Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Bleak "What If" on Wind Power

The letters to the editor on wind power are popping up just about every day. The best recent letter, excerpted below, is from Nancy Feichtl of Millsboro, who neatly summarizes the decision before the General Assembly:
Here is a scenario that we who love Delaware would regret if it came true.
Let us suppose that legislators and Delmarva Power lobbyists delay and weaken the chances of Bluewater Wind working out a deal. Then Bluewater Wind, having invested millions of dollars and researched sites, decides to go ahead with a wind farm. Only next time, it negotiates with New Jersey or Maryland and is successful with one or both states.
A decade from now, we stand a strong chance of having a wind farm off our shores, but with no financial benefit from fixed electricity rates. We'd be held hostage by the Delmarva Power monopoly indefinitely, while taxes, jobs and benefits of a wind farm went to the states that could get their act together.
As for those who kept Delaware from getting its act together:
The thousands of us who embraced the Bluewater project for Delaware will recall each and every naysayer who produced this bleak future.


Blogger Jerry W. Northington, DVM said...

Nancy got this one right for sure. Thanks for posting the letter. The analysis in there deserves to be widespread. Let us hope the people of Delaware awaken one day and hold responsible those legislators who are blocking our future for their own sakes.


9:27 AM, January 10, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Informed citizens haven't missed a beat in their continued fight to get the windfarm contract approved. PHI/Delmarva is so scared, all they have left is their PR people spinning silly lies and fears, trying to obscure the law, the facts, and the huge record of evidence for the wind project. Their tricks won't work. We will continue shining light on the facts, the law and the benefits of this contract until it is won. Bluewater is dedicated to bringing offshore wind to Delaware. For that we should be very grateful.

7:34 PM, January 10, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I understand the urgency to move away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, it is hard for me to grasp the sense of fear that seems to be driving this Bluewater wind park project. The way this whole thing has been portrayed is as if there is no alternative, no other path to a sustainable future than committing $2 or $3 billion dollars on a single project. Why do the people of Delaware have to pay for this entire project, even if it is over 10, 15, or 25 years? (the Power Purchase Agreement is like a mortgage - you still pay for it in the end) There are valid merits to wind energy but does forcing this multi-billion dollar project on the 850,000 people of Delaware the right thing to do?

1:02 PM, January 11, 2008  
Blogger Tom Noyes said...

The short answer is yes.

The wind farm will cost us a few dollars a month if fossil fuel prices don't go up much over the next thirty years. Does that sound likely to you?

Natural gas prices tirpled over the last decade. Futures prices for delivery of natural gas in January, 2009 is running a dollar higher (about 12%) than current prices.

The urgency is that we can't wait for the market, as managed by Delmarva Power, to free us from endlessly rising energy prices. We can't expect market prices to magically stabilize--particularly if Delmarva and its parent company Pepco Holdings, are happy to leave us exposed to the very market forces that earn them a profit.

2:43 PM, January 11, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cannot accept that no alternatives exist to reduce our reliance on fossil fuel generation other than a $1.6+ billion project. I'm not questioning the validity of offshore wind - it seems to work well in Europe, especially in the UK and Ireland. They are installing large capacities 15 to 25 km offshore because they have years of experience and expertise. Europeans also have national feed-in tariffs that spreads out the cost over a much larger customer base.

It is expensive to be the first to go after anything and this project would be no exception. Turbines, cranes, and expertise would have to be imported from Europe (Turbine companies don't build the big ones used offshore in the U.S. - another point another time). Cost overruns will be a given.

I'm not against the idea of a wind farm. The context and the details of this proposal just does not feel like the right thing to do at this time. Sustainable energy development by definition cannot be a one shot deal (no magic bullets, no technological panacea, no deux ex machina). There must be other options out there.

9:24 PM, January 11, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon brings up an interesting point. Perhaps historical perspective can clarify it for him as well as all others who continue reading this far.

From anon's writing style I gather he is intelligent. But he makes assumptions about the cost of building an off shore wind platform, and yet does not make similar assumptions about the future cost of all carbon fuels.

In the early years of this country, a similar battle occurred in this geographic area involving the field of transportation, just as is now competing for the right to deliver electricity. I am refering to the debate between building canals, a time proven method of cheap transportation, or investing in something new called "rail roads" (WTF is a rail road? A road made of rails? Whoever heard of such a thing? Where will those "rails" come from? Europe? There are no rails around here....Can you imagine the cost of building a road of iron rails for five miles, ten miles, fifteen, twenty? Let's just dig a ditch and let water fill it. It is expensive to be the first to go after anything and this project would be no exception....")

The points made are correct on a small scale, but incorrect on a large scale. Accurate evidence points to the elimination of 'cheap' coal, additional increase in gas, and a tax on anything containing carbon that is burned to spin a turbine. The contrast is with a steady cost based on a contract extended for a long time, that stabilizes the cost for twenty five years.

The "rush" is that the opportunity may disappear while we argue its merits. Only someone selling carbon can at this date, still attempt to argue against the merits of a wind farm....."

If we wait too long....then the road made of rails, will be built somewhere else, and we whither away into economic lethargy.

9:02 PM, January 15, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wind power may or may not be a no brainer, but when it comes to people's pocketbooks you can't willy nilly agree to something without figuring out what the impacts and consequences are. The Cape Wind proposal is the best offshore wind option - that's why it was the first. Horseshoe Shoals, where they plan to put the turbines down up there, is relatively shallow and protected by Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Island from violent storms from off the ocean. Shallow water translates into cheaper costs to install the turbines. It is much closer to the shore which significantly lowers the cost to connect to the electric grid.

I'm certain that Bluewater Wind has taken all of these factors into account. The premium pricing reflects these conditions. At some point, the wind park will make sense but do we want to pay for it now? Aren't there better ways to spend the money?

If fossil fuels continue to rise, wouldn't other forms of renewable power be more cost effective? The reason wind is competitive is because it is cheap enough to displace some forms of natural gas generation. If prices go up then there are many more options that do not require the continued industrialization of power generation. You can have smaller, human scale forms of power.

Reducing the consumption of energy can also cut energy costs. Doesn't that sound like an amazing concept? I'm sure many of the folks supporting environmental issues have CFLs and LEDs, installed solar water heaters, updated their appliances to Energy Star, insulated their houses, put in low-e and storm windows, switched to a car that gets above 35 mpg or just got rid of their cars altogether. That's not true of most people. Can't something be done to change this instead just half heartedly throw an $8 million bone?

The inefficient way energy is used is akin to trying to fill a jar with water but there is a huge hole at the bottom. You can fill it with water from Fiji (shipping it thousands of miles), the mountains of Appalachia (bituminous variety please!), the jungles of Venezuela (love that Hugo), or even clean natural rain water (sun powered - like PV or wind, acid-free). If the hole does not get smaller, you have to get greater supplies from more and more places. Isn't it reasonable to start doing something today, this month, or this year that will begin to pay off right away?

Or would you rather start paying for something today and not get anything until years down the road (that's the type of fancy math in the Bluewater Wind proposal)? $1.6 billion may not be much to you but it sounds like real money to me. Wind energy is the right thing to do but this proposal is not.

10:40 AM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger Tom Noyes said...

I have spent a fair amount of time on the "impacts and consequences."

First, ratepayers don't pay anything until the wind farm starts delivering electricity to the grid.

As for paying more, that depends on the startling assumption that natural gas prices are going to fall. I'll have more about that soon.

10:49 AM, January 16, 2008  

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