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Posts Tagged ‘Wind Farm’

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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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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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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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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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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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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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, 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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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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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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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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RYAN RANDAZZO, The Arizona Republic, November 12, 2008

tboonepickensBillionaire T. Boone Pickens said that his Texas wind farm is on hold because natural gas prices have dropped but that his plan for wind power and natural gas vehicles is still viable to reduce foreign oil imports.

The Texas oil tycoon spoke Tuesday to about 650 utility and investment officials gathered in Phoenix for the Edison Electric Institute Financial Conference.

Pickens launched an advertising campaign last summer to promote wind farms to generate electricity and to use natural gas to power vehicles. “I’m the only person in the United States that has a plan,” he said. “Senator Obama and his people have been in touch with mine. They see the merits of what we are doing.”

Pickens said the U.S. needs to exploit all its resources, from solar power in Arizona to coal and nuclear energy, but that few things could cut foreign oil imports quickly.

He said neither Obama’s plans for 1 million plug-in hybrid vehicles nor John McCain’s plans for 45 more nuclear plants would make a dent in oil imports, but semitrucks fueled by natural gas could reduce oil demand for the next 20 years before better transportation technology is available.

“It’s a bridge to the next generation, which will probably be the battery, the fuel cell,” he said. “It won’t be the hydrocarbon.”

But the current drop in oil and natural-gas prices is slowing things down.

Until natural gas prices rise, Pickens said his wind farm and most others in the country will not go forward because electricity from gas plants will be more economical. Still, he was confident prices would rise.

He said Americans haven’t understood the nation’s energy challenges because prices have been low, until last summer when oil hit a record $147 a barrel.

“You haven’t had the leadership in Washington to tell us what the problem was,” he said. “The American people did not realize where we were. When oil went to $100, I had a story to tell.”

Steven Dreyer, managing director at Standard and Poor’s, credited Pickens for raising awareness.

“Arguably, for the first time, ordinary people were able to connect the dots between carbon reduction and energy,” Dreyer said.

Ron Insana, managing director of SAC Capital Advisors and former CNBC commentator, questioned Pickens about how he will benefit financially by such a plan through his wind farm and large stake in Clean Energy Fuels Corp., a natural gas, vehicle fueling company.

Pickens described his potential to profit from wind and natural gas but said his motivations are patriotic.

“I’d rather be playing golf at the Del Mar Country Club this afternoon,” Pickens said. “But I truly believe this is good for the country.”

Pickens believes that global oil production has already “peaked” and that it will continue to become scarcer and more expensive, despite the current lull in gas prices.

He is founder and chairman of energy-investment company BP Capital and founded Mesa Petroleum, a natural gas and oil producer. He is a geologist by training.

“When I launched my plan July 8, gas prices were $4.11 a gallon, and now they’re half that. I think I’ve done a pretty good job,” he said to chuckles from the audience.

He predicted oil, which closed Tuesday at $59, to be $100 a barrel within a year, and could be $300 a barrel by 2018.

Pickens supports domestic drilling but said that can’t come close to meeting daily U.S. oil demand.

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TODD WOODY @ Fortune Magazine, November 12, 2008

windfarmAbout 60 miles north of San Francisco, the strip malls of Solano County give way to gently rolling hills where, as far as the eye can see, wind turbines sprout from the golden bluffs overlooking the Sacramento delta. Construction on Solano’s newest turbine farm, Shiloh II, began this summer, part of a wind rush that has transformed the U.S. into the world’s biggest wind market.

An estimated 8,000 megawatts of new capacity will be installed in the U.S. in 2008. That’s enough electricity for nearly three million homes, and it represents a jump of 50% on the heels of last year’s 45% increase. Among the forces driving growth: Congress’s extension last month of a key tax credit and state mandates requiring utilities to tap renewable energy. “Utilities are going to take wind and run with it,” Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric, the nation’s biggest turbine maker, said recently. Global growth remains strong as well, with generation capacity continuing to increase at a 30% annual clip, although the credit crunch could slow expansion in the near future.

And it is a truly global business. Take a closer look, for instance, at Shiloh II.

The 150-megawatt project is being developed by enXco, the U.S. subsidiary of French energy giant EDF. The turbines that lie scattered around the construction site like giant Tinkertoys were made by Germany’s REpower, itself acquired last year by Suzlon, an Indian wind-machine manufacturer that has relocated its global headquarters – to Denmark. “If you want to invest in wind, you’re generally looking at overseas stock markets,” says Ethan Zindler, head of North American research for New Energy Finance, a London-based research firm.

Moreover, while wind power has attracted some big names like GE and FPL Group, the business plays only a minor role in their portfolios. Most pure wind outfits are far smaller and can be very volatile – and they tend to sport high price/earnings ratios, despite recent stock drops. With that caution in mind, and after talking to industry insiders and poring over financial reports, we came up with the four intriguing wind stocks discussed below. They are speculative bets, so intrepid investors should check them out carefully before putting any money at risk.

Four ways to bet on wind power

Wind stocks generally come in two varieties: equipment makers, which produce turbines and other hardware, and developers, which build power plants. Among developers, Iberdrola Renewables (IBR.MC), traded on the Madrid stock exchange, is the name to know. Spun out from the big Spanish power company Iberdrola last year, it is the world’s largest wind-power developer, with sales of $1.4 billion in 2007, expected to rise to $2.8 billion this year.

The U.S. is Iberdrola’s largest market outside Spain and will drive its expansion. Terry Hudgens, CEO of Iberdrola Renewables’ North American operations, says the company plans to install 1,000 megawatts of new wind capacity a year in the U.S. “We secured this pipeline years ago, before these other companies decided to get into the U.S.,” he says. The company is growing fast: In its most recent quarter Iberdrola saw sales of $698 million, up nearly 200% from the same quarter a year ago, while pretax profit rose nearly 600%, to $153 million. And the stock has a highfliers’ P/E of nearly 40.

Iberdrola buys turbines from Suzlon, Mitsubishi, Siemens, Vestas, and GE. But its biggest supplier is Spanish company Gamesa (GAM.MC). In fact, Iberdrola just placed the largest turbine order on record with Gamesa, which is now the No. 2 turbine maker in the world. Gamesa’s P/E of 18 is double the industry average, but its profits are expected to grow 30% this year.

The No. 1 windmill maker, with 23% of the world market, is Vestas (VWS.CO), traded on the Copenhagen exchange. It saw revenues grow 26% in 2007, to $7.2 billion, and it has a market cap of nearly $11 billion. The appeal of the stock for wind investors, says London-based Citigroup analyst Mark Fielding, is that “its market-leading positions make it a proxy for the overall strength of the market.”

Finally, an upstart to watch is Clipper Windpower (CWP), which is based in California but trades in London. Customers for its 2.5-megawatt Liberty turbine include FPL, BP – which is developing the world’s largest wind farm with the company – and Queen Elizabeth II, who bought the prototype of a ten-megawatt offshore windmill. Its shares dropped 78% this year over quality issues, but those glitches have been fixed, says CEO Doug Pertz. Clipper lost money in 2007 and will do so again in 2008. Still, analysts and industry insiders say that its innovative technology and the strong demand for turbines could make it a winner in the long run.

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Keith Johnson, Environmental Capital in WSJ, September 15, 2008

Most of the renewable-energy business is busy fretting about the extension of federal tax credits, which expire at the end of this year. But the real story, it seems, is how clean energy’s biggest historical handicap is coming to be seen as one of its biggest selling points: its predictable cost.

Take offshore wind power, the holy grail of big renewable-energy projects. There’s lots of wind a few miles out at sea; go out far enough, and even Kennedys will stop complaining about eyesores. The U.S. Minerals Management Service, lately notorious for opening other things up, is opening up chunks of the U.S. coastline for wind-farm development.

The problem with offshore wind has always been the cost: The turbines cost more, and installing them and maintaining them costs more than their onshore cousins. That helped torpedo efforts in the U.S. to build offshore wind farms in the past. Or, as the NYT phrased it in its lengthy review of Delaware’s battle to become the first U.S. state to embrace offshore wind with the Bluewater Wind Park:

Offshore marine construction was wildly, painfully expensive — like standing in a cold shower and ripping up stacks of thousand-dollar bills.

How did a cold shower turn into an offshore wind farm blessed by same the local power company that had actively lobbied against it? Two words: energy prices.

From the NYT: “Energy markets went significantly higher — and scarily so, particularly in the last six months,” [Bluewater Wind boss Peter Mandelstam] said. Indeed, oil has skyrocketed, and the price of Appalachian coal has more than doubled this year. Tom Noyes, a Bluewater supporter, blogger, and Wilmington-based financial analyst, says that a year ago, “the numbers that both sides of this debate were throwing around were largely academic. Now, those numbers are visceral.” Against this backdrop of steadily climbing energy prices, Bluewater’s offer of stable-priced electricity — an inflation-adjusted 10 cents per kilowatt hour for the next 25 years — became something that no utility, it seems, could credibly oppose. “A few decision-makers got it early on,” Mandelstam said, “some got it slightly later and [local power company] Delmarva finally got it.”

Wind power is suddenly becoming more attractive because the fuel is free; what makes it expensive is the up-front capital costs of the turbines and wind farm installation. That’s almost the opposite case with power sources like natural gas, where the upfront costs are pretty low, and the fuel bill is the main variable.

At a time of wildly volatile oil, coal, and gas prices around the world, that kind of long-term price predictability is a big advantage. The city of Houston is saving money on its power bill after switching one-quarter of its municipal power needs to fixed-price wind-power contracts.

It worked on Delmarva, too. President Gary Stockbridge told Delaware state authorities one of the main reasons he was able to finally agree to purchase power from the Bluewater wind farm was that ratepayers wouldn’t get stuck with much higher utility bills—which is what Delmarva had initially warned about when it opposed the wind farm.

In just the last two months, though, oil prices have collapsed; crude fell below $100 Monday. So the question for Bluewater and every other embryonic offshore wind farm in the U.S. remains the same: Will fossil fuels stay pricey enough to keep renewable energy attractive, or are fresh subsidies the sector’s only hope?

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MendoCoastCurrent, September 4, 2008

The American Wind Energy Association released today that the U.S. wind industry has surpassed the 20,000-megawatt (MW) installed capacity milestone, achieving in two years what had previously taken more than two decades (the 10,000-MW mark was reached in 2006).  Wind now provides 20,152 MW of electricity generating capacity in the U.S., producing enough electricity to serve 5.3 million American homes or power a fleet of more than 1 million plug-in hybrid vehicles.

“Wind energy installations are well ahead of the curve for contributing 20% of the U.S. electric power supply by 2030 as envisioned by the U.S. Department of Energy,” said AWEA Executive Director Randall Swisher. “However, the looming expiration of the federal renewable energy production tax credit (PTC) less than four months from now threatens this progress.  The PTC has been a critical factor in wind’s very rapid growth as a part of the nation’s power portfolio.”  The PTC is currently set to expire at the end of 2008.

Swisher and other wind industry leaders noted the 20,000-MW milestone from Minneapolis, where the Republican National Convention is currently being held.  Joining Swisher in Minneapolis were AWEA President Jim Walker, of enXco, as well as officials from other leading companies in the wind industry, including Xcel Energy, Vestas Americas A/S, Renewable Energy Systems Americas, and Horizon Wind Power.

Xcel Energy, the host utility for both the Republican convention and the Democratic National Convention held last week in Denver, is providing sufficient wind-generated electricity from its system to power both events.  A 131-foot wind turbine blade, which has been on display at both conventions, was manufactured by wind turbine maker Vestas at a U.S. blade factory.

The 20,000 MW of wind power installed in the U.S. today can generate as much electricity every year as 28.7 million tons of coal or 90 million barrels of oil.  Wind generation currently displaces 34 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, equivalent to taking 5.8 million vehicles off the road.  A U.S. Department of Energy study released in May found that wind could provide 20% of U.S. electricity by 2030.  At that level, wind power would support 500,000 jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as taking 140 million vehicles off the road.

The U.S. is now the world leader in wind electricity generation.  While Germany has more generating capacity installed (about 23,000 MW), the U.S. is producing more electricity from wind because of its much stronger winds.   AWEA expects over 7,500 MW of new wind capacity to be added in 2008, expanding America’s wind energy fleet by 45% and bringing total U.S. capacity to some 24,300 MW.

Although 20,000 MW is an important milestone, wind power provides just over 1.5% of the nation’s electricity, far below the potential identified by experts. Still, it is one of the fastest-growing electricity sources today, providing 35% of the total new capacity added in 2007 (second only to natural gas). The U.S. had 1,000 MW of wind power installed by 1985; 2,000 MW installed by 1999; and 5,000 MW by 2003.  Its first 10,000 MW was installed by mid-2006.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s 20% Wind Energy by 2030 report, wind power is capable of becoming a major contributor to America’s electricity supply over the next two decades.  As an inexhaustible domestic resource, wind strengthens our energy security, improves the quality of the air we breathe, slows climate change, and revitalizes rural communities.

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MATTHEW L. WALD, The Energy Challenge @ The New York Times, August 27, 2008

When the builders of the Maple Ridge Wind farm spent $320 million to put nearly 200 wind turbines in upstate New York, the idea was to get paid for producing electricity. But at times, regional electric lines have been so congested that Maple Ridge has been forced to shut down even with a brisk wind blowing.

That is a symptom of a broad national problem. Expansive dreams about renewable energy, like Al Gore’s hope of replacing all fossil fuels in a decade, are bumping up against the reality of a power grid that cannot handle the new demands.

The dirty secret of clean energy is that while generating it is getting easier, moving it to market is not.

The grid today, according to experts, is a system conceived 100 years ago to let utilities prop each other up, reducing blackouts and sharing power in small regions. It resembles a network of streets, avenues and country roads.

“We need an interstate transmission superhighway system,” said Suedeen G. Kelly, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

While the United States today gets barely 1% of its electricity from wind turbines, many experts are starting to think that figure could hit 20%.

Achieving that would require moving large amounts of power over long distances, from the windy, lightly populated plains in the middle of the country to the coasts where many people live. Builders are also contemplating immense solar-power stations in the nation’s deserts that would pose the same transmission problems.

The grid’s limitations are putting a damper on such projects already. Gabriel Alonso, chief development officer of Horizon Wind Energy, the company that operates Maple Ridge, said that in parts of Wyoming, a turbine could make 50% more electricity than the identical model built in New York or Texas.

“The windiest sites have not been built, because there is no way to move that electricity from there to the load centers,” he said.

The basic problem is that many transmission lines, and the connections between them, are simply too small for the amount of power companies would like to squeeze through them. The difficulty is most acute for long-distance transmission, but shows up at times even over distances of a few hundred miles.

Transmission lines carrying power away from the Maple Ridge farm, near Lowville, N.Y., have sometimes become so congested that the company’s only choice is to shut down — or pay fees for the privilege of continuing to pump power into the lines.

Politicians in Washington have long known about the grid’s limitations but have made scant headway in solving them. They are reluctant to trample the prerogatives of state governments, which have traditionally exercised authority over the grid and have little incentive to push improvements that would benefit neighboring states.

In Texas, T. Boone Pickens, the oilman building the world’s largest wind farm, plans to tackle the grid problem by using a right of way he is developing for water pipelines for a 250-mile transmission line from the Panhandle to the Dallas market. He has testified in Congress that Texas policy is especially favorable for such a project and that other wind developers cannot be expected to match his efforts.

“If you want to do it on a national scale, where the transmission line distances will be much longer, and utility regulations are different, Congress must act,” he said on Capitol Hill.

Enthusiasm for wind energy is running at fever pitch these days, with bold plans on the drawing boards, like Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s notion of dotting New York City with turbines. Companies are even reviving ideas of storing wind-generated energy using compressed air or spinning flywheels.

Yet experts say that without a solution to the grid problem, effective use of wind power on a wide scale is likely to remain a dream.

The power grid is balkanized, with about 200,000 miles of power lines divided among 500 owners. Big transmission upgrades often involve multiple companies, many state governments and numerous permits. Every addition to the grid provokes fights with property owners.

These barriers mean that electrical generation is growing four times faster than transmission, according to federal figures.

In a 2005 energy law, Congress gave the Energy Department the authority to step in to approve transmission if states refused to act. The department designated two areas, one in the Middle Atlantic States and one in the Southwest, as national priorities where it might do so; 14 United States senators then signed a letter saying the department was being too aggressive.

Energy Department leaders say that, however understandable the local concerns, they are getting in the way. “Modernizing the electric infrastructure is an urgent national problem, and one we all share,” said Kevin M. Kolevar, assistant secretary for electricity delivery and energy reliability, in a speech last year.

Unlike answers to many of the nation’s energy problems, improvements to the grid would require no new technology. An Energy Department plan to source 20% of the nation’s electricity from wind calls for a high-voltage backbone spanning the country that would be similar to 2,100 miles of lines already operated by a company called American Electric Power.

The cost would be high, $60 billion or more, but in theory could be spread across many years and tens of millions of electrical customers. However, in most states, rules used by public service commissions to evaluate transmission investments discourage multistate projects of this sort. In some states with low electric rates, elected officials fear that new lines will simply export their cheap power and drive rates up.

Without a clear way of recovering the costs and earning a profit, and with little leadership on the issue from the federal government, no company or organization has offered to fight the political battles necessary to get such a transmission backbone built.

Texas and California have recently made some progress in building transmission lines for wind power, but nationally, the problem seems likely to get worse. Today, New York State has about 1,500 megawatts of wind capacity. A megawatt is an instantaneous measure of power. A large Wal-Mart draws about one megawatt. The state is planning for an additional 8,000 megawatts of capacity.

But those turbines will need to go in remote, windy areas that are far off the beaten path, electrically speaking, and it is not clear enough transmission capacity will be developed. Save for two underwater connections to Long Island, New York State has not built a major new power line in 20 years.

A handful of states like California that have set aggressive goals for renewable energy are being forced to deal with the issue, since the goals cannot be met without additional power lines.

But Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico and a former energy secretary under President Bill Clinton, contends that these piecemeal efforts are not enough to tap the nation’s potential for renewable energy.

Wind advocates say that just two of the windiest states, North Dakota and South Dakota, could in principle generate half the nation’s electricity from turbines. But the way the national grid is configured, half the country would have to move to the Dakotas in order to use the power.

“We still have a third-world grid,” Mr. Richardson said, repeating a comment he has made several times. “With the federal government not investing, not setting good regulatory mechanisms, and basically taking a back seat on everything except drilling and fossil fuels, the grid has not been modernized, especially for wind energy.”

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DAVID EHRLICH, Cleantech Group, August 20, 2008

The Big Apple is looking for offshore wind, as well as bridge- and building-mounted turbines, and tidal, solar, geothermal, and landfill gas projects.

New York City has launched a request for renewable energy projects that could see the city’s skyline altered by wind turbines, solar panels and other clean technologies.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation released a Request for Expressions of Interest for projects including offshore wind farms, bridge- and building-mounted wind turbines, and tidal, solar, geothermal, and landfill gas power.

“Such projects might, for example, be designed to draw power from the tides of the Hudson and East Rivers — something we’re already doing on a pilot basis,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, speaking at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas.

Last year, New York-based Verdant Power installed underwater turbines in the East River.

“They might call for dramatically increasing rooftop solar power production, which we’ve estimated could meet nearly 20% of the city’s need for electricity,” said Bloomberg. “They could tap into geothermal energy. In fact, some private home and building owners have already drilled their own heat wells.”

The mayor said companies may also want to target the potential of offshore wind in the Atlantic Ocean.

“Wind farms located far off our shores, some evidence shows, could meet 10% of our city’s electricity needs within a decade,” he said. “I think it would be a thing of beauty if, when Lady Liberty looks out on the horizon, she not only welcomes new immigrants, but lights their way with a torch powered by an ocean wind farm.”

But there could be significant hurdles to that vision, with an offshore wind project just outside of the city getting killed last year after the cost of the project spiraled upward.

The Long Island Power Authority, which would’ve footed the bill for the 140 megawatt wind farm, released an independent report which estimated costs of over $800 million, including the pricetag for the transmission cable to bring the power to shore. First proposed in 2003, original estimates for the Long Island wind farm were between $150 million and $200 million.

New York City hasn’t set an overall megawatt capacity that it hopes to pull in with its request for renewables, but it said the projects can include demonstrations, small scale installations of less than 50 MW, and large scale installations of 50 MW or greater.

Earlier this year, New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority unveiled preliminary plans for a wide range of cleantech initiatives in its system, including solar and wind power, green roofs, water management, and regenerative braking for subway cars.

The MTA, which has an average peak demand in the city of about 600 MW, currently gets about 80% of its power from the New York Power Authority.

Last month, Bloomberg announced plans to spend $2.3 billion to cut greenhouse gas emissions in municipal buildings and operations over the next 30 years.

The mayor said the city is aiming to cut 1.68 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents a year from 2006 levels by 2017, lowering emissions by 30% in 30 years.

That plan includes making city buildings more efficient, improving preventative maintenance, and capturing energy potential at wastewater treatment plants.

The city is also reportedly set to announce an LED street lamp demonstration project with the Office for Visual Interaction, a New York-based lighting design group. The project just covers six street lamps, with the company redesigning the entire unit, including the pole, and putting up to four LEDs on each pole to light up different areas of the street and sidewalk.

Getting renewable projects up and running for the city could end up being just half the battle, as Bloomberg pointed out that the U.S. transmission grid needs an upgrade. He said that for more than 20 years through to the late 1990s, as demand for power increased, the amount invested in transmission lines fell by half.

“The blackout that hit New York and the Northeast five years ago was a wake-up call that it was time to change course and fast,” he said. “The good news is that investment in transmission lines is up.”

“And it will have to keep going up if we’re going to keep pace with a peak demand for power that some have estimated will grow by more than 17% over the next ten years.”

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PETER SLEVIN, The Washington Post, August 18, 2008

DENVER — When Colorado voters were deciding whether to require that 10% of the state’s electricity come from renewable fuels, the state’s largest utility fought the proposal, warning that any shift from coal and natural gas would be costly, uncertain and unwise.

Then a funny thing happened. The ballot initiative passed, and Xcel Energy met the requirement eight years ahead of schedule. And at the government’s urging, its executives quickly agreed to double the target, to 2%.

In Colorado — a state historically known for natural gas and fights over drilling — wind and solar power are fast becoming prominent parts of the energy mix. Wind capacity has quadrupled in the past 18 months, according to Gov. Bill Ritter (D), and Xcel has become the largest provider of wind power in the nation.

The politics and economics of energy are shifting here in ways that foretell debates across the country as states create renewable-energy mandates and the federal government moves toward limiting carbon emissions. One advocate calls Colorado “ground zero” for the looming battle over energy.

Despite a continuing boom, oil and gas companies here are on the defensive. They are spending heavily as they try to prevent the repeal of as much as $300 million in annual tax breaks that would be shifted to investment in renewables and other projects.

The industry, already facing a rebellion among some longtime supporters angered by its toll on the environment, also finds itself in a fight against new regulations designed to protect wildlife and public health from the vast expansion in drilling. Beyond the merits, the proposals reflect the strengthened hand of environmentalists and their friends who feel that the fossil-fuel companies have held sway too long.

“Now is a terrific time for renewables to launch. I hope they get all the capital they need, and all the great minds and talent. But I don’t want it to come at the expense of the oil and gas industry,” said Meg Collins, president of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association. “As goes Colorado, so goes the West, as far as this energy policy debate.”

State leaders are thrilled with the economic benefits that have come with the hundreds of new research and manufacturing jobs in pursuit of alternative power. Yet the fledgling renewables industry is also facing challenges, from a desire for tax credits of its own to a need for a stronger transmission grid that will make power more portable.

“The future in Colorado is building wind farms in wheat fields,” said Ritter, a former Denver prosecutor, recalling the 2006 campaign pitch that helped carry him into the governor’s office. “Quite frankly, it’s how we should have been thinking for 10 years.”

Ten years ago, Xcel began offering wind-generated electricity, but it was a niche market for eco-conscious customers willing to pay extra. That changed in a significant way after 2004, when Xcel lost the referendum fight.

After legislative efforts failed, proponents of renewable energy turned to the ballot that year. The initiative, Amendment 37, required the state’s biggest utilities to generate 10% of their electricity from renewable sources. Advocates found themselves facing off against Xcel, which said it feared for its bottom line.

“We ended up opposing that amendment. In retrospect, I wish we hadn’t,” said Frank Prager, Xcel’s vice president for environmental policy. He said utility companies are inherently conservative, yet find themselves facing a transformation in an industry that, as he put it, has changed little since Thomas Edison’s time.

Voters rejected the utility industry’s arguments and approved the measure, making Colorado the first state to mandate renewable-energy use at the ballot box. Today, legislatures in more than 25 states have set prescribed levels, known formally as “renewable portfolio standards.”

“It was one of those cases where the public was ahead of the politicians,” said Tom Plant, Ritter’s top energy strategist.

Once Xcel executives began to come to terms with the new rules, they discovered that federal tax credits made wind power affordable, especially in relation to rising natural gas prices. The cost of wind power is relatively constant and provides a hedge against future emissions regulation, such as the cap-and-trade approach favored by presidential candidates Barack Obama (D) and John McCain (R).

“It was good for the system,” Xcel’s Prager said, referring to the utility’s mix of energy sources, “and it was good for the customer.”

By the end of 2007, Xcel had met Amendment 37’s goal and endorsed Ritter’s request to double it to 20% by 2020. That measure passed the Colorado legislature easily: With the utility on board and public sentiment clear, the bill collected 50 sponsors in the 65-member House.

Executives at publicly traded Xcel stress their twin desires to make money and to insulate the company from the risks of unproven technology. As Prager put it during an interview in the company’s downtown Denver headquarters: “It’s absolutely essential that the state offer us something that makes it worth our while to be green.”

Amendment 37 allows utilities to collect a fee from customers to invest in renewable fuels; it averages $12.72 a year for a typical homeowner with a monthly bill of $73. When the renewables goal doubled last year, so did the fee. Prager said the fee has provided Xcel $37.6 million between March 2006 and July 2008 for capital investment in wind and solar.

Colorado is adding wind-power capacity at a higher rate than any other state, its hundreds of turbines delivering one gigawatt of generating power at the end of 2007. That is triple the total of 12 months earlier. Six states produce more than one gigawatt with wind, with Texas far in front and California second.

Solar power remains a small part of the equation in Colorado, in part because concentrated solar generation is expensive. Xcel is sponsoring an 80-acre field of photovoltaic panels in the San Luis Valley, a project expected to provide 8.2 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 1,500 homes. But only 4% of Xcel’s renewable megawattage is required to come from solar.

Meanwhile, Xcel’s latest plan, filed with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, calls for retiring two of its aging coal-fired power generators.

“We’ve reached this critical point where we’re seeing the deployment of these technologies accelerate,” said John Nielsen, an energy analyst with the nonprofit environmental group Western Resource Advocates. “There was slow progress over the last decade, and you’re now seeing this tipping point.”

Among the signs is the arrival of Vestas, a Danish wind turbine company, which announced Friday the construction of two more manufacturing plants and 1,350 new jobs, bringing the company’s total in Colorado to 2,450. Conoco Phillips announced this year that it will locate its alternative-fuels research operation in the state. The Colorado-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory is adding 100 jobs.

Colorado’s growing political and economic commitment to renewables is causing fear in the oil and gas industry, which is fighting to keep its tax breaks and its influence over state rulemaking.

“We’re not feeling very cherished,” said Collins, whose oil and gas association represents more than 30 companies. The group objects to an initiative on the ballot in November; it would eliminate the industry’s 87.5% property tax exemption, estimated to cost the state treasury $230 million to $320 million a year.

If the ballot rule passes, the tax money will be channeled to renewable fuels, wildlife conservation and education. The industry also objects to proposed rules that would require greater public health and environmental protection in areas where drilling takes place.

“It could have been done in a different way, and things wouldn’t have gotten so heated,” Collins said.

Alice Madden, the Democratic majority leader in the Colorado House, looks at the oil and gas industry today and recalls Xcel before the passage of Amendment 37. She has little sympathy for Collins’s arguments, especially at a time when oil and gas profits are soaring.

“It’s Chicken Little all over again: ‘The sky is going to fall,’ ” said Madden, who also chairs Western Progress, an advocacy group. “The oil and gas companies see the writing on the wall, the shift to renewables. They want to make as much money as they can, right now.”

Looking ahead, supporters of alternative fuels are counting on securing some advantages their fossil-fuel predecessors have enjoyed. One request is the renewal of a federal tax credit set to expire this year. Another, Prager said, is “some clear rules on the national level, especially on climate policy.”

With 34,000 active gas wells in Colorado and 28 new permits issued each day, there is no chance that the oil and gas industry will fade away soon. And, as powerfully as the wind blows and the sun shines, the transmission grid for renewable energy is limited and the strength of the current is unsure.

“Unlike a coal plant or a gas plant,” Prager said, “you can’t flip a switch and make the wind blow.”

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JIM STINSON, Gannett News Service, July 2, 2008

The staff of the state Public Service Commission has again advised its five-member board to disapprove the $4.5 billion sale of Energy East Corp. to Iberdrola SA, but staffers have added a big “however” on wind farms.

In a brief filed in the long-running case, the PSC staff has offered alternatives if the five public service commissioners approve the sale, according to James Denn, PSC spokesman.

Iberdrola, the European utility giant and global leader in wind turbine farms, would be allowed to own and operate wind farms within Energy East territory, but with public benefits attached to the agreement.

The staff recommended that Iberdrola’s $2 billion proposal to invest in New York be tied to possible ratepayer rebates. The PSC staff said that to ensure the promise to build more wind farms in New York, the state could set aside $200 million of Iberdrola cash to be returned to ratepayers if the investment never happens.

The alternative proposal, known as Exception 6 in the PSC reply brief, comes after months of criticism and speculation regarding PSC’s opposition to letting Iberdrola buy Energy East.

Energy East owns Rochester Gas and Electric and New York State Electric & Gas. Iberdrola’s plans to keep and build wind farms in the service area have brought controversy but also support from public officials and environmentalists.

The PSC has disallowed distributors of electricity from owning sources of electricity.

In a June 16 ruling by Administrative Law Judge Rafael Epstein, the five-member board of the PSC was encouraged to disapprove the deal, a decision which backed up PSC staff but brought howls from such leaders as Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

“Done correctly, this merger can reduce costs and make New York a leader in providing clean, cheap wind power,” Schumer said. “The acquisition can reduce rates for customers and help to create jobs and billions of dollars of investment in upstate New York. I am glad the PSC staff has recognized this win-win-win, and hope the PSC Commissioners will quickly follow suit.”

Energy East made the offer in May 2007.

Iberdrola officials said the Madrid-based company would walk away from the bid if New York enforced the rule.

The sale of Energy East has already been approved by the federal government and every other state Energy East operates in.

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The Economist, June 7, 2007

If it ever seems windy where you live, be thankful that you do not live ten kilometres (six miles) up in the air. At that height the jet-stream winds are stronger and blow more consistently than ground-level winds, and they carry up to a hundred times more energy. So just as oil companies are drilling deeper and in more remote locations in search of new reserves, pioneer wind-power engineers are looking higher in the sky for new sources of energy. Conventional turbines will not take them there—the tallest to date is just over 200 metres tall. Instead they are trying to invent a whole new technology for harvesting wind: electricity generators that fly.

One of the most ambitious ideas has been developed by Sky WindPower, a company based in San Diego and led by Dave Shepard. He began his career cracking Japanese military codes during the second world war, then developed machines for reading written text. His work led to the squared-off numbers still seen on bank cards today.

Mr Shepard’s flying generator looks like a cross between a kite and a helicopter. It has four rotors at the points of an H-shaped frame that is tethered to the ground by a long cable. The rotors act as the surface of a kite does, providing the lift needed to keep the platform in the air. As they do so, they also turn dynamos that generate electricity. This power is transmitted to the ground through aluminium cables. Should there be a lull in the wind, the dynamos can be used in reverse as electric motors, to keep the generator airborne.

Mr Shepard estimates these rigs could produce power for as little as two cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). That is cheaper than the three to five cents conventional energy generation costs. It is an attractive idea, but a flying generator is a difficult thing to build—and there is a limit to how helpful existing helicopter technology will be. Aircraft require maintenance after a few days of operation, if not sooner. To operate cost-effectively, wind turbines will need to keep turning for many months without upkeep.

Mr Shepard, however, thinks he has a way out. Stabilising and directing a conventional helicopter requires that the pitch of the individual blades be adjusted with every rotation—up to a thousand times a minute. That puts massive stress on the turning mechanism and wears it out rapidly. With a four-rotor arrangement, you can achieve the same effect by changing the pitch of one or two whole rotors, rather than adjusting the pitch of individual blades. Mr Shepard reckons this will make a big difference and will increase the periods between maintenance enough to make the project viable.

Exploiting the jet stream represents the zenith (literally and figuratively) of aerial wind-engineers’ ambitions. Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution who has worked with Sky WindPower, estimates that harvesting just 1% of its energy would produce enough power for everybody on the planet. But even at lower altitudes, the winds are stronger than they are at the surface, and that has attracted the attention of other inventors.

In Canada a company called Magenn Power has developed a proposal for a wind generator filled with helium. It turns around a horizontal axis, rather like a water mill, and could fly at an altitude of up to 1km. The firm sees its system as an alternative to diesel generators in remote locations where ground-level wind is insufficient for a normal windmill.

Meanwhile, Wubbo Ockels of the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands has been developing another approach to airborne wind generation at lower altitude, with backing from Royal Dutch Shell, an oil giant, and Nederlandse Gasunie, a natural-gas company. Dr Ockels’s idea is to launch a kite (without rotor blades) from a ground station, turning a generator as it rises to an altitude of several hundred metres. When it reaches its maximum altitude the kite alters its shape to catch less wind, and can thus be reeled back in using much less energy than it produced when it was being paid out.

An arrangement of two or more of these kites could act together to produce a steady supply of power. While one kite was being released, some of the electricity produced would be used to reel another kite back in, and vice versa. This system has the advantage that it requires only simple parts—generators, kites and cables—and should therefore be much cheaper to build than a conventional wind turbine.

Controlling it, however, would be a different matter. Dr Ockels is working on kites with wings and rudders, which look much more like planes than anything you might see flying in the park. The wings and rudders themselves would be under computer control—the technology is already well established for flying aircraft without a human pilot. To test the idea Dr Ockels’s team is building a 100-kilowatt prototype. He hopes to start testing a full-scale device, which would generate 10 megawatts, within five years. That would be enough to power around 6,000 homes. He believes it should be possible to generate electricity at a cost of just 1 cent per kWh.

Any promise of such cheap energy has to be treated with scepticism and all these projects are still a long way from the full-scale test rigs needed to prove they will succeed. No one denies that it will be hard to build a flying generator that can make money. However, the political impetus behind renewable energy is growing and space is limited at ground level. Perhaps it is time for the wind-power industry to reach for the sky.

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