Wind, the Green Energy Whisperer

July 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

When it comes to renewable energy, Californians hear a lot about solar
power. Massive solar power plants are under construction in the desert and will
soon be online. Solar panels adorn the roofs of a growing number of homes and
commercial buildings. PGE alone has 90,000 solar customers. Gov. Jerry Brown
recently spoke at Intersolar, the solar trade show that met in San Francisco
this month, and the state’s solar industry lobby is increasingly influential.

Wind, on the other hand, has a much quieter presence in the Golden State. But
it’s not a small one: large wind farms in the Altamont Pass between Livermore
and Tracy, Tehachapi near Bakersfield and the San Gorgonio Pass near Palm
Springs make California one of the strongest wind markets in the nation. Wind
energy projects totaling roughly 5,549 megawatts of capacity are operating in
California today, providing enough electricity to power roughly 2 million
California households, according to the California Wind Energy Association.

Among the reasons wind is often overlooked is that wind technology is relatively
mature, so there aren’t many wind-energy startups attracting investments from
Silicon Valley venture capital firms. But while wind doesn’t draw a lot of
attention, advocates celebrate it as the “workhorse” of renewable power.

“There are currently 60,000 megawatts of wind capacity installed in the United
States, compared to 10,000 megawatts of solar,” said Peter Kelley of the
American Wind Energy Association. “There are 45,000 wind turbines installed; one
in four of them is in Texas.”

The wind industry spent most of 2012 begging Congress to extend the production
tax credit for utility-scale wind turbines. As part of the tax package passed in
the drama surrounding the “fiscal cliff,” Congress extended the 2.2 cent per
kilowatt tax credit for one more year. Previously, the tax credit applied only
to wind projects that were fully built and producing electricity. Now it goes to
any wind farm that is “under construction” by the end of 2013. The wind industry
is hoping for another extension.

“The PTC has provided a window of opportunity to capitalize on advanced
developments and repowers because the lead time for these developments fit in
the extension window,” said Steven Stengel of NextEra, which has been replacing
aging turbines in the Altamont Pass with newer, taller ones. “Our current
California pipeline emphasizes 160 megawatts of existing projects in the
Altamont Pass that we would like to repower. The earliest any of these megawatts
could come online is 2015.”

Google (GOOG) has invested over $1 billion in renewable energy projects,
including several wind projects. Among them: the Spinning Spur Wind Farm in West
Texas, the Rippey Wind Farm in Iowa and Alta Wind Energy Center near the
Tehachapi Mountains. Google also has a 37.5 percent equity stake in the Atlantic
Wind Connection, a transmission project designed to spur offshore wind energy
industry off the mid-Atlantic coast.

“Once completed, the AWC backbone will stretch 250 miles along the coast from
New Jersey to Virginia, enabling the connection of up to 7,000 MW of offshore
wind power, which could provide the energy equivalent of that used in 1.9
million households,” says Google in its blog about clean energy investments. “In
addition to providing abundant clean energy to the region, the project can help
create thousands of jobs and increase the reliability of one of the most heavily
congested grids in the country.”

Private investors also are showing an interest in wind power, which has come
down in cost thanks to American manufacturing advances and taller, larger
turbines that help with economies of scale. Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy,
based in Des Moines, Iowa, plans to spend $1.9 billion to install hundreds of
wind turbines in Iowa by the end of 2015.

Billionaire Philip Anschutz, whose vast fortune largely comes from oil,
railroads, sports and entertainment, plans to build the Chokecherry and Sierra
Madre Wind Energy Project on an Anschutz-owned ranch in south central Wyoming.
With 1,000 turbines, it would be the largest wind farm in the United States;
permitting is underway and construction is expected to begin in 2014.
Sparsely-populated Wyoming exports most of the electricity that it produces, and
Anschutz’s Power Company of Wyoming hopes to export its wind power to
energy-hungry markets in the Southwest, including California.

California’s aggressive “Renewable Portfolio Standard” law requires utilities to
purchase 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
Bioenergy, geothermal, solar, wind, wave and tidal power and small hydroelectric
dams — which cause less harm to the environment than large hydro dams — all
count toward meeting the law. Typically those renewable sources are located
within California’s borders, but it can count as in-state if the electricity
generated in Wyoming directly connects to the California grid.


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