windstalk is completely silent, and the image associated with them is something we’re already used to seeing in a field of wheat or reeds in a marsh. Our hope is that people living close to them will like to walk through the field — especially at night — under their own, private sky of swarming stars,” said Núñez-Ameni.

After completion, a Windstalk should be able to produce as much electricity as a single wind turbine, with the advantage that output could be increased with a denser array of stalks. Density is not possible with conventional turbines, which need to be spaced about three times the rotor’s diameter in order to avoid air turbulence.

But Windstalks work on chaos and turbulence so they can be installed much closer together, said Núñez-Ameni. Núñez-Ameni also reports that the firm is currently working on taking the Windstalk idea underwater. Called Wavestalk, the whole system would be inverted to harness energy from the flow of ocean currents and waves. The firm’s long-term goal is to build a large system in the United States, either on land or in the water.

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MendoCoastCurrent, March 14, 2011

Dear President Obama,

Continuing to hear comments that you, your administration and your cabinet members consider nuclear power as a clean, renewable solution is most alarming.

Mr. President, let’s consider the nuclear event occurring in Japan right now and learn the simple truth that any safe renewable energy portfolio DOES NOT include nuclear energy.

The ramifications of the current Japanese nuclear trauma will be felt worldwide as will the fall-out, for months and possibly years to come.

Mr. President, I strongly encourage your team to change course, hit the ground running in alternative, renewable and sustainable energy r&d right now.

Here’s a solution that may be started TODAY ~ http://bit.ly/t7ov1

I call it Mendocino Energy and am not attached to the name, yet very passionate about this important safe, renewable energy development concept. Time has come for us to get rolling!

Mendocino Energy ~ At this core energy technology incubator, energy policy is created as renewable energy technologies and science move swiftly from white boards and white papers to testing, refinement and implementation.

The Vision

Mendocino Energy is located on the Mendocino coast, three plus hours north of San Francisco, Silicon Valley. On the waterfront of Fort Bragg, utilizing a portion of the now-defunct Georgia-Pacific Mill Site to innovate in best practices, cost-efficient, safe renewable and sustainable energy development – wind, wave, solar, bioremediation, green-ag/algae, smart grid and grid technologies, et al.

The process is collaborative in creating, identifying and engineering optimum, commercial-scale, sustainable, renewable energy solutions with acumen.

Start-ups, utility companies, universities (e.g. Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford), EPRI, the federal government (FERC, DOE, DOI) and the world’s greatest minds gathering at this fast-tracked, unique coming-together of a green work force and the U.S. government, creating responsible, safe renewable energy technologies to quickly identify best commercialization candidates and build-outs.

The campus is quickly constructed on healthy areas of the Mill Site as in the past, this waterfront, 400+ acre industry created contaminated areas where mushroom bioremediation is underway.

Determining best sitings for projects in solar thermal, wind turbines and mills, algae farming, bioremediation; taking the important first steps towards establishing U.S. leadership in renewable energy and the global green economy.

With deep concern & hope,

Laurel Krause

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JOHN UPTON, San Francisco Examiner, August 22, 2010

The view to the west from Ocean Beach could one day be cluttered with scores of spinning windmills, generating power.

San Francisco under Mayor Gavin Newsom has long explored the possibility of tapping alternative energy sources, including tidal, wave, solar, geothermal and wind power.

San Francisco is reviewing the environmental impacts of a planned project that would place underwater devices off Ocean Beach to harness wave power, which is a nascent form of renewable energy. The review and its approvals are expected to wrap up within a year.

City leaders are starting to think that construction of the wave power project could help them assess the viability of a more visually striking proposal: a wind farm.

Ocean Beach was found by UC Berkeley professor Ronald Yeung to have good potential for a powerful wave energy farm. Waves that roll into the beach are created by Arctic tempests.

The finding was confirmed last year by city contractors, who determined a facility could provide up to 30 megawatts of electricity — enough power for 30,000 homes.

Environmental review work under way involves studying sediment movement and tracking whale migration patterns to determine the best places on the sea floor to attach futuristic wave power devices.

Recent changes in federal regulations could limit San Francisco to working within three miles of the shoreline because offshore renewable energy projects now require expensive leases instead of less-expensive permits, although the process is clouded by uncertainty.

The federal Mineral Management Services agency has responsibility for regulating offshore renewable energy resources, including wave and power farms, but the agency is being overhauled in the wake of the Gulf oil spill disaster.

The recent regulatory changes could see offshore energy rights snapped up by deep-pocketed oil or utility companies under anticipated bidding processes.

On San Francisco’s clearest days, visitors to Ocean Beach can sometimes see the Farallon Islands, which are 27 miles west of San Francisco — nearly 10 times further out to sea than the three-mile offshore border.

After safe and potentially powerful locations have been identified, wave energy technology will be selected from a growing suite of options including devices that float near the surface, those that hover in midwater and undulating seabed equipment inspired by kelp.

The next step would involve applying for permits and installing the equipment.

Somewhere along the way, costs will be determined and funds will need to be raised by officials or set aside by lawmakers.

Once the wave-catching equipment is in place, it could be used to help determine wind velocities and other factors that make the difference between viable and unviable wind farm sites.

“What we really need to do is put some wind anemometers out there,” Newsom’s sustainability adviser Johanna Partin said. “There are a couple of buoys off the coast with wind meters on them, but they are spread out and few and far between. As we move forward with our wave plans, we’re hoping there are ways to tie in some wind testing. If we’re putting stuff out there anyway then maybe we can tack on wind anemometers.”

Partin characterized plans for a wind farm off Ocean Beach as highly speculative but realistic.

Wind power facilities are growing in numbers in California and around the world.

But wind farms are often opposed by communities because of fears about noise, vibrations, ugliness and strobe-light effects that can be caused when blades spin and reflect rays from the sun.

A controversial and heavily opposed 130-turbine project that could produce 468 megawatts of power in Nantucket Sound received federal approvals in May.

West Coast facilities, however, are expected to be more expensive and complicated to construct.

“The challenge for us on the West Coast is that the water is so much deeper than it is on the East Coast,” Partin said.

Treasure Island is planned site for turbine test

A low-lying island in the middle of the windswept Bay will be used as a wind-power testing ground.

The former Navy base Treasure Island is about to be used in an international project to test cutting-edge wind turbines. It was transferred last week to to San Francisco to be developed by private companies in a $100 million-plus deal.

The testing grounds, planned in a southwest pocket of the island, could be visible from the Ferry Building.

The first turbines to be tested are known as “vertical axis” turbines, meaning they lack old-fashioned windmill blades, which can be noisy and deadly for birds.

The devices to be tested were developed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in cooperation with Russian companies. Five were manufactured in Russia and delivered to California earlier this year.

The wind-technology relationship, which was funded with $2 million in federal funds, grew out of an anti-nuclear-proliferation program started in 1993.

“The vertical machines should be good in gusty low-wind conditions, which are those which you expect in an urban environment,” lead LBNL researcher Glen Dahlbacka said recently.

The machines were designed to minimize noise and are easily built.

“They’re relatively easy to work up in a fiberglass shop,” Dahlbacka said.

Eventually, each device could be coupled with solar panels to provide enough power for a modest home, Dahlbacka said.

The team is not expected to be the only group to test wind turbines on the island.

San Francisco plans to provide space for green-tech and clean-tech companies to test their wind-power devices on the island to help achieve product certification under federal standards adopted in January.

The program could help San Francisco attract environmental technology companies.

“It’s an opportunity to attract and retain clean-tech companies,” Department of the Environment official Danielle Murray said. “We’ve just started putting feelers out to the industry.”

The proposed testing grounds might have to shift around as the island is developed with thousands of homes and other buildings in the coming years.

“We need to work with them with regards to where these things go and how they would interact with the development project,” Wilson Meany Sullivan developer Kheay Loke said.

— John Upton

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DAVID TOW, Future Planet, January 16, 2010

By 2015 India and China will both have outstripped the US in energy consumption by a large margin. Cap and Trade carbon markets will have been established by major developed economies, including India and China, as the most effective way to limit carbon emissions and encourage investment in renewable energy, reforestation projects etc.

There will have been a significant shift by consumers and industry to renewable energy technologies- around 25%, powered primarily by the new generation adaptive wind and solar energy mega-plants, combined with the rapid depletion of the most easily accessible oil fields. Coal and gas will continue to play a major role at around 60% useage, with clean coal and gas technologies still very expensive. Nuclear technology will remain static at 10% and hydro at 5%.

Most new vehicles and local transport systems will utilise advanced battery or hydrogen electric power technology, which will continue to improve energy density outputs.

Efficiency and recycling savings of the order of 30% on today’s levels will be available from the application of smart adaptive technologies in power grids, communication, distribution and transport networks, manufacturing plants and consumer households. This will be particularly critical for the sustainability of cities across the planet. Cities will also play a critical role in not only supporting the energy needs of at least 60% of the planet’s population through solar, wind, water and waste energy capture but will feed excess capacity to the major power grids, providing a constant re-balancing of energy supply across the world.

By 2025 a global Cap and Trade regime will be mandatory and operational worldwide. Current oil sources will be largely exhausted but the remaining new fields will be exploited in the Arctic, Antarctic and deep ocean locations.  Renewable energy will account for 40% of useage, including baseload power generation. Solar and wind power will dominate in the form of huge desert solar and coastal and inland wind farms; but all alternate forms- wave, geothermal, secondary biomass, algael etc will begin to play a significant role.

Safer helium-cooled and fast breeder fourth generation modular nuclear power reactors will replace many of the older water-cooled and risk-prone plants, eventually  accounting for around 15% of energy production; with significant advances in the storage of existing waste in stable ceramic materials.

By 2035 global warming will reach a critical threshold with energy useage tripling from levels in 2015, despite conservation and efficiency advances. Renewables will account for 60% of the world’s power supply, nuclear 15% and fossils 25%. Technologies to convert CO2 to hydocarbon fuel together with more efficient recycling and sequestration, will allow coal and gas to continue to play a significant role.

By 2045-50 renewables will be at 75-80% levels, nuclear 12% and clean fossil fuels 10-15%. The first Hydrogen and Helium3 pilot fusion energy plants will be commissioned, with large-scale generators expected to come on stream in the latter part of the century, eventually reducing carbon emissions to close to zero.

However the above advances will still be insufficient to prevent the runaway effects of global warming. These long-term impacts will raise temperatures well beyond the additional two-three degrees centigrade critical limit.

Despite reduction in emissions by up to 85%, irreversible and chaotic feedback impacts on the global biosphere will be apparent. These will be triggered by massive releases of methane from permafrost and ocean deposits, fresh water flows from melting ice causing disruptions to ocean currents and weather patterns.

These will affect populations beyond the levels of ferocity of the recent Arctic freeze, causing chaos in the northern hemisphere and reaching into India and China and the droughts and heat waves of Africa, the Middle East and Australia.

The cycle of extreme weather events and rising oceans that threaten to destroy many major coastal cities will continue to increase, compounded by major loss of ecosystems, biodiversity and food capacity. This will force a major rethink of the management of energy and climate change as global catastrophe threatens.

Increasingly desperate measures will be canvassed and tested, including the design of major geo-engineering projects aimed at reducing the amount of sunlight reaching earth and reversal of the acidity of the oceans. These massive infrastructure projects would have potentially enormous ripple-on effects on all social, industrial and economic systems. They are eventually assessed to be largely ineffective, unpredictable and unsustainable.

As forecasts confirm that carbon levels in the atmosphere will remain high for the next 1,000 years, regardless of mitigating measures, priorities shift urgently to the need to minimise risk to life on a global scale, while protecting civilisation’s core infrastructure, social, knowledge and cultural assets.

Preserving the surviving natural ecosystem environment and the critical infrastructure of the built environment, particularly the Internet and Web, will now be vital. The sustainability of human life on planet Earth, in the face of overwhelming catastrophe, will be dependent to a critical degree on the power of the intelligent Web 4.0, combining human and artificial intelligence to manage food, water, energy and human resources.

Only the enormous problem-solving capacity of this human-engineered entity, will be capable of ensuring the continuing survival of civilisation as we know it.

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ALLAN CHEN & RYAN WISER, Lawrence Berkeley Nat’l Lab, December 2, 2009

Home sales prices are very sensitive to the overall quality of the scenic vista from a property, but a view of a wind energy facility does not demonstrably impact sales prices.

Over 30,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity are installed across the United States and an increasing number of communities are considering new wind power facilities. Given these developments, there is an urgent need to empirically investigate typical community concerns about wind energy and thereby provide stakeholders involved in the wind project siting process a common base of knowledge. A major new report released today by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory evaluates one of those concerns, and finds that proximity to wind energy facilities does not have a pervasive or widespread adverse effect on the property values of nearby homes.

The new report, funded by the DOE, is based on site visits, data collection, and analysis of almost 7,500 single-family home sales, making it the most comprehensive and data-rich analysis to date on the potential impact of U.S. wind projects on residential property values.

“Neither the view of wind energy facilities nor the distance of the home to those facilities was found to have any consistent, measurable, and significant effect on the selling prices of nearby homes,” says report author Ben Hoen, a consultant to Berkeley Lab.  “No matter how we looked at the data, the same result kept coming back – no evidence of widespread impacts.”

The team of researchers for the project collected data on homes situated within 10 miles of 24 existing wind facilities in nine different U.S. states; the closest home was 800 feet from a wind facility.  Each home in the sample was visited to collect important on-site information such as whether wind turbines were visible from the home.  The home sales used in the study occurred between 1996 and 2007, spanning the period prior to the announcement of each wind energy facility to well after its construction and full-scale operation.

The conclusions of the study are drawn from eight different hedonic pricing models, as well as repeat sales and sales volume models.  A hedonic model is a statistical analysis method used to estimate the impact of house characteristics on sales prices.  None of the models uncovered conclusive statistical evidence of the existence of any widespread property value effects that might be present in communities surrounding wind energy facilities.

“It took three years to collect all of the data and analyze more than 50 different statistical model specifications,” says co-author and project manager Ryan Wiser of Berkeley Lab, “but without that amount of effort, we would not have been confident we were giving stakeholders the best information possible.”

“Though the analysis cannot dismiss the possibility that individual homes or small numbers of homes have been negatively impacted, it finds that if these impacts do exist, their frequency is too small to result in any widespread, statistically observable impact,” he added.

The analysis revealed that home sales prices are very sensitive to the overall quality of the scenic vista from a property, but that a view of a wind energy facility did not demonstrably impact sales prices.  The Berkeley Lab researchers also did not find statistically observable differences in prices for homes located closer to wind facilities than those located further away, or for homes that sold after the announcement or construction of a wind energy facility when compared to those selling prior to announcement.  Even for those homes located within a one-mile distance of a wind project, the researchers found no persuasive evidence of a property value impact.

“Although studies that have investigated residential sales prices near conventional power plants, high voltage transmission lines, and roads have found some property value impacts,” says co-author and San Diego State University Economics Department Chair Mark Thayer, “the same cannot be said for wind energy facilities, at least given our sample of transactions.“

Berkeley Lab is a DOE national laboratory located in Berkeley, California.  It conducts unclassified scientific research for DOE’s Office of Science and is managed by the University of California. Visit our Website at www.lbl.gov/

Additional Information:

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Scientific Computing, Advantage Business Media, November 2009

The ocean is a potentially vast source of electric power, yet as engineers test new technologies for capturing it, the devices are plagued by battering storms, limited efficiency and the need to be tethered to the seafloor. Now, a team of aerospace engineers is applying the principles that keep airplanes aloft to create a new wave energy system that is durable, extremely efficient and can be placed anywhere in the ocean, regardless of depth.

While still in early design stages, computer and scale model tests of the system suggest higher efficiencies than wind turbines. The system is designed to effectively cancel incoming waves, capturing their energy while flattening them out, providing an added application as a storm wave breaker.

The researchers, from the U.S. Air Force Academy, presented their design at the 62nd annual meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics on November 24, 2009.

“Our group was working on very basic research on feedback flow control for years,” says lead researcher Stefan Siegel, referring to efforts to use sensors and adjustable parts to control how fluids flow around airfoils like wings. “For an airplane, when you control that flow, you better control flight — for example, enabling you to land a plane on a shorter runway.”

A colleague had read an article on wave energy in a magazine and mentioned it to Siegel and the other team members, and they realized they could operate a wave energy device using the same feedback control concepts they had been developing.

Supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, the researchers developed a system that uses lift instead of drag to cause the propeller blades to move.

“Every airplane flies with lift, not with drag,” says Siegel. “Compare an old style windmill with a modern one. The new style uses lift and is what made wind energy viable — and it doesn’t get shredded in a storm like an old windmill. Fluid dynamics fixed the issue for windmills, and can do the same for wave energy.”

Windmills have active controls that turn the blades to compensate for storm winds, eliminating lift when it is a risk, and preventing damage. The Air Force Academy researchers used the same approach with a hydrofoil (equivalent to an airfoil, but for water) and built it into a cycloidal propeller, a design that emerged in the 1930s and currently propels tugboats, ferries and other highly maneuverable ships.

The researchers changed the propeller orientation from horizontal to vertical, allowing direct interaction with the cyclic, up and down motion of wave energy. The researchers also developed individual control systems for each propeller blade, allowing sophisticated manipulations that maximize (or minimize, in the case of storms) interaction with wave energy.

Ultimately, the goal is to keep the flow direction and blade direction constant, cancelling the incoming wave and using standard gear-driven or direct-drive generators to convert the wave energy into electric energy. A propeller that is exactly out of phase with a wave will cancel that wave and maximize energy output. The cancellation also will allow the float-mounted devices to function without the need of mooring, important for deep sea locations that hold tremendous wave energy potential and are currently out of reach for many existing wave energy designs.

While the final device may be as large as 40 meters across, laboratory models are currently less than a meter in diameter. A larger version of the system will be tested next year at NSF’s Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) tsunami wave basin at Oregon State University, an important experiment for proving the efficacy of the design.

Compelling images of the cycloidal turbine:

The view from the far downstream end into the test section of the U.S. Air Force Academy water tunnel. Three blades of the cycloidal turbine are visible at the far end. Engineer Stefan Siegel and his colleagues test the turbine using the tunnel, with both steady and oscillating flow conditions simulating a shallow-water wave-flow field. Courtesy of SSgt Danny Washburn, U.S. Air Force Academy, Department of Aeronautics

 

A cycloidal turbine is installed on top of the test section of the U.S. Air Force Academy water tunnel. In the background, Manfred Meid (left) and Stefan Siegel (right) operate the turbine. Courtesy of SSgt Danny Washburn, US Air Force Academy, Department of Aeronautics

 

 

 

A cycloidal turbine prototype with three blades (translucent, at bottom of image), is shown lifted out of the tunnel. One of the blade pitch control servo amplifiers is visible in the foreground, and the servo motors can be seen in the top portion of the image. Courtesy of SSgt Danny Washburn, US Air Force Academy, Department of Aeronautics

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JESSICA MARSHALL, Discovery.com News, November 30, 2009

The patterns that schooling fish form to save energy while swimming have inspired a new wind farm design that researchers say will increase the amount of power produced per acre by at least tenfold.

“For the fish, they are trying to minimize the energy that they consume to swim from Point A to Point B,” said John Dabiri of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who led the study. “In our case, we’re looking at the opposite problem: How to we maximize the amount of energy that we collect?”

“Because both of these problems involve optimizing energy, it turns out that the model that’s useful for one is also useful for the other problem.”

Both designs rely on individuals capturing energy from their neighbors to operate more efficiently.”If there was just one fish swimming, it kicks off energy into the water, and it just gets wasted,” Dabiri said, “but if there’s another fish behind, it can actually use that kinetic energy and help it propel itself forward.”

The wind turbines can do the same thing. Dabiri’s wind farm design uses wind turbines that are oriented to rotate around the support pole like a carousel, instead of twirling like a pinwheel the way typical wind turbines do.

Like the fish, these spinning turbines generate a swirling wake. The energy in this flow can be gathered by neighboring turbines if they are placed close enough together and in the right position. By capturing this wake, two turbines close together can generate more power than each acting alone.

This contrasts with common, pinwheel-style wind turbines where the wake from one interferes with its neighbors, reducing the neighbors’ efficiency. The vortexes occur in the wrong orientation for the neighboring turbines to capture them.

For this reason, such turbines must be spaced at least three diameters to either side and 10 diameters up — or downwind of another, which requires a lot of land.

Although individual carousel-style turbines are less efficient than their pinwheel-style counterparts, the close spacing that enhances their performance means that the amount of power output per acre is much greater for the carousel-style turbines.

Dabiri and graduate student Robert Whittlesey calculated that their best design would generate 100 times more power per acre than a conventional wind farm.

The model required some simplifications, however, so it remains to be seen whether tests of an actual wind farm produce such large gains. That will be the team’s next step. “Even if we’re off by a factor of 10, that’s still a game changer for the technology,” Dabiri noted.

In the end, schooling fish may not have the perfect arrangement. The pair found that the best arrangement of wind turbines did not match the spacing used by schooling fish.

“If we just mimic the fish wake, we can do pretty well,” Dabiri said. “But, as engineers, maybe we’re smarter than fish. It turns out that for this application there is even better performance to be had.”

This may be because fish have other needs to balance in their schooling behavior besides maximizing swimming efficiency. They seek food, avoid predators and reproduce, for example.

“I think that this is a very interesting possibility,” said Alexander Smits of Princeton University, who attended a presentation of the findings at a meeting of the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics in Minneapolis last week.

But a field test will show the idea’s real potential, he noted: “You have to go try these things. You can do a calculation like that and it might not work out. But it seemed like there was a very large reduction in the land usage, and even if you got one half of that, that would be pretty good.”

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Editor’s Note: They’ve got it going on!

LISA BULE, St. Petersberg Times, November 7, 2009

paswindmill110709b_93036cThis is Bob Lyon’s version of a midlife crisis sports car.

“This is the craziest thing I’ve done in my life,” the 47-year-old commercial painter joked Friday after a crane lowered a 19-foot, 1-ton wind turbine onto a pole behind his waterfront vacation home.

While the aluminum device that looked like a giant strand of DNA wasn’t as sexy as a red Ferrari, it prompted as much oohing and ahhing as crews prepared it to capture winds from the Gulf of Mexico and convert them to energy that will lower Lyon’s electricity bills.

“This is fascinating,” said Mary Bona, who lives next door to Lyon in the Westport community. “He’s done his homework. He’s been working on it for quite some time. He’s been itching to get it going.”

Neighbors snapped photos with their cell phones as men in jeans and T-shirts directed the crane operator and then bolted the turbine down to a metal base that had been bolted to a concrete platform.

“Let’s plug this toaster in and see if it works,” said Dave Graham, a welder who made the base. He disconnected some wiring that was being used to still the turbine during the installation.

It spun as the breeze blew.

Lyon, who was running around in paint-splattered jeans and puffing on a cigar, handed out water and soft drinks.

“This has got to be a thing of the future,” neighbor Mike Kratky told Lyon.

Lyon, who lives part of the year in Pittsfield, Mass., had already gone green in other ways. He recycles and drives a fuel-efficient Toyota Prius.

Last year, he began researching wind turbines after learning about the generous government incentives. He gets back 100% of the purchase price in property tax relief over 10 years. It amounts to about $2,500 a year, wiping out a big chunk of the tax bill on his nearly 2,000-square-foot house. He also gets a 30% federal tax credit.

“You heard so much about going green, cleaning the Earth, and the rising cost of electricity,” he said.

The greatest benefit for Lyon is that the turbine generates electricity that will be used to reduce his meter reading. When he uses less than the turbine generates, it will be sold back to his utility company, Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative. The device will begin paying for itself in just a few years.

Lyon said his wife was hesitant when he approached her with the idea.

“She thought it was crazy,” he said. But she came around after hearing about the savings.

Lyon said county officials and neighbors also have been supportive.

“I was ready to go through a bunch of hoops and loops,” he said.

The location, right off the gulf, is ideal for generating wind. And the turbines produce as much noise as the rustle of trees.

Lyon bought his 2,000-pound turbine from Helix Wind, a San Diego company. It arrived in seven boxes. Neighbors helped him assemble it in two days.

“It’s like an Amish barn-raising,” said Martin Little, who stopped by to watch the turbine being put up.

It can produce 10,000 kilowatts a year with an average 12 mph wind.

Lyon said all the county inspectors are set to visit on Tuesday.

Not because of any problems, “but because they want to see it,” he said.

Those in the industry say the use of wind turbines is taking off with the new emphasis on green energy.

Ron Stimmel, small systems manager for the American Wind Energy Association, a national trade association for the wind energy industry, said the turbines are used in all 50 states, mainly in windy places that offer the best incentives.

“Florida’s not the strongest of either but that’s not to say they don’t have a solid presence, especially along the coast,” he said.

Sales were up 78% last year, mainly because of investors who put money into manufacturing companies.

The high up-front costs make them prohibitive for many but Stimmel expects that to decrease as the manufacturing process is streamlined.

Payback can begin in as few as five years, he said.

“It’s like free electricity for life in 20 to 30 years,” he said.

Lyon admitted it was a costly investment. He saved money by doing a lot of the work himself.

“I was my own general,” he said. But he knows it will pay off.

“I’m feeding the electric company rather than feeding my house,” he said.

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SAM WATERSON, Special to CNN, November 2, 2009

CNN Editor’s Note: Sam Waterston is an award-winning stage, film and television actor who is best known for his long-running role as prosecutor Jack McCoy on “Law & Order.” He is a member of the board of directors of Oceana, a nonprofit organization that seeks to protect the world’s oceans by opposing overfishing and pollution.

t1larg.waterston.courtesyAs a native New Englander, I know full and well how much we depend on the oceans. They have often been a solution for our problems.

They’ve been a highway for goods and people, connecting us to the world, and a barrier against foreign invasion, protecting us from the world; a source of food and wealth, going back to our earliest beginnings, when whale oil lit our houses and when cod were so plentiful that huge specimens were commonly stacked like cordwood on our docks and wharves, and still there were so many that you could almost walk on their backs across some harbors.

Until the recent unrelenting hammering by our technologically impressive, very efficient, very destructive commercial fishing fleets, the seas have seemed an inexhaustible cornucopia of sea life for our sustenance, delight and wonder.

Now, science tells us the global wild fish catch is, for the first time in history, declining. Fortunately, we also know what steps our governments need to take to reverse this trend — steps that can again return our seas to abundance.

But, along with the ravages of industrial-scale fishing, there is another even more troubling story to tell about our oceans. For centuries, our oceans have been an uncomplaining dump. They’ve absorbed our waste — from manufacturing, power generation, and oil spills, and our nuclear waste, our trash, and our sewage.

And carbon. For the last 250 years, the oceans have absorbed 30% of the carbon dioxide we put into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, moderating and masking its global impact. They take in 11 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Each year, the amount we release grows another 3%.

What happens to the carbon dioxide absorbed by the seas is something that you should understand if you love seafood or care about the millions of fishing jobs vital to coastal towns.

Carbon dioxide combines with seawater to create carbonic acid, raising the acidity of that vast solution and reducing the amount of available carbonate. And that is serious mischief for all kinds of sea life, from corals and pteropods, continuing on through shellfish, clams, oysters, lobsters, mussels and so on, which need carbonate to make the structures that support them.

A chain reaction begins. Even creatures whose own structural parts might better survive a decrease in available carbonate in sea water depend to one degree or another on critters with higher sensitivity. Whales and salmon eat pteropods for dinner. The very tasty and much-prized Alaskan pink salmon makes pteropods 45% of its diet.

Many kinds of fish need corals for habitat. And corals aren’t just tropical — the colder the water they live in, the more vulnerable they are to changes in the availability of carbonate.

The current acidification level hasn’t been seen for at least 800,000 years, and acidification is coming on 100 times faster than at any point for hundreds of thousands for years. The levels are alarming. The rate of change makes them even scarier, because it so restricts the ability of sea creatures to adapt.

In contrast to the debate that continues about the causal relationship between this or that weather event and human activity, there is no debate about the source of ocean acidification. The change in the chemistry of the ocean is a man-made event, plain and simple, and the consequences of its continuing rise in acidity will belong squarely to us.

It will make for some uncomfortable moments around the dinner table when our children and grandchildren ask, “What did you do in the [climate] war, Daddy?” If we don’t recognize the ocean’s warning, the first cataclysm from man-made carbon dioxide emissions that will get our attention will be the collapse of the oceans.

If we do recognize the warning, the oceans are ready to be a solution. Power in the tides and waves is there to tap. Offshore wind power is a technology that’s ready to go right now, near the great population centers on our coasts, where it’s most needed.

For 800,000 years, the seas were a stable solution, a hospitable solution for all sorts of creatures to live in, and a generous solution to all sorts of human problems, from food supply to waste disposal. We must not make them inhospitable, for people or for the 80% of life on the planet that lives in them.

Carbon dioxide in the sea is the front line of climate carbon addiction. Reverse the trend toward ocean acidification, and we will also have made a giant stride in addressing the effects of climate change. The sea is warning us to change course and calling us to seize enormous opportunities. Now.

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MARK CLAYTON, The Christian Science Monitor, September 17, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoWith demands on US ocean resources control growing quickly, the Obama administration today outlined a new comprehensive ocean management plan to guide federal agencies in restoring and protecting a badly stressed US coastal and ocean environment.

Today’s policy shift proposed by the president’s Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force holds enormous potential for sweeping changes in how the nation’s oceans are managed, including energy development, experts say.

At its core, the plan would set up a new National Ocean Council to guide a holistic “ecosystem-based” approach intended to elevate and unify what has long been a piecemeal approach by US agencies toward ocean policy and development — from oil and gas exploration to fisheries management to ship transportation to recreation.

The proposal would include “a more balanced, productive, and sustainable approach to using managing and conserving ocean resources,” Nancy Sutley, chairman of the president’s Council on Environmental Quality told reporters in a teleconference unveiling the plan. It would also set up “a comprehensive national approach to uphold our stewardship responsibilities and ensure accountability for our actions.”

Dr. Sutley, who also chaired the interagency task force, appeared alongside representatives from the Department of Interior, the Coast Guard, the Department of Transportation, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But the proposal would apply to 24 agencies.

“This will be the first time we have ever had this kind of action for healthy oceans from any president in US history,” Sarah Chasis, director of the ocean initiative at Natural Resources Defense Council wrote in her blog. She called it the “most progressive, comprehensive national action for our oceans that we have ever seen.”

The changes could affect new offshore wind energy proposals as well as oil and natural gas exploration. “We haven’t fully looked at all aspects of the report,” says Laurie Jodziewicz, manager of siting policy for the American Wind Energy Association. “The one concern we have is we don’t want to stop the momentum of offshore wind projects we’re already seeing. So while we’re certainly not opposed to marine spatial planning, we would like to see projects already in the pipeline move ahead and start getting some offshore projects going in the US.”

One senior official of the American Petroleum Institute said he had not yet seen the proposal and could not comment on it.

The new push comes at a time when major decisions will be needed about whether and how to explore or develop oil and gas in now-thawing areas of the Arctic Ocean near Alaska. Policy changes could also affect deep-water regions in the Gulf of Mexico as well as the siting of wave power and renewable offshore wind turbines off the East Coast.

At the same time, desalination plants, offshore aquaculture, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals are clamoring for space along coastal areas where existing requirements by commercial shipping and commercial fishing are already in place.

All of that – set against a backdrop of existing and continuing damage to fisheries, coral, coastal wetlands, beaches, and deteriorating water quality – has America’s oceans “in crisis,” in the words of a landmark Pew Oceans Commission report issued in 2003. More than 20,000 acres of wetlands and other sensitive habitat disappear annually, while nutrient runoff creates “dead zones” and harmful algal blooms. Some 30% of US fish populations are overfished or fished unsustainably, the report found.

Among the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force’s national objectives were:

  1. Ecosystem-based management as a foundational principle for comprehensive management of the ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes.
  2. Coastal and marine spatial planning to resolve emerging conflicts to ensure that shipping lanes and wind, wave, and oil and gas energy development do not harm fisheries and water quality.
  3. Improved coordination of policy development among federal state, tribal, local, and regional managers of ocean, coasts, and the Great Lakes.
  4. Focus on resiliency and adaptation to climate change and ocean acidification.
  5. Pay special attention to policies needed to deal with changing arctic conditions.

Experts said that the new, unified policy was timely, after decades of hit-or-miss development policies.

“We have been managing bits and pieces of the ocean for a long time, but while some good has been done on pollution and resource management, it hasn’t been sufficient.” says Andrew Rosenberg, professor of natural resources at the University of New Hampshire and an adviser to the president’s ocean task force.”This policy shift comes at a critical time for our oceans for so many reasons.”

The new proposal won’t be finalized until next year, after a 30-day comment period that begins now. Still, environmentalists were quick to hail the plan as a critical and timely step to begin healing disintegrating environmental conditions in US coastal waters and in the US exclusive economic zone that extends 200 miles beyond its territorial waters.

In June, President Obama set up the commission to develop: “a national policy that ensures the protection, maintenance, and restoration of the health of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems and resources, enhances the sustainability of ocean and coastal economies.”

It must also, he wrote, “preserve our maritime heritage, provides for adaptive management to enhance our understanding of and capacity to respond to climate change, and is coordinated with our national security and foreign policy interests.”

“It’s the first time the federal government has put out a decent paper that proposes what a national policy and attitude toward our oceans should be,” says Christopher Mann, senior officer Pew Environment Group, the environmental arm of the Pew Charitable Trust.

In one of the more telling passages buried down in its interim report, the task force called for decisions guided by “best available science” as well as a “precautionary approach” that reflects the Rio Declaration of 1992, which states: “where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environment degradation.”

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Excerpts from Environmental Leader, April 10, 2009

windmapUS Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told participants at a summit meeting “that U.S. offshore areas hold enormous potential for wind energy development in all coastal metropolitan centers, and the wind potential off the coasts of the lower 48 states could exceed electricity demand in the U.S.

The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) has identified more than 1,000 gigawatts (GW) of wind potential off the Atlantic coast, and more than 900 GW of wind potential off the Pacific Coast. There are more than 2,000 MW of offshore wind projects proposed in the United States, according to the Department of Interior.

The total wind potential for the Atlantic region is 1024 gigawatts (GW), and 1 GW of wind power will supply between 225,000 to 300,000 average U.S. homes with power annually, according to U.S. Geological Survey-Minerals Management Service Report.

New Jersey is tripling the amount of wind power it plans to use by 2020 to 3,000 megawatts, or 13% of New Jersey’s total energy, according to AP. In Atlantic City alone, the local utilities authority has a wind farm consisting of five windmills that generate 7.5 megawatts, enough energy to power approximately 2,500 homes, according to the article.

The biggest potential wind power is located out in deep waters (see chart above) — 770.9 GW in the Atlantic, 891.4 GW in the Pacific and 67 GW in the Gulf, according to NREL. The laboratory assumes that about 40% of wind potential, or 185 GW, could be developed, to power about 53.3 million average U.S. homes.

But some believe Salazar’s estimates are too optimistic.

Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Cape Wind, pushing to build a wind farm off Cape Cod, Mass., told the Associated Press that it would take hundreds of thousands of windmills with the average wind turbine generating between 2 to 5 megawatts per unit.

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KATE GALBRAITH, The New York Times, July 22, 2009

north-carolina-bans-wind-turbinesSome North Carolina politicians consider this type of thing an aesthetic blight — and want to ban it from the state’s peaks and ridgelines.

A furious battle over the aesthetics of wind energy has erupted in North Carolina, where lawmakers are weighing a bill that would bar giant turbines from the state’s scenic western ridgelines.

The big machines would “destroy our crown jewel,” said Martin Nesbitt, a state senator who supports the ban, according to a report in The Winston-Salem Journal.

As it currently stands, the bill would ban turbines more than 100 feet tall from the mountaintops. Residential-scale turbines (typically 50 to 120 feet high) could still go up, but the industrial-scale turbines that can produce 500 times as much power or more would be effectively ruled out. The legislation appeared likely to pass the state Senate last week, but got sent back to committee.

Such a ban would be virtually unprecedented, according to Brandon Blevins, the wind program coordinator for the the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and it would make roughly two-thirds of North Carolina’s land-based wind potential unavailable.

(The state is also starting to look offshore.)

“I know of no other state that has so uniformly banned wind,” he said. State lawmakers, Mr. Blevins noted, voted not long ago to enact a renewable portfolio standard requiring North Carolina to get 12.5% of its electricity from renewable energy and efficiency measures by 2021. “Now they’re stripping away some of the most cost-effective options for their utilities” to achieve those targets, he said.

Christine Real de Azua, a spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association, said that while some counties around the country have enacted height bans, the association is unaware of similar bans “covering large areas.”

“The main objection seems to be appearance, and the reality is that many people find wind turbines elegant and a symbol of a clean energy future, and that wind turbines often become a tourist attraction,” she said in an e-mail message.

The North Carolina bill has roots in a 1983 law that barred most structures taller than 40 feet along the state’s ridgelines — though exceptions were made for communications towers and windmills, Mr. Blevins said.

An early version of the current bill, supported by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, would have kept big turbines away from the Appalachian Trail and other landmarks, but granted local governments the authority to allow them in other areas.

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CATHY PROCTOR, Denver Business Journal, July 31, 2009

SmartGrid-graphicWind farms and solar power plants may offer free fuel costs and no carbon-dioxide emissions, but don’t assume there’s universal support from environmentalists, according to industry observers.

“The world is changing,” said Andrew Spielman, a partner at the Denver office of Hogan & Hartson LLC who works on renewable energy projects.

Spielman was part of a panel discussing issues in the renewable energy sector at the Colorado Oil & Gas Association’s annual natural gas strategy conference. “There are more complexities with renewable projects,” he said, “and it’s no longer an assumption that the environmental community will approve and support renewable projects.”

Among the larger considerations of renewable energy:

  • Big wind farms and solar power plants take up a lot of land. Whether it’s for towering wind turbines or acres of solar panels, additional land is needed for construction areas and support services such as workers and storage yards.
  • Rural roads accustomed to a few cars and tractor traffic often need upgrades to handle heavy construction trucks and semis laden with towers, nacelles and turbine blades.
  • Often, the remote new wind farms and solar power plants need a new transmission line — with its own set of construction impacts — to get the renewable power to cities and towns, the panelists said.

For example, the Peetz Table Wind Farm in northeastern Colorado, owned by a subsidiary of big energy company FPL Group Inc. (NYSE: FPL) of Juno Beach, Fla., generates 400 megawatts of power from 267 wind turbines that sprawl across 80 square miles.

The wind farm, which started operating in 2007, also required the construction of a 78-mile transmission line to connect it to the grid and get power to the wind farm’s sole client, Xcel Energy Inc.

It’s called “energy sprawl,” akin to the idea of “urban sprawl,” said Tim Sullivan, panelist and acting state director for the Colorado Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

“All energy has a footprint, and renewable energy has to be a concern for anyone concerned about land-based habitat,” he said. “We need to treat renewables and oil and gas equally on their footprints.”

That doesn’t mean, Sullivan said, that every square inch of ground in Colorado should be off-limits to energy development. “We don’t have to protect every inch of ground,” he said.

“We can make trade-offs.”

One area of land good for wind energy might be “traded” for another piece that’s good for wetlands or grasslands where birds flourish, he said.

People who live near wind farms also are growing more aware of their impacts, Spielman said.

There’s the height issue. A wind turbine can soar 400 feet from the base to the top of the blade, he said. That’s about the height of the Tabor Center’s office building.

Also, there are new “flicker” problems — stemming from light flashing off the rotating blades as they go around about once a second. Turbines also make a repetitive, low-key “vrroomp” noise as they rotate, he said.

State regulators are becoming more aware of the impacts from renewable and alternative energy projects, said Kate Fay, energy manager at the Colorado Department of Health & Environment.

“All energy projects have impacts,” she said. “There is no free ride. The impacts from renewables may be small now, but there’s not that many of them out there.”

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Ken Salazar, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, July 26, 2009

Ken SalazarJust north of the Colorado-New Mexico border, in the sunny expanses of my native San Luis Valley, America’s clean energy future is taking root.

Under President Obama’s leadership, four tracts of land in southern Colorado and two dozen tracts across six Western states may soon be supplying American homes with clean, renewable electricity from the first large-scale solar power projects on our nation’s public lands.

The 24 Solar Energy Study Areas that Interior is evaluating for environmentally appropriate solar energy development could generate nearly 100,000 megawatts of solar electricity, enough to power more than 29 million American homes.

The West’s vast solar energy potential – along with wind, geothermal and other renewables – can power our economy with affordable energy, create thousands of new jobs and reduce the carbon emissions that are warming our planet.

As President Obama has said, we can remain the world’s largest importer of oil or we can become the world’s largest exporter of clean energy. The choice is clear, and the economic opportunities too great to miss. Will we rise to the challenge?

It is time that Washington step up to the plate, just as states like Colorado and local governments are already doing. Congress must pass strong and effective legislation that will steer our nation toward a clean energy economy that creates new jobs and improves our energy security.

We will not fully unleash the potential of the clean energy economy unless Congress puts an upper limit on the emissions of heat-trapping gases that are damaging our environment. Doing so will level the playing field for new technologies by allowing the market to put a price on carbon, and will trigger massive investment in renewable energy projects across the country.

We are also seeing the dangerous consequences of climate change: longer and hotter fire seasons, reduced snow packs, rising sea levels and declines of wildlife. Farmers, ranchers, municipalities and other water users in Colorado and across the West are facing the possibility of a grim future in which there is less water to go around.

But with comprehensive clean energy legislation from Congress, sound policies and wise management of our nation’s lands and oceans, we can change the equation.

That is why I am changing how the federal government does business on the 20% of the nation’s land mass and 1.75 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf that we oversee. We are now managing these lands not just for balanced oil, natural gas, and coal development, but also – for the first time ever – to allow environmentally responsible renewable energy projects that can help power President Obama’s vision for our clean energy future.

American business is responding to these new opportunities. Companies are investing in wind farms off the Atlantic seacoast, solar facilities in the Southwest and geothermal energy projects throughout the West. We need comprehensive legislation that will create new jobs, promote investment in a new generation of energy technology, break our dependence on foreign oil, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Let us rise to the energy challenges of our time.

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DANIEL TERDIMAN, CNET, July 23, 2009

Caspar Wind FarmWyoming — Walking across the former site of the Dave Johnston Mine here, about half an hour outside Casper, you’d never know that over the course of 42 years, 104 million tons of coal was taken out of the ground.

But now, instead of having a heavy carbon footprint–and coal certainly does–these rolling hills have an entirely green footprint. Today, the site is home to a 158-turbine wind farm that produces 237 Megawatts of power, enough electricity for 66,800 households for a year.

And what’s particularly notable about the site is that while the wind farm is among the newest and most state-of-the-art in the country today, it is also likely the first full-scale wind power project to be installed on the site of a former coal mine.

From 1958 until 2000, the Dave Johnston Mine stretched for nine mines through this otherwise barren landscape. But in the late 1990s, after the mine’s operator, Rocky Mountain Power, determined that it was no longer economical to run it, a full-scale reclamation project began.

As part of my road trip in 2009, I visited the wind farm to get a first-hand look at how such a scar on the earth can be successfully converted to a graceful and clean power project.

According to Rocky Mountain Power, a division of PacifiCorp that provides power to Utah, Wyoming and Idaho residents, “Full-scale final reclamation efforts to restore the nearly nine-mile long stretch of land affected by mining began in 1999 and were completed in 2005. Mountains of dirt were moved, miles of land reseeded with native vegetation and major contouring performed in order to return the landscape to its pre-mining appearance. More than 85 million yards of earth were moved to accomplish this feat.”

A big part of the reclamation project was providing long-term grazing land and habitat for a variety of wildlife. To that end, sagebrush and many other forms of vegetation were planted throughout the property as a source of habitat and food for animals such as pronghorned antelope and deer. Further, the team behind the reclamation concentrated on habitat for birds, including building five nesting platforms for eagles and cover for other, smaller bird species.

And more than 120 “rabbitats,” rock shelters for rabbits and other small animals, were built around the property.

All told, the Glenrock Wind Farm is home to antelope, deer, mountain lions, foxes, bobcats, rabbits and golden eagles.

While it’s easy to link the reclamation of the former coal mine and the new, giant, wind farm, Rocky Mountain Power didn’t originally set out with the intention of converting its property from greenhouse gas-intensive power to green power. Rather, the company realized after the decision was made to shut down the coal mine that the property was ideally suited to building a big wind farm.

And that’s because the company already owned the property, had a significant system of transmission lines already installed nearby and understood that these rolling hills had the wind strength to support a multi-hundred million dollar wind project.

But Rocky Mountain Power has by no means abandoned coal. In fact, it still has a coal processing plant adjacent to the former Dave Johnston Mine, which is one reason the transmission lines are still there. Still, the company, and other power generators, have certainly begun to see the value–and the economics–of wind farms like these. Indeed, the day after I visited the Glenrock Wind Farm, the front page of the Casper, Wyo. newspaper had an above-the-fold front-page headline trumpeting another giant wind farm that will soon be developed in the same area.

21 Species of Vegetation

My hosts for the visit to the wind farm were Chet Skilbred, Rocky Mountain Power’s vegetation scientist at the property and Doug Mollet, the director of wind operations at Glenrock Wind Farm. Skilbred explained that as part of the reclamation project, he and his team were required to replace all the indigenous plants that had been there prior to the coal mine. So, a big part of the project was the planting of 21 different species of vegetation, including warm season grasses, cool season grasses, shrubs and many more.

But, with 158 soaring wind turbines dominating the lanscape today, Skilbred told me a joke about the process: “I had no idea my see mixture included wind turbines.”

In order to get back the remaining $2.6 million of an original $56 million bond that was put up when the coal mine was opened, Rocky Mountain Power must monitor the land through 2017 for things like ground water and surface water hydrology, wildlife and vegetation. But I have to hand it to them: If they hadn’t told me there had been a coal mine here, I never would have known.

Instead, I would have been simply overwhelmed by the majesty and breadth of the wind farm (see video below, but turn your volume down because of the wind noise). Big enough to be visible from many miles away, the 158 turbines are breathtaking up close. That’s in part because, when the tips of the 125-foot-long blades are pointing upwards, the turbines are 340 feet tall.

That, of course, casts a large and long shadow, and one thing that has happened is that many of the animals on the property–and no matter where we went, we would see some of the 1400 head of antelope or 600 head of deer bounding about–use those shadows to escape the intense Wyoming sun.

In a sense, because there is so much new habitat for animals, as well as the fact that there is no hunting allowed on the property, the wind farm area is tantamount to a nature preserve, Skilbred said.

Indeed, while there had been wildlife on the property before, life is better for them now, Skilbred said: They are no longer getting stuck in the mud inside the mine.

180 Feet Deep

When in operation, the coal mine was at least 180 feet deep, and nine miles long. So in order to complete the reclamation project, Rocky Mountain Power had to dig up the mine, reconstitute the soil and replant all the vegetation.

But to Skilbred, the project has been a big success. “You couldn’t ask for a better ending for a coal mine,” he said, “to go from a carbon footprint to a green footprint.”

For Rocky Mountain Power, wind is just one power source, and the company sees a mixture in its future: wind, natural gas, coal and, likely, nuclear.

But here, driving around amidst these giant turbines, it’s hard to think of anything but wind power. And what’s amazing is that the turbines are so big, you feel like you’re always right in front of one. In fact, however, they are a minimum of a half-mile apart, east-to-west, and 600 feet, north-to-south. Put them too close together, and the vortexes coming off the blades affects the wind flow of other turbines.

The actual placement of the 158 turbines, done in what is sort of like a staggered, Z-shaped configuration, was done by turbine specialists who examined the property and developed placement models based on the terrain, the topography and the prevailing wind conditions.

You might think that a company spending several hundred million dollars on such a project would expect full-time production. But that’s not realistic. Mollet said that over the course of a year, the best the company can expect is 40% average production. But of course, that’s an average. Between November and March, that number is much higher, and between late August and September, it’s much lower.

The turbines, while a simple concept, are controlled by advanced electronics. And among the tasks those systems have is shutting down the turbines if the winds go above 60 miles an hour–otherwise, they can be destroyed–as well as figuring out where the wind is coming from and automatically rotating the head so that the blades are always working with the best wind. The heads can spin around three full times in search of the strongest wind, in fact, before the system runs out of wire and must reset itself.

Tracking the wind is a major innovation for modern turbines. In the past, the heads were stationary, and so wind farms had limited production when the wind shifted. But now, Rocky Mountain Power and other companies with such projects can maximize the power production.

$2 Million a ‘Stick’

Mollet said that the cost of the turbines averaged about $2 million “a stick,” and that they are intended to last for 20-to-30 years. However, Rocky Mountain Power thinks of them more as 100-year assets, given that they can replace aging systems within the turbines, or even the blades themselves.

Keeping them working properly means constantly monitoring how they’re behaving in the wind. So the wind farm utilizes two types of equipment, annemometers and wind vanes to measure wind velocity and direction in order to ensure that the pitch of the blades is optimal and won’t result in them rotating too fast.

This is all new technology, something previous generations of wind farms couldn’t take advantage of. But today, wind power is a growing resource and companies like Rocky Mountain Power are demanding new technology. They’re also demanding more people who know how to run and maintain these systems, despite there currently being a shortage.

That’s why, for example, the company is working with local colleges in the Casper area to create new, two-year associate degree programs in wind turbine technology.

“We’re going to build 1,000 turbines in the next ten years,” Mollet said. “We need to grow some people.”

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UCILIA WANG, GreenTechMeida, July 1, 2009

The draft plan covers how the state would plan and oversee all sorts of projects located within the state waters, including wind, tidal and wave farms.

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoMassachusetts released a draft of a plan Wednesday that would govern the permitting and management of projects such as tidal and wave energy farms.

Touted by the state as the first comprehensive ocean management plan in the country, it aims to support renewable energy and other industrial operations in the state waters while taking care to protect marine resources, the state said.

But creating a management plan would help to ensure a more careful planning and permitting process. Other states might follow Massachusetts’ step as more renewable energy project developers express an interest in building wind and ocean power farms up and down the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

The federal government also has taken steps to set up the regulatory framework, especially because the current administration is keen on promoting renewable energy production and job creation.

Earlier this year, the Department of Interior and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission settled a dispute over their authorities to permit and oversee energy projects on the outer continental shelf.

Last week, the Interior Department issued the first ever leases for wind energy exploration on the outer continental shelf.

Generating energy from ocean currents holds a lot of promise, but it also faces many technical and financing challenges. Companies that are developing ocean power technologies are largely in the pre-commercial stage.

Creating the management plan would yield maps and studies showing sensitive habitats that would require protection, as well as sites that are suitable for energy projects.

The state is now collecting public comments on the plan, and hopes to finalize it by the end of the year.

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MARK CLAYTON, The Christian Science Monitor, June 8, 2009

article_photo1_smWhen giving his slide presentation on America’s new energy direction, Jon Wellinghoff sometimes sneaks in a picture of himself seated in a midnight blue, all-electric Tesla sports car.

It often wins a laugh, but makes a key point: The United States is accelerating in a new energy direction under President Obama’s newly appointed chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). At the same time, FERC’s key role in the nation’s energy future is becoming more apparent.

Energy and climate legislation now pending in Congress would put in FERC’s hands a sweeping market-based cap-and-trade system intended to lower industrial greenhouse-gas emissions.

Besides its role granting permits for new offshore wind power, the agency is also overseeing planning for transmission lines that could one day link Dakota wind farms to East Coast cities, and solar power in the Southwest to the West Coast.

“FERC has always been important to power development,” says Ralph Cavanagh, energy program codirector for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York-based environmental group. “It’s just that people haven’t known about it. They will pretty soon.”

That’s because Mr. Wellinghoff and three fellow commissioners share an affinity for efficiency and renewable energy that’s not just skin-deep, Mr. Cavanagh and others say.

Wellinghoff started his energy career as a consumer advocate for utility customers in Nevada before being appointed by President Bush in 2005 as a FERC commissioner. He was a key author of “renewable portfolio standards” that require Nevada’s utilities to incorporate more renewable power in their energy mix. Now he’s the nation’s top energy regulator.

It’s clear that FERC has a mandate to speed change to the nation’s power infrastructure, Wellinghoff says.

When it comes to the extra work and complexity FERC will encounter if Congress appoints FERC to administer a mammoth carbon-emissions cap-and-trade program, Wellinghoff is eager, yet circumspect.

“We believe we are fully capable of fulfilling that role with respect to physical trading [of carbon allowances],” he says during an interview in Washington. “We’ve demonstrated our ability to respond efficiently and effectively to undertake those duties Congress has given to us. Unfortunately, the result of that is they give you more to do.”

While the US Department of Energy controls long-term energy investment decisions, FERC’s four commissioners (a fifth seat is vacant) appear determined to ensure that wind, solar, geothermal, and ocean power get equal access to the grid.

The commissioners are also biased against coal and nuclear power on at least one key factor: cost.

Many in the power industry believe that renewable energy still costs too much. Not Wellinghoff, who says: “I see these distributed resources [solar, wind, natural-gas microturbines, and others] coming on right now as being generally less expensive.”

That might sound surprising. Yet, with coal and nuclear power plants costing billions of dollars – and raising environmental issues such as climate change and radioactive waste – others also see renewable power as the low-cost option.

Wellinghoff’s outspoken views have irritated some since his March selection as chairman.

Last month, for instance, he drew fire from nuclear-energy boosters in Congress after he characterized as “an anachronism” the idea of meeting future US power demand by building large new coal-fired and nuclear power plants.

“You don’t need fossil fuel or nuclear [plants] that run all the time,” Wellinghoff told reporters at a US Energy Association Forum last month. Then he added: “We may not need any, ever.”

That set off a salvo from Sen. Lind sey Graham (R) of South Carolina, a staunch nuclear-power advocate. “The public is ill-served when someone in such a prominent position suggests alternative-energy programs are developed and in such a state that we should abandon our plans to build more plants,” he said in a statement.

But to others, Wellinghoff is the epitome of what the US needs: a public servant zeroed in on energy security, the environment, efficiency, and keeping energy costs down.

“Wellinghoff has been a longtime supporter of efficiency and consumer interests,” says Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, an energy advocacy group. “I would call him a visionary. He’s not just content with the status quo.”

In Wellinghoff’s vision of the future, where the cost of carbon dioxide emissions is added to the price of coal-fired power plants and natural-gas turbines, it may be less expensive for consumers to set their appliances to avoid buying power at peak times. Or they may choose to buy power from a collection of microturbines, fuel cell, wind, solar, biomass, and ocean power systems.

“We’re going to see more distributed generation – and we’re already starting to see that happen,” Wellinghoff says. “Not only renewable generation like photovoltaic [panels] that people put on their homes and businesses, but also fossil-fuel systems like combined heat and power,” called cogeneration units.

To coordinate and harmonize this fluctuating phalanx of power sources, customers will need to know and be able to respond to the price of power, Wellinghoff says. They will also need a new generation of appliances that switch off automatically to balance power supply and demand peaks.

But there are huge challenges with a power grid that provides energy from a mix of wind, solar, and other renewable power.

“You’re going to have to upgrade this whole grid [along the East Coast], he says. “You can’t just move [wind and wave power] from offshore to load centers onshore without looking at the effect on reliability – Florida to Maine.”

As the percentage of renewable power rises toward 20 to 25% of grid power from around 3% today, there must be a backup to fill gaps when intermittent winds stop blowing or the sun doesn’t shine.

In a decade or more from now, Wellinghoff, says millions of all-electric or plug-in electric-gas hybrid vehicles could plug into the grid and supply spurts of power to fill in for dipping wind and solar output.

“There are new technologies,” he says, “that in the next three to five years will advance the grid to a new level.”

Gesturing to a drawing board on the wall, he hops up from his chair, his hands flicking across a sketch of the eastern half of the US with power lines fanning out from the Plains states to the East Coast.

“This is another grid option that would take a lot of power that’s now constrained in the Midwest, that can be developed – wind energy there – and move it to all the load centers [cities] on the East Coast,” he says.

Similarly, lines could be built across the Rockies to connect wind power in Montana and Wyoming to the West Coast. Instead of building power lines from the Midwest to the East Coast, “a lot of people would say, ‘No, no, let’s look first look at the wind offshore,’ ” he says.

Whether it’s wind from the Plains or the ocean, the resulting variability will have an impact on grid reliability if action isn’t taken, Wellinghoff says.

“You’re going to have to upgrade this whole grid here,” he says, gesturing to the East Coast. “You can’t just move [power] from offshore to load centers onshore without looking at the effect on reliability.”

Reliability of the grid remains paramount – Job No. 1 for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But if boosting renewable power to 25% by 2025 – the Obama administration’s goal – means spreading Internet-connected controllers across substations and transmission networks, then cybersecurity to protect them from increasing Internet-based threats is critical.

Yet a recent review by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation overseen by FERC found more than two-thirds of power generating companies denied they had any “critical assets” potentially vulnerable to cyberattack. Those denials concern Wellinghoff.

“We are asking the responding utilities to go back and reveal what are the number of critical assets and redetermine that for us,” he says. “We want to be sure that we have fully identify all the critical assets that need to be protected.”

It would be especially troubling if, as was recently reported by The Wall Street Journal, Russian and Chinese entities have hacked into the US power grid and left behind malware that could be activated at a later time to disable the grid.

But Wellinghoff says he has checked on the type of intrusion referred to in the article and denies successful grid hacks by foreign nations that have left dangerous malware behind.

While acknowledging that individuals overseas have tried to hack the grid frequently, he says, “I’m not aware of any successful hacks that have implanted into the grid any kinds of malware or other code that could later be activated.”

But others say there is a problem. In remarks at the University of Texas at Austin in April, Joel Brenner, the national counterintelligence executive, the nation’s most senior counterintelligence coordinator, indicated there are threats to the grid.

“We have seen Chinese network operations inside certain of our electricity grids,” he said in prepared remarks. “Do I worry about those grids, and about air traffic control systems, water supply systems, and so on? You bet I do.”

In an e-mailed statement, Wellinghoff’s press secretary, Mary O’Driscoll, says the chairman defers to senior intelligence officials on some questions concerning grid vulnerability to cyberattack: “The Commission isn’t in the intelligence gathering business and therefore can’t comment on that type of information.”

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LES BLUMENTHAL, The Bellingham Herald, May 30, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoThe Obama administration has proposed a 25% cut in the research and development budget for one of the most promising renewable energy sources in the Northwest – wave and tidal energy. At the same time the White House sought an 82% increase in solar power research funding, a 36% increase in wind power funding and a 14% increase in geothermal funding. But it looked to cut wave and tidal research funding from $40 million to $30 million.

The decision to cut funding came only weeks after the Interior Department suggested that wave power could emerge as the leading offshore energy source in the Northwest and at a time when efforts to develop tidal power in Puget Sound are attracting national and international attention. By some estimates, wave and tidal power could eventually meet 10% of the nation’s electricity demand, about the same as hydropower currently delivers.

Some experts have estimated that if only 0.2% of energy in ocean waves could be harnessed, the power produced would be enough to supply the entire world. In addition to Puget Sound and the Northwest coast, tidal and wave generators have been installed, planned or talked about in New York’s East River, in Maine, Alaska, off Atlantic City, N.J., and Hawaii. However, they’d generate only small amounts of power.

The Europeans are leaders when it comes to tidal and wave energy, with projects considered, planned or installed in Spain, Portugal, Scotland, Ireland and Norway. There have also been discussions about projects in South Korea, the Philippines, India and Canada’s Maritime provinces.

The proposed cut, part of the president’s budget submitted to Congress, has disappointed Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “Wave and tidal power holds great promise in helping to meet America’s long-term energy needs,” Murray said, adding that Washington state is a leader in its development. “It’s time for the Department of Energy to focus on this potential. But playing budget games won’t get the work done.” Murray’s staff said that while $16.8 billion in the recently passed stimulus bill is reserved for renewable energy and energy efficiency, none of it is earmarked for wave and tidal power.

Energy Department spokesman Tom Welch, however, said the Obama administration is asking for 10 times more for tidal and wave power than the Bush administration did. “The trend line is up,” Welch said. “The department is collaborating with industry, regulators and other stakeholders to develop water resources, including conventional hydro.”

Murray sees it differently. Congress appropriated $40 million for the current year, so the Obama administration proposal actually would cut funding by a fourth. Utility officials involved in developing tidal energy sources said the administration’s approach was shortsighted. “We need all the tools in the tool belt,” said Steve Klein, general manager of the Snohomish County Public Utility District. “It’s dangerous to anoint certain sources and ignore others.”

The Snohomish PUD could have a pilot plant using three tidal generators installed on a seabed in Puget Sound in 2011. The tidal generators, built by an Irish company, are 50 feet tall and can spin either way depending on the direction of the tides. The units will be submerged, with 80 feet of clearance from their tops to the water’s surface. They’ll be placed outside of shipping channels and ferry routes. The pilot plant is expected to produce one megawatt of electricity, or enough to power about 700 homes. If the pilot plant proves successful, the utility would consider installing a project that powered 10,000 homes.

“A lot of people are watching us,” Klein said. The Navy, under pressure from Congress to generate 25% of its power from renewable sources by 2025, will install a pilot tidal generating project in Puget Sound near Port Townsend next year.

In Washington state, law requires that the larger utilities obtain 15% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. The law sets up interim targets of 3% by 2012 and 9% by 2016. Most of the attention so far has focused on developing large wind farms east of the Cascade Mountains. Because wind blows intermittently, however, the region also needs a more reliable source of alternative energy.

Tidal and wave fit that need. Also, at least with tidal, the generators would be closer to population centers than the wind turbines in eastern Washington. “The potential is significant and (tidal and wave) could accomplish a large fraction of the renewable energy portfolio for the state,” said Charles Brandt, director of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s marine sciences lab in Sequim.

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MendoCoastCurrent, May 20, 2009

Mendocino-Energy-Mill-SiteAt this core energy technology incubator, energy policy is created as renewable energy technologies and science move swiftly from white boards and white papers to testing, refinement and implementation.

The Vision

Mendocino Energy is located on the Mendocino coast, three plus hours north of San Francisco/Silicon Valley. On the waterfront of Fort Bragg, utilizing a portion of the now-defunct Georgia-Pacific Mill Site to innovate in best practices, cost-efficient, safe renewable and sustainable energy development – wind, wave, solar, bioremediation, green-ag/algae, smart grid and grid technologies, et al.

The process is collaborative in creating, identifying and engineering optimum, commercial-scale, sustainable, renewable energy solutions…with acumen.

Start-ups, utilities companies, universities (e.g. Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford), EPRI, the federal government (FERC, DOE, DOI) and the world’s greatest minds gathering at this fast-tracked, unique coming-together of a green work force and the U.S. government, creating responsible, safe renewable energy technologies to quickly identify best commercialization candidates and build-outs.

The campus is quickly constructed on healthy areas of the Mill Site as in the past, this waterfront, 400+ acre industry created contaminated areas where mushroom bioremediation is underway.

Determining best sitings for projects in solar thermal, wind turbines and mills, algae farming, bioremediation; taking the important first steps towards establishing U.S. leadership in renewable energy and the global green economy.

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MARK CLAYTON, The Christian Science Monitor, April 24, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoThree miles off the craggy, wave-crashing coastline near Humboldt Bay, California, deep ocean swells roll through a swath of ocean that is soon to be the site of the nation’s first major wave energy project.

Like other renewable energy technology, ocean energy generated by waves, tidal currents or steady offshore winds has been considered full of promise yet perennially years from reaching full-blown commercial development.

That’s still true – commercial-scale deployment is at least five years away. Yet there are fresh signs that ocean power is surging. And if all goes well, WaveConnect, the wave energy pilot project at Humboldt that’s being developed by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E), could by next year deploy five commercial-scale wave systems, each putting 1 megawatt of ocean-generated power onto the electric grid.

At less than 1% of the capacity of a big coal-fired power plant, that might seem a pittance. Yet studies show that wave energy could one day produce enough power to supply 17% of California’s electric needs – and make a sizable dent in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Nationwide, ocean power’s potential is far larger. Waves alone could produce 10,000 megawatts of power, about 6.5% of US electricity demand – or as much as produced by conventional hydropower dam generators, estimated the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the research arm of the public utility industry based in Palo Alto, California, in 2007. All together, offshore wind, tidal power, and waves could meet 10% of US electricity needs.

That potential hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Obama administration. After years of jurisdictional bickering, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Department of Interior — MMS last month moved to clarify permitting requirements that have long slowed ocean energy development.

While the Bush administration requested zero for its Department of Energy ocean power R&D budget a few years ago, the agency has reversed course and now plans to quadruple funding to $40 million in the next fiscal year.

If the WaveConnect pilot project succeeds, experts say that the Humboldt site, along with another off Mendocino County to the south, could expand to 80 megawatts. Success there could fling open the door to commercial-scale projects not only along California’s surf-pounding coast but prompt a bicoastal US wave power development surge.

“Even without much support, ocean power has proliferated in the last two to three years, with many more companies trying new and different technology,” says George Hagerman, an ocean energy researcher at the Virginia Tech Advanced Research Institute in Arlington, Va.

Wave and tidal current energy are today at about the same stage as land-based wind power was in the early 1980s, he says, but with “a lot more development just waiting to see that first commercial success.”

More than 50 companies worldwide and 17 US-based companies are now developing ocean power prototypes, an EPRI survey shows. As of last fall, FERC tallied 34 tidal power and nine wave power permits with another 20 tidal current, four wave energy, and three ocean current applications pending.

Some of those permits are held by Christopher Sauer’s company, Ocean Renewable Power of Portland, Maine, which expects to deploy an underwater tidal current generator in a channel near Eastport, Maine, later this year.

After testing a prototype since December 2007, Mr. Sauer is now ready to deploy a far more powerful series of turbines using “foils” – not unlike an airplane propeller – to efficiently convert water current that’s around six knots into as much as 100,000 watts of power. To do that requires a series of “stacked” turbines totaling 52 feet wide by 14 feet high.

“This is definitely not a tinkertoy,” Sauer says.

Tidal energy, as demonstrated by Verdant Power’s efforts in New York City’s East River, could one day provide the US with 3,000 megawatts of power, EPRI says. Yet a limited number of appropriate sites with fast current means that wave and offshore wind energy have the largest potential.

“Wave energy technology is still very much in emerging pre-commercial stage,” says Roger Bedard, ocean technology leader for EPRI. “But what we’re seeing with the PG&E WaveConnect is an important project that could have a significant impact.”

Funding is a problem. As with most renewable power, financing for ocean power has been becalmed by the nation’s financial crisis. Some 17 Wall Street finance companies that had funded renewables, including ocean power, are now down to about seven, says John Miller, director of the Marine Renewable Energy Center at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.

Even so, entrepreneurs like Sauer aren’t close to giving up – and even believe that the funding tide may have turned. Private equity and the state of Maine provided funding at a critical time, he says.

“It’s really been a struggle, particularly since mid-September when Bear Sterns went down,” Sauers says. “We worked without pay for a while, but we made it through.”

Venture capitalists are not involved in ocean energy right now, he admits. Yet he does get his phone calls returned. “They’re not writing checks yet, but they’re talking more,” he says.

When they do start writing checks, it may be to propel devices such as the Pelamis and the PowerBuoy. Makers of those devices, and more than a dozen wave energy companies worldwide, will soon vie to be among five businesses selected to send their machines to the ocean off Humboldt.

One of the major challenges they will face is “survivability” in the face of towering winter waves. By that measure, one of the more successful generators – success defined by time at sea without breaking or sinking – is the Pelamis, a series of red metal cylinders connected by hinges and hydraulic pistons.

Looking a bit like a red bullet train, several of the units were until recently floating on the undulating sea surface off the coast of Portugal. The Pelamis coverts waves to electric power as hydraulic cylinders connecting its floating cylinders expand and contract thereby squeezing fluid through a power unit that extracts energy.

An evaluation of a Pelamis unit installed off the coast of Massachusetts a few years ago found that for $273 million, a wave farm with 206 of the devices could produce energy at a cost of about 13.4 cents a kilowatt hours. Such costs would drop sharply and be competitive with onshore wind energy if the industry settled on a technology and mass-produced it.

“Even with worst-case assumptions, the economics of wave energy compares favorably to wind energy,” the 2004 study conducted for EPRI found.

One US-based contestant for a WaveConnect slot is likely to be the PowerBuoy, a 135-five-foot-long steel cylinder made by Ocean Power Technology (OPT) of Pennington, N.J. Inside the cylinder that is suspended by a float, a pistonlike structure moves up and down with the bobbing of the waves. That drives a generator, sending up to 150 kilowatts of power to a cable on the ocean bottom. A dozen or more buoys tethered to the ocean floor make a power plant.

“Survivability” is a critical concern for all ocean power systems. Constant battering by waves has sunk more than one wave generator. But one of PowerBuoy’s main claims is that its 56-foot-long prototype unit operated continuously for two years before being pulled for inspection.

“The ability to ride out passing huge waves is a very important part of our system,” says Charles Dunleavy, OPT’s chief financial officer. “Right now, the industry is basically just trying to assimilate and deal with many different technologies as well as the cost of putting structures out there in the ocean.”

Beside survivability and economics, though, the critical question of impact on the environment remains.

“We think they’re benign,” EPRI’s Mr. Bedard says. “But we’ve never put large arrays of energy devices in the ocean before. If you make these things big enough, they would have a negative impact.”

Mr. Dunleavy is optimistic that OPT’s technology is “not efficient enough to rob coastlines and their ecosystems of needed waves. A formal evaluation found the company’s PowerBuoy installed near a Navy base in Hawaii as having “no significant impact,” he says.

Gauging the environmental impacts of various systems will be studied closely in the WaveConnect program, along with observations gathered from fishermen, surfers, and coastal-impact groups, says David Eisenhauer, a PG&E spokesman, says.

“There’s definitely good potential for this project,” says Mr. Eisenhauer. “It’s our responsibility to explore any renewable energy we can bring to our customers – but only if it can be done in an economically and environmentally feasible way.”

Offshore wind is getting a boost, too. On April 22, the Obama administration laid out new rules on offshore leases, royalty payments, and easement that are designed to pave the way for investors.

Offshore wind energy is a commercially ready technology, with 10,000 megawatts of wind energy already deployed off European shores. Studies have shown that the US has about 500,000 megawatts of potential offshore energy. Across 10 to 11 East Coast states, offshore wind could supply as much as 20% of the states’ electricity demand without the need for long transmission lines, Hagerman notes.

But development has lagged, thanks to political opposition and regulatory hurdles. So the US remains about five years behind Europe on wave and tidal and farther than that on offshore wind, Bedard says. “They have 10,000 megawatts of offshore wind and we have zero.”

While more costly than land-based wind power, new offshore wind projects have been shown in some studies to have a lower cost of energy than coal projects of the same size and closer to the cost of energy of a new natural-gas fired power plant, Hagerman says.

Offshore wind is the only ocean energy technology ready to be deployed in gigawatt quantities in the next decade, Bedard says. Beyond that, wave and tidal will play important roles.

For offshore wind developers, that means federal efforts to clarify the rules on developing ocean wind energy can’t come soon enough. Burt Hamner plans a hybrid approach to ocean energy – using platforms that produce 10% wave energy and 90% wind energy.

But Mr. Hamner’s dual-power system has run into a bureaucratic tangle – with the Minerals Management Service and FERC both wanting his company to meet widely divergent permit requirements, he says.

“What the public has to understand is that we are faced with a flat-out energy crisis,” Hamner says. “We have to change the regulatory system to develop a structure that’s realistic for what we’re doing.”

To be feasible, costs for offshore wind systems must come down. But even so, a big offshore wind farm with hundreds of turbines might cost $4 billion – while a larger coal-fired power plant is just as much and a nuclear power even more, he contends.

“There is no cheap solution,” Hamner says. “But if we’re successful, the prize could be a big one.”

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H. JOSEF HEBERT, AP/StarTribune, April 22, 2009

dept_of_interior_seal

Washington D.C. — The Interior Department issued long-awaited regulations on April 22, 2009 governing offshore renewable energy projects that would tap wind, ocean currents and waves to produce electricity.

The framework establishes how leases will be issued and sets in place revenue sharing with nearby coastal states that will receive 27.5% of the royalties that will be generated from the electricity production.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in an interview that applications are expected for dozens of proposed offshore wind projects, many off the north and central Atlantic in the coming months. “This will open the gates for them to move forward … It sets the rules of the road,” Salazer said.

Actual lease approvals will take longer.

Salazar said he expects the first electricity production from some of the offshore projects in two or three years, probably off the Atlantic Coast.

President Barack Obama, marking Earth Day during an appearances in Iowa, welcomed “the bold steps toward opening America’s oceans and new energy frontier.”

The offshore leasing rules for electricity production from wind, ocean currents and tidal waves had stalled for two years because of a jurisdictional dispute between the Interior Department and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission over responsibility for ocean current projects.

That disagreement was resolved earlier this month in a memorandum of understanding signed by Salazar and FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff.

The department’s Minerals Management Service will control offshore wind and solar projects and issue leases and easements for wave and ocean current energy development. The energy regulatory agency will issue licenses for building and operating wave and ocean current projects.

Salazar repeatedly has championed the development of offshore wind turbine-generated energy, especially off the central Atlantic Coast where the potential for wind as an electricity source is believe to be huge.

He said he has had numerous requests from governors and senators from Atlantic Coastal states to move forward with offshore wind development. State are interested in not only the close availability of wind-generated electricity for the populous Northeast, but also the potential for additional state revenue.

“We expect there will be significant revenue that will be generated,” Salazar said.

Under the framework nearby coastal states would receive 27.5% and the federal government the rest.

Currently there is a proposal for a wind farm off Nantucket Sound, Mass., known as Cape Wind, which has been under review separately from the regulation announced Wednesday. The Interior Department said no decision has been made on the Cape Wind project, but if it is approved it will be subject to the terms of the new rules.

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Cherry Creek News Staff, March 17, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC – In a joint statement issued today Secretary of the Interior (DOI), Ken Salazar and Acting Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Jon Wellinghoff announced that the two agencies have confirmed their intent to work together to facilitate the permitting of renewable energy in offshore waters.

“Our renewable energy is too important for bureaucratic turf battles to slow down our progress. I am proud that we have reached an agreement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regarding our respective roles in approving offshore renewable energy projects. This agreement will help sweep aside red tape so that our country can capture the great power of wave, tidal, wind and solar power off our coasts,” Secretary Salazar said.

“FERC is pleased to be working with the Department of the Interior and Secretary Salazar on a procedure that will help get renewable energy projects off the drawing board and onto the Outer Continental Shelf,” Acting FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said.

Below is the joint Statement between DOI and FERC signed by Secretary Salazar and Acting Chairmain Wellinghoff:

JOINT STATEMENT BY THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR AND THE ACTING CHAIRMAN OF THE FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES ON THE OUTER CONTINENTAL SHELF

The United States has significant renewable energy resources in offshore waters, including wind energy, solar energy, and wave and ocean current energy.

Under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the Minerals Management Service, has the authority to grant leases, easements, and rights-of-way on the outer continental shelf for the development of oil and gas resources. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 amended the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to provide the Interior Department with parallel permitting authority with regard to the production, transportation, or transmission of energy from additional sources of energy on the outer continental shelf, including renewable energy sources.

The Interior Department’s responsibility for the permitting and development of renewable energy resources on the outer continental shelf is broad. In particular, the Department of the Interior has permitting and development authority over wind power projects that use offshore resources beyond state waters.

Interior’s authority does not diminish existing responsibilities that other agencies have with regard to the outer continental shelf. In that regard, under the Federal Power Act, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has the statutory responsibility to oversee the development of hydropower resources in navigable waters of the United States. “Hydrokinetic” power potentially can be developed offshore through new technologies that seek to convert wave, tidal and ocean current energy to electricity. FERC will have the primary responsibility to manage the licensing of such projects in offshore waters pursuant to the Federal Power Act, using procedures developed for hydropower licenses, and with the active involvement of relevant federal land and resource agencies, including the Department of the Interior.

We have requested our staffs to prepare a short Memorandum of Understanding that sets forth these principles, and which describes the process by which permits and licenses related to renewable energy resources in offshore waters will be developed.

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EVAN LEHMANN, The New York Times, March 17, 2009

The oceans might not be big enough for sharp-elbowed renewable energy developers. Aspiring power producers are claiming sweeping stretches of sea along the East Coast, sometimes overlapping each other and igniting modern-day allegations of “claim jumping.”

Open water miles from shore is the newest frontier for prospectors, as vague notions persist about who in the federal government presides over the ocean depths. A jurisdictional dispute between two federal agencies — the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — is encouraging a “Wild West” atmosphere, as one participant described the accelerating race to grab chunks of seafloor for energy development.

The impasse has led competing prospectors to claim the same areas of ocean off New Jersey’s coast, citing authority from different federal agencies. Wind developers are accusing Seattle-based Grays Harbor Ocean Energy Co. of taking advantage of the regulatory uncertainty to snatch a 200-square-mile swath of ocean for a proposed wave and wind energy project through FERC.

Smaller patches within that area had already been identified for wind farms approved by the state and been given a preliminary green light by MMS.

“They are all around us,” Chris Wissemann, founder of Deepwater Wind, said of Grays Harbor. State regulators awarded development rights to Deepwater Wind last fall to build a 350-megawatt wind farm about 20 miles off the shore with PSEG Renewable Generation.

But now the Grays Harbor site is “completely overlapping” the smaller 20-square-mile area of ocean identified by Deepwater Wind, Wissemann added, noting that his project is at “full stop.” The sprawling Grays Harbor parcel also encompasses a second wind project, proposed by Bluewater Wind, which plans to erect about 100 turbines over 24 square miles.

Wind developers and state officials are pressing FERC to deny Grays Harbor’s permit. A decision could come this spring.

‘Wild West’ goes to sea

The confusion is the offspring of dueling federal agencies. The Minerals Management Service is generally considered the landlord of the ocean floor, and has been working for three years on new rules to provide leases for wind farms on the outer continental shelf. There is no dispute about its authority over wind projects, as outlined in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

But the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has been arguing for two years that it maintains jurisdiction over hydrokinetic projects — those that tap the power of waves and currents — under the Federal Power Act.

That leaves developers of both wind and wave technologies vulnerable to each other. Preliminary permits are easy to get, and that can lead to “a lot of gamesmanship” in areas known to have good energy prospects, said Carolyn Elefant, a lawyer with the Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition.

“There are a lot of people who have these visions of flipping sites, selling sites, jumping claims and making people buy them off,” she said. “It’s the Wild West.”

That “back and forth” struggle between the two agencies stalled the release of MMS’s new rule on offshore renewable energy projects at the close of George W. Bush’s presidency, according to Michael Olsen, a former deputy assistant secretary in the Interior Department, who worked on the rule. Developers say the delay has prevented the offshore industry from growing.

“There was a tremendous push at the end of the last administration” to finalize the rule, Olsen said an event sponsored by the Energy Bar Association yesterday. “And it was delayed because of this dispute.”

‘Permit flippers’ vs. ‘mafiosos’

Grays Harbor is at the center of that storm. Run by Burton Hamner, who has experience in coastal management, the company in October plunged into the race to build the first offshore power generation project on the East Coast.

It applied for six interim leases from FERC, a move that would give it priority over hundreds of square miles off the coasts of Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island and several other states. The move could essentially secure those areas for three years, sidelining other wind companies that had already gone through a competitive selection process with the state of New Jersey and that are now waiting on the MMS rule before moving forward.

“I could literally have my equipment on a boat and receive a letter from FERC saying, ‘You have no right to do this because we have a competing set of regs,'” said Wissemann of Deepwater Wind, which might wait to build a data-collecting test tower until the dispute is settled.

A group of nine U.S. lawmakers, mostly from the East Coast, assailed Grays Harbor’s move — without mentioning the company — as “claim jumping” in a letter last week to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Some wind developers are furious, saying Hamner is “site banking” stretches of ocean with an eye toward trading in real estate, not clean energy.

“They’re looking to flip the permits,” said one official with a wind developer.

But Hamner dismisses those accusations as if they’re insults from entitled lawmakers or bested competitors acting like bossy “New Jersey mafiosos.”

Salazar pushing for a fix

He describes his maneuvering as a good business decision, one that fits within existing rules. He is not a claim jumper, he says, because MMS has not issued the rule needed to receive leases — an assertion with which his competitors have no choice but to agree.

“You can’t say somebody else is claim jumping when you haven’t in fact made a claim,” Hamner said. “All they’re doing is sitting there on the shore saying, ‘Hey, we were here first. What’s this guy doing messin’ in our sandbox?'”

He is unapologetic about applying for interim permits under FERC, days after the commission underscored its jurisdiction over hydrokinetic (wave power) projects in October. Nor does he feel burdened by exploiting the turf battle in Washington. FERC, he says, is the rightful overseer of electricity projects.

“They could have done the same thing that I did,” Hamner said of other developers. “The ocean’s got a lot of opportunity. There’s room for everybody. What we don’t want to have is people standing on the shore who’ve got the attitude of New Jersey mafiosos saying that’s their playground.”

Hamner is eligible for a FERC permit because he’s emphasizing wave power. At each of his seven sites, he proposes raising 100 platforms, each with three legs. Every leg will carry a 330-kilowatt generator, providing about 10% of the 1,100 megawatts produced by each project. Hamner plans to find the bulk of his electricity through wind turbines, big, 10-megawatt units on each platform.

The territorial dispute, meanwhile, is rising to a new level of urgency in Washington. Salazar said he hopes to draft a long-delayed memorandum of understanding with FERC, perhaps as soon as today. That could prevent the agencies from “stumbling over each other,” he told reporters on a conference call yesterday.

“We will not let any of the jurisdictional turf battles in the past get in the way with moving forward with our energy agenda,” Salazar said.

The MMS rule regarding leases could follow soon if the inter-agency dispute is settled. That’s considered a key requirement for sparking a robust offshore industry.

“They just need to work it out,” said Laurie Jodziewicz, manager of siting policy for the American Wind Energy Association. “We have some real projects that are being held up right now.”

Yet Olsen, the former official with Interior who worked on the rule, expressed doubt yesterday that Salazar would be able to quickly disarm the two sides. Congress might have to draft new legislation, he predicted, or perhaps President Obama’s new energy czar, Carol Browner, could muscle a jurisdictional remedy into place.

“It’s going to be the same thing,” Olsen said, recalling past challenges to fixing the problem. “Something’s gotta happen.”

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H. JOSEF HEBERT, The Associated Press, March 16, 2009

While the Obama administration has touted offshore renewable energy development, a turf fight between two federal agencies has stymied the government’s ability to issue rules needed to approve wind energy projects off America’s coasts.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Monday the infighting has got to stop.

“It will be resolved,” Salazar said in response to questions about the dispute. “We will not let any of the jurisdictional turf battles of the past get in the way of our moving forward with the renewable energy agenda.”

The dispute, which dates to late 2007, pits the Interior Department against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission over which entity should approve projects that use coastal waves and currents to produce power.

Offshore wind development has been entangled in the dispute because Interior’s Mineral Management Service does not want to separate wind projects from the tidal wave, or hydrokinetic power, programs – which FERC in turn has refused to surrender, according to several officials who have followed the dispute.

Interior and FERC are said to be close to agreement on a “memorandum of understanding” that would delineate each organization’s involvement in the offshore renewable energy approval process.

Salazar has been vocal in his call for more aggressive development of renewable energy projects off the country’s coasts, especially off the northern and central Atlantic. He said the governors of New Jersey and Delaware have asked what is holding up the regulations and said projects off their coasts are ready to go.

Jon Wellinghoff, acting chairman of FERC, played down the interagency dispute and – like Salazar – said he was confident the problem will soon be worked out.

“It’s less of a dispute than people say it is,” insisted Wellinghoff in a brief interview, adding that he doubted it has stopped any wind projects.

“It has nothing to do with wind. It only has to do with our jurisdiction over hydrokinetic systems, whether they are on the Outer Continental Shelf or not,” said Wellinghoff. He said he saw no reason why the Mineral Management Service would insist on viewing the tidal wave and wind issues together.

Salazar over the past week met with Wellinghoff to try to work out a memorandum of understanding that could be issued as early as this week. Both men are expected to be asked about the disagreement at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing Tuesday.

“If we don’t resolve the jurisdictional issues between FERC and the Department of Interior, we are not going to be able to move forward in the development of our offshore renewable energy resources,” said Salazar.

Mike Olsen, an attorney who represents Deep Water Wind, a company that wants to build a 96-turbine wind farm off the New Jersey coast, calls the dispute a classic government turf battle.

“It’s two agencies both feeling each has specific authority and jurisdiction. Neither one wants to yield its authority or jurisdiction to the other,” said Olsen, who as a deputy assistant Interior secretary in the Bush administration observed the dispute first hand.

Interior waged “a full court press” to get the rules on offshore renewable energy development finalize last year, Olsen said, but the effort was thwarted by the lack of an agreement with FERC.

“From our perspective the rule was ready to go in November,” said Olsen. But despite involvement of the Bush White House, no memorandum of understanding on the jurisdiction issue could be hammered out between Interior and FERC.

With a new administration on the horizon “the battle was put on hold,” he said.

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MARSHA W. JOHNSTON, RenewableEnergyWorld.com, March 2009

One hundred and forty-one years ago, the relentless sea off Scotland’s coast inspired the following observation from native son and author George MacDonald:

I climbed the heights above the village, and looked abroad over the Atlantic. What a waste of aimless tossing to and fro! Gray mist above, full of falling rain; gray, wrathful waters underneath, foaming and bursting as billow broke upon billow…they burst on the rocks at the end of it, and rushed in shattered spouts and clouds of spray far into the air over their heads. “Will the time ever come,” I thought, when man shall be able to store up even this force for his own ends? Who can tell.”

In the United States, permitting may be an even bigger hurdle to marine energy deployment than financing. Between 25 and 35 different U.S. federal, state and local regulatory agencies claim some jurisdiction over marine power deployment. In the UK, two agencies handle permitting.

Today, we can certainly say, “Yes, the time will come.” The only question remaining is how long it will be before humankind routinely and widely uses electricity generated from the kinetic power of ocean tides, currents and waves.

If one defines “commercial ocean energy” as several tens of megawatts, the world cannot yet boast a commercial ocean energy installation. Indeed, only two installations of either wave, tidal or in-stream current devices are grid-connected and can generate over 1 megawatt (MW) of power. One is Pelamis Wave Power’s 2.25-MW Aguçadoura project off of Portugal’s northern coast and the other is Bristol-based Marine Current Turbines’ (MCT) SeaGen, a US $20-million commercial-scale tidal-energy project under development in Northern Ireland’s turbulent Strangford Narrows. In December, SeaGen boasted the first tidal turbine to hit a capacity of 1.2 MW.

(The biggest exception to commercial ocean energy production is the world’s longest running tidal power plant, the 240-MW La Rance, in France. But the plant’s barrage technology, which traps water behind a dam and releases it at low tide, has fallen out of favor due to its perceived higher environmental impact than underwater turbines. Nova Scotia has also been operating a 20-MW barrage Tidal Generating Station in the tidal-rich Bay of Fundy since 1984.)

The rest of the world’s wave, tidal and current installations, some of which have been in the water as far back as the 1990s, are experimental and prototype units ranging in size from 35 kilowatts (kW) to 400 kW. Because these units operate only intermittently and are not typically connected to any grid, it is not possible to determine their total power generation.

Many of these units are prototype demonstration units for the much bigger installations that are under development and that will begin to realize significant exploitation of the world’s ocean energy resource. For example, Ocean Power Technologies Inc. will use the 150-kW PowerBuoy it has been testing since the mid-90s as the “workhorse” for the 270-MW, four-site wave energy plant off California and Oregon coasts that it has partnered with Lockheed Martin to develop, says CEO George Taylor.

And Inverness, Scotland-based WaveGen expects to use 40 units of the 100-kw turbine it just installed off the Island of Islay for a 4-MW farm off of Scotland’s Isle of Lewis. Meanwhile, Pelamis says if its 750-kw “sea snake” devices, which were installed last year, make it through the winter, it will put 37 more of them in the water, generating 30 MW.

All of the wave, tidal, ocean and river current power around North America that can be practically extracted could together provide 10% of today’s electrical consumption in the U.S., says Roger Bedard, ocean energy leader at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in Palo Alto, CA. He adds that the total water resource could, it is sometimes said, possibly power the world twice over, but a lot of it is out of reach. “Hudson’s Bay, off the Arctic Circle, has HUGE tidal power, but it is thousands of miles from where anyone lives. We have HUGE wave resources off Aleutian Islands, but the same problem,” he says.  See EPRI’s U.S. Offshore Wave Energy Resource Map, below.

What will be the “magic” year for large-scale ocean energy deployment? Most developers indicate 2011-2012. Trey Taylor, co-founder and president of Verdant Power, which is moving into the commercial development phase of its 7-year-old Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy project, says the firm aims to have “at least 35 MW” in the water by the end of 2011.

Bedard is more circumspect. “I think it will be 2015 in Europe and 2025 in U.S. for big deployment,” he says, adding that the year cited depends entirely on the definition of “big” and “commercial,” which he defines as “many tens of megawatts.”

Verdant’s Taylor expects greater initial success in Canada. “The fundamental difference between Canada and the U.S. is that the underpinning of processes in Canada is collaborative and in the U.S. it is adversarial. It’s just the nature of Canadians, collaborating for community good, whereas in the U.S. people are afraid of being sued,” he said.

Bedard says the U.S. could catch up to Europe earlier, if the Obama Administration walks its big renewable energy infrastructure investment talk. “But if it’s business as usual, it could be later, depending on the economy,” he says.

Since the global economy began to melt down last September, many ocean energy companies have had to refocus their investment plans. With venture capital and institutional monies drying or dried up, firms are turning to public funds, strategic partners such as utilities and big engineering firms, and angel investors.

In November, MCT retained London-based Cavendish Corp Finance to seek new financing. Raymond Fagan, the Cavendish partner charged with MCT, said although tidal energy is not as advanced as wind or solar, he has seen a “strong level of interest so far from large engineering-type firms in MCT’s leading position.” Because MCT holds patents and is delivering power to the grid ahead of its competitors, Fagan thinks Cavendish can bring it together with such strategic partners.

In addition to the economic climate, he notes that the drop in oil and gas prices is further slowing renewable energy investment decisions. “Six to 12 months ago, people were leaping into renewable energy opportunities,” he says, adding that the UK government’s recent call for marine energy proposals for the enormous Pentland Firth zone north of Scotland will improve Cavendish’s chances of getting financing. Though it has yet to make a public announcement, MCT is widely viewed as a prime operator for the zone.

Monies are still available. Witness Pelamis Wave Power’s infusion of 5 million pounds sterling in November, which it says it will use for ongoing investment in core R&D and continuing development of its manufacturing processes and facilities.

In the U.S., permitting may be an even bigger hurdle to marine energy deployment than financing. Between 25 and 35 different U.S. federal, state and local regulatory agencies claim some jurisdiction over marine power deployment. In the UK, two agencies handle permitting. Bedard notes however, that streamlining the process in the U.S. may have begun with the recent opening of a new six-month process for licensing pilot marine energy plants.

Marine energy experts agree that there are more opportunities for wave power than for tidal, as there are simply fewer exploitable tidal sites. In technology terms, however, tidal turbines have benefited from a quarter century of wind turbine development, says Virginia Tech professor George Hagerman. Despite more widely available wave resource, wave energy developers face the challenge of needing many more devices than do tidal energy developers, and have a higher cabling cost to export the power.

As Christopher Barry, co-chair of the Ocean Renewable Energy panel at the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, explains: “The major challenge [to ocean energy] is not pure technology, but the side issues of power export and making the technology affordable and survivable.”

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PATRICK BLUM, International Herald Tribune, March 15, 2009

LISBON: Projects for wind and wave energy beset by technical snags and dwindling investment

mj_newsletter_12-2-09_pelamisIn July, a Pelamis wave power generator, an articulated steel machine like a giant semi-submerged sausage, was towed into the deep Atlantic, off the coast of Aguçadoura in northern Portugal, and attached to a floating mooring.

By September, two more Pelamis units, each capable of generating 750 kilowatts of electricity, had joined the first, about three miles, or five kilometers, off shore, and the Portuguese power utility Energias de Portugal was able to announce proudly that “the world’s first commercial wave power project,” was transmitting electricity to the national grid.

Costing about €9 million, or $11.5 million, the three machines were the first phase of a plan intended ultimately to be expanded to 28 units, with a total generating capacity of 21 megawatts — enough to power more than 15,000 homes and save more than 60,000 tons a year of carbon dioxide from being spewed into the skies by conventional power plants.

In mid-November all three were disconnected and towed back to land, where they now lie in Leixões harbor, near the city of Porto, with no date set for their return to operation.

So what went wrong?

First, there was a buoyancy problem, said Max Carcas, a spokesman for Pelamis Wave Power, the British company that designed and built the units and retained a 23% stake in the project. According to a report on ocean energy systems published by the International Energy Agency, foam-filled buoyancy tanks for the mooring installation leaked and needed to be replaced, delaying startup.

The buoyancy problem was resolved, Mr. Carcas said during a telephone interview this month, but other technical issues emerged, as could be expected in a prototype project. “Like all things new, you have niggles to work through, and we continue to do that.”

Then, the financial crisis kicked in.

The Aguçadoura wave farm was announced in September as a joint venture between Pelamis and a group of three promoters including EDP, the Portuguese electrical engineering company Efacec, and the asset manager Babcock & Brown, an Australia-based specialist in power and other infrastructure investments.

But, by November, as the global credit crunch and falling share markets took a deepening toll of highly leveraged investors, Babcock & Brown announced a major program of asset sales to pay down its debt: and the Portuguese partners pulled back from the venture.

“Babcock & Brown are in process of winding down and we’re looking at offers for all our assets,” Anthony Kennaway, a Babcock & Brown spokesman, said from London. “Pelamis is part of that. All our assets are for sale. We are not putting any more money into the project.”

Against that background, Mr. Carcas, of Pelamis, said that there was no timetable for returning the generators to sea.

“As soon as things are resolved,” he said. “Could be next week. Could be anything.”

Harnessing ocean power for energy seemed an ideal option for Portugal, a small country with no oil and limited resources, and a long Atlantic coastline south of the Bay of Biscay, famed for its fierce waves and storms.

Portugal now imports more than 80% of its energy supplies, far above the European Union average. Domestic power generation is heavily dependent on hydroelectric projects, which are vulnerable to big fluctuations in output, depending on seasonal weather conditions.

Ambitious government plans still aim for a radical transformation of Portugal’s energy profile, with as much as 60% of the country’s electricity to be generated from renewable sources by 2020. That compares with an EU target of 20% for the union as a whole.

But the Aguçadoura project points up the risks of a strategy relying on cutting-edge, and potentially costly, technology. Whether or not the target is achievable, particularly in current economic conditions, is a subject of debate among the country’s renewable energy specialists.

“We assumed there would be no critical technical issues,” to hinder deployment of offshore generators, said Antonio Sarmento, director of the Wave Energy Center, WavEC, a Portuguese nonprofit organization that promotes ocean wave power generation.

“Also we assumed there would be no environmental impact and that the energy would be relatively cheap. So we were optimistic,” Mr. Sarmento said. “It’s an educated guess. We are still guessing. When you pick up a new technology and look at the future it’s difficult to say what will be.”

On the cost side, investments in ocean-based technologies “are very high and operating costs are not entirely negligible because you have the problem of corrosion from salt water,” said Colette Lewiner, head of the global energy and utilities sector at the French consultancy and services company Capgemini.

While the Aguçadoura partners put the cost of the first phase at a relatively modest €9 million, the true cost of such developments is difficult to calculate, said Hugo Chandler, a renewable energy analyst at the International Energy Agency in Paris.

“Part of the problem is the absence of data,” he said. “Countries are still at an early stage and don’t want to reveal real costs.”

It’s a very young technology, Mr. Chandler said, but “the indications are that it is considerably more expensive than other technologies.”

Still, the Aguçadoura experience has not discouraged EDP from pursuing other high-tech ocean solutions. Last month it signed an agreement with Principle Power of the United States to develop and install a floating offshore wind farm off the Portuguese coast, one of the first projects of its kind in Europe.

The project would use proprietary Principle Power technology designed to allow wind turbines to be set in high-wind but previously inaccessible ocean locations where water depth exceeds 50 meters, or 164 feet. The agreement foresees commercial deployment in three phases, but sets no timetable.

Offshore wind power generation currently costs 50% to 100% more than equivalent onshore wind farms, according to a recent Capgemini report on clean technologies in Europe. But Portugal is eager to press ahead with the new technology. “Offshore wind is one of our key innovation priorities,” said the chief executive of EDP, António Mexia.

“The development of floating foundations for wind turbines is a prerequisite to the development of offshore wind farms world-wide, as areas in which the sea bed is less than 50 meters deep are scarce and fixed structures in deeper waters are economically not feasible,” he said.

Still, he noted, the agreement with Principle Power “is not a binding contract; there are a number of prerequisites, technical and financial, that need to be met.”

A €30 million first phase, covering development and infrastructure construction, could see a small, five megawatt floating generator in operation by the second half of 2012. But for that to happen, full funding would need to be in place “by the end of this semester,” Mr. Mexia said.

WavEC, meanwhile, has several wave power projects in the pipeline, including tests of prototype systems from three companies — WaveRoller, of Finland; Ocean Power Technologies of the United States; and Wavebob, of Ireland.

For sure, the economic recession and financial crisis are adding to the challenges facing such projects, as investors pull back. “There will be a pause, a slowdown, in renewable energy investment until we see the recovery,” said Ms. Lewiner, of Capgemini. But “these investments take time and you can’t sleep through the recession. These plants are needed.”

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MendoCoastCurrent, March 11, 2009

17transition2-6001Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced today that he has just signed his first order establishing renewable energy generation as the top priority of the Department of the Interior. Following President Obama’s lead in steering the United States into this new energy path, he said this agenda would create jobs and grow investment and innovation at home. Also noted was that the DOI will focus mostly in western states for generation of electricity through renewable energy (solar, wind, wave, geothermal, biomass).

Secretary Salazar illustrated this opportunity with the Bureau of Land Management backlog over 200 solar energy projects and over 20 wind projects in western states alone. There have yet been any permits or jobs created for these renewable energy projects to be fast-tracked in consideration, evaluated in terms of environmental impact and anticipating the acceptable projects will move forward swiftly.

Starting today, renewable energy projects in solar, wind, small hydro, geothermal and biomass will benefit in priority treatment to generate electricity and renewable energy. And Secretary Salazar stated that a newly-formed energy and climate change task force is already working hard, nights and weekend to develop these plans (since January 20th) for presentation to a Dept. of Energy committee soon. 

In tandem, Secretary Salazar indicated that through cross-departmental effort (BLM, EPA, Dept. of Energy, MMS, FERC and others), his goal is to rapidly and responsibly move forward with Obama’s renewable energy agenda to develop and upgrade the United States electric transmission grid.  

When asked about Cape Wind off Cape Cod, Mr. Salazar indicate that “after we hold our hearings around the country [for MMS rulemaking] the jurisdictional issues between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Minerals Management Service shall be accomplished within this year.” Many projects are being inhibited and we are actively clearing the path to move forward.

The roadshow planned by Secretary Salazar shall help identify renewable energy zones (solar energy in western states minus ecological sensitivity (reduction). He explained that today, through solar energy in the western states alone, we may produce 88% of all of the energy needs and adding wind takes it over 100%. This also fuels the need for a national transmission system as a high priority.

Salazar also called for the need to finalize and renew offshore renewable energy rules that protect the United States landscapes, wildlife and environment as we serve as steward of our lands.

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TYLER HAMILTON, CleanBreak.ca, February 17, 2009

humpback_finToronto-based WhalePower, maker of the tubercle-lined turbine blades inspired by humpback whale flippers, got the results back from its first independent study in the field. 

The blade design was tested on a 25-kilowatt Wenvor Technologies turbine at the Wind Energy Institute of Canada. The institude found that annualized energy production from the retrofitted blade increased by an estimated 20%.

You can find the data here and analysis here. “Rated power was attained at 12.5 metres per second versus the 15 meters per second previously published performance for the unmodified Wenvor turbine. (Caveat: it’s an estimate because the test of the retrofitted blade followed International Electro-Technical Commission standards, while the benchmark data did not).

“An improvement of just 1% or 2% in AEP is significant,” said Stephen Dewar, WhalePower’s director of R&D. “Here we have about 20% with low noise. We’re thrilled by this result.”

The next step is to perform a more comprehensive apples-to-apples test on a larger turbine. These results may help the company raise the capital it needs to take its testing to the next level. Perhaps at some point it will begin catching the attention of some of the bigger wind-energy players.

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MendoCoastCurrent from Platts Energy Podium, February 12, 2009

The recently approved Economic Stimulus Plan includes expanding the US electric transmission grid and this may be the just the start of what will be a costly effort to improve reliability and deliver renewable energy to consumers from remote locations, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Acting Chairman Jon Wellinghoff told the Platts Energy Podium on February 12, 2009.

Wellinghoff defines the Stimulus energy funds as “seed money. But it really isn’t [enough] money to make huge advances in the overall backbone grid that we’re talking about to integrate substantial amounts of wind.”

While details of the plan compromises are unclear, the measure could provide $10 billion or more to transmission upgrades. Wellinghoff said backbone transmission projects could cost more than $200 billion. “And I think we’ll see that money coming from the private sector,” based on proposals already submitted to FERC.

Wellinghoff’s focused on Congress strengthening federal authority to site interstate high-voltage electric transmission lines to carry wind power to metropolitan areas and expects FERC to be heavily involved in formulation of either a comprehensive energy bill or a series of bills meant to address obstacles to increasing renewable wind, solar and geothermal energy, and other matters that fall within FERC’s purview. 

FERC plays a critical role “given the authorities we’ve been given in the 2005 and 2007 acts and our capabilities with respect to policy and implementation of energy infrastructure.”

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CHRISTOPHER RUSSELL, The Advertiser, February 11, 2009

images3Wave energy company Carnegie Corporation has been licensed by the Australian state government to explore the seabed off the southeast coast. It is the first license issued in South Australia for a company to search for suitable sites for wave-harnessing technology.

Carnegie Corporation, which has demonstration wave energy projects operating in Western Australia, has been licensed to search an area covering 17,000ha adjacent to Port MacDonnell.

The South Australia (SA) “coast receives a world class wave energy resource and further adds to SA’s leadership in developing renewable energy including wind, solar and geothermal,” Carnegie Corporation managing director Michael Ottaviano said.

In an announcement this morning to the Australian Securities Exchange, Carnegie noted any successful site in the Southeast would be near existing power infrastructure, enabling the company to tap into the national electricity market.

Australian Premier Mike Rann welcomed the company’s investment. “Wave power – like geothermal power – has the potential to provide a huge base load of sustainable energy in the future,” Mr Rann said.

The license, signed today, also allows Carnegie to investigate building a 50MW wave power station. Carnegie’s CETO system operates by using an array of submerged buoys tethered to seabed pumps and anchored to the ocean floor.

Mr Rann said whether Carnegie determines that Port MacDonnell is a suitable site will depend on its tests. “But Carnegie is one of several emerging companies taking up the challenge of providing a new form of base-load sustainable energy,” he said. “It is one of two companies looking to SA to trial its wave power technology along our coastline – and we want to encourage others to do the same.”

Mr Rann said SA was the “most attractive in Australia” for investors in renewable energy. “SA now has 58% of the nation’s installed wind generation capacity and more than 70% of the geothermal exploration activity,” he said. “I have directed my department to prepare a similar framework specifically for the wave and tidal sector.”

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DAVID EWENCHIEF, The Evening Express, February 11, 2009

images2The Aberdeenshire Council has pointed to tides – rather than wind turbines – as the best green solution to the energy crisis. The council took part in a consultation on the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Bill, which is going through Parliament, suggesting tide and current generation would be more reliable than wind turbines. “Wind cannot take up the slack. And we have a fair amount of coastline to play with,” a report said.

Aberdeenshire council suggested mini hydro-electric schemes on its rivers could also be more effective than wind turbines. Nearly 200 wind turbines have already been approved in the Northeast.

Mervyn Newberry, former chairman of the Skelmonae Windfarm Action Group, said he was not surprised at Aberdeenshire council’s sudden change of heart over the wind turbines. “It is completely expected,” he said. “The politicians just go with whatever is popular at the time. Though I am not as familiar with tidal energy, I am certainly more in favour of this form of energy because it doesn’t destroy the environment.”

Tarves, in Aberdeenshire, has been hit with a proposal for four wind turbines. Chairman of Tarves Community Council Bob Davidson claimed Aberdeenshire Council has been inconsistent in backing wind turbines. “I would not be surprised at inconsistency from the local authority,” he said.

Today Aberdeenshire Council boss Anne Robertson defended the use of wind turbines. She pointed out that tide technology has lagged behind wind-based technology in the North-east. Mrs Robertson stressed that the impact of wind turbines on the landscape was always considered. She said: “The wind turbine issue is one that has been dealt with through the planning process. “There have been quite a number of schemes turned down in Aberdeenshire.”

In its response to the bill consultation, Aberdeen City Council stressed the “importance of joint working” to reduce energy consumption. Wind turbines planned for Aberdeen Bay could supply all of the city’s houses with electricity.

Aberdeen-based Green Ocean Energy Ltd is developing a wave-based energy system to work alongside wind turbines. The Scottish Government rules on planning projects at sea.

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MATTHEW MCDERMOTT, Treehuger.com, February 10, 2009

3268992893_da741f3657Based off the Aberdeen, Scotland-based company’s Ocean Treader, the Wave Treader is designed to mount onto the tower of an offshore wind turbine.

The Wave Treader concept utilizes the arms and sponsons from Ocean Treader and instead of reacting against a floating spar buoy, will react through an interface structure onto the foundation of an offshore wind turbine. Between the arms and the interface structure hydraulic cylinders are mounted and as the wave passes the machine first the forward sponson will lift and fall and then the aft sponson will lift and fall each stroking their hydraulic cylinder in turn. This pressurizes hydraulic fluid which is then smoothed by hydraulic accumulators before driving a hydraulic motor which in turn drives an electricity generator. The electricity is then exported through the cable shared with the wind turbine.

Each Wave Treader is rated at 500kW and can turn to face into the waves to ensure optimal power generation. The first full-size prototype is expected to be built later this year, with commercial versions being made available in 2011.

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Publisher’s Note:  Feb 09, 2009 – Not only has Finavera surrendered their Makah Bay license noted below, they also announced surrendering the Humboldt County, California Preliminary Permit to explore wave energy:

“Finavera Renewables has filed applications to surrender its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license for the Makah Bay Wave Energy Pilot Project in Washington and the Humboldt County Preliminary Permit for a proposed wave energy project in California.”

MendoCoastCurrent readers may recall Finavera’s inability to secure CPUC funding for the Humboldt project; noted below capitalization, financial climate as key reasons in these actions.

MendoCoastCurrent, February 6, 2009

finavera-wavepark-graphicToday Finavera Renewables surrendered their Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Makah Bay, Washington wave energy project license, commenting that the Makah Bay Finavera project “never emerged from the planning stages.”

And “due to the current economic climate and the restrictions on capital necessary to continue development of this early-stage experimental Project, the Project has become uneconomic.  Efforts by Finavera to transfer the license were not successful.  Therefore, Finavera respectfully requests that the <FERC> Commission allow it to surrender its license for the Project. ”

Back in early 2007, Finavera’s Makah Bay project looked like it would become the first U.S. and west coast project deployment of wave energy devices.  And this project also had a unique status based on Native American Indian land/coastal waters, so the rules of FERC, MMS were different due to sovereign status.

Then AquaBuoy, Finavera’s premier wave energy device, sank off the Oregon coast due to a bilge pump failure in late October 2007.  

Recently noted was Finavera’s comment that they are currently focusing their renewable energy efforts toward wind energy projects closer to their homebase in British Columbia, Canada and in Ireland.

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KATE GALBRAITH, The New York Times, February 4, 2009

imagesWind and solar energy have been growing at a blistering pace in recent years, and that growth seemed likely to accelerate under the green-minded Obama administration. But because of the credit crisis and the broader economic downturn, the opposite is happening: installation of wind and solar power is plummeting.

Factories building parts for these industries have announced a wave of layoffs in recent weeks, and trade groups are projecting 30 – 50% declines this year in installation of new equipment, barring more help from the government.

Prices for turbines and solar panels, which soared when the boom began a few years ago, are falling. Communities that were patting themselves on the back just last year for attracting a wind or solar plant are now coping with cutbacks.

“I thought if there was any industry that was bulletproof, it was that industry,” said Rich Mattern, the mayor of West Fargo, N.D., where DMI Industries of Fargo operates a plant that makes towers for wind turbines. Though the flat Dakotas are among the best places in the world for wind farms, DMI recently announced a cut of about 20% of its work force because of falling sales.

Much of the problem stems from the credit crisis that has left Wall Street banks reeling. Once, as many as 18 big banks and financial institutions were willing to help finance installation of wind turbines and solar arrays, taking advantage of generous federal tax incentives. But with the banks in so much trouble, that number has dropped to four, according to Keith Martin, a tax and project finance specialist with the law firm Chadbourne & Parke.

Wind and solar developers have been left starved for capital. “It’s absolutely frozen,” said Craig Mataczynski, president of Renewable Energy Systems Americas, a wind developer. He projected his company would build just under half as much this year as it did last year.

The two industries are hopeful that President Obama’s economic stimulus package will help. But it will take time, and in the interim they are making plans for a dry spell.

Solar energy companies like OptiSolar, Ausra, Heliovolt and Sun Power, once darlings of investors, have all had to lay off workers. So have a handful of companies that make wind turbine blades or towers in the Midwest, including Clipper Windpower, LM Glasfiber and DMI.

Some big wind developers, like NextEra Energy Resources and even the Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, a promoter of wind power, have cut back or delayed their wind farm plans.

Renewable energy sources like biomass, which involves making electricity from wood chips, and geothermal, which harnesses underground heat for power, have also been slowed by the financial crisis, but the effects have been more pronounced on once fast-growing wind and solar.

Because of their need for space to accommodate giant wind turbines, wind farms are especially reliant on bank financing for as much as 50 percent of a project’s costs. For example, JPMorgan Chase, which analysts say is the most active bank remaining in the renewable energy sector, has invested in 54 wind farms and one solar plant since 2003, according to John Eber, the firm’s managing director for energy investments.

In the solar industry, the ripple effects of the crisis extend all the way to the panels that homeowners put on their roofs. The price of solar panels has fallen by 25% in six months, according to Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, who said he expected a further drop of 10% by midsummer. (For homeowners, however, the savings will not be as substantial, partly because panels account for only about 60% of total installation costs.)

After years when installers had to badger manufacturers to ensure they would receive enough panels, the situation has reversed. Bill Stewart, president of SolarCraft, a California installer, said that manufacturers were now calling to say, “Hey, do you need any product this month? Can I sell you a bit more?”

The turnaround reflects reduced demand for solar panels, and also an increase in supply of panels and of polysilicon, a crucial material in many panels.

On the wind side, turbines that once had to be ordered far in advance are suddenly becoming available.

“At least one vendor has said that they have equipment for delivery in 2009, where nine months ago they wouldn’t have been able to take new orders until 2011,” Mr. Mataczynski of Renewable Energy wrote in an e-mail message. As he has scaled back his company’s plans, he has been forced to cancel some orders for wind turbines, forfeiting the deposit.

Banks have invested in renewable energy, lured by the tax credits. But with banks tightly controlling their money and profits, the main task for the companies is to find new sources of investment capital.

Wind and solar companies have urged Congress to adopt measures that could help revive the market. But even if a favorable stimulus bill passes, nobody is predicting a swift recovery.

“Nothing Congress does in the stimulus bill can put the market back where it was in 2007 and 2008, before it was broken,” said Mr. Martin, the tax lawyer with Chadbourne & Parke. “But it can help at the margins.”

The solar and wind tax credits are structured slightly differently, but the House version of the stimulus bill would help both industries by providing more immediate tax incentives, alleviating some of their dependency on banks.

Both House and Senate would also extend an important tax credit for wind energy, called the production tax credit, for three years; previously the industry had complained of boom-and-bust cycles with the credit having to be renewed nearly every year.

Over the long term, with Mr. Obama focused on a concerted push toward greener energy, the industry remains optimistic.

“You drive across the countryside and there’s more and more wind farms going up,” said Mr. Mattern of West Fargo. “I still have big hopes.”

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RICHARD RICHTMYER, AP via Forbes, February 2, 2009

New York state officials are using a small wind turbine atop Albany’s tallest building to test a big renewable energy idea.

The turbine stands 17 feet above the roof of the 41-story Corning Tower. Its 7-foot diameter blades can produce up to 1.5 kilowatts of electricity when spinning at full capacity. That’s less than one-tenth of a percent of the electricity workers in the state office building use every day, said John Egan, commissioner of the state Office of General Services.

But the idea isn’t to use the turbine – which resembles a large pinwheel – to offset the tower’s energy use. Instead, workers will use it to test the feasibility of larger urban wind-energy programs, Egan said.

“This is really experimental,” he said. “It will tell us which way we should be going.”

Egan and his staff are working with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority on the pilot program. NYSERDA workers will collect performance data from the so-called “micro-turbine” to study how they work in urban environments.

It’s a small step toward achieving a policy goal that Gov. David Paterson  has set for the state to meet 45% of its electricity needs through improved efficiency and renewable energy by 2015. The Corning Tower pilot project cost around $15,000.

“Harnessing the power of the wind in an urban setting could provide us with yet another way to expand the state’s renewable energy resources, create thousands of ‘green collar’ jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and address global climate change,” said Robert Callender, NYSERDA’s vice president for programs.

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RenewableEnergyWorld.com, January 30, 2009

images4Suzlon Gujarat Wind Park Ltd. (SGWPL), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Suzlon Energy Ltd., has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the state government of Gujarat, India to develop up to 1.5 gigawatts (GW) of new wind capacity in the state.

The MOU builds on the friendly investment climate for the wind sector created by the recent “Amendment of the Wind Policy 2007” announced by the Government of Gujara. Located in the Kutch-Saurashtra region of Gujarat, SGWPL will play the role of developer, facilitating permits, regulatory clearances, land, basic services and infrastructure.

The MOU builds on the friendly investment climate for the wind sector created by the recent “Amendment of the Wind Policy 2007” announced by the Government of Gujarat. This development will create a good investment opportunity for customers and also create a win-win proposition for the company, customers, government and other stakeholders.

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MendoCoastCurrent, January 28, 2009
To Keep Momentum, AWEA Calls for Quick Approval of the Obama Stimulus Package

wind-energy1

Architect Laurie Chetwood's Wind Dam

The massive growth in 2008 swelled the nation’s total wind power generating capacity by 50% and channeled an investment of some $17 billion into the economy, positioning wind power as one of the leading sources of new power generation in the country today along with natural gas, AWEA added. However, at year’s end financing for new projects and orders for turbine components slowed to a trickle as layoffs began to hit the wind turbine manufacturing sector.

“Our numbers are both exciting and sobering,” said AWEA CEO Denise Bode. “The U.S. wind energy industry’s performance in 2008 confirms that wind is an economic and job creation dynamo, ready to deliver on the President’s call to double renewable energy production in three years. At the same time, it is clear that the economic and financial downturn have begun to take a serious toll on new wind development. We are already seeing layoffs in the area where wind’s promise is greatest for our economy: the wind power manufacturing sector. Quick action in the stimulus bill is vital to restore the industry’s momentum and create jobs as we help make our country more secure and leave a more stable climate for our children.”

The new wind projects completed in 2008 account for about 42% of the entire new power-producing capacity added nationally last year, according to initial estimates, and will avoid nearly 44 million tons of carbon emissions, the equivalent of taking over 7 million cars off of the road.

The amount that the industry brought online in the 4th quarter alone – 4,112 MW – exceeds annual additions for every year except 2007. In all, wind energy generating capacity in the U.S. now stands at 25,170 MW, producing enough electricity to power the equivalent of close to 7 million household. Iowa, with 2,790 MW installed, surpassed California (2,517 MW) in wind power generating capacity. The top five states in terms of capacity installed are now:

  • Texas, with 7,116 MW
  • Iowa, with 2,790 MW
  • California, with 2,517 MW
  • Minnesota, with 1,752 MW
  • Washington, with 1,375 MW

Oregon moved into the top tier states with more than 1,000 MW installed, which now include Texas, Iowa, California, Minnesota, Washington, Colorado and Oregon.

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SCOTT DUKE HARRIS and MATT NAUMAN, San Jose Mercury News, January 27, 2009

obama-hope2As President Barack Obama and Congress hammer out an economic stimulus package expected to be in the $825 billion range, Silicon Valley clean tech leaders are heartened by an energy agenda that starts with an emphasis on “smart grid” technologies that encourage energy conservation.That agenda will add jobs and bring dollars to several Silicon Valley companies, they say, especially those making smart grid components, solar panels, electric cars and green building materials.

It’s “a good start,” said venture capitalist Pascal Levensohn, whose portfolio includes clean tech investments. “There is a lot of optimism.”

Details of the new stimulus package are still being worked out, but talks suggest that about $60 billion will be applied toward promoting clean, efficient “energy independence” and creating jobs in the process.

Billions of dollars are expected to be applied to weatherizing government buildings, schools and homes. Billions more would go to loans and grants to promote renewable energy such as solar and wind. And still more billions would be spent upgrading the infrastructure of America’s power grids.

Bringing the power grid into the Internet age is a priority. The bill presented by House Democrats includes $11 billion to boost the IQ of electrical grids by employing sensors to maximize efficiency and minimize waste. An alternative bill introduced in the Senate would raise that sum to $16 billion.

“We’ve been swimming upstream,” said Peter Sharer, chief executive of Agilewaves, a Menlo Park maker of a product that monitors electricity, gas and water use in homes and businesses. “We’re finally swimming with the current. That’s what federal support means to us.” 

While initiatives like solar power have cosmic cachet, upgrading the power infrastructure is the logical place to start, some clean tech investors say. “We know that efficiency is the low-hanging fruit,” explained Levensohn, of Levensohn Venture Partners in San Francisco. 

America’s aging power grids now waste 10 to 30 percent of electricity from the generator to the plug, industry experts say. Foundation Capital partner Steve Vassallo likened the grid to a leaky bucket. Instead of simply putting more energy into the system, “the first thing you should do is fix the bucket,” he said.

The weaknesses in California’s energy grid and marketplace were starkly exposed in 2000 and 2001. Then, as Californians were hit by brownouts and ballooning electricity bills, President George W. Bush refused to support temporary price caps and blamed the energy crisis on environmental rules and a shortage of power plants. Only later was it discovered that energy dealers including Enron, a major supporter of Bush and adviser on Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force, were gaming California’s dysfunctional energy market, profiteering with schemes nicknamed “Death Star” and “Get Shorty.” Enron would later implode from its own culture of corruption.

The energy crisis inspired Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to seek solutions. Menlo Park’s Foundation started investing in clean tech in 2002, including smart grid companies Silver Spring Networks, based in Redwood City; eMeter, based in San Mateo; and EnerNOC, based in Boston.

The “smart grid” approach employs real-time monitoring and sensors to minimize waste and help identify parts of the grid that are leaking energy and need repairs. In an age of Internet connectivity, utilities typically remain unaware of outages until consumers call with problems, Vassallo said, and still rely on human meter readers walking door-to-door to check energy use “30 days in arrears.”

Pacific Gas & Electric plans to spend more than $2 billion to install 10.3 million smart electric and gas meters. Installations started in Bakersfield in late 2006, and are scheduled to reach the Bay Area by the end of this year.

This digital, wireless device will allow PG&E to get quicker notification of power outages, and also allow it to cut or reduce power during periods of high demand, if a customer agrees. Eventually, PG&E says, smart meters will allow it to better tap into energy that is put into the grid from solar panels installed on homes and businesses.

While California’s grid is “getting smarter,” Vassallo said, most states are served by power grids without the benefit of any information technology and, unlike California, have pricing structures that do not encourage conservation.

Valley companies are keenly scrutinizing the potentially devilish details. SunPower, the San Jose maker of solar modules, is pleased with the “wide, broad, deep effort” to promote cleaner energy as part of the stimulus, said Julie Blunden, a vice president. But she doesn’t think the effort will generate jobs until the second half of 2009.

SunPower, Blunden said, is ready to ramp up work in areas where it has expertise, such as putting solar systems on government buildings, as well as “beefing up areas where we don’t have strong, established channels.”

Weatherizing buildings and promoting new “green” development might benefit companies such as Serious Materials, a Sunnyvale maker of energy-saving building materials, such as heavily insulated windows and greener drywall.

Kevin Surace, the company’s chief executive, sees a lucrative market — 1 million to 2 million homes a year plus tens of thousands of government buildings. His company just bought two window factories, and Surace expects to grow his head count from 150 to 250 or 300 by year’s end.

Project Frog, a San Francisco company that builds green school buildings, is also encouraged. “We’re ready to help schools make use of these funds,” said Adam Tibbs, the company’s president.

Government support may help stimulate more private-sector investments in energy, says Agilewaves’ Sharer and other clean tech executives. But Lyndon Rive, chief executive of Solar City, which was expanding rapidly until the credit crunch hit, said the most important thing for clean tech is for financing to flow again.

“We want to get banks back into buying solar, wind and other renewable” energy assets, Rive said.

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MARK STEVENSON, Associated Press, January 22, 2009

laventosax-largeLa Ventosa, Mexico — On January 22, 2009 Mexico inaugurated one of the world’s largest wind farm projects as the nation looks for alternative energy, in part to compensate for falling oil production.   

Mexico is trying to exploit its rich wind and solar potential after relying almost exclusively on petroleum for decades. With oil production down by 9.2% in 2008, Mexico now is turning to foreign companies, mainly Spanish, to tap its renewable riches. 

“If we don’t do something about this problem of climate change it probably could become — I’m sure it already is — one of the biggest threats to humanity,” said President Felipe Calderon at the inaugural ceremony attended by about 1,000 residents, many of whom held on to their cowboy hats on this wind-swept day.

The new, $550 million project is in a region so breezy that the main town is named La Ventosa, or “Windy.” It’s on the narrow isthmus between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean, where winds blow at 15 mph to 22 mph, a near-ideal rate for turbines. Gusts have been known to topple tractor trailers.

Spanish energy company Acciona Energia says the 6,180-acre farm should generate 250 megawatts of electricity with 167 turbines, 25 of which are already operating. The rest should be on line by the end of the year, making the project the largest of its kind in Latin America.

It will produce enough energy to power a city of 500,000 people, while reducing carbon monoxide emissions by 600,000 metric tons each year, according to the company.

Esteban Morras, Acciona board member, said the project could be just the start for Mexico.

“This country has great potential for wind development and should take advantage,” he said.

The project is also a joint venture with Cemex Inc. and will provide 25% of the Mexican cement giant’s energy needs, fulfilling the company’s goal of using alternative fuels.

Mexico hopes to boost the nation’s wind energy capacity, mainly at La Ventosa, to 5,000 megawatts — about 10 times its current output. Wind energy now accounts for less than 2% of electricity production.

Energy Secretary Georgina Kessel said the government is planning a series of wind projects that by 2012 should generate 2,500 megawatts of electricity.

“The intensity of wind in various parts of the country can make our plants among the most efficient in the world,” she said.

But the project hasn’t been welcomed by local residents, who say they see few benefits and aren’t being paid enough for use of their lands.

Several hundred protesters blocked a road leading to the site, holding a banner reading “no to the project.”

The mayor of Juchitan, the municipality where La Ventosa is located, attended the ceremony but called for more benefits for the local community.

“We want to be part of a project that does not consider us just cheap labor but property owners and partners,” Mariano Santana Lopez said.

Critics argue that foreign companies build the turbines, rent the land, run the project and produce the power for companies like U.S.-owned retailer Wal-Mart.

“They promise progress and jobs, and talk about millions in investment in clean energy from the winds that blow through our region,” a leftist farm group known as the Assembly in Defense of the Land said in a statement. “But the investments will only benefit businessmen, all the technology will be imported … and the power won’t be for local inhabitants.”

The group is calling on supporters to “defend the land we inherited from our ancestors.” But so far it hasn’t been able to stop the project.

Acciona, for its part, says the construction of the project created 850 jobs.

Local residents, largely Zapotec Indians, are accustomed to foreigners’ coveting their land. The United States demanded rights to transport goods over the isthmus in the 1850s, and foreigners tried to build a railway alternative to the Panama Canal there.

 

 

 

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MendoCoastCurrent, January 17, 2009

Here’s the post from MendoCoastCurrent in the Citizen’s Briefing Book at President-elect Barack Obama’s change.gov site:

Renewable Energy Development (RED) federal task force

Immediately establish and staff a Renewable Energy Development (RED) federal task force chartered with exploring and fast-tracking the development, exploration and commercialization of environmentally-sensitive renewable energy solutions in solar, wind, wave, green-ag, et al.

At this ‘world-class incubator,’ federal energy policy development is created as cutting-edge technologies and science move swiftly from white boards and white papers to testing to refinement and implementation.

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

If you wish to support this, please vote up this post at :

Renewable Energy Development (RED) federal task force.

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

Mendocino Energy:

Renewable energy incubator and campus on the Mendocino coast exploring nascent and organic technology solutions in wind, wave, solar, green-ag, bioremediation and coastal energy, located on the 400+ acre waterfront G-P Mill site.

Mendocino Energy may be a Campus in Obama’s Renewable Energy Development (RED) federal task force.

Vision:

Mendocino Energy is located on the Mendocino coast, three plus hours north of San Francisco/Silicon Valley.  On the waterfront of Fort Bragg, a portion of the now-defunct Georgia-Pacific Mill Site shall be used for exploring best practices, cost-efficient, environmentally-sensitive renewable and sustainable energy development – wind, wave, solar, bioremediation, green-ag, among many others. The end goal is to identify and engineer optimum, commercial-scale, sustainable, renewable energy solutions.

Start-ups, universities (e.g., Stanford’s newly-funded energy institute), the federal government (RED) and the world’s greatest minds working together to create, collaborate, compete and participate in this fast-tracked exploration.

The campus is quickly constructed of green, temp-portable structures (also a green technology) on the healthiest areas of the Mill Site as in the past, this waterfront, 400+ acre created contaminated areas where mushroom bioremediation is currently being tested (one more sustainable technology requiring exploration). So, readying the site and determining best sites for solar thermal, wind turbines and mills, wave energy, etc.

To learn more about these technologies, especially wave energy, RSS MendoCoastCurrent.

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PHILIPPE NAUGHTON, TimesOnline UK, January 8, 2009

th0_13120098web-turbine-7-1-09An investigation was under way today into how a 65 ft. blade was mysteriously torn off a wind turbine amid reports of “strange lights” in the sky.

The 300 ft. turbine at Conisholme in Lincolnshire was left wrecked after the incident. Local residents speculate that the damage could have been caused by a UFO.

Ecotricity, the company which operates the turbine, said it was investigating the unprecedented incident. A spokeswoman said: “We’re conducting a thorough investigation into what happened. This kind of thing has never happened to us before.”

The missing blade was found on the ground beneath the turbine, she said, adding that the company could not speculate on the cause of the damage. “An engineer has been on the site since it happened, early on Sunday morning, and is carrying out a sort of forensic investigation.”
Ministry of Defence scientists have concluded that UFOs have not visited the earth, in spite of the many sightings reported in Britain last autumn.

It is reported that flashing orange-yellow spheres had been seen by dozens of people in the area, including by Dorothy Willows, who lives half a mile from the scene of the incident. Ms Willows was in her car when she saw the lights.

“She said: “The lights were moving across the sky towards the wind farm. Then I saw a low flying object. It was skimming across the sky towards the turbines.”

The blade was ripped off hours later, at 4 a.m.

The Ministry of Defence said it was not looking into the incident. A spokesman said: “The MoD examines reports solely to establish whether UK airspace may have been compromised by hostile or unauthorised military activity. Unless there’s evidence of a potential threat, there’s no attempt to identify the nature of each sighting reported.”

But Nick Pope, a UFO-watcher who used to work for the MOD, called for an investigation. “There’s a public safety issue here, whatever you believe about UFOs. The Ministry of Defence’s standard line on UFOs isn’t good enough. The MOD and the Civil Aviation Authority need to investigate as a matter of urgency.”

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MendoCoastCurrent, January 7, 2009

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Joseph T. Kelliher today issued the following statement:

Today I announce my intention to step down as chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), effective January 20, 2009. Although my term as commissioner does not end until 2012, I will also immediately begin to recuse myself from FERC business, as I explore other career opportunities.  

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MendoCoastCurrent, December 9, 2008

DONG Energy and Wind Estate A/S opened the second stage of Overgård wind farm on December 2, 2008. With the construction of 10 new wind turbines next to 20 existing turbines, Overgård will now be Denmark’s largest onshore wind farm.

The wind farm, situated approx. 25 km northwest of Randers in East Jutland, has a capacity of 63 Megawatts (MW) and will be able to produce electricity equivalent to the annual power consumption of about 35,000 households.

“With the construction of Denmark’s largest onshore wind farm, DONG Energy is reaching yet another important milestone in wind energy development. Next year we will be following up with the world’s largest offshore wind farm,” says Anders Eldrup, CEO of DONG Energy.

The first stage of Overgård wind farm was completed in 2002–2003 and comprises 20 turbines, each generating 2 MW. The second stage, which just opened, comprises 10 turbines generating 2.3 MW each.

The construction of the 10 new turbines has resulted in a clean-up of the East Jutland landscape. 35 older turbines all around the region have thus been salvaged, and their production capacity more than compensated for by the 10 new turbines at Overgård wind farm.

Thanks to an increase in generator size (2.3 MW as opposed to 2.0 MW) and longer blades (47 metres as opposed to 36 metres), the 10 new turbines will produce as much power as the 20 old ones. The longer blades entail that the new wind turbines are 127 metres high compared to the older turbine height of 106 metres.

DONG Energy and Wind Estate A/S each own five of the 10 new turbines, while DONG Energy owns eight of the 20 older turbines.

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TED NESI, Providence Business News, December 5, 2008

riThe list of suitors lining up to develop renewable energy projects off Rhode Island’s coastal waters is getting longer.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has begun reviewing a permit application from Grays Harbor Ocean Energy Co., a year-old company based in Seattle, to build 100 large towers that would generate electricity from wave energy and wind turbines. The towers, which Grays Harbor says would use the same support technology as offshore oil platforms, would be located in a 96-square-mile area of federal waters 12 to 25 miles to the south of Block Island. Wind turbines could be placed on top of the towers, although that would require a separate application process. The company estimates the total cost of the project would be between $400 million and $600 million.

Grays Harbor asserts that the structures, known as Oscillating Water Columns, “will be visible from shore for only a few days a year under extremely clear visibility conditions.”

The company also says it will not need to utilize the entire 96 square miles designated in its federal permit. Instead, it will determine which section of that area would be the most conducive to wind-energy generation.

News of the proposed project comes as state officials continue work on an Ocean Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) for the coastal waters off Rhode Island – a project undertaken in part to facilitate permitting of a $1.5-billion offshore wind farm backed by Gov. Donald L. Carcieri. However, the project proposed by Grays Harbor is outside the area to be covered by the Ocean SAMP.

Rhode Island officials said the company’s application took them by surprise: Grover Fugate, executive director of the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council, found out about it when the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) forwarded a copy of the document to him as a courtesy.

“It was news to us, when we heard from MMS,” said Laura Ricketson-Dwyer, spokeswoman for CRMC. “But that’s not totally uncommon,” since the CRMC does not have jurisdiction over federal waters. “FERC did not have to notify us.”

The electricity would be transmitted from the converters into an offshore substation, and then the power would be sent to Block Island via a single transmission cable buried about three feet beneath the sea floor. Part of that energy would be used on Block Island, which has some of the highest electricity costs in the country, and the rest would be transmitted to the mainland, coming ashore in the Narragansett village of Jerusalem.

Grays Harbor says it is already in negotiations “with a consortium of local utilities and companies” for them to purchase electricity from the project, and says existing overhead cables could handle the additional load it creates.

Although local officials have doubts about the prospects for wave energy here, Grays Harbor says prior research has given the company confidence it could work in the area. “The site proposed therefore is not speculative,” Grays Harbor president W. Burton Hamner wrote in a letter to FERC Secretary Magalie Salas. “It is the best place for the only technology package we believe will work in that region.” Hamner’s company cites a 2004 study published by the Electric Power Research Institute that said a 100-megawatt wave energy project would be competitive with a 100-megawatt wind farm. But that study looked at wave-energy resources in Massachusetts, not Rhode Island, and Grays Harbor acknowledges in its permit that “Rhode Island wave energy is less than [in] Massachusetts.”

Grays Harbor is specifically applying for a preliminary permit from FERC, which would allow the company to do in-depth research on the project for three years. From there, the company would apply for a pilot project permit, which would allow it to build a 5-megawatt demonstration version of the project. If the pilot project is successful, the company would apply for a standard 30-year FERC permit to build the full-scale development. If all were to go as Grays Harbor hopes, the company expects to have the 5-megawatt demonstration project up and running in 2011, with the full project to follow in 2016.

Grays Harbor cited two issues that could hamper the project: One is the structures’ possible impact on navigation lanes, although the company downplayed the likelihood of that being a problem. The other is the project’s possible impact on fishermen.

“There is no question that where there are wave-energy systems, recreational and commercial fishing will be affected,” the company says in its application. “This is unavoidable because of the conflicting use of the ocean space.” To reduce the project’s impact on fisheries, Grays Harbor said it is considering turning the wave structures into “artificial reefs … that can support fish and other marine organisms.”

The public has until January 28, 2009 to comment on the proposal at the commission’s web site.  The permit application for the Rhode Island offshore wave energy project was filed by Grays Harbor on October 22 and processed by FERC on November 28.

On the same day it submitted its application to develop the Block Island project, Grays Harbor filed applications for nearly identical projects off Cape Cod, New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, and San Francisco and Ventura, Calif.

And in July, the company was granted a preliminary FERC permit for a similar project in Washington state. “Our intention in applying for nearly identical projects in several sites is to achieve significant economics of scale in site evaluation and to help federal agencies develop effective agreements regarding management of ocean renewable-energy projects,” Hamner wrote in his letter to Salas.

But all the projects depend in part on the outcome of a bureaucratic turf war between two federal agencies:

  • The MMS, which was granted jurisdiction over most offshore energy projects by a 2005 federal energy law to the MMS, but which is still completing its final regulations for offshore projects.
  • And the FERC, which already has jurisdiction over inland hydroelectric projects, and this fall asserted its right to review and permit wave-energy projects as well.

Unsurprisingly, Grays Harbor has sided with FERC and agreed that the commission has authority over wave-energy projects. But the company also said the MMS still has jurisdiction over leasing the area in question – an issue the FERC has promised to work out.

In its permit application, Grays Harbor promised to work closely with state and local authorities. The company raised the prospect of establishing public development authorities with area communities to establish co-ownership of the project, and also says it “will develop a Settlement Agreement with stakeholders.”

Grays Harbor also pledged to hire local workers for the project, if possible. “The Providence area has capabilities for manufacturing wave energy converters and every attempt will be made to locally construct the machinery needed for the project,” the company says in its application.

Ricketson-Dwyer, the CRMC spokeswoman, said she is not surprised to see more companies moving quickly to develop ocean-energy projects. “People are – no pun intended – entering the waters here and getting into this.”

The CRMC plans to keep an eye on what happens over the next few weeks, she said, adding: “It’s really to early for us to even know if we have any role in any of this.” Meanwhile, Ricketson-Dwyer said, the proposal underlines the need to finish the state’s Ocean SAMP, in order to streamline the permitting process for offshore energy projects.

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I’m loving this design!  LKBlog

MATTHEW MCDERMOTT, Treehugger.com, September 4, 2008

homeenergyDesigned by Swedish company Home Energy, the Energy Ball breaks from most wind turbine design by using a spherical structure. Home Energy says that by using such a design significantly higher aerodynamic efficiency can be achieved, as compared to traditional designs. What’s more the Energy Ball is claimed to be “completely silent”.

Two Models Available

Two models are available, the 0.5 kW Energy Ball V100 with a diameter of 110cm (43″), and the 2.5 kW Energy Ball V200 with a diameter of 198cm (78″). Home Energy claims that the V200 can provide up to 50% of a typical home’s electrical needs, while the V100 should be seen as a supplement to other energy sources. Both can produce power starting at wind speeds of 3 meters/second, and max out in wind speeds of 40 m/s.

The V100 has a list price of just under SKr 30,000 ($4,600); the V200 sells for about SKr 53,000 ($8,100). Both prices are just for the turbine, inverter and cabling. Mounting materials are additional. Installation on either stand-alone post or on the roof requires two people and is expected to take about 4-6 hours.

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Giles Tremlett, The Guardian UK, December 2, 2008

portugalwind1Europe’s biggest onshore wind farm plugged itself into the grid today to provide enough electricity for up to a million people in northern Portugal.

A total of 120 windmills are dotted across the highlands of the Upper Minho region of Portugal as one of western Europe’s poorer nations continues to forge its reputation as a renewables champion.

“Europe’s largest onshore wind farm is now fully operational,” a spokeswoman for France’s EDF Energies Nouvelles, which co-owns the farm, announced this morning.

The two megawatt turbines on each windmill deliver electricity to a single connection point with the electricity grid and should supply around 1% of Portugal’s total energy needs.

A second, smaller wind farm is already functioning nearby, giving a combined output of 650 gigawatt hours per year. “That is above 1% of national consumption,” said Nuno Ribeiro da Silva, head of the VentoMinho company that runs the farm.

That would provide enough energy for 300,000 homes, or most of the northern city of Viana do Castelo and its surrounding districts, he told the Publico newspaper.

Portugal’s mixture of government enthusiasm, subsidies and special tariffs has turned it into one of the focal points of renewables development in Europe over the past five years.

The world’s largest solar photovoltaic farm is being built near the southern town of Moura. The Moura solar farm, which will include a research centre, should be twice the size of any other in the world when it is fully up and running in two years time.

Portugal also recently inaugurated the world’s first commercial wave power plant in the Atlantic Ocean off Aguçadoura, using technology developed in Scotland.

The country is heavily dependent on imported fossil fuels and has set a target of obtaining 31% of energy needs from renewables by the year 2020. That is more than twice the UK target. It also uses its subsidies policy to insist that manufacturers of turbines and solar panels set up production plants.

“By 2010 we will have 5,000MW of wind energy installed, meaning we will have increased it tenfold in just five years,” economy minister Manuel Pinho said. “This is another step towards putting our country in the vanguard of what is being done with renewable energy.”

Portugal, which claims to be one of the world’s top five renewable energy countries, provides subsidies of up to 40% for new projects.

The world’s largest onshore wind farms are in the United States, with the Horse Hollow farm in Texas providing more than 700MW.

These will soon be dwarfed by proposed offshore wind farms of up to 5,000MW each.

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MendoCoastCurrent, December 8, 2008

swiftwindIn late October 2008 Michigan-based Cascade Engineering launched the Swift Wind Turbine in North America.

“With rising energy costs and increased environmental consciousness, we’ve seen more people turning to small wind. For the past several months, we’ve been inundated with requests for the Swift before we’ve even launched the product” said Michael Ford, head of the renewable energy at Cascade Engineering. “The Swift wind turbine design solves many of the challenges of previous residential and commercial scale wind turbines: it registers as a whisper on decibel charts, it’s efficient, it’s safe and it’s clean.”

“We were eager to install one of the first Swift turbines on the roof of the Frauenthal as a demonstration project” said Arn Boesaart, Vice President fo Grant Programs for the Community Foundation of Muskegon County. “It’s not only a clean and cost-effective energy supplement for us long term, but a “best-practice” example that will educate the community about sustainability principles and renewable energy technology that positively impacts on our environment.

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Guardian.co.uk, December 3, 2008

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoWay back in Napoleonic Paris, a Monsieur Girard had a novel idea about energy: power from the sea. In 1799, Girard obtained a patent for a machine he and his son had designed to mechanically capture the energy in ocean waves. Wave power could be used, they figured, to run pumps and sawmills and the like.

These inventors would disappear into the mists of history, and fossil fuel would instead provide an industrializing world with almost all its energy for the next two centuries. But Girard et fils were onto something, say a growing number of modern-day inventors, engineers, and researchers. The heave of waves and the tug of tides, they say, are about to begin playing a significant role in the world’s energy future.

In the first commercial scale signal of that, last October a trio of articulated, cylinder-shaped electricity generators began undulating in the waves off the coast of Portugal. The devices look like mechanical sea snakes. (In fact, their manufacturer, Scotland’s Pelamis Wave Power Ltd., takes its name from a mythical ancient Greek sea serpent.) Each Pelamis device consists of four independently hinged segments. The segments capture wave energy like the handle of an old fashioned water pump captures the energy of a human arm: as waves rock the segments to and fro, they pump a hydraulic fluid (biodegradable, in case of spills) powerfully through a turbine, spinning it to generate up to 750,000 watts of electricity per unit. Assuming the devices continue to perform well, Portuguese utility Energis expects to soon purchase another 28 more of the generators.

The completed “wave farm” would feed its collective power onto a single high voltage sea-floor cable, adding to the Portuguese grid about 21 megawatts of electricity. That’s enough to power about 15,000 homes.

In a world where a single major coal or nuclear plant can produce more than 1,000 megawatts of electricity, it’s a modest start. But from New York’s East River to the offshore waters of South Korea, a host of other projects are in earlier stages of testing. Some, like Pelamis, rely on the motion of waves. Others operate like underwater windmills, tapping the power of the tides.

Ocean-powered technologies are in their infancy, still technologically well behind such energy alternatives as wind and solar. Necessarily designed to operate in an inherently harsh environment, the technologies remain largely unproven and — unless subsidized by governments — expensive. (Portugal is heavily subsidizing the Pelamis project, with an eye to becoming a major European exporter of clean green power in the future.) Little is known about the effects that large wave or tide farms might have on marine ecosystems in general.

Despite the uncertainties, however, proponents say the potential advantages are too striking to ignore. Eight hundred times denser than air, moving water packs a huge energy wallop. Like solar and wind, power from moving seas is free and clean. But sea power is more predictable than either wind or solar. Waves begin forming thousands of miles from coastlines and days in advance; tides rise and fall as dependably as the cycles of the moon. That predictability makes it easier to match supply with demand.

Roger Bedard, who leads ocean energy research at the U.S. utility-funded Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in Palo Alto, says there’s plenty of reason for optimism about the future of what he calls “hydrodynamic” power. Within a decade, he says, the U.S. could realistically meet as much as 10% of its electricity needs from hydrodynamic power. As a point of reference, that’s about half of the electricity the U.S. produces with nuclear power today. Although he acknowledges that initial sea-powered generation projects are going to be expensive, Bedard believes that as experience grows and economies of manufacturing scale kick in, hydrodynamic power will follow the same path toward falling costs and improving technologies as other alternatives.

“Look at wind,” he says. “A kilowatt hour from wind cost fifty cents in the 1980s. Now it’s about seven cents.” (That’s about the same as producing electricity with natural gas, and only about three cents more than coal, the cheapest — and dirtiest — U.S. energy choice. Any future tax on carbon emissions could narrow that gap even more, as would additional clean-power subsidies.)

For some nations, wave and tide power could pack an even bigger punch. Estimates suggest, for instance, that the choppy seas surrounding the United Kingdom could deliver as much as 25% of its electricity. British alternative energy analyst Thomas W. Thorpe believes that on a worldwide basis, waves alone could produce as much as 2,000 terawatt hours of electricity, as much as all the planet’s major hydroelectric plants generate today.

Although none are as far along as Pelamis, most competing wave-power technologies rely not on the undulations of mechanical serpents, but instead on the power captured by the vertical bobbing of large buoys in sea swells. Ocean Power Technologies (OPT), based in New Jersey, drives the generators in its PowerBuoy with a straightforward mechanical piston. A stationary section of the mostly submerged, 90-foot buoy is anchored to the ocean floor; a second section simply moves up and down with the movement of sea swells, driving pistons that in turn drive an electrical generator. The Archimedes Wave Swing, a buoy-based system developed by Scotland’s AWS Ocean Energy, harnesses the up-and-down energy of waves by pumping air to spin its turbines. Vancouver-based Finavera Renewables uses seawater as its turbine-driving hydraulic fluid.

Although Pelamis beat all of these companies out of the commercialization gate, OPT appears to be right behind, with plans to install North America’s first commercial-scale wave power array of buoys off the coast of Oregon as early as next year. That array — occupying one square-mile of ocean and, like other wave power installations, located far from shipping lanes — would initially produce 2 megawatts of power. OPT also announced last September an agreement to install a 1.4-megawatt array off the coast of Spain. An Australian subsidiary is in a joint venture to develop a 10-megawatt wave farm off the coast of Australia.

Meanwhile, Pelamis Wave Power plans to install more of its mechanical serpents — three megawatts of generating capacity off the coast of northwest Scotland, and another five-megawatt array off Britain’s Cornwall coast.

The Cornwall installation will be one of four wave power facilities plugged into a single, 20-megawatt underwater transformer at a site called “Wave Hub.” Essentially a giant, underwater version of a socket that each developer can plug into, Wave Hub — which will be connected by undersea cable to the land-based grid — was designed as a tryout site for competing technologies. OPT has won another of the four Wave Hub berths for its buoy-based system.

Other innovators are trying to harness the power of ocean or estuarine tides. Notably, in 2007, Virginia’s Verdant Power installed on the floor of New York’s East River six turbines that look, and function, much like stubby, submerged windmills, their blades — which are 16 feet in diameter — turning at a peak rate of 32 revolutions per minute. The East River is actually a salty and powerful tidal straight that connects Long Island Sound with the Atlantic Ocean. Although the “underwater windmills” began pumping out electricity immediately, the trial has been a halting one. The strong tides quickly broke apart the turbines’ first- (fiberglass and steel) and second- (aluminum and magnesium) generation blades, dislodging mounting bolts for good measure.

Undeterred, in September Verdant Power began testing new blades made of a stronger aluminum alloy. If it can overcome the equipment-durability problems, the company hopes to install as many as 300 of its turbines in the East River, enough to power 10,000 New York homes.

A scattering of similar prototype “underwater windmill” projects have been installed at tidal sites in Norway, Northern Ireland, and South Korea. (In addition, interest in moving into freshwater sites is growing. Verdant itself hopes to install its turbines on the St. Lawrence River. At least one other company, Free Flow Power of Massachusetts, has obtained Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permits to conduct preliminary studies on an array of sites on the Mississippi River south of St. Louis.)

The environmental benefits of hydrodynamic power seem obvious: no carbon dioxide or any other emissions associated with fossil-fuel-based generation. No oil spills or nuclear waste. And for those who object to wind farms for aesthetic reasons, low-profile wave farms are invisible from distant land; tidal windmill-style turbines operate submerged until raised for maintenance.

There are, however, environmental risks associated with these technologies.

New York state regulators required Verdant Power to monitor effects of their its turbines on fish and wildlife. So far, sensors show that fish and water birds are having no trouble avoiding the blades, which rotate at a relatively leisurely 32 maximum revolutions per minute. In fact the company’s sensors have shown that fish tend to seek shelter behind rocks around the channel’s banks and stay out of the central channel entirely when tides are strongest.

But a host of other questions about environment effects remain unanswered. Will high-voltage cables stretching across the sea from wave farms somehow harm marine ecosystems? Will arrays of hundreds of buoys or mechanical serpents interfere with ocean fish movement or whale migrations? What effect will soaking up large amounts of wave energy have on shoreline organisms and ecosystems?

“Environmental effects are the greatest questions right now,” EPRI’s Bedard says, “because there just aren’t any big hydrodynamic projects in the world.”

Projects will probably have to be limited in size and number to protect the environment, he says – that’s a big part of the reason he limits his “realistic” U.S. estimate to 10% of current generation capacity. But the only way to get definitive answers on environmental impact might be to run the actual experiment — that is, to begin building the water-powered facilities, and then monitor the environment for effects.

Bedard suggests that the way to get definitive answers will be to build carefully on a model like Verdant’s: “Start very small. Monitor carefully. Build it a little bigger and monitor some more. I’d like to see it developed in an adaptive way.”

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JAMES OWEN, National Geographic News, December 2, 2008

The race is officially on for a U.S. $15 million (10 million Euro) prize for harnessing the power of the oceans.

The winning marine renewable energy innovation would provide a serious energy alternative to burning fossil fuels, which contribute to global warming.

Details of the Saltire Prize Challenge were announced Tuesday in Edinburgh by Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond.

The award will go to the team that “successfully demonstrates—in Scottish waters—the best commercially viable wave or tidal technology capable of providing electricity to thousands of homes.”

The winning team must supply this electricity using only the power of the sea for a continuous two-year period.

“It is Scotland’s energy challenge to the world—a challenge to the brightest and best minds worldwide to unleash their talents and push the frontiers of innovation in green marine energy,” Salmond said.

“The Saltire Prize has the potential to unlock Scotland’s vast marine energy wealth, putting our nation at the very forefront of the battle against climate change.”

The prize, named after the cross of St. Andrew on the Scottish national flag, was inspired by other innovation competitions such as the U.S. $10 million Ansari X Prize.

That contest led to the first private spacecraft launch in 2004.

“Saudi Arabia of Ocean Energy”

Scotland boasts a quarter of Europe’s tidal power potential, according to Salmond.

He described the Pentland Firth, a region between Scotland’s north coast and the Orkney Islands, as the “Saudi Arabia of renewable marine energy.”

Scotland aims to meet 50% of its electricity demand from renewable resources by 2020.

There’s also huge potential for ocean energy globally, said prize committee member Terry Garcia, executive vice president for mission programs for the National Geographic Society. “It’s not going to be the sole solution to our energy needs,” Garcia said, but “this will be one of the important pieces of the puzzle.” The main purpose of the competition is to act as a catalyst for innovation, Garcia added.

“It’s both about making marine energy economically viable and being able to produce it in a sustained way on a large scale,” he said.

Wave and Tidal Power

The two major types of ocean energy are wave and tidal energy.

Wave energy technology involves floating modules with internal generators, which produce electricity as they twist about on the sea surface.

Tidal energy harnesses tidal currents with arrays of underwater turbines similar to those that propel wind farms.

Tidal ranks among the most reliable renewable energies because tides are highly predictable, said AbuBakr Bahaj, head of the University of Southampton’s Sustainable Energy Research Group in the U.K.

“But wave energy is driven by wind, which is notoriously difficult to predict,” he said.

Even so, wave power may have the higher electricity-generating potential.

In Britain, for instance, it’s estimated that wave power could potentially provide 20% of the country’s total electricity supply, against 5-10%for tidal power, Bahaj said.

The scientist says the main technical challenge is to create reliable power installations that can operate in difficult marine environments for five to ten years without maintenance.

“You also need to have multiple devices working together at each site,” he said.

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Energy Central News, December 02, 2008

Vestas Wind Systems has received an order to supply 100 units of its V90-3MW wind turbine for installation at the Thanet offshore wind farm, 11.3km offshore from Foreness Point in the Thames Estuary on the easternmost part of the Kent coastline in the UK. The order has been placed by Vattenfall Wind Power.

The order comprises design, supply, construction, testing and commissioning of the 100 wind turbines as well as a five-year operation and maintenance contract. Vattenfall is responsible for foundations, offshore and onshore cables with substations and offshore installation vessels.

Delivery of the turbines is expected to take place during 2009 and 2010, and installation of the wind power plant will take place in 2010.

Anders Dahl, head of Vattenfall wind power, said: “As Vestas is one of the world leaders within wind power manufacturing, we feel very confident in choosing Vestas to supply turbines for the Thanet offshore wind farm. Being one of the first Round 2 projects to be built, it is of utmost importance that the Thanet wind farm becomes a success and it is our firm conviction that the agreement with Vestas helps to ensure the commitment needed to make this a reality.”

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CHRIS GOODALL, Guardian/U.K, November 27, 2008

Myth 1: Solar energy is too expensive to be of much use

In reality, today’s bulky and expensive solar panels capture only 10% or so of the sun’s energy, but rapid innovation in the US means that the next generation of panels will be much thinner, capture far more of the energy in the sun’s light and cost a fraction of what they do today. They may not even be made of silicon. First Solar, the largest manufacturer of thin panels, claims that its products will generate electricity in sunny countries as cheaply as large power stations by 2012.

Other companies are investigating even more efficient ways of capturing the sun’s energy, for example the use of long parabolic mirrors to focus light on to a thin tube carrying a liquid, which gets hot enough to drive a steam turbine and generate electricity. Spanish and German companies are installing large-scale solar power plants of this type in North Africa, Spain and the south-west of America; on hot summer afternoons in California, solar power stations are probably already financially competitive with coal. Europe, meanwhile, could get most of its electricity from plants in the Sahara desert. We would need new long-distance power transmission but the technology for providing this is advancing fast, and the countries of North Africa would get a valuable new source of income.

Myth 2: Wind energy is too unreliable

Actually, during some periods earlier this year the wind provided almost 40% of Spanish power. Parts of northern Germany generate more electricity from wind than they actually need. Northern Scotland, blessed with some of the best wind speeds in Europe, could easily generate 10% or even 15% of the UK’s electricity needs at a cost that would comfortably match today’s fossil fuel prices.

The intermittency of wind power does mean that we would need to run our electricity grids in a very different way. To provide the most reliable electricity, Europe needs to build better connections between regions and countries; those generating a surplus of wind energy should be able to export it easily to places where the air is still. The UK must invest in transmission cables, probably offshore, that bring Scottish wind-generated electricity to the power-hungry south-east and then continue on to Holland and France. The electricity distribution system must be Europe-wide if we are to get the maximum security of supply.

We will also need to invest in energy storage. At the moment we do this by pumping water uphill at times of surplus and letting it flow back down the mountain when power is scarce. Other countries are talking of developing “smart grids” that provide users with incentives to consume less electricity when wind speeds are low. Wind power is financially viable today in many countries, and it will become cheaper as turbines continue to grow in size, and manufacturers drive down costs. Some projections see more than 30% of the world’s electricity eventually coming from the wind. Turbine manufacture and installation are also set to become major sources of employment, with one trade body predicting that the sector will generate 2m jobs worldwide by 2020.

Myth 3: Marine energy is a dead-end

The thin channel of water between the north-east tip of Scotland and Orkney contains some of the most concentrated tidal power in the world. The energy from the peak flows may well be greater than the electricity needs of London. Similarly, the waves off the Atlantic coasts of Spain and Portugal are strong, consistent and able to provide a substantial fraction of the region’s power. Designing and building machines that can survive the harsh conditions of fast-flowing ocean waters has been challenging and the past decades have seen repeated disappointments here and abroad. This year we have seen the installation of the first tidal turbine to be successfully connected to the UK electricity grid in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland, and the first group of large-scale wave power generators 5km off the coast of Portugal, constructed by a Scottish company.

But even though the UK shares with Canada, South Africa and parts of South America some of the best marine energy resources in the world, financial support has been trifling. The London opera houses have had more taxpayer money than the British marine power industry over the past few years. Danish support for wind power helped that country establish worldwide leadership in the building of turbines; the UK could do the same with wave and tidal power.

Myth 4: Nuclear power is cheaper than other low-carbon sources of electricity

If we believe that the world energy and environmental crises are as severe as is said, nuclear power stations must be considered as a possible option. But although the disposal of waste and the proliferation of nuclear weapons are profoundly important issues, the most severe problem may be the high and unpredictable cost of nuclear plants.

The new nuclear power station on the island of Olkiluoto in western Finland is a clear example. Electricity production was originally supposed to start this year, but the latest news is that the power station will not start generating until 2012. The impact on the cost of the project has been dramatic. When the contracts were signed, the plant was supposed to cost €3bn (£2.5bn). The final cost is likely to be more than twice this figure and the construction process is fast turning into a nightmare. A second new plant in Normandy appears to be experiencing similar problems. In the US, power companies are backing away from nuclear because of fears over uncontrollable costs.

Unless we can find a new way to build nuclear power stations, it looks as though CO2 capture at coal-fired plants will be a cheaper way of producing low-carbon electricity. A sustained research effort around the world might also mean that cost-effective carbon capture is available before the next generation of nuclear plants is ready, and that it will be possible to fit carbon-capture equipment on existing coal-fired power stations. Finding a way to roll out CO2 capture is the single most important research challenge the world faces today. The current leader, the Swedish power company Vattenfall, is using an innovative technology that burns the coal in pure oxygen rather than air, producing pure carbon dioxide from its chimneys, rather than expensively separating the CO2 from other exhaust gases. It hopes to be operating huge coal-fired power stations with minimal CO2 emissions by 2020.

Myth 5: Electric cars are slow and ugly

We tend to think that electric cars are all like the G Wiz vehicle, with a limited range, poor acceleration and an unprepossessing appearance. Actually, we are already very close to developing electric cars that match the performance of petrol vehicles. The Tesla electric sports car, sold in America but designed by Lotus in Norfolk, amazes all those who experience its awesome acceleration. With a price tag of more than $100,000, late 2008 probably wasn’t a good time to launch a luxury electric car, but the Tesla has demonstrated to everybody that electric cars can be exciting and desirable. The crucial advance in electric car technology has been in batteries: the latest lithium batteries – similar to the ones in your laptop – can provide large amounts of power for acceleration and a long enough range for almost all journeys.

Batteries still need to become cheaper and quicker to charge, but the UK’s largest manufacturer of electric vehicles says that advances are happening faster than ever before. Its urban delivery van has a range of over 100 miles, accelerates to 70mph and has running costs of just over 1p per mile. The cost of the diesel equivalent is probably 20 times as much. Denmark and Israel have committed to develop the full infrastructure for a switch to an all-electric car fleet. Danish cars will be powered by the spare electricity from the copious resources of wind power; the Israelis will provide solar power harvested from the desert.

Myth 6: Biofuels are always destructive to the environment

Making some of our motor fuel from food has been an almost unmitigated disaster. It has caused hunger and increased the rate of forest loss, as farmers have sought extra land on which to grow their crops. However the failure of the first generation of biofuels should not mean that we should reject the use of biological materials forever. Within a few years we will be able to turn agricultural wastes into liquid fuels by splitting cellulose, the most abundant molecule in plants and trees, into simple hydrocarbons. Chemists have struggled to find a way of breaking down this tough compound cheaply, but huge amounts of new capital have flowed into US companies that are working on making a petrol substitute from low-value agricultural wastes. In the lead is Range Fuels, a business funded by the venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, which is now building its first commercial cellulose cracking plant in Georgia using waste wood from managed forests as its feedstock.

We shouldn’t be under any illusion that making petrol from cellulose is a solution to all the problems of the first generation of biofuels. Although cellulose is abundant, our voracious needs for liquid fuel mean we will have to devote a significant fraction of the world’s land to growing the grasses and wood we need for cellulose refineries. Managing cellulose production so that it doesn’t reduce the amount of food produced is one of the most important issues we face.

Myth 7: Climate change means we need more organic agriculture

The uncomfortable reality is that we already struggle to feed six billion people. Population numbers will rise to more than nine billion by 2050. Although food production is increasing slowly, the growth rate in agricultural productivity is likely to decline below population increases within a few years. The richer half of the world’s population will also be eating more meat. Since animals need large amounts of land for every unit of meat they produce, this further threatens food production for the poor. So we need to ensure that as much food as possible is produced on the limited resources of good farmland. Most studies show that yields under organic cultivation are little more than half what can be achieved elsewhere. Unless this figure can be hugely improved, the implication is clear: the world cannot feed its people and produce huge amounts of cellulose for fuels if large acreages are converted to organic cultivation.

Myth 8: Zero carbon homes are the best way of dealing with greenhouse gas emissions from buildings

Buildings are responsible for about half the world’s emissions; domestic housing is the most important single source of greenhouse gases. The UK’s insistence that all new homes are “zero carbon” by 2016 sounds like a good idea, but there are two problems. In most countries, only about 1% of the housing stock is newly built each year. Tighter building regulations have no effect on the remaining 99%. Second, making a building genuinely zero carbon is extremely expensive. The few prototype UK homes that have recently reached this standard have cost twice as much as conventional houses.

Just focusing on new homes and demanding that housebuilders meet extremely high targets is not the right way to cut emissions. Instead, we should take a lesson from Germany. A mixture of subsidies, cheap loans and exhortation is succeeding in getting hundreds of thousands of older properties eco-renovated each year to very impressive standards and at reasonable cost. German renovators are learning lessons from the PassivHaus movement, which has focused not on reducing carbon emissions to zero, but on using painstaking methods to cut emissions to 10 or 20% of conventional levels, at a manageable cost, in both renovations and new homes. The PassivHaus pioneers have focused on improving insulation, providing far better air-tightness and warming incoming air in winter, with the hotter stale air extracted from the house. Careful attention to detail in both design and building work has produced unexpectedly large cuts in total energy use. The small extra price paid by householders is easily outweighed by the savings in electricity and gas. Rather than demanding totally carbon-neutral housing, the UK should push a massive programme of eco-renovation and cost-effective techniques for new construction.

Myth 9: The most efficient power stations are big

Large, modern gas-fired power stations can turn about 60% of the energy in fuel into electricity. The rest is lost as waste heat.

Even though 5-10% of the electricity will be lost in transmission to the user, efficiency has still been far better than small-scale local generation of power. This is changing fast.

New types of tiny combined heat and power plants are able to turn about half the energy in fuel into electricity, almost matching the efficiency of huge generators. These are now small enough to be easily installed in ordinary homes. Not only will they generate electricity but the surplus heat can be used to heat the house, meaning that all the energy in gas is productively used. Some types of air conditioning can even use the heat to power their chillers in summer.

We think that microgeneration means wind turbines or solar panels on the roof, but efficient combined heat and power plants are a far better prospect for the UK and elsewhere. Within a few years, we will see these small power plants, perhaps using cellulose-based renewable fuels and not just gas, in many buildings. Korea is leading the way by heavily subsidising the early installation of fuel cells at office buildings and other large electricity users.

Myth 10: All proposed solutions to climate change need to be hi-tech

The advanced economies are obsessed with finding hi-tech solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Many of these are expensive and may create as many problems as they solve. Nuclear power is a good example. But it may be cheaper and more effective to look for simple solutions that reduce emissions, or even extract existing carbon dioxide from the air. There are many viable proposals to do this cheaply around the world, which also often help feed the world’s poorest people. One outstanding example is to use a substance known as biochar to sequester carbon and increase food yields at the same time.

Biochar is an astonishing idea. Burning agricultural wastes in the absence of air leaves a charcoal composed of almost pure carbon, which can then be crushed and dug into the soil. Biochar is extremely stable and the carbon will stay in the soil unchanged for hundreds of years. The original agricultural wastes had captured CO2 from the air through the photosynthesis process; biochar is a low-tech way of sequestering carbon, effectively for ever. As importantly, biochar improves fertility in a wide variety of tropical soils. Beneficial micro-organisms seem to crowd into the pores of the small pieces of crushed charcoal. A network of practical engineers around the tropical world is developing the simple stoves needed to make the charcoal. A few million dollars of support would allow their research to benefit hundreds of millions of small farmers at the same time as extracting large quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere.

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SolanoCountyBusinessNews.com, November 27, 2008

aboutEscondido-based EnXco, a subsidaiary of EDF Energies Nouvelles Co., recently announced that it has closed on the project financing for the Shiloh II Wind Energy Project under construction in the Montezuma Hills area of Solano County, California.

Lenders to the projects are Nord/LB as lead administrative agent, Dexia and Credit Industriel et Commercial; equity arranged by JP Morgan as lead investor with Wells Fargo and New York Life rounding out the investor group.

Construction of the 150-megawatt wind farm, consisting of 75 REpower 2 MW turbines, began in May, with commercial operation expected in December 2008. Pacific Gas & Electric will purchase the power generated under a 20-year power purchase agreement. The Shiloh II wind farm will be operated and maintained by EnXco Service Corporation.

“Bringing the financing to completion during this current financial crisis is testimony to the quality of our projects as well as to the long-term relationship with our financial partners,” said Tristan Grimbert, president and CEO of EnXco in a press release announcing the financing deal. “Even though funding is scarce, this further confirms that first class, high-quality projects will succeed.”

EnXco, Inc. develops, constructs, operates and manages renewable energy projects throughout the United States.

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MendoCoastCurrent, November 21, 2008

San Francisco — Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) announced that it has entered into a long-term agreement with Hatchet Ridge Wind LLC, a subsidiary of Babcock & Brown, to purchase up to 103 megawatts (MW) of wind energy. The project will generate up to 303 gigawatt-hours of renewable energy annually. This is equivalent to the energy needed to serve nearly 44,000 homes on an annual basis.

“This wind energy will provide our northern and central California customers with clean, emission-free power,” said Fong Wan, Sr. VP of Energy Procurement for PG&E. He added that, “our agreement with Hatchet Ridge Wind is another important step to increasing our diverse renewable energy portfolio.”

The Hatchet Ridge Wind project will be located on a portion of Hatchet Mountain in Burney, California. Babcock & Brown said that deliveries from the project are expected to begin by December 31, 2009. Since 2002, PG&E has entered into contracts for more than 24% of its future deliveries from renewable sources. On average, more than 50% of the energy PG&E delivers comes from generating sources that emit no carbon dioxide, making PG&E’s energy among the cleanest in the nation.

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BRYAN WALSH, Time, November 20, 2008

a_lwindmill_1201Doug Morrell had already installed solar panels on his house in Coopersville, Michigan, but he was eager to get a little bit greener. So the 52-year-old Navy veteran bought something that might seem more at home in the Dutch countryside than in a small town in western Michigan: a personal wind turbine.

The 33-ft.-high (10 m) machine, whose blades span 7 ft. (2 m) in diameter, sits next to the pole barn 100 yd. (90 m) from Morrell’s home. (Turbines like Morrell’s convert the energy of the wind to electricity, while old windmills are geared for mechanical power, like pulling water from a well.)

On days with decent wind — which occur frequently enough, since he can feel the breeze from Lake Michigan — the $16,000 Swift wind turbine can generate 1.5 kilowatts (kW) an hour, i.e., enough to power the average lightbulb for 15 hours. Together with his solar array, that’s enough to take care of much of his electricity bill. “It’s clean energy we don’t have to dig for. It just comes right to us,” says Morrell. And best of all, he says, “it’s fun watching our meter run backward instead of forward.”

 

Thanks in part to a new tax credit put into place by Congress in October, owning your own wind turbine could be the next green trend. While it’s true that wind power has taken off in the U.S. — adding more in new capacity to the electrical grid last year than any other power source — most of that increase comes from utility wind farms, vast fields of turbines more than 300 ft. (90 m) tall.

For homeowners seeking renewable-energy sources, however, better-known solar power has always dominated. Home solar power currently generates 12 times as much energy as small wind power, which is defined as turbines that have a capacity of 100 kW or less (though most household turbines will produce 10 kW at most).

That’s partly because residential wind turbines require space and sky — at least half an acre of open land — to get access to consistent winds. Still, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), some 15 million homes in the U.S. fit that definition — and small turbines, unlike large wind farms, can be productive in weaker breezes, which puts more of the country into play, though the best areas are still windy spots like the Midwest or West Texas.

What’s really held back residential wind power has been the lack of federal subsidies, which have fed the growth of other renewables like solar and large-scale wind. “We’ve had zero federal assistance,” says Ron Stimmel, AWEA’s small wind expert.

But when Congress passed the bailout bill this fall, it added a 30% tax credit for small-wind projects, which Stimmel believes will enable the industry to grow 40% next year, even in a down market.

In other words, small wind may not be small potatoes for much longer. And that could be a boost for domestic green businesses as well: U.S. firms control 98% of the small-wind market, in contrast to large-scale wind and solar, in which foreign manufacturers dominate. “Since the tax credit, our phone has been ringing off the hook,” says Andy Kruse, a co-founder of Southwest Windpower, a major small-scale-turbine producer in Flagstaff, Ariz. “It’s really exciting to see the market coming to us.”

More than 20 states offer separate subsidies, including ever green California and Vermont. “The federal and state subsidies can make it feasible to get a quicker payback,” says Mike Bergey, president of Bergey Windpower, a small wind producer in Norman, Oklahoma.

Even so, buying your own windmill isn’t cheap. A turbine that could produce most of your family’s electricity might cost as much as $80,000 and take as long as two decades to pay back, depending on wind strength and state subsidies. (The 30% federal tax credit is currently capped at $4,000.)

Then there’s the height factor. Residential wind turbines are tall enough to potentially irritate neighbors and require reams of paperwork, especially for the 60 million Americans who belong to a community association. And even though many of the assumptions about small wind turbines aren’t true — they don’t make much noise, and the AWEA notes that sliding glass doors are a bigger risk to birds than residential wind turbines are — not everyone wants to fight the bureaucratic battles. “It can take a lot of court cases for a turbine owner just to be sure he can put one in,” says Stimmel.

But watt for watt, small wind is cheaper than residential solar, and for those willing to make the up-front investment, it can provide freedom from the electrical grid. Plus, in the eyes of some, there’s nothing more beautiful than a wind turbine spinning in the backyard. “It looks like a giant pinwheel and sounds like a plane off in the distance,” says Morrell. “I’d definitely recommend it.”

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Wind-Works.org, November 17, 2008

The French Minister for Energy and the Environment announced that the government was launching an aggressive new program to propel the country to the forefront of solar energy development.

The announcement by Minister Jean-Louis Borloo was made at the annual Grenelle meeting of French environmental stakeholders. Minister Borloo outlined 50 actions the Sarkozy government would take to substantially increase the role of renewable energy in France.

As part of its commitment to the European Union, Borloo said that France will supply 23% of its energy with renewables by 2020.

Most dramatically, Borloo said that France intends to become one of the world’s leaders in the development of solar photovoltaic technology and will increase the supply of solar-generated electricity 400 times by 2020.

To do that, France will create a new tariff category for commercial buildings of €0.45/kWh ($0.57 USD/kWh). This is intended to aid businesses, factories, and farmers to take profitable advantage of their large rooftops. As a measure of the government’s seriousness, there will be no limit on the size of commercial rooftop projects that qualify for the tariff. For comparison, the French commercial tariff for 2009 is higher than that for Germany, the current world leader in solar PV development.

France has been a solar energy laggard in Europe. By mid 2008 there was only 18 MW of solar PV installed on the mainland. (France still maintains several overseas territories.) However, changes to the country’s system of Advanced Renewable Tariffs (Tarife Equitable) in 2006 resulted in a flood of new projects. There is a huge backlog of some 12,000 systems representing 400 MW that are awaiting connection.

The government attributes the rapid growth to changes made to the tariffs for solar PV in 2006 when the government doubled the base feed-in tariff from €0.15 to €0.30 /kWh, the addition of another €0.25 /kWh for façade cladding, and the inclusion of a 50% tax credit for residential installations.

The residential market accounts for 40% of French installations. The typical project is about 3 kW.

Even with the backlog, France’s development of solar PV is well behind Germany, Spain, and Italy and Borloo wants to change that.

The objective, Borloo said, is to install 5,400 MW by 2020, an increase of 400 times that of present installations.

There will be no change to the base tariff of €0.30/kWh ($0.38 USD/kWh) for ground-mounted projects and France continue the €0.55/kWh ($0.70 USD/kWh) tariff for building integrated systems.

Borloo suggested that France may also apply a feed-in tariff to concentrating solar power stations.

These tariffs will remain in effect until 2012 when they will be revisited as part of the normal review process.

To simplify interconnection of solar PV and reduce future backlogs with the quasi privatized state utility, Electricité de France, the government will implement an internet registration process for projects up to 450 kW.

Small solar PV systems less than 3 kW will also be exempted from certain taxes and fees as well.

Tariffs for wind energy will remain the same, though wind projects will have to undergo new siting requirements..

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