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March 28, 2007

Stacking the deck against renewables

(Posted by John.)

This Salon article is simply infuriating.  As bad as it is when the Kennedys try to deep-six offshore wind power in Cape Cod for absolutely no good reason, it's worse to me when the government clearly discriminates against wind power and other renewables while lacking a single good reason to do so.

The proposed wind development is cleaner, cheaper, as reliable, and less pie-in-the-sky than the proposed coal-fired alternative (seriously, read the article) but the (Democratic!) governor seems to be ready to go with coal anyway.  Anyone who can make some sense of this madness is requested to do so in comments.

March 28, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

Well, in my Audubon Society moment I might mention that some wind power farms have been put up in a position where they wreak havoc with migratory bird populations.

I have not idea whether this is at all applicable in Delaware.

Posted by: Gene O'Grady | Mar 28, 2007 5:00:55 PM

The ideal solution would be to harness the tides. No scenery pollution, no animal migration problem, etc. The big stumbling block is finding materials that won't corrode in salt water.

I might add that many of the new technologies such as wind have become possible because of high energy prices. What once looked dubious economically is now do-able. Those who champion environmentalism and conservation should cheer every time energy takes a big rise. It encourages conservation and innovation of alternatives once again proving that, in the end, the economics must be there before anything can really happen. Sitting around singing Kumbaya doesn't cut it.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 28, 2007 5:09:51 PM

Fred,
So you are just fine with giant corporations forcing consumers to seek renewable enegergies out of necessity by gouging them...even though the same lack of regulation and tax giveaways that led to said gouging will lead the same Corps. to influence the goverment to not adopt technologies anyway - leading to a vicious cycle where the average citizen is screwed......but are firmly against sound energy regulation and tax funded efforts performed by the government to promote new technologies. Sorry, you are the only one singing 'Kumbaya' here........

Posted by: ledsimpson | Mar 28, 2007 5:19:01 PM

[shudder] Fred makes good points [/shudder]. Right up until the Kumbaya dig, he did it civilly, too.

Posted by: TJ | Mar 28, 2007 5:19:55 PM

Of course, ledsimpson is also right on re:regulatory capture and all the other fun techniques industry has used to (literally and figuratively) foul the waters.

Posted by: TJ | Mar 28, 2007 5:24:28 PM

Two other factors make it less odd. First, NRG already owns a coal plant on southern Delaware's Indian River -- a facility, dating back to the 1950s, that is one of the state's leading sources of pollution, belching acid-rain-causing sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions. NRG has been fighting state regulators' recent orders to clean it up, but as part of the deal with Minner, it has promised to patch things up and close the oldest part of the plant. Nor, most likely, did it hurt that NRG's lobbyist, Mike Houghton, has been a major fundraiser for Minner and other state Democrats -- so major that he was given a special award at the party's annual dinner last year.

On birds:

Strict avian-impact studies are now required for wind development. Wind technologies have become less lethal, with slower-moving blades and warning systems. And perhaps most important, as predictions of global-warming risks have become steadily more alarming, bird lovers are getting a grip. Last winter even the National Audubon Society went on record as supporting wind. Its president, John Flicker, pointed out that while bird kills by windmills may be grisly, the toll is far lower than that exacted by coal power, via air and water pollution and climate change, which are hastening the extinction of entire species.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 28, 2007 6:02:51 PM

One reason alternatives look more costly than oil is that the oil industry has done a tremendous job of socializing many of their costs, so that some of what we actually pay for oil/gas isn't paid at the pump.

Posted by: BillCross | Mar 28, 2007 7:27:30 PM

There is one salient engineering point that is often overlooked. Wind power is not entirely dependable; on some days, there's just no wind.

As more wind generators are installed in more locations, this becomes less problematic, but it never really goes away. So some auxilliary power must exist, and also some true baseline power. Coal, oil, and nuclear tend to be good for baseline; gas turbines are typically used now for peak load, and hydro is good for both baseline and peak power if it's properly designed. I've seen studies that put the maximum wind power that the grid can absorb at between 20%-40%, and hydrostorage (pumping water up into a reservoir for later power production), can also help the peak load problem.

Finally, solar looks attractive from a summer peak load generation; not so good for winter. Solar thermal can actually become nearly baseline with thermal storage, but it's not a good fit for the Northeast.

Now, just how easy do you think it is for a politician to follow everything I just wrote? It's no surprise if they tend to go with the tried and true. So it's up to the wind power industry to make itself tried and true. That takes time, and no small amount of political muscle, which takes even more time to build.

Posted by: James Killus | Mar 28, 2007 9:14:14 PM

it's worse to me when the government clearly discriminates against wind power and other renewables while lacking a single good reason to do so.

Since when is dancing with those that bought you not a good reason. I mean "brought you", "brought you", of course.

Posted by: Phoenician in a time of Romans | Mar 29, 2007 1:26:21 AM

Take a look at who benefits from the actual construction of the two types power generating units, who it is that puts hardhats on the site. Take a look at how much money each side can contribute.

Posted by: jeffreyw | Mar 29, 2007 8:57:12 AM

Bottom line:

When alternatives are cheaper, nothing will stop their march to the forefront in the quest for energy.

Nothing

While I hear the whining about this or about that or about Kennedy or about social costs, understand that these are small, small manipulations that wouldn't make a rat's ass if the economics were there. If alternatives were less expensive, a team of draft horses couldn't pull the public away from their use.

There are two ways to make this happen. One is technological advances will make them more competitive and two (2) is current energy sources become more expensive. Guess which one will happen first?

The real problem for the left is if they champion high energy prices as the best and surest means of change to renewables (which they are), other factions will rail against the regressive nature of this additional burden to the underclass. For this reason, I see a political problem for the liberal Democrats as they push for alternative energy.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 29, 2007 9:35:20 AM

Actually I think what the past few decades have proved is that governments have enormous powers to alter and transform market incentives. We can totally spur a wave of energy innovation in this country if we want. It's a matter of will and political, not economic, feasibility.

Posted by: Korha | Mar 29, 2007 8:31:10 PM

mmmmmmmmmmmmm....NO

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 29, 2007 9:39:02 PM

Tariffs, taxes/subsidies, and spending. These are all tools that can be used to make alternative energy cheaper or to make oil and gas more expensive.

As you said, the real problem is political.

Posted by: Korha | Mar 29, 2007 11:08:02 PM

Great!

Democrats can raise taxes! Who would be surprised?

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 30, 2007 10:12:01 AM

You're right,Fred -- the Republican 'borrow and spend' strategy makes more sense. More politically palatable, also, until people look more closely at the numbers.

Idiot.

Posted by: Paul | Mar 31, 2007 5:35:10 PM

Hey Paul,

I don't like borrowing either. What I *do* like is cutting spending and neither party mentions that.
If you were running at a loss, year after year, spending more than you're making, you would probably stop spending at some point and try to pay off your debts. However, you don't get elected by cutting spending. It's one of the failures of the Republicans to stay true to conservatism.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 31, 2007 7:23:28 PM

I live at the Delaware beach. The windmills would be located either 7 miles or 10 miles offshore, depending on which bid is chosen. The wind REALLY blows here at the beach, especially in the winter when demand for heat sent our utility bills way up this year. Offshore, the wind is even stronger and more consistent than on land.

The bid requirements for Delaware require only 20% contribution to our energy needs from either wind power, a coal chemical plant (that's what IGCC is), or natural gas. The state wants to diversify its existing energy sources to reduce dependency on coal and gas. Studies show windmills will create power 85-89% of the time. They provide the 20% requested. The other sources compensate when the wind drops down the other 11-15% of the time. This is just like when the coal and gas plants are down for maintenance, repair or to deal with an emissions release "incident," - wind compensates for them. Or the power grid will adjust, because wind speed is predictable day to day. The grid people (PJM) are not worried at all about the wind bid. They've documented their views by letter to the DE Public Service Commission.

Big Coal and their union buddies want us to be worried, but they lie: Nobody will sweat in the dark. They also spread the lie that taxpayers will pay for the wind project. Total BS, it's privately funded & insured. The Bluewater Wind bid is explained in detail on their website under Current Projects. Bird concerns are discussed there, too. And google Univ Del's Kempton for his study on the Atlantic Ocean offshore potential for wind power.

Some people are so used to saying "No" they can't see a great opportunity when it's blowing right at them. Conservation is not enough. Let's approve and build the wind farm already.

Posted by: Surf Buddy | Apr 1, 2007 9:23:39 AM

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Posted by: judy | Sep 27, 2007 3:07:05 AM

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