Wind Energy Celebrated, But Development at Risk

December 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — Wind energy is standing tall, at least for the prominent utility-scale turbines.

Three 365-foot-high turbines on the city’s waterfront were lauded as symbols of successful public policy and environmental initiative. The moment also served a warning that this momentum might come to a sudden halt if federal tax incentives expire.

“To begin to seize control of our energy destiny is so important,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said during a Nov. 4 ceremony at India Point Park celebrating the new turbines.

To date, Rhode Island has nine commercial-scale turbine sites with others on the way. The latest wave of wind development began in 2006 with the relatively modest 260-foot-high turbine at the Portsmouth Abbey School. Despite several delays and seven years, the three 1.5-megawatt turbines at the Narragansett Bay Commission (NBC) are officially operational. The project was slowed for two years because of height concerns raised by the Federal Aviation Administration. Connecting to the power grid also added time and costs to the $14 million project.

The NBC turbines have the capacity to generate nearly seven times the electricity as the Portsmouth Abbey turbine, enough power to meet 40 percent, or about $800,000, of the energy needs at the regional waste and stormwater treatment facility.

A new report from Environment Rhode Island applauds the state’s wind energy growth as the Ocean State heads toward its goal of generating 16 percent renewable energy by 2019. The report urges expanding offshore wind development to meet that goal. The recent announcement of the opening of federal offshore areas to competitive lease sales for wind development was a significant step, according to the report. The leasing plan opens the way for large offshore wind farms at two sites off Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

The benefits include reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, creating local jobs and preserving water resources used as coolant for fossil-fuel plants. Rhode Island has 12 fossil-fuel burning power plants, and natural gas generates more than 90 percent of the state’s energy.

Several municipal wind turbine initiatives hit political roadblocks this year. But state and private projects have increased steadily. But the “fiscal cliff” is looming.

Two incentives are set to expire at the end of the year: the production tax credit and the offshore wind investment tax credit. The loss of the production tax credit could stall new wind development by 75 percent, according to the report.

At the recent NBC ceremony, Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., urged Congress to “fiercely protect” tax credits and tax breaks that have helped the renewable energy sector in recent years.

“Don’t throw wind power off the fiscal cliff,” said Channing Jones of Environment Rhode Island. “Our clean air, water and children’s future are too important to blow it now.”

“It’s critical we get the federal tax incentive,” said Karina Lutz of People’s Power Light.

Wind energy facts
Here are highlights from the wind energy report commissioned by Environment Rhode Island:

• Since 2008 wind power production in the United States has more than doubled.

• Wind energy displaces global warming emissions from 13 million cars annually.

• Wind energy saves enough water nationwide to meet the needs of a city the size of Boston.

• More water is withdrawn from U.S. rivers, lakes, streams and aquifers for cooling power plants than any other purpose.

• Up to 20 percent of U.S. power could come from wind by 2030. Today, wind power generates 3 percent of U.S. electricity.

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