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.
Vestas Wind Systems A/S (VWS) was the biggest wind turbine manufacturer in 2012, Danish researcher Make Consulting, contradicting a preliminary report last month from another analyst that gave General Electric Co. (GE) the lead.
Nowadays, a huge chunk of the action on clean energy in the United States is happening at the state level. Some 29 states and Washington D.C. have renewable energy standards requiring electric utilities to get a portion of their power from sources like wind or solar. Those state-level standards have played a big role in doubling the amount of renewable-energy capacity in the United States in the past four years. And current standards are projected to add some 76,750 megawatts of new renewable power capacity by 2025 — enough, in theory, to power 47 million homes.
With the recent layoff of 40 employees at Acciona Windpower in West Branch and larger furloughs last fall at Siemens Energy, Trinity Towers and other Iowa wind turbine component plants, the long-term viability of the industry has been questioned. But analysts who follow the electric power industry are quick to affirm the future of wind power as a long-term source of renewable energy. “Wind is not going anywhere,” said Shane Mullins, vice president of product development for the power industry at research firm Industrial Info Resources in Sugar Land, Texas. “Many wind turbine manufacturers did not receive any orders after June of last year as developers waited to see if Congress would extend the production tax credit before it expired on Dec. 31. With the extension of the PTC on Jan. 3, wind turbine construction projects that were put on hold last year are going to be dusted off.
WE will need fossil fuels like oil and gas for the foreseeable future. So there’s really little choice (sigh). We have to press ahead with fracking for natural gas. We must approve the Keystone XL pipeline to get Canadian oil. This mantra, repeated on TV ads and in political debates, is punctuated with a tinge of inevitability and regret. But, increasingly, scientific research and the experience of other countries should prompt us to ask: To what extent will we really “need” fossil fuel in the years to come? To what extent is it a choice?