Legislatures in half the states that require electric utilities to buy renewable energy are considering proposals to roll back those mandates. The policies have helped fuel a huge expansion of U.S. solar and wind capacity in recent years. Now debates are arising, especially in Republican-held statehouses, about whether they increase costs for customers.
Wind technology has nearly unlimited potential, and the United States needs a long-term policy to support the industry and keep the county competitive, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall said Saturday during a visit to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s National Wind Technology Center south of Boulder. Udall’s stop at the wind technology center was the first of a yearlong tour of energy sites important to Colorado. Udall called the state’s diverse energy portfolio an example for the rest of the nation as it tries to move toward energy independence. “Colorado is blessed,” he said. “We have wind and sun, coal and natural gas.”
The owners of the two largest electric transmission systems in Iowa have plans to build more than 400 miles of transmission lines by 2017 to accommodate Iowa’s growing wind energy portfolio. The projects by MidAmerican Energy of Des Moines and ITC Holdings, which owns and operates the electric transmission system serving Alliant Energy in Iowa, will hold public meetings this summer to discuss new lines that would extend from Jackson, Minn., and O’Brien County just west of Spencer through Mason City and Waterloo to near Independence in Buchanan County.
Federal subsidies for wind energy sometimes overlap, letting some projects take several dips into the government’s coffers, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office. The Republican-requested report outlines the various federal initiatives that support wind energy, identifying areas of duplication amid the more than $4 billion in grants and tax credits that go to wind-related activities. Seven initiatives overlapped in support for wind projects, according to the report: three tax expenditures and a grant from the Treasury Department, a loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, and two programs within the Agriculture Department. That means that a single wind project can simultaneously receive financial support through several federal programs.
Most of the 82 federal programs designed to support wind energy had “overlapping characteristics,” and several “provided some duplicative financial support,” according to a Government Accountability Office report released Thursday. The report said the initiatives amounted to $2.9 billion of obligated expenses and at least $1.1 billion of subsides for wind power in 2011. Most of those subsidies financed construction and use of turbines, the report said.
Global wind energy installations surged 18.6 percent in 2012, bolstered by significant expansions of wind farms in North America and China as well as technological innovation that has allowed turbines to generate electricity in areas with lower wind speeds and colder climates. Those findings, from the latest “International Wind Energy Development: World Market Update” report by Navigant Consulting, underscore what industry leaders described earlier this year as a record-breaking 12 months for wind power in the United States, which saw 13,124 megawatts of new installations.
Wind power is growing faster than ever — almost half of the new sources of electricity added to the U.S. power grid last year were wind farms. But is the sky the limit? Several scientists now say it’s actually possible to have so many turbines that they start to lose power. They steal each other’s wind.
At least twenty-two of the 29 state renewables standards have been attacked by legislators or regulators in the last year or are now under attack. Known as a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) or a Renewable Energy Standard (RES), these mandates require utilities to obtain a portion of their power from renewable sources by a certain date. Research shows they add less than 5 percent, on average, to the cost of electricity bills and are an effective driver of renewables growth.
The governors of Oregon and Washington are urging the Obama administration to consider greenhouse gas emissions when leasing and exporting coal from federal lands. In a joint letter to Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the administration’s Council on Environmental Quality, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) urged the federal government to “examine the true costs of long-term commitments to supply coal from federal lands for energy production, whether that production occurs domestically or in Asia.” While the letter reaffirmed positions Kitzhaber took a year ago, when he raised similar concerns in a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of the Interior, it represents a stronger stance from Inslee, who had previously limited his voiced concerns to the localized impacts of transporting coal.
Few issues arouse as much passion for Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander as federal subsidies for wind-generated electricity. But utilities, including his home-state Tennessee Valley Authority, are finding they like wind power more and more. Alexander, up for re-election in 2014, argues the country needs 100 new nuclear plants to ensure low cost and clean power for the 21st century.