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News Flash: Wind Power Reduces Carbon, Other Harmful Emissions

A report released this week finds that wind power plays a significant role in reducing carbon and other harmful emissions in the state of Maine by displacing energy generation from traditional power plants.

The study, conducted by Massachusetts-based consulting firm Sustainable Energy Advantage, examined the environmental impacts of the 431 MW of wind power existing in Maine as of 2013, as well as a projection of 1,782 MW expected to be installed by 2020. 

The report estimates that Maine’s 2013 wind power fleet resulted in annual reduced carbon emissions equal to 1.1 billion miles driven by an average car. By 2020, the reduction in carbon emissions is projected to be equal to 4.8 billion car miles.

The full report can be read here.


Bruce Williamson Nominated to Maine Public Utilities Commission

Governor LePage announced today that he has nominated Bruce Williamson to the Maine Public Utilities Commission.  If confirmed, Dr. Williamson will be the third LePage appointee to the Commission, joining Mark Vannoy, Chair and Carlise McLean, Commissioner.

According to the Governor’s press release, Dr. Williamson is an economist at the University of Tennessee’s Howard Baker Center for Public Policy.  Dr. Wiliamson’s linked-in profile indicates that since June 2013, he has been the Senior Economist for the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Nuclear Security.

Dr. Williamson earned his PhD in economics at the University of New Mexico; holds an M.A. in International Relations from the Korbel School of International Studies in Colorado; and has an undergraduate degree from Cornell University.


Energy Infrastructure Gets Regional, National and Global Attention

Energy infrastructure is all the rage these days. 

Earlier this week the White House released its inaugural Quadrennial Energy Review, which “examines how to modernize our nation’s energy infrastructure to promote economic competitiveness, energy security and environmental responsibility.”  Not surprisingly, the report calls for major investments to upgrade and modernize transmission lines, pipelines and other infrastructure to increase security and reliability.  The report also states that the U.S. grid needs to change to accomodate the changing energy generation landscape, namely the growth of renewables and distributed generation.

Yesterday, the governors of the the New England states met for an “energy summit” to discuss upgrades to the region’s transmission infrastructure, and how to pay for them.  Although the states have differing priorities in many areas, the governors agreed on the need to invest in greater natural gas pipeline capacity.     

At a more global level, a thought-provoking essay in the economy section of the New York Times highlighted the vast gulf between energy use in the developed and developing parts of the world, and argued that greater economic development in poorer countries would actually reduce consumption of natural resources.  The argument is based on the recently released EcoModernist Manifesto, which states that “Intensifying many human activities — particularly farming, energy extraction, forestry, and settlement — so that they use less land and interfere less with the natural world is the key to decoupling human development from environmental impacts.”  It is a counterintuitive strategy calling for dense, centralized human activity (cities, industrial agrigulture, power plants) that makes efficient, if destructive, use of natural resources so that the rest of the planet can be kept in its natural state - away from humans.  

So, basically the opposite of the back to the land and locavore movements.    


Halleluja: The Clean, Green Renewable Future Is Upon Us!!!

The American Wind Energy Association released its annual market report for 2014 today.  As expected, most of the report’s findings are quite positive, with “more wind power capacity under construction at the end of 2014 than at the end of any other year.”  Over 100 U.S. wind power projects totalling 12,700 MW were built last year.  There are now over 65,000 MW of installed wind energy capacity in the United States.

The AWEA report was not all sunshine and daisies however, noting that development-chilling uncertainty about the production tax credit continues: “The lapse of the PTC at the end of 2012 drove a 92% drop in installations in 2013” and “PTC uncertainty continues with an extension through the end of 2014 that came only two weeks before the end of the year.”    

Among the report’s other optimistic findings were that the cost of onshore wind energy has dropped by over 50 percent between 2009 and 2013, and that wind energy was the largest source of new electricity generation in the United States in 2014.

The AWEA report is grounded in graphic analysis based on concrete wind energy development figures, which sets it apart from predictive renewable energy studies that are sometimes promoted under strikingly upbeat headlines.  In general though, the renewable news is good.  Here is just a sampling of rosy headlines from the renewable energy news media that came out in the past few days:

 Take that Pat Sajak!


New Misguided Opponent of Renewables: Famous Novelist Jonathan Franzen

In a lapse of fact checking and logic, the normally rigorous New Yorker magazine published a lengthy essay by noted novelist and bird watcher Jonathan Franzen that, among other things, called wind and solar power “blights on the landscape” that should be abandoned in favor of bird sanctuaries because “drastic planetary overheating is a done deal.”

The crux of Franzen’s argument is summed up about halfway through his piece: “The Earth as we now know it resembles a patient whose terminal cancer we can choose to treat either with disfiguring aggression or with palliation and sympathy. We can dam every river and blight every landscape with biofuel agriculture, solar farms, and wind turbines, to buy some extra years of moderated warming. Or we can settle for a shorter life of higher quality, protecting the areas where wild animals and plants are hanging on, at the cost of slightly hastening the human catastrophe.”

As was immediately pointed out in several incredulous critiques of Franzen’s article, he mistakenly thinks that renewable energy and other strategies for fighting climate change preclude conservation of current animals and ecosystems

In particular, Franzen lashed out at Audubon based on his belief that the organization has lost its way by preferencing the the fight against climate change over protecting birds.  Audubon CEO David Yarnold’s excellent response is nicely encapsulated by his line that “our members can walk and chew gum at the same time.” 

Franzen also wants to give up on climate change because the problem is too big for any one person’s actions to have any effect: “The scale of greenhouse-gas emissions is so vast, the mechanisms by which these emissions affect the climate so nonlinear, and the effects so widely dispersed in time and space that no specific instance of harm could ever be traced back to my 0.0000001-per-cent contribution to emissions.”

He probably thinks voting is a waste of time too.

For more thoughtful and hilarious takedowns of Franzen’s “thinkpiece,” read Climate Progress and Get Energy Smart Now



USFWS Lists Northern Long Eared Bat as Threatened Species

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it will publish a final rule in the April 2, 2015 Federal Register designating the northern long eared bat as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.  The listing will become effective May 4, 2015, at which time an interim 4(d) incidental take rule will also take effect.

USFWS will be accepting comments on the interim rule for 90 days, until July 1, 2015.  The interim 4(d) rule permits incidental take for all activities taking place outside of areas affected by white nose syndrome.  In areas affected by white nose syndrome, the interim rule permits incidental take for forest management (i.e. logging) and maintenance and limited expansion of utility rights-of-way, as long as those activities are conducted according to certain habitat conservation measures such as avoiding hibernacula and avoiding certain types of cutting during summer months.    

Yet to be seen is what other activities, if any, USFWS will include in the final 4(d) rule.  In earlier comments on the 4(d) rule, USFWS stated that wind energy generation is a factor causing harm and mortality to the northern long eared bat.  Wind power developers will no doubt be submitting comments to USFWS prior to enactment of the final 4(d) rule in an attempt to gain incidental take exemption by rule.  


BOEM Reviews Lease Request for Floating Wind Turbines off Hawaii

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is in the process of reviewing a lease request submitted by AW Hawaii Wind, LLC for two proposed 408 MW offshore wind power facilities, each consisting of 51 floating 8 MW turbines.  AW Hawaii Wind is a subsidiary of Denmark-based Alpha Wind Energy.

Last month BOEM determined that AW Hawaii Wind is legally, technically and financially qualified to hold a lease on the outer continental shelf.  BOEM’s next step is to determine whether there are competitive interests in the proposed lease area.  

The Oahu South Project is proposed to be located approximately 17 miles off the coast of Oahu in water depths of 300‐700 meters.  The Oahu Northwest Project is proposed to be located approximately 12 miles offshore in water depths of 700‐1,000 meters.  The floating turbines proposed for the project are based on Principle Power’s WindFloat design.   

One potential advantage these projects have over other offshore proposals is that Hawaiian electricity rates are already about twice as much as those of the next highest state (New York).  That means the incremental cost increase associated with offshore wind power would be relatively lower for Hawaii than for other markets, a fact that could make these projects more attractive to ratepayers and investors.