Wind turbines across the globe are being made taller to capture more energy from the stronger winds that blow at greater heights. But it’s not easy, or sometimes even economically feasible, to build taller towers, with shipping constraints on tower diameters and the expense involved in construction. Now Keystone Tower Systems — co-founded by Eric Smith ’01, SM ’07, Rosalind Takata ’00, SM ’06, and Alexander Slocum, the Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT — is developing a novel system that adapts a traditional pipe-making technology to churn out wind turbines on location, at wind farms, making taller towers more economically feasible.
The Senate’s surge into Republican hands yesterday ends an eight-year hold on power in which Democrats made failing attempts to slash carbon emissions amid sharp swings in the public’s mood on climate change and growing damage from natural disasters. Seats in key states like Colorado and Iowa turned to GOP candidates who at times campaigned against the expansion of environmental protections under President Obama. The conservative wave dismantles a Democratic shield that until now had protected U.S. EPA’s efforts to complete its climate rules from Republican attacks as the Obama era ticks toward its end in 2016.
Echoing the GOP wave in the U.S. Senate, Republicans picked up or held several key governor’s seats that could influence emissions trends and climate policies in some of the largest greenhouse gas-emitting states. In Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott held off a challenge from Democrat Charlie Crist, dealing a significant blow to environmental billionaire Tom Steyer, whose NextGen Climate Action political action committee poured money into the contest and conducted an “ark tour” to highlight coastal threats. Incumbent Republican governors swept tight races in Wisconsin, Georgia, Michigan and Maine, which also were targeted by Steyer. Governor’s mansions flipped from Democrats to the GOP in Maryland, Arkansas and Massachusetts, which has not had a Republican governor since Mitt Romney in 2007.
John Abbe hadn’t heard of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission until a few weeks ago. Like many protesters rallying before the agency in Washington, D.C., this morning, he’s now convinced the little-known commission is rubber-stamping a wave of gas projects tied to a national oil and gas boom. Abbe actually set out from California eight months ago with more than 600 activists on a cross-country trek to raise awareness about climate change — a movement that led him and other protesters to FERC’s doorstep today.
Two major private transmission lines are proposed to move wind power from windy Wyoming (population 583,000) to power-hungry California (population 38.3 million). TransWest Express (TWE) and Zephyr are each backed by a tenacious company with deep pockets. But it is unclear if both of the high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) lines will be built because of the inherent risk of such multi-billion-dollar projects and the politics of California importing electricity.
The Senate wasn’t the only place where the GOP had a good night. Most eyes yesterday were on high-profile Senate races in the midterm election that handed Republicans the reins in the upper chamber of Congress. But Republicans also had a surprisingly good night in 36 gubernatorial elections, where a spate of close races fell in their favor. High-profile GOP governors in states including Florida, Maine and Wisconsin clinched second terms, after polls showed tight races leading up to Election Day. The GOP also made some surprising gains by snagging seats that had been held by Democrats, including in blue states Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts.
The Republican Senate majority elected last night places a bull’s-eye squarely on U.S. EPA’s power-sector greenhouse gas rules, but opinions vary on whether those efforts will hit their mark.Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who seems poised to become the new Senate majority leader in January, said on the campaign trail that if voters returned him to Washington, D.C., with a Republican majority, he would make rolling back EPA’s power plant rules a top priority.
The tax landscape is similarly uncertain. The House has voted to make permanent just a few of the perennially expiring breaks known as “tax extenders,” such as the research and development tax credit, and GOP leaders there say they would like to end most of the incentives that are typically combined in an extenders package. In the Senate, Democratic leaders are pushing for a broader bill that won bipartisan support in the Finance Committee to continue all of the extenders through the end of next year, including provisions for renewable energy and biofuels.
Forty-seven protesters opposed to a proliferation of gas projects and the use of hydraulic fracturing were arrested today in front of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., and at locations in Maryland and New York, according to event organizers. Twenty-five protesters were arrested by the Federal Protective Service while blocking the entrances to the commission’s headquarters in D.C., said Melinda Tuhus, an organizer with Beyond Extreme Energy.
From 200 miles above, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield looked out a window of the International Space Station at the shimmering lights below and snapped a photo of Germany’s capital. At night, the city’s streetlamps trace the roads splaying from the city center like a spiderweb. The lights and the darkness in between chronicle the city’s modern history.