WESTOVER — A packed room of Somerset County residents and U.S. Wildlife Service officials debated the possible implementation of Great Bay Wind Energy’s application for an eagle take permit at the J.M. Tawes Technology Center.
The Wednesday evening public meeting intended to use public feedback to prepare an environmental assessment addressing potential impacts of the permit’s issuance for unavoidable “takes” by wind turbines. The permits allow wind farms and other operations to accidentally kill protected eagles.
If Pioneer Green is awarded a permit, it would require a five-year review process, which would mandate yearly monitoring. The Wildlife Service has the authority to deny the permit if it sees fit.
Andy Bowman, president of Pioneer Green Energy, who will develop the turbine project, said there may be negative impacts, but the ultimate goal is for cleaner energy.
“There will be some loss of life,” he said, in regards to birds that may be killed from the spinning turbines, but stressed Pioneer Green had looked at the environmental impacts when considering the project.
With seats full at the Tawes Center, some meeting attendees leaned against the wall and addressed their support or concern. One speaker said the company had “the most detailed analysis of our community” and others felt it would be a benefit to farmland, while another described the project as “erroneous” and worried that public information and studies should be clearer and easily accessible to the public.
David Curson, Audubon director of bird conservation, said his organization was still “very concerned,” about the project because of the area’s high eagle density.
“Audobon is very concerned about the eagle take permit. This is a high density area for the bald eagle, and we have concerns for other bird species who may fly through the area who are not protected,” he said.
In order to assess possible eagle impacts, the wildlife service studies nests and point-count surveys of the eagles to estimate likely fatalities. So far only nine eagles have been killed from turbines nationally.
Wildlife Service representative Julie Slocum encouraged the audience to “put numbers into context” and observe the intent of Pioneer Green’s project.
“The project’s main purpose is for clean energy,” she said.
After all correspondence, the Fish and Wildlife service will study the environmental impact of the turbines and present these studies for public comment.
Special to the Delmarva Media Group
David Yarnold of the Audubon Society recently wrote on The Huffington Post and elsewhere about wind power and bald eagles. Only a handful of bald eagles have collided with commercial wind turbines in the history of the industry. Moreover, the Fish and Wildlife Service rule he opposes applies to many other industries and activities beyond wind.
If he truly believes his recent statement that “climate change is the single greatest threat to both birds and people,” Mr. Yarnold would not single out a technology that brings great net positive benefits for wildlife, and would work with regulators on practical solutions.
This long-awaited program will provide more eagle conservation than currently exists today, which leaves many in the wind industry and others who share our concern for saving eagles scratching our heads over his hyperbolic response.
As stated by the preamble to the rule and the Department of Justice, “Permits may be available to companies in all types of industries,” such as oil and gas development, electric utilities, or transportation, which take eagles in the course of otherwise lawful activities, but these industries can work with the Service to develop and implement additional, exceptionally comprehensive measures to reduce risk to eagles to the level where it is essentially unavoidable.
Extending the permits will allow permit-holders, including wind farm operators, to provide conservation benefits for eagles while granting them a degree of legal and financial certainty critical to any business.
And this program is expressly designed to protect eagle populations by providing much-needed conservation benefits in exchange for very limited “take” authorization, after all steps have been taken to first avoid and minimize risk to eagles, and then fully offsetting that risk so the net effect on eagles is neutral or positive.
This concept is not new. Congress authorized the permitting of the non-purposeful take of eagles that was incidental to otherwise lawful activities decades ago under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The current permit program was initiated under President George W. Bush and the rule finalized in 2009. The most recent change to the rule, extending the permit duration, makes it more consistent with the Endangered Species Act’s permit program, widely considered to be the gold standard for wildlife protection, which already provides for life-of-activity authorization — in some instances lasting 40-60 years — for species that by their very definition are more imperiled than eagles. Those permits have allowed economic development while protecting wildlife.
With all of the above in mind, while eagles do unfortunately collide with turbines at some wind farms, it is not a common occurrence. Based on a review of all publicly available data, fatalities at modern wind facilities represent at most 2 percent of all documented sources of human-caused fatalities of golden eagles, and as noted, only a handful of bald eagles in over 30 years.
Yet the wind industry is committed to, and strives for, further reducing these impacts and does more to address risks to eagles than any of the other, far greater human sources of eagle fatalities that exist in the landscape today. For example, the Exxon Valdez oil spill immediately killed 247 bald eagles.
To obtain a permit, wind farm developers and operators need to engage in years of pre- and post-construction monitoring for wildlife impacts. They then make changes to the project design at the request of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, accept lost revenue from changes to facility layout and operations, and provide upfront mitigation for losses that may or may not occur (based on a highly conservative model that presently overestimates the risk). Through the permit mitigation permittees will help reduce the present impacts of other threats. And there are no guarantees that more will not be required of permit holders in the future, regardless of what is negotiated during the permit process. All this poses a business risk.
The administrative change allowing for permits of up to 30 years, with check-ins required at least every five years, will encourage these much-needed, long-term eagle conservation efforts, while allowing wind companies to increase the affordable and renewable energy they supply to American consumers. These permits will be difficult to qualify for and keep — the result of much hard work with Audubon and other wildlife conservation groups to make sure they will work to the eagles’ benefit — no matter what Mr. Yarnold likes to claim.
Wind energy already reduces U.S. carbon dioxide pollution by nearly 100 million tons a year, and it’s one of the most affordable and readily scalable ways to address climate change — the single greatest threat to eagles and wildlife, say leading wildlife experts.
While reasonable people can disagree over what to do first, the latest revisions to the permit program are a major step forward for eagle protection and should be allowed to proceed without unreasonable attacks.
CEO, American Wind Energy Association
Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
Published: Tuesday, January 7, 2014
A wind farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore has applied for a permit to kill or harm bald eagles, but has promised a suite of other steps to bolster the iconic bird.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said this month that it plans to prepare an environmental assessment for a proposed eagle “take” permit for the Great Bay Wind Energy Center in Somerset County.
The 25-turbine project by Austin, Texas-based Pioneer Green Energy LLC is one of roughly a dozen wind farms that have applied to FWS for eagle take permits of varying lengths.
Bald eagles are no longer protected under the Endangered Species Act, but bald or golden eagle take — which includes killing or disturbing the birds — is still prohibited under multiple federal laws.
While FWS last month finalized a rule extending the length of eagle permits to up to 30 years, Pioneer applied under a 2009 rule that limits permits to five years, the agency said.
Adam Cohen, a vice president at Pioneer, said a 30-year permit could help the project obtain financing, though he did not indicate whether the company plans to apply for a longer permit.
Cohen said it’s unclear how many birds are expected to be killed or harmed annually by the project, but he said bald eagle populations in the Chesapeake Bay region are robust and growing. Eagle take levels will be determined after FWS’s 30-day public scoping period, which includes a public meeting Jan. 15 in Westover, Md.
“We need to ensure that population is stable or expanding,” Cohen said.
While FWS initially predicted the project could kill up to 43 eagles per year, the project has been reduced in size from 60 turbines to 25 turbines and has been set back from prime eagle habitat such as the Atlantic flyway on the East Coast, the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and the Pocomoke River watershed, Cohen said.
“We’ve avoided and minimized impacts to the maximum extent we can,” he said.
A rough estimate based on 2012 nest data suggests there are about 30 nests within 10 miles of the Great Bay project, FWS said.
The company has worked with FWS for three years to develop additional mitigation steps, including shutting down certain turbines during daylight hours when eagles are likely to fly by and ensuring that no turbines are sited within a mile of an eagle’s nest.
The company is also working with local poultry farmers on improved methods of composting chicken carcasses, which have attracted eagles to the site. It also plans to pursue hundreds of thousands of acres of conservation easements from landowners in the Pocomoke watershed to preserve key eagle habitat.
“We will be exploring other options for mitigation during the public scoping process and can incorporate new ideas into the eagle conservation plan,” FWS said.
Those steps could help the project avoid opposition from environmental groups that have scrutinized the new eagle take permits.
Fish and Wildlife has yet to issue an eagle permit to a wind farm, though other projects, including a transmission line across the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area along the Delaware-Pennsylvania border, have obtained five-year take permits.
Groups including the National Audubon Society and Natural Resources Defense Council strongly opposed FWS’s decision last month to allow 30-year eagle take permits, though groups are somewhat torn over the five-year permit rule.
Pioneer’s project is being built in part to satisfy a Maryland law requiring 20 percent of energy to come from renewable sources by 2022.
Cohen said it’s important to view wind power development in the context of climate change and the threat of rising sea levels that could destroy an unknown amount of eagle habitat in the Chesapeake Bay.
The Great Bay project comes amid a national debate over what level of bird deaths is an acceptable ecological tradeoff as wind farms are built to reduce the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels.
While FWS argues that eagle take permits will ultimately benefit the birds, critics argue there are few proven ways to compensate for eagle deaths.
More companies are expected to apply for the permits after the Justice Department last month announced the first-ever criminal enforcement of bird protection laws at a wind energy facility, fining a North Carolina-based energy giant $1 million for killing more than 150 migratory birds, including 14 golden eagles, at two Wyoming wind farms over the past few years (Greenwire, Nov. 25, 2013).
Philip A. Taylor
Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC
122 C Street, NW, Suite 722, Washington, DC 20001
EnergyWire, ClimateWire, E&E Daily, Greenwire, E&ENews PM, E&ETV
Lyon/Geneva, 17 October 2013 – The specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), announced today that it has classified outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1). 1
After thoroughly reviewing the latest available scientific literature, the world’s leading experts convened by the IARC Monographs Programme concluded that there is sufficient evidence that exposure to outdoor air pollution causes lung cancer (Group 1). They also noted a positive association with an increased risk of bladder cancer.
Particulate matter, a major component of outdoor air pollution, was evaluated separately and was also classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1).
The IARC evaluation showed an increasing risk of lung cancer with increasing levels of exposure to particulate matter and air pollution. Although the composition of air pollution and levels of exposure can vary dramatically between locations, the conclusions of the Working Group apply to all regions of the world.
A major environmental health problem
Air pollution is already known to increase risks for a wide range of diseases, such as respiratory and heart diseases. Studies indicate that in recent years exposure levels have increased significantly in some parts of the world, particularly in rapidly industrializing countries with large populations. The most recent data indicate that in 2010, 223 000 deaths from lung cancer worldwide resulted from air pollution. 2
The most widespread environmental carcinogen
“The air we breathe has become polluted with a mixture of cancer-causing substances,” says Dr Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Section. “We now know that outdoor air pollution is not only a major risk to health in general, but also a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths.”
The IARC Monographs Programme, dubbed the “encyclopaedia of carcinogens”, provides an authoritative source of scientific evidence on cancer-causing substances and exposures. In the past, the Programme evaluated many individual chemicals and specific mixtures that occur in outdoor air pollution. These included diesel engine exhaust, solvents, metals, and dusts. But this is the first time that experts have classified outdoor air pollution as a cause of cancer.
“Our task was to evaluate the air everyone breathes rather than focus on specific air pollutants,” explains Dr Dana Loomis, Deputy Head of the Monographs Section. “The results from the reviewed studies point in the same direction: the risk of developing lung cancer is significantly increased in people exposed to air pollution.”
IARC Monographs evaluations
Volume 109 of the IARC Monographs is based on the independent review of more than 1000 scientific papers from studies on five continents. The reviewed studies analyse the carcinogenicity of various pollutants present in outdoor air pollution, especially particulate matter and transportation-related pollution. The evaluation is driven by findings from large epidemiologic studies that included millions of people living in Europe, North and South America, and Asia.
The predominant sources of outdoor air pollution are transportation, stationary power generation, industrial and agricultural emissions, and residential heating and cooking. Some air pollutants have natural sources, as well.
“Classifying outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans is an important step,” stresses IARC Director Dr Christopher Wild. “There are effective ways to reduce air pollution and, given the scale of the exposure affecting people worldwide, this report should send a strong signal to the international community to take action without further delay.”
For more information, please contact
Véronique Terrasse, Communications Group, or at +33 (0) 645 284 952 ;
or Dr Nicolas Gaudin, IARC Communications
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is part of the World Health Organization. Its mission is to coordinate and conduct research on the causes of human cancer, the mechanisms of carcinogenesis, and to develop scientific strategies for cancer control. The Agency is involved in both epidemiological and laboratory research and disseminates scientific information through publications, meetings, courses, and fellowships. If you wish your name to be removed from our press release e-mailing list, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Please note that the summary evaluation will be published by The Lancet Oncology online on Thursday 24 October 2013
We already knew American wind power benefits our economy, since it supports over 80,000 American jobs, adds billions of dollars into local, state, and national economies, and keeps our air clean by displacing harmful carbon emissions. But recent news adds to the evidence that wind costs have declined significantly and the savings are being passed onto everyday utility ratepayers like you and me.
1) New Lazard report shows impressive decline.
Released just last week, a new report by the financial services firm Lazard found wind’s costs have declined more than 50 percent over the past four years.
“Wind costs continue to decline; we estimate that the LCOE of leading technologies has fallen by more than 50% in the last four years. While many had anticipated significant declines in the cost of utility-scale solar PV, few anticipated these sorts of cost declines for wind technology.”
2) Electric utility leaders from around the country agree–wind power is affordable.
As wind energy prices decline, and electricity consumers and utilities are faced with choices about new electricity generation, wind energy is increasingly a competitive choice. With improving technology and siting techniques, wind energy is becoming one of the most affordable forms of electricity today.
Here’s what electric utility representatives are saying:
July 16, 2013 – “Wind prices are extremely competitive right now, offering lower costs than other possible resources, like natural gas plants.” - David Sparby, president & CEO of Xcel Energy’s Northern States Power, announcing 600 MW of new wind power contracts.
July 22, 2013 – ”Low-cost wind energy provides [Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp.] with a hedge against fluctuating natural gas energy prices … We will continue to pursue energy options that allow AECC’s member cooperatives to provide reliable electricity at the lowest possible cost.” - Duane Highley, president & CEO of Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp., after signing a 150-MW wind contract
August 12, 2013 – “The expansion is planned to be built at no net cost to the company’s customers and will help stabilize electric rates over the long term by providing a rate reduction totaling $10 million per year by 2017, commencing with a $3.3 million reduction in 2015.” – MidAmerican Energy Co. press releaseafter a recent Iowa Utilities Board decision to allow the utility to build 1,050 additional megawatts of wind generation in Iowa.
3) Actual contract prices and capital costs have dropped, as documented by the United States Department of Energy.
With this month’s release of the Department of Energy’s Wind Technologies Market Report 2012came news that wind power costs are even lower than last year.
The report found capital cost to develop wind power continues to drop, the average cost to purchase electricity provided by wind is falling (see chart below), the capacity to draw more electricity powered by wind continues to increase, and domestic content of new wind turbines installed in the U.S. continues to weigh in at (approximately) a healthy 70 percent American made.
Below is a chart using data from EIA that illustrates wind’s costs compared to other energy options:
“Study finds price of wind energy in the U.S. near all-time low”
– Research & Development Magazine
“US Wind Power Prices Down To $0.04 Per kWh”
- Clean Technica
“Wind energy a wise investment”
– Kansas City Star editorial
“New study finds that the price of wind energy in the U.S. is near an all-time low”
- WindPower Engineering & Development
”Wind Power Growing, Becoming Less Costly”
- Earth Techling
“Go green to save green”- Amarillo Globe-News (TX) editorial
Mar 22, 2013
Re: “Make wind part of the equation,” Mar. 12
The Daily Times editorial board was right on in their recent editorial on offshore wind power. We must diversify our energy portfolio and wind power — both offshore and on land — will bring immense benefits to our state and the lower Eastern Shore in particular.
Some of our state’s best wind resources are on the lower Eastern Shore. The developer of one proposed project in Somerset County, the Great Bay Wind Energy Center, has gone above and beyond, ensuring land-based wind is developed in a responsible manner for the environment and surrounding communities.
For starters, Great Bay Wind has done extensive outreach to groups locally and across the state to ensure they understand the project and what it could mean for the area. On its website, you’ll find supporting letters from the Somerset Historical Society, Chambers of Commerce, Somerset Farm Bureau, Somerset public schools, and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
These groups support the proposed wind project for a number of reasons — economic and environmental.
The Eastern Shore currently imports more than 70 percent of its power from sources like coal and foreign oil. Climate change due to fossil fuel pollution and subsequent sea level rise in the Chesapeake Bay are grave threats not only to our own way of life, but also to the many species of birds, mammals and fish that inhabit the region. The proposed 150 megawatt project would double our state’s generation from the wind and sun, while providing power to more than 45,000 homes.
In terms of avoided greenhouse gas emissions, this would be equivalent to taking 40,000 cars off the road every year.
In addition to avoiding pollution from fossil fuels, Great Bay Wind has worked vigorously to ensure a limited impact on the surrounding environment. For example, the bald eagle population is thriving in the region and the developer has been voluntarily working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the past three years to develop an eagle conservation plan. This plan will ensure the species continues to thrive in the Chesapeake watershed over the long term after the project is constructed.
While all energy sources have impacts on wildlife, Great Bay Wind is working to ensure a limited impact that has no meaningful effect on bird or wildlife populations in the region.
Finally, wind power stands to be a great economic boon to the Eastern Shore. According to the Jacob France Institute of the University of Baltimore, the Great Bay Wind project will bring in $2.9 million of new tax revenue in its first year of operation alone, and the total amount of tax revenue generated over the 30-year life of the project will be more than $44.4 million.
That tax revenue could be used by Somerset County to invest in new roads, schools, public safety and or even to reduce existing taxes that local residents currently pay.
For our climate, our health, and our economy, moving forward with wind development is the right decision for Maryland and the lower Eastern Shore.
Tom Carlson is Maryland campaign director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network,www.chesapeakeclimate.
It’s time for that national “listening tour” on energy and climate, President Obama. Some evidence comes in a new survey from the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University (seen via Tom Yulsman on Facebook). Here’s an excerpt from the news release:
In a recent survey of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents conducted by the Center for Climate Change Communication (4C) at George Mason University, a majority of respondents (62 percent) said they feel America should take steps to address climate change. More than three out of four survey respondents (77 percent) said the United States should use more renewable energy sources, and of those, most believe that this change should begin immediately.
The national survey, conducted in January 2013, asked more than 700 people who self-identified as Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents about energy and climate change.
“Over the past few years, our surveys have shown that a growing number of Republicans want to see Congress do more to address climate change,” said Mason professor Edward Maibach, director of 4C. “In this survey, we asked a broader set of questions to see if we could better understand how Republicans, and Independents who have a tendency to vote Republican, think about America’s energy and climate change situation.”
The reason a listening tour is the next step, and not a pre-packaged batch of legislation or other steps, is to build on the common ground across a wide range of Americans on energy thrift, innovation and fair play (meaning policies that distort the playing field, with mandated corn ethanol productionand tax breaks for fossil fuel companies prime examples).
In Mother Jones, Chris Mooney has an interesting spin on the survey, noting that the way global warming was framed probably had an impact on the level of buy-in on the questions.
It’s been clear for years that there are ways around the familiar partisan roadblocks on climate-smart energy policies. In 2009, the “Six Americas” survey by the same George Mason researchers and counterparts at Yale revealed this clearly. I distilled those findings into three slides here.
Here’s a bit more on the survey from the George Mason Web site:
This short report is based on a January 2013 national survey of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents. We found that they prefer clean energy as the basis of America’s energy future and say the benefits of clean energy, such as energy independence (66%) saving resources for our children and grandchildren (57%), and providing a better life for our children and grandchildren (56%) outweigh the costs, such as more government regulation (42%) or higher energy prices (31%).
By a margin of 2 to 1, respondents say America should take action to reduce our fossil fuel use. Also, only one third of respondents agree with the Republican Party’s position on climate change, while about half agree with the party’s position on how to meet America’s energy needs.
You can download the report here: A National Survey of Republicans and Republican-Leaning Independents on Energy and Climate Change.
New York Times, Opinion, April 3, 2013
Stanford Report, March 12, 2013
A study, co-authored by Stanford researcher Mark Z. Jacobson, outlines a path to statewide renewable energy conversion, and away from natural gas and imported fuel.
BY ROB JORDAN
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will soon decide whether to approve hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the state. To date, no alternative to expanded gas drilling has been proposed.
But a new study finds that it is technically and economically feasible to convert New York’s all-purpose energy infrastructure to one powered by wind, water and sunlight (WWS). The plan, scheduled for publication in the journal Energy Policy, shows the way to a sustainable, inexpensive and reliable energy supply that creates local jobs and saves the state billions of dollars in pollution-related costs.
Mark Z. Jacobson, a senior fellow with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Precourt Institute for Energy, co-authored the study with scientists from Cornell University and the University of California-Davis.
“Converting to wind, water and sunlight is feasible, will stabilize costs of energy and will produce jobs while reducing health and climate damage,” said Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering.
The study is the first to develop a plan to fulfill all of a state’s transportation, electric power, industry, and heating and cooling energy needs with renewable energy, and to calculate the number of new devices and jobs created, amount of land and ocean areas required, and policies needed for such an infrastructure change. It also provides new calculations of air pollution mortality and morbidity impacts and costs based on multiple years of air quality data.
The study concludes that while a WWS conversion may result in initial capital cost increases, such as the cost of building renewable energy power plants, these costs would be more than made up for over time by the elimination of fuel costs. The overall switch would reduce New York’s end-use power demand by about 37 percent and stabilize energy prices, since fuel costs would be zero, according to the study. It would also create a net gain in manufacturing, installation and technology jobs because nearly all the state’s energy would be produced within the state.
According to the researchers’ calculations, New York’s 2030 power demand for all sectors (electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, industry) could be met by:
- 4,020 onshore 5-megawatt wind turbines
- 12,770 offshore 5-megawatt wind turbines
- 387 100-megawatt concentrated solar plants
- 828 50-megawatt photovoltaic power plants
- 5 million 5-kilowatt residential rooftop photovoltaic systems
- 500,000 100-kilowatt commercial/government rooftop photovoltaic systems
- 36 100-megawatt geothermal plants
- 1,910 0.75-megawatt wave devices
- 2,600 1-megawatt tidal turbines
- 7 1,300-megawatt hydroelectric power plants, of which most exist
According to the study, if New York switched to WWS, air pollution–related deaths would decline by about 4,000 annually and the state would save about $33 billion – 3 percent of the state’s gross domestic product – in related health costs every year. That savings alone would pay for the new power infrastructure needed within about 17 years, or about 10 years if annual electricity sales are accounted for. The study also estimates that resultant emissions decreases would reduce 2050 U.S. climate change costs – such as coastal erosion and extreme weather damage – by about $3.2 billion per year.
Currently, almost all of New York’s energy comes from imported oil, coal and gas. Under the plan that Jacobson and his fellow researchers advance, 40 percent of the state’s energy would come from local wind power, 38 percent from local solar and the remainder from a combination of hydroelectric, geothermal, tidal and wave energy.
All vehicles would run on battery-electric power and/or hydrogen fuel cells. Electricity-powered air- and ground-source heat pumps, geothermal heat pumps, heat exchangers and backup electric resistance heaters would replace natural gas and oil for home heating and air-conditioning. Air- and ground-source heat pump water heaters powered by electricity and solar hot water preheaters would provide hot water for homes. High temperatures for industrial processes would be obtained with electricity and hydrogen combustion.
“We must be ambitious if we want to promote energy independence and curb global warming,” said study co-author Robert Howarth, a Cornell University professor of ecology and environmental biology. “The economics of this plan make sense,” said Anthony Ingraffea, a Cornell engineering professor and a co-author of the study. “Now it is up to the political sphere.”
To ensure grid reliability, the plan outlines several methods to match renewable energy supply with demand and to smooth out the variability of WWS resources. These include a grid management system to shift times of demand to better match with timing of power supply, and “over-sizing” peak generation capacity to minimize times when available power is less than demand.
The study’s authors are developing similar plans for other states, including California and Washington. They took no funding from any interest group, company or government agency for this study.
Rob Jordan is the communications writer for the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
Mark Z. Jacobson, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment
Wind is no longer the energy source of the future. It’s ready today.
By Edward Humes
BY LATE OCTOBER, THE GENTLY ROLLING FARMLANDof central Iowa is stripped bare, its fertile miles of cornfields shorn by harvesters and swept clean by the incessant prairie wind. “We just finished the harvest last night,” Randy Caviness says as he gazes fondly at his fields, his weary face as stubbly as his 3,200 acres of corn and soy. “There’s only one crop left.”
He turns his old Ford pickup onto a narrow Adair County farm road, then brakes and points. “There it is. We harvest that crop every day, year-round.”
A lone wind turbine dominates the landscape, a huge, gleaming, brilliantly white obelisk rising improbably from a drab flatland of browns and grays. It seems jarringly out of place and proportion, like a skyscraper amid mud huts. From base to blade tip, this 1.6-megawatt windmill stands 400 feet, taller than the Statue of Liberty’s torch. If it were a building, it would be the third highest in the state. The three-bladed fan at its summit spans an area the size of a football field. Despite a stiff breeze, those massive blades, each as long as three New York City subway cars, seem to rotate lazily, but Caviness says that’s just an optical illusion born of size and perspective—the blade tips reach speeds of 100 miles an hour.
“I’m amazed every time I see it,” the 54-year-old farmer says. “That one turbine powers a whole town. And more.”
Caviness is riding Iowa’s wave of wind power development, which is upending old notions about renewable energy. The eight turbines of the community wind project he launched deliver 12.8 megawatts to local communities and rural utilities, enough juice to power 6,000 Iowa homes. They also generate healthy annual returns of up to 16 percent on the $12,000 to $50,000 individual investments from 180 local farmers. At four cents a kilowatt-hour, that’s some of the cheapest electricity in the country, costing less than half of last year’s national average for all electricity sources, coal and gas included. No wonder, then, that Caviness has been courted by the office of Iowa governor Terry Branstad, the state congressional delegation (including Tea Party firebrand Steve King), and the White House, all of them captivated by a project that positions wind power not as an expensive novelty or environmental altruism but as a profitable, practical source of electricity, jobs, and energy independence.
“Everyone loves us,” Caviness says. “Our turbines make electricity cheaper than they can buy it elsewhere. Obviously we need to do more of this—in the state and the rest of the country.”
Such enticing economics are becoming the rule for new wind power projects. Caviness’s experience has been replicated throughout Iowa, which had 5,100 megawatts of wind power online at the end of 2012—nearly 10 percent of the U.S. wind power total of 60 gigawatts (including projects under construction). Of the state’s electricity-generating capacity, 20 percent is now wind-based. Were it a country, Iowa would be second only to perennial world wind leader Denmark, which generates 28 percent of its electricity from the breeze.
Iowa’s wind industry is not limited to small independents like Caviness. The state’s largest energy provider, Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy, leads the nation’s utilities in wind power, which accounts for 31 percent of its generating capacity (up from zero percent in 2004). Company officials say that wind power has reduced MidAmerican’s dependence on more costly coal and lowered its greenhouse gas emissions per megawatt by 18 percent—all while keeping Iowa’s electric rates among the lowest in the country.
The combination of corporate investment, bipartisan support, fast-improving technology, robust state and federal subsidies, and, of course, strong winds has created a “wind renaissance” in Iowa over the past decade. Harold Prior, executive director of the Iowa Wind Energy Association, thinks it could serve as a national model. By 2010, Prior says, three turbine factories were operating in the state, 250 supplier and support businesses had set up shop, and community colleges were opening training centers for turbine technicians, who are in heavy demand worldwide and whose entry-level salaries can top $70,000. (See “Corporate Climbers,” page 54.) Officials at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, which has a wind lab with a gigantic working turbine nacelle and a towering windmill outside to help power the campus, say they can’t churn out technicians fast enough.
In a tough national economy, the wind industry currently supports an estimated 75,000 jobs, about 7,000 of them in Iowa, according to the American Wind Energy Association. An estimated 12 gigawatts of wind capacity were installed nationwide in 2012 alone, more than any other energy source, coal and gas included.
A congressional push to kill wind tax incentives clipped those gains with layoffs and plant closures, despite a last-minute reprieve—even as new data suggest that wind power is rapidly becoming competitive with fossil fuels. (See “Wind’s Close Call,”.)
“Wind has reached a critical mass here,” says David Osterberg, head of the Iowa Policy Project and a former legislator who helped start the state’s wind program in the 1980s. (Iowa was the first state to require power companies to provide a certain percentage of clean energy, years before California’s better-known green energy mandate.) “It is finally all coming together.”
FOR YEARS, SOLAR ENERGY HAS BEEN America’s renewable star, drawing most of the headlines, the big government research dollars, and showy projects in the Mojave Desert. Yet on cornfields, in cow pastures, and across rural ridgelines throughout the Midwest, the prairie states, and the West Coast, the amount of energy produced by wind farms has quietly leapfrogged solar and every other form of renewable energy except for old-school hydroelectric.
Since 2008, America’s wind energy capacity has doubled, making wind second only to natural gas in terms of new generators coming online in recent years.
That may come as a surprise to many who have seen wind turbines here and there since the early 1980s and have thought of them as oddities, rather than part of a competitive industry. Driving around California’s windy Tehachapi Mountains, where the U.S. wind industry was born, you can still see many of the older models—diminutive, 35- and 65-kilowatt windmills set atop Erector Set girders only 75 feet high. They spin away right next to 650-foot, 3-megawatt behemoths generating a thousand times more power. Hundreds of old-timers are still producing essentially free juice, their construction costs long ago amortized—running the city of Tehachapi’s waste plant, lighting up local homes, and still pumping kilowatts into the grid.
Until recently, wind barely registered as a national power source. The annual federal energy assessment by California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory just lumped wind in with geothermal, solar, and every other renewable until 2003, when wind finally hit one-tenth of 1 percent of the U.S. power supply. After several years of explosive growth, it now accounts for 3 percent of U.S. electricity. In terms of raw wind power generated, the United States today is second only to China.
IN TERMS OF COST PER MEGAWATT, WIND NOW BEATS OTHER FORMS of energy handily, in part because of rapid gains in reliability and efficiency. General Electric claims that new turbines generate 60 to 80 percent more power than comparable 2002 models. These modern turbines rival not only renewables but nuclear, oil, and coal as well. And in the breezier parts of the country, wind is competitive with or outright beats natural gas, even though gas prices have fallen through the floor, thanks to the fracking revolution and the resulting glut of shale gas on the market.
Wind power, which has plenty of construction and maintenance costs but no fuel costs at all, now ranks among the cheapest energy sources, according to separate analyses by the U.S. Energy Information Agency and the global investment bank Lazard, whose annual Levelized Cost of Energy Comparison is an industry staple. And that’s not because of federal subsidies and credits. The latest figures show that when the effects of subsidies that all energy industries receive are stripped away, wind power beats everything else, natural gas included. This dramatic calculation has been largely left out of the nation’s energy debate, allowing the image of wind as expensive and impractical to persist.
Lazard found that the current unsubsidized cost of wind energy ranges from $48 to $95 per megawatt-hour. (The range reflects regional variations in costs and resources.) The next most affordable energy type is natural gas in a combined-cycle plant that recycles waste heat, which costs from $61 to $89. Coal comes in at $62 to $141. Another common type of natural gas generation, the simple industrial turbine system, isn’t even in the same ballpark, with an unsubsidized-cost range of $200 to $231 per megawatt-hour. Older U.S. gas generators, including many “peaking plants” (which are fired up when electricity demand is high), fall in that range. When subsidies are factored in, the cost of wind energy dips as low as $26 per megawatt-hour. The only better deal than wind, according to Lazard, is not to use power at all: Energy efficiency costs from zero to $50 for every megawatt-hour saved.
Five states—Iowa, Minnesota, Wyoming, and North and South Dakota—were generating 10 percent or more of their electricity from wind as of a year ago. Four others (Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, and Oregon) topped 8 percent. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, there is enough prime windy land—away from cities, suburbs, and environmentally sensitive areas—to produce all 4.1 million gigawatt-hours of power that the United States generated in 2011 nine times over.
In Iowa, a red state with a green streak (a vast majority of turbine-worthy land in the United States lies in red states; see “The Wind Is Red,” page 26), wind advocates remain hopeful that the recent downturn in manufacturing and subsequent job losses caused by the threatened expiration of the wind production tax credit will be short-lived.
Ken Midyett, 51, left a career in heating and cooling to sign up for Kirkwood Community College’s wind power training in Cedar Rapids. He, like many Iowans, was drawn by the promise of a growing industry offering high-paying jobs.
“I’d love to be grand and noble and say that I came because I wanted to join Al Gore’s crusade on global warming, but really, I was motivated by money,” Midyett says. “But the more I got into it, it just makes sense to me. It’s obvious: Green, renewable, domestic energy is the way to go for us as Americans. Isn’t that better than paying to build super nice hotels in Dubai?”
Edward Humes is a frequent contributor to Sierra and the author of Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair With Trash (Penguin, 2012).
CAPE VINCENT — Bringing a wind farm into the community was “one of the best things that ever happened” to their towns, according to some speakers at an informational meeting hosted by Voters for Wind Tuesday night.
Sheldon Town Supervisor John Knab said the town will levy no land tax for the third straight year in 2011 thanks to a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with Sheldon Energy LLC, the developers of the 75-turbine High Sheldon Wind Farm in the rural town in Wyoming County.
During its planning stages, the project was met with opposition from some Sheldon residents who sued the town for various reasons — alleged conflict of interest, attempting to block their views and a potential decrease in property values — but the town won all five lawsuits brought against it and is hearing few complaints now that Sheldon Energy is paying the town more than $750,000 each year.
“We were sued for everything you can think of,” Mr. Knab told about 160 people in the audience Tuesday at Cape Vincent Recreation Park. “I guess now that there’s no town taxes, everyone’s happy.”
The town government is currently debt-free and has been able to fix public roads and historic buildings among other things with funds provided by the wind farm developer, he said.
Sandy LaBarre, secretary for the Ellenburg town supervisor who once served as the town’s highway superintendent, said Noble Environmental Power LLC’s wind park also sparked controversy at first but argued that “what comes forth in the end is totally worth it.”
Ms. LaBarre, once hired by Noble to be its head of transportation, said the benefits that the wind project brought to Chateaugay in Franklin County, and at Altona, Clinton and Ellenburg in Clinton County were “phenomenal.”
“It has added to our source of income. In some towns, we have no tax at all and in other towns we have cut down a third of the taxes. We have no property for sale. Nobody has got any property to sell because the tax rate is so low now, that you want to hang on to what you’ve got,” she said. “The properties are worth more than it has been.”
Lewis County attorney Richard J. Graham said there is no evidence to indicate that wind turbines affect property values and that the county government has “seen no impact one way or the other.”
Mr. Graham also said PILOT agreements with wind companies will not affect the amount of state aid school districts receive.
“Because these projects are tax-exempt, they’re not on the tax roll. So they’re not included in the district wealth,” he said.
Loren D. Lyndaker, a former Harrisburg Planning Board member who lives 1,170 feet away from a wind turbine himself, said the noise and flicker from the turbines are “really not that bad.”
“It’s like living along the shore. Many times, you just don’t notice them,” Mr. Lyndaker said, adding that ice build-up in the winter can cause noise but that “nobody’s bothered in the house.”
Her said he notices the flicker on his lawn in the fall but only for an hour or two each day.
Mr. Lyndaker also said he regrets voting for some wind-related issues while on the Planning Board, as he receives payments for living near the 195-turbine Maple Ridge Wind Farm, but added that he has abstained from voting on many resolutions related to the wind project due to the conflict of interest.
By JAEGUN LEE
Watertown Daily Times