Twelve miles out to sea from the severely damaged and leaking nuclear reactors at Fukushima, a giant floating wind turbine signals the start of Japan’s most ambitious bet yet on clean energy. When this 350-foot-tall windmill is switched on next month, it will generate enough electricity to power 1,700 homes. Unremarkable, perhaps, but consider the goal of this offshore project: to generate over 1 gigawatt of electricity from 140 wind turbines by 2020. That is equivalent to the power generated by a nuclear reactor.
John Norris of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission warned the North American Electric Reliability Corp.’s (NERC) second annual reliability summit in Arlington, Va., that “rapid change” has become a fact of life in their business. “Hold onto your seats,” Norris said.
Despite the global recession, the growth of offshore wind energy has surged over the last decade, with commercial farms regularly popping up in waters surrounding northwestern Europe and east Asia. Today, total global capacity for offshore wind has reached nearly 5.3 gigawatts, according to a new report by Navigant Consulting Inc. There is currently just one offshore wind turbine spinning in American waters, a 20-kilowatt pilot deployed by the University of Maine in June. But over the last year, analysts believe the United States made significant headway in making the wind industry’s offshore dreams a reality.
“It was one of those things that almost never happens,” said C. Boyden Gray, President George H.W. Bush’s White House counsel at the time the amendments were enacted. Speaking on the sidelines of a recent event in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Atlantic Council, an international affairs leadership organization, Gray said the House language might prevent EPA from promulgating the rule. “That could be the little tail that wags the great big dog,” he said. Gray, who had a hand in crafting EPA’s cap-and-trade program for acid rain during the Bush administration, said Section 111(d) might allow EPA to set up a similar market-based mechanism for power plant CO2.
The 16-day government shutdown delayed the announcement of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s third competitive offshore wind lease sale, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said yesterday. “Had we not been shut down for two-and-a-half weeks, I would be announcing the next sale date for the Maryland wind energy area,” Jewell said. “I don’t have that firm date for you, but it will be coming up.” Speaking at the American Wind Energy Association conference in Providence, R.I., Jewell called the shutdown “a bit of a rude awakening” after her tenure in the business sector, most recently as the CEO of outdoor gear retailer REI.
“MidAmerican Energy, of course, is making a $1.9 billion expansion to wind energy in Iowa.” MidAmerican’s expansion program is the largest single financial investment in the state’s history which includes adding up to 656 new wind turbines totaling 1050 megawatts of wind energy that’s to be used within Iowa. “And then, of course, you have here the Clean Line Energy plan. Its tremendous economic development for Iowa and this area of the state which will capitalize on our robust wind energy that we have,” Branstad noted. “All you have to do was be outside today and see that this is the windiest part of the state, so it makes a lot of sense.” Harkening back, Branstad said, “I’m proud to say that I was the Governor that started this back in 1983. We were the first state to begin a program that we called the Renewable Energy Standard. Since then, 24 states have copied what we have and it’s been very successful. I think we’re up to between 25% or 30% of our energy that’s now produced from the wind.
“Wind energy holds huge potential for NW Iowa,” Simon continued. “And the Clean Line Energy/Rock Island transmission project, as well as other wind projects, can turn potential into economic reality. NWIDP feels so strongly about the project that we have formally supported the project and plan to support it in multiple ways.”
A University of Michigan engineering professor said ice in the Great Lakes will likely increase construction costs for wind turbines being built in the area but will not be a deal-breaker for projects. Speaking at the Grand Valley State University Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center in Muskegon, Mich., yesterday, marine engineer Dale Karr said his research had not found ice to be a “showstopper” that would derail construction plans, although he said more study was needed to be sure.
Gene Takle, director of Iowa State University’s climate science program, said too many Americans believe there is serious dispute among scientists about whether climate change is real and whether it is caused by people. “In the scientific community, we have debates on the details,” he said. “But there are very, very few scientists who are active in studying climate science who deny the existence of the role of heat-trapping gases in raising our global average temperatures, and the fact that these heat-trapping gases are produced by humans.”
If the vast wind farm proposed for Nantucket Sound is ever built, William I. Koch will have a spectacular view of it. Of course, that is the last thing he wants. Mr. Koch, a billionaire industrialist who made his fortune in fossil fuels and whose better-known brothers underwrite conservative political causes, has been fighting the wind farm, called Cape Wind, for more than a decade, donating about $5 million and leading an adversarial group against it. He believes that Cape Wind’s 130 industrial turbines would not only create what he calls “visual pollution” but also increase the cost of electricity for everyone.