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Mar 282014

GRN Reports

wind farm and cattleWind power in Texas hit its highest point ever, contributing 10,296 megawatts to the grid at about 9 p.m. this past Wednesday night, which meant wind was providing nearly 40 percent of the electricity on the grid at that time, according tot the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).

High winds in West Texas combined with more wind farms connecting to the grid, which is being expanded and upgraded to bring more wind power to the state’s urban centers, contributed to the new high point, ERCOT and the American Wind Energy Association reported. The previous record of around 9,600 megawatts provided about 35 percent of electricity demand.

“ERCOT’s record is now the highest megawatt wind output for any U.S. power system,” AWEA noted on its Into The Wind blog.

Wind was also in the news this week when a new study determined it is price competitive with natural gas, once carbon pollution is factored in. The study by the University of California, Irvine; UC – Berkeley and Syracuse University found that after adjusting for the environmental impact of natural gas and the anticipated rise in its cost over the next 20 years, the cost of wind was only about 1/3 of a penny more per kWh.

“The true cost of electricity from wind power and natural gas are effectively indistinguishable, yet because the cost of carbon emissions is not included in the market price of gas, wind has not been a competitive form of energy use in most of the United States without government pricing support,” said Jason Dedrick, associate professor at Syracuse’s School of Information Studies and collaborator on the study.

The analysis also noted that current estimates for natural gas and wind compare the two without taking into consideration the anticipated price stability of wind, as well as the societal (environmental) costs of natural gas.

“Current national-average estimates from the DOE are 8.7 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for wind and 6.6 cents for gas-fired energy—making gas appear as a much cheaper alternative, explained Greg Linden, a senior research associate at the University of California, Berkeley. “Incorporating the new metric into the analysis” shows that the Production Tax Credit for wind can actually compensate “for a market failure to price the future cost to society of carbon emissions.”

In this way, the study sought to show that the much-debated PTC credit for wind, often derided by Congressional budget hawks as a subsidy, could be viewed as an equalizer, standing in to “make the market reflect the true costs of energy.”




Jan 022014

Green Right Now Reports

Congress’ on-and-off romance with wind energy is back off.

wind farm and cattleTax credits for wind expired – again – with the close of 2013.

This isn’t the first time the industry has broken up with its Congress. Every year or every other year for the past decade lawmakers have acted like a reluctant fiancee, extending a hand but always holding back on a full-fledged support for the wind industry.

Lawmakers have been influenced by the many critics of wind, who say it’s not a good match for America if it needs subsidies. The  industry, they argue, should blow on its own, or fade away.

Of course, these voices often have vested interests of their own, namely, the oil and coal industries, which once tolerated wind and solar power as tiny intrusions into the business, but are now facing a renewable industry that’s grown much stronger and stands to take away much more business. The wind sector alone claims to support 80,000 jobs and now generates enough  electricity to power the equivalent of more than 15 million homes in the US. Wind generation has been growing by double-digits the last few years; solar power too (more on that another time).

Wind advocates say that the federal production tax credits (PTCs) that wind producers receive are critical to compete with the fossil fuel industries, which are richly subsidized. (Yes, those who argue against wind subsidies are themselves subsidized. Welcome to Washington.)

With Congress starting and stopping its support every year or so, the wind industry cannot realize its full potential, they say, because investors cannot abide the uncertainty.

Wind power could fly without federal assistance, but only if all energy producers were un-subsidized, they say.

One could argue that renewable power, which can help free the U.S. from dependence on dirty, finite fossil fuels and curb climate change, should be most entitled to subsidies.

But the reality is that such arguments barely make it to the surface as entrenched forces conspiring to keep wind power on a string.

“Enter the Koch brothers, oil billionaires who also own large coal companies,” wrote Jim Marston, president of the Environmental Defense Fund’s US Climate and Energy Program in a December editorial.

“Their political arm, Americans for Prosperity, is targeting vulnerable Republican members of Congress with an estimated $75 million ad campaign urging them to let the production tax credit expire this December “once and for all.” As they see it, the support of tax credits for renewable energy is considered ‘meddling,’ but the estimated $447 billion in tax dollars through subsidies and tax breaks that fossil fuel companies have received since 1918 isn’t.”

It’s 2014, and we know how that battle came out. Koch Bros. knocked out wind power.

Marston noted the hypocrisy:

“The fact that renewable energy tax credits have to be debated every year or two certainly gives the impression that the industry can’t compete on its own without them. But the truth is that the fossil fuel industry has been propped up by the federal government for nearly 100 years and likely could not maintain its competitive edge without the government’s support. Fossil fuel industry leaders recently admitted to this weakness when U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus put forth a proposal to end cherished tax breaks for oil and gas drillers, stating that, if adopted, this provision would “cripple” the recent shale oil boom.”

Democrats in Congress, or at least some Democrats in Congress, are calling for a renewal of tax credits for wind development. Governors in wind-producing states like Iowa and Kansas (though not Texas) also support continuing the tax credits. They maintain that federal dollars should support clean power generation, and the jobs it spins off, as the world forges a future based on renewables.

The Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Baucus, has proposed a way to corral the sprawling array of legacy energy subsidies with a proposal that would incentivize cleaner energy production, but without trying to pick one industry over another. The policy would provide subsidies to energy producers whose emissions are 25 percent less than current levels.

The American Wind Energy Association supports such a long-term solution, which could stop the annual debate over wind subsidies.

“We commend Chairman Baucus and the Senate Finance Committee for putting forward a sound policy option to provide domestic energy producers with stability for the years to come,” said AWEA’s Rob Gramlich, senior vice president for public policy.

“The tax code has a century-long history of incentivizing American-made energy, and we must continue to ensure that we have plentiful, secure, clean, affordable energy to power our economy.  Wind energy has already proven that it can deliver in these areas and it must continue to be a critical part of the U.S. energy mix.  We appreciate Senator Baucus’ leadership in trying to find common ground to ensure that the U.S. is well-suited to face the energy challenges of the 21st century by promoting a diverse energy portfolio.”


Oct 082013

Sunlight is free, but if you use it to make electricity your power company wants you to pay them. Utilities say customers with rooftop solar systems aren’t paying their fair share for their use of the power grid.

Aug 012013

From Green Right Now Reports

Tired of dead zones, calving ice sheets, warming permafrost and coal pollution?

Yeah, we are too.

So we’re starting a periodic feature: And now for the good news! Here are a few recent hopeful pieces of flotsam pulled from the pileup of warnings, storm debris and disasters floating on the news stream.


Palo Alto, Wikimedia.org Smaller PROMO

Palo Alto, already renewable.

Palo Alto, Calif., will go all-renewable with its electricity starting . . . yesterday.

Yes, it’s true the Silicon Valley city, home to Stanford University, Internet bazillionaires like Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and a handful of regular people is already all-green when it comes to the energy sources it uses.

Come to find out the dream capital of the Valley is fully powered by hydroelectric, wind and solar power. It made its carbon-free practice official policy starting this past Monday.

Read more at Renewable Economy.


The U.S. has got it, and we’re getting ready to use it.

offshore_wind_turbine small promo

Offshore wind projects can produce more power per turbine than land installations.

The state of Virginia, a heavily fossil fuel-dependent state, stands to be among the first to enjoy a burst of renewable power from offshore wind. In a news blip that many might have missed, the Obama Administration announced last week that it will be releasing 113,000 acres for lease about 24 nautical miles (27.6 regular miles) off the coast of Virginia Beach. The area will be bid at auction on Sept. 4 for a private company to develop.

A maximized project on this lease could bring 2,000 Megawatts of clean power to the grid, according to the government.

“We applaud the Department of Interior and its Virginia Stakeholder group for moving forward with the lease sale of the Virginia Offshore Wind Energy Area,” said David Carr, General Counsel at Southern Environmental Law Center in a statement. “We have urged the Department to structure the lease to ensure rapid assessment and development of this clean energy source, so that we can begin to replace our reliance on dirty coal-fired power plants.”

Key words: Replace dirty coal-fired power plants.

The U.S. has already put out leases in other locations off the East Coast, and just today approved a bid from Deepwater Wind New England for two offshore wind leases off the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The area, about 10 miles off the coast, has the potential for generating about 3,300 Megawatts of power, the U.S. Department of the Interior reported.


Panthera, a conservation group devoted to saving Earth’s wild cats, has discovered that the endangered Sumatran Tigers are bouncing back in at least one small corner of their natural habitat.

Tiger, Andy Rouse, Panthera.org

Tigers are losing out to poachers. (Photo: Andy Rouse, Panthera.org)

The area, part of the Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation in Southern Sumatra, Indonesia, has been a center for tiger conservation since 1996. A recent survey of the TWNC found an unexpectedly high concentration of six tigers per 100 square kilometers of territory.

Tiger expert and Panthera CEO Dr. Alan Rabinowitz praised the founder of the Tambling project, Indonesian businessman Tomy Winata for protecting the tigers from poaching and securing protected area for them, which has allowed the wild animals to breed.

“Tambling is a model tiger conservation site that is giving the Sumatran subspecies a real chance not just to recover…but to thrive,” Dr. Rabinowitz said in a statement this week.

In tandem with the tiger program, in which patrols maintain the habitat, Winata has helped villagers by supporting the community school, health clinic and jobs.

To see more about the project, watch for the BBC documentary Tiger Island.

The Tambling project is located within the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (BBSNP).

Estimates show that only about 400-500 Sumatran tigers remain in the wild; and only about 3,200 tigers remain in the wild worldwide (compared with an estimated 100,000 a century ago) . Tigers have lost more than 90 percent of their historic range over the last 100 years, pushed back by poaching, according to the IUCN.

Jun 142013

Germany’s plan to craft a new clean-air future involves big steps forward with wind and solar programs, and scrapping nuclear energy.

This video editorial compares Germany’s approach with that of the United States, where a comprehensive green energy plan has failed to take root.


Mar 272013

From Green Right Now Reports

Our elected leaders may be conflicted over how to set a serious course toward green energy.

walgreens Net Zero storeBut that’s not stopping your friendly local drugstore. Walgreen’s has announced it will be building what it believes will be the nation’s first net-zero energy retail store.

The store, planned for Chicago’s North Shore, specifically the corner of Chicago Avenue and Keeney Street in Evanston, will use solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal technology, LED lighting and energy-efficient refrigeration to produce all the energy it consumes and then some.

“We are committed to reducing our carbon footprint and leading the retail industry in use of green technology,” said Thomas Connolly, Walgreens vice president of facilities development, in a statement.

“We are investing in developing a net-zero store so we can learn the best way to bring these features to our other stores. Because we operate 8,000 stores, we believe our pursuit of green technology can have a significant positive impact on the nation’s environment.”

The pilot project will be closely monitored by engineers from the retail chain, based in nearby Deerfield, Ill., so the technologies can be applied at Walgreen’s 8,000+ stores operating in all 50 states.

The model store will simultaneously reduce its energy use by about 40 percent by using state-of-the-art heating and cooling systems, while adding on-site energy production from wind and solar power. The plan calls for:

  • more than 800 roof-top solar panels
  • two wind turbines
  • geothermal energy obtained by drilling 550-feet into the ground below the store, where temperatures are more constant and can be tapped to heat or cool the store in winter and summer
  • LED lighting and daylight harvesting
  • carbon dioxide refrigerant for heating, cooling and refrigeration equipment,
  • and energy efficient building materials

The retailer plans to apply for the top platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council, which it should achieve easily if engineering estimates are corrrect that the Evanston store will use 200,000 kilowatt hours per year of electricity while generating 256,000 kilowatt hours per year.

Walgreens has worked with the city of Evanston and several vendors on the showcase project, including Trane, CREE Lighting, Acuity Lighting, Cooper Lighting, CalStar Products, GE Lighting, Geothermal International, SoCore ENergy, Wing Power and Camburas and Theodore Architects, according to a corporate statement.

“This planned building development reflects the City of Evanston’s ongoing commitment to the constant improvement of sustainable practices in the natural and built environment and will serve as an excellent example of how responsible development and the environment can be harmoniously combined,” said Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl.

“Green building is important to Evanston as it is good for business, good for the environment, good for our health and essential to our future. We are honored that Walgreens has chosen our community to build the nation’s first net zero energy retail store that will be LEED certified as well.”

Evanston, a north suburb of Chicago borders Lake Michigan and is home to Northwestern University.

Walgreens participates in the US Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge and has committed to a chain wide 20 percent energy reduction by 2020.

Many of its stores already employ green technologies.

  • 150 Walgreen’s stores use solar power.
  • A store in Oak Park, Ill., uses geothermal energy.
  • A Walgreen’s distribution center in Waxahachie, Texas, generates energy though the use of wind
  • 400 locations host electric vehicle charging stations.
  • More than 5,000 locations have LED cooler and freezer lighting and energy management systems.
  • 15 Walgreens distribution centers have achieved net zero waste, which means revenues from recycling exceed waste expense.




















07 March 2013

Walgreens Sets Goal to Build Nation’s First Net Zero Energy Retail Store in Evanston, Ill.


By utilizing solar panels, wind turbines and geothermal technology, engineers anticipate the new store will produce energy equal to or greater than it consumes

Smart Multimedia Gallery

Walgreens announced plans to build what the company believes will be the nation’s first net zero energy retail store, which engineers predict will produce energy equal to or greater than it consumes. Walgreens plans to achieve that by utilizing solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal technology, energy-efficient building materials, LED lighting and ultra-high-efficiency refrigeration. The store will be located in Evanston, Ill. (Photo: Business Wire)


DEERFIELD, Ill., March 07, 2013 – Walgreens today announced plans to build what the company believes will be the nation’s first net zero energy retail store, which engineers predict will produce energy equal to or greater than it consumes. Walgreens plans to achieve that by utilizing solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal technology, energy-efficient building materials, LED lighting and ultra-high-efficiency refrigeration.

“We are committed to reducing our carbon footprint and leading the retail industry in use of green technology,” said Thomas Connolly, Walgreens vice president of facilities development. “We are investing in developing a net-zero store so we can learn the best way to bring these features to our other stores. Because we operate 8,000 stores, we believe our pursuit of green technology can have a significant positive impact on the nation’s environment.”

The store will be located in Evanston, Ill., at the intersection of Chicago Avenue and Keeney Street, where demolition of an existing Walgreens store now is under way. The Chicago-area location will allow convenient access for Walgreens engineers based at the company’s headquarters in Deerfield, Ill., to measure the store’s performance for an entire year to determine if the store reaches its goal of net zero energy use.

Walgreens plans to generate electricity and reduce its usage by more than 40 percent through several technologies in the store including:

  • more than 800 roof-top solar panels,
  • two wind turbines,
  • geothermal energy obtained by drilling 550-feet into the ground below the store, where temperatures are more constant and can be tapped to heat or cool the store in winter and summer,
  • LED lighting and daylight harvesting,
  • carbon dioxide refrigerant for heating, cooling and refrigeration equipment,
  • and energy efficient building materials.

Engineering estimates — which can vary due to factors such as weather, store operations and systems performance — indicate that the store will use 200,000 kilowatt hours per year of electricity while generating 256,000 kilowatt hours per year.

Over the past year, Walgreens engineers have worked with the city of Evanston and vendors, including Trane, CREE Lighting, Acuity Lighting, Cooper Lighting, CalStar Products, GE Lighting, Geothermal International, SoCore Energy, Wing Power and Camburas and Theodore Architects.

“This planned building development reflects the City of Evanston’s ongoing commitment to the constant improvement of sustainable practices in the natural and built environment and will serve as an excellent example of how responsible development and the environment can be harmoniously combined,” said Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl. “Green building is important to Evanston as it is good for business, good for the environment, good for our health and essential to our future. We are honored that Walgreens has chosen our community to build the nation’s first net zero energy retail store that will be LEED certified as well.”

Walgreens will attempt to have the store achieve LEED Platinum status, which is the most stringent green designation by the U. S. Green Building Council, and plans to enter the store into the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge. The store will be Walgreens second showcase project in the Department of Energy Better Buildings Challenge. Through the Better Buildings Challenge, Walgreens has committed to a chain wide 20 percent energy reduction by 2020.

“Partners in the Better Buildings Challenge are leading by example, showing firsthand how energy efficient buildings save money by saving energy,” said David Danielson, assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy at the Department of Energy. “The investments made through the Better Buildings Challenge are helping to cut energy waste while saving millions in energy costs, creating jobs nationwide and helping to position the United States to lead in the global economy.”

The project is the latest of many green initiatives for the company. Walgreens currently operates two stores that have achieved a LEED certification level of gold and certified; 150 stores utilizing solar power; a store in Oak Park, Ill., using geothermal energy; a distribution center in Waxahachie, Texas, that generates energy though the use of wind; and 400 locations with electric vehicle charging stations. Walgreens stores use 25 watt fluorescent lamps (lowest wattage in the industry), LED cooler and freezer lighting and energy management systems in more than 5,000 locations. In addition, 15 Walgreens distribution centers have achieved net zero waste, which means revenues from recycling exceed waste expense.

To follow the new store’s two-year journey to achieve net zero status and the company’s other green initiatives, visit the Net Zero Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Walgreens-Net-Zero-Community/141953242640364?fref=ts.

About PURE Walgreens

The company’s corporate sustainability program, “PURE Walgreens – For the health and wellness of our planet,” focuses on helping customers get, stay and live well through innovative leadership in corporate sustainability. In support of “People Using Resources Efficiently,” PURE Walgreens programs focus on making Walgreens a leader in resource conservation, carbon emissions reduction and waste diversion.

About Walgreens

As the nation’s largest drugstore chain with fiscal 2012 sales of $72 billion, Walgreens (www.walgreens.com) vision is to become America’s first choice for health and daily living. Each day, Walgreens provides more than 6 million customers the most convenient, multichannel access to consumer goods and services and trusted, cost-effective pharmacy, health and wellness services and advice in communities across America. Walgreens scope of pharmacy services includes retail, specialty, infusion, medical facility and mail service, along with respiratory services. These services improve health outcomes and lower costs for payers including employers, managed care organizations, health systems, pharmacy benefit managers and the public sector. The company operates 8,071 drugstores in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Take Care Health Systems is a Walgreens subsidiary that is the largest and most comprehensive manager of worksite health and wellness centers and in-store convenient care clinics, with more than 700 locations throughout the country.

Jan 302013

Wind energy enjoyed a record year of installations in the US in 2012, adding 13,124 megawatts of capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

wind farm and cattleThat new capacity — the most added ever in a single year in the US — brings the total level of wind capacity to mre than 60,000 megawatts, AWEA reported today.

That achievement, underwritten by $25 billion in private investment and supported by production tax credits which Congress renewed for 2013, means that wind was the “the number one source of new U.S. electric generating capacity,” according to the industry group. Put another way, wind provided around 42 percent of all new generating capacity, more than any other single energy source.

The top states for adding wind power in 2012 (and how much capacity they added) were:

1. Texas (1,826 MW)
2. California (1,656 MW)
3. Kansas (1,440 MW)
4. Oklahoma (1,127 MW)
5. Illinois (823 MW)
6. Iowa (814 MW)
7. Oregon (640 MW)
8. Michigan (611 MW)
9. Pennsylvania (550 MW)
10. Colorado (496 MW)

“It is a real testament to American innovation and hard work that for the first time ever a renewable energy source was number one in new capacity,” AWEA Interim CEO Rob Gramlich said.

“We are thrilled to mark this major milestone in the nation’s progress toward a cleaner energy system.”

Texas remains the leader among states with the most accumulated wind power, followed by California and Iowa.


Nov 262012

Marita Mirzatuny Environmental Defense Fund

Despite having escaped this summer without rolling blackouts and the kind of heat we experienced last year, Texas is still dealing with the energy crunch issue. Luckily, our state is home to the nation’s largest wind power industry and it contains about a fifth of the country’s wind turbines.  The Electric Reliability Grid of Texas (ERCOT), the Texas grid operator, announced that earlier this month wind throughout the state contributed 26 percent of the load on the grid, setting a new record.  On November 10, a total of 8, 521 MW was produced, beating the previous July 19 record.  For the first eight months of this year, wind accounted for 8.7 percent of the grid’s energy.

This is in addition to wind helping Texas avoid blackouts in February of last year, when a cold front proved too much for many traditional power plants. On February 2, 2011, wind energy played a critical role in limiting the severity of the blackouts, providing enough electricity to keep the power on for about three million typical households. ERCOT confirmed that wind provided between 3,500 and 4,000 MW of electricity (about seven percent of ERCOT demand at that time), roughly what it was forecasted and scheduled to provide. Texas wind provided this electricity during the critical 5 to 7 a.m. window when the grid needed power the most.

As ERCOT also reports, wind farms in west Texas contributed about 7,000 MW to the system on Nov. 10 when the record was hit. Coastal towers and turbines, which were key to avoiding power shortages last year, contributed about 1,100 MW of supply. Texas holds more than 10,000 MW of wind power capacity overall.

This is all welcomed news for an industry holding its breath as Congress debates the renewal of the expiring Production Tax Credit (PTC) for renewables, which provides a 2.2 cent per kilowatt-hour tax credit for the first ten years of electricity production from utility-scale turbines.

With Texas being a major manufacturer of wind equipment in addition to relying on it for power, many jobs hang in the balance.  According to a Sierra Club report,  “a typical new 250 megawatt wind farm will create 1,079 jobs – manufacturing jobs, construction jobs, engineering jobs and management jobs.” Another report by NRDC estimates that from a 250 MW project, “non-construction businesses would account for 557 jobs — 432 in manufacturing, 80 in planning and development, 18 in sales and distribution and 27 in operations and maintenance. Construction would check in with another 522 jobs, doing things like buildings roads and foundations, installing turbines and wiring and connecting the power plant to the grid.”

In Texas, the expiration of the PTC could not only mean stunting job growth but would also likely create layoffs. According to Walt Hornaday, president of Cielo Wind Power, an Austin-based wind farm developer, “We haven’t had the industry come to a stop like this before in a long, long time.” His company is pursuing work in other countries, but otherwise, he said, “we would definitely be looking at very large layoffs.”  Even Governors Perry’s own report cites a Mitchell Foundation analysis that the expanding wind and solar energy industries are projected to add 6,000 jobs in Texas per year through 2020 and, as of last year, over 1,300 Texas companies employ nearly 100,000 workers in industries directly and indirectly related to renewable energy.

And for those that now claim energy subsidies must end, despite being proponents for fossil fuel dollars, let us not forget what it has taken and continues to take to support the fossil fuel industry. First, the largest subsidies to fossil fuels were written into the U.S. Tax Code as permanent provisions.  Furthermore, the largest break, the Foreign Tax Credit, provides around $2.2 billion annually and applies to the overseas production of oil through an obscure provision of the Tax Code, which allows energy companies to claim a tax credit for payments that would normally receive less-beneficial tax treatment. In an analysis conducted from 2002 to 2008 by the Environmental Law Institute, fossil fuel subsidies accounted for $72 billion over that span of seven years. On the renewable side, over half of the $29 billion subsidy amount supports corn ethanol. For traditional renewables like wind and solar, the total amount received was $12.2 billion, amounting to $1.74 billion annually.

Given Texas’ resource adequacy problems, it makes no sense to divest from a clean resource that provides up to 26 percent of our power while growing the economy.

As we mentioned in August, please contact your elected officials and ask them to renew the PTC before the end of the year. It’s good for Texas, the nation, and the environment.

(Marita Mirzatuny is coordinator of EDF’s Energy Program, based in the Austin, Texas office.)

Nov 202012

From Green Right Now Reports

The Texas electric grid, known a ERCOT, set a new record for wind energy use in the state at 10:21 a.m. on Nov. 10, when wind power output provided nearly 26 percent of the “system load” at the the time.

At that moment, wind farms in West Texas and on the Texas coast, provided 8,521 megawatts (MW) of power,surpassing the previous record set on June 19, 2012 by more than 150 MW.

Wind turbines in West Texas.

The benchmark suggests that Texas can benefit from both the development of wind farms in the windy western portion of the state, and better integration of wind onto the ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) grid, which serves 23 million Texans.

“We have surpassed previous wind power records several times this year,” said Kent Saathoff, ERCOT’s vice president of Grid Operations and System Planning. “While added capacity is one reason for this growth, experience and improved tools also are enabling ERCOT to integrate this resource into the grid more effectively than ever before.”

According to ERCOT, one MW of power is enough to supply 200 homes during hot summer days, when utility use is highest, and about 500 homes during periods of “typical consumption.”

Texas leads U.S. states in wind power capacity, with 10,000 MW and plans under review for a potential doubling of that amount. In addition, high voltage transmission lines under construction is expected to greatly improve ERCOT’s ability to bring wind power from West Texas to the state’s urban areas.


Aug 312012

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

You know that argument about how the U.S. can’t really impact greenhouse gases because they’re spiraling out of control in other developing nations like China and India?

It’s illogical on its face, but that’s not stopping fossil fuel interests from pushing this idea.

A coal hole in the ground in Wyoming that's not so small. (Photo: Bureau of Land Management)

I read one iteration in a slick piece designed to help us get more comfortable with cigare…I mean coal. It was in the Dallas Morning News, by way of the Manhattan Institute, a bastion of 20th Century thinking.

This is the argument in a nutshell: We have a lot of coal, and we always will, enough to last for decades. And even if we use less in the US, they’ll be using more of it all over the world. (That’s because, you know, there’s no such thing as technological advancement.) So relax. Let there be coal! It makes for cheap electricity.

The article slogged on, unfurling factoids about how much coal’s lying around (there does seem to be a lot of it) and feigning honest concern over coal’s dirty carbon footprint. Coal, yeah, it’s dirty, the author conceded, but quickly pivoted to its virtues: You can dig coal out of a little, old hole in the ground and it doesn’t take up a lot of real estate like solar and wind power. Here’s a sample paragraph:

“There’s no denying that coal has earned its reputation as a relatively dirty fuel. But those concerned about CO{-2} emissions and climate change should realize that the [Obama] administration’s attack on coal is little more than a token gesture. The rest of the world will continue to burn coal, and lots of it. Reducing domestic coal use may force Americans to pay higher prices for electricity, but it will have almost no effect on global emissions.”

It went on to talk about how coal produces more energy by weight than other forms of energy production.

Conveniently, though, the article didn’t seem to notice that once coal gets burned it’s gone. Poof, gone! But wind and solar and geothermal farms can last for decades or more with retrofits as technology improves. That’s why they get to be called renewable. So even though the energy derived from coal is efficient, in terms of Btu’s per volume, renewable replacements can generate energy for years and years. You can amortize the land and effort over decades.

Wind farms do take up vast tracts of land, but cattle can graze there and the wind farm doesn't have to be moved every few years to find more wind. (Photo: Argonne National Lab)

To not mention this huge difference between coal and clean energy sources, is an omission you could drive an earth mover through. Isn’t it worth more land for energy farms that produce year after year, compared with oil or coal that needs to be constantly rediscovered, unearthed and then, well, poof!?

Such attempts to gloss over the bad news (i.e., coal’s deadly carbon emissions issue) is reminiscent of the cigarette maker’s defense — “hey, not everyone who smokes gets cancer” — and those who argue that climate change is not so bad – forget that Dallas is uninhabitable, we could grow crops in Nova Scotia!

With this coal discussion, we’re at least beyond pure denial — what pollution? — but we’re now into slippery territory where the lawyer throws every other argument at the wall. Or in this case, the conservative Manhattan Institute, which is supported by foundations that fiercely defend the fossil fuels, such as the (Charles and David) Koch Family Foundation, throws it at the wall.

In particular, to justify a continued devil-may-care reliance on coal by declaring that everyone’s doing it makes no more sense than when your teen argues that he must stay out until dawn because it’s a universal behavior among 17-year-olds. You know it’s not. He knows it’s not and it’s time to call him on it.

We might be dependent on coal, but we can make plans to cut back. And that goes too for oil, another dirty-burning finite fossil fuel.

You need only to look around at the world to see that many nations are trying to curb coal and oil consumption.

  • This week India announced a $4.13 billion public/private partnership to accelerate the production of electric and hybrid vehicles from now until 2020, when the nation hopes to have 6 million more efficient cars on the road, according to Reuters. The country plans to subsidize consumers buying these cars as a way to curb carbon emissions (yes, electric cars powered by the grid may rely on coal, but only if the grid is powered that way).
  • China, the world’s biggest emitter of CO2 pollution because of its extensive use of coal also is moving away from this energy source. According to a Bloomberg series this summer, the emerging superpower has watched the cost of renewables plummet in comparison to a concurrent rise in the price of the cheap coal it once depended upon from Indonesia. While China did not fully engineer this re-structuring of prices, it is positioning itself to take advantage of it by aggressively building wind and solar capacity. It’s on a national mission to clean up its skies and become a leader in manufacturing for these new industries.

Not all nations are moving lockstep in the right direction. Germany has started burning more coal as it transitions off nuclear power, absurdly because it has carbon credits to spare under the European Union’s carbon trading scheme. (So much for carbon trading schemes). Brazil and Chile are both using more coal. But Germany’s also putting up solar panels and gets about 6 percent of its power from wind. Great Britain is marching forward with big plans for off-shore wind installations, with an eye to exporting wind-powered electricity, and in Mexico,wind grew by 60 percent in 2010.

It appears that many other countries, their citizens and their free industries, really do care about reducing carbon pollution, or at least diversifying their energy sources.  We really can’t point to “them” as a reason to drag our feet. Unless we just want to go along with disingenuous, illogical arguments that provide cover for dirty industries so they can plow ahead as always — while pushing us to the edge of the climate cliff.

Instead of being deluded or lulled or led by illogical arguments to maintain fossil fuels, we Americans could take control of the discussion, and ask, what is the responsible thing to do? How can the U.S. prepare for the future — regardless of what other countries are doing? What can we do to clean up greenhouse gases before they choke the life from the planet? How can we strengthen our security with domestic sources of power that cannot be exported? How can we create new, enduring, well-paying jobs in the energy field?

Would you answer, mine or burn more coal, to any of these questions?

Copyright © 2012 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Jan 182012

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

It’s one of those cold, white-bright days of winter. We’ve not had many like it this January. Instead, we’ve been walking around outdoors in our shirt sleeves, sneezing from pollen allergies and having a lot of little conversations about the unusual warm “spell”.

We’re experiencing climate change, of course, and it’s not a spell, but a new norm. Nearly everyone recognizes that something’s going on. Sometimes I feel like a character in Twin Peaks, exchanging knowing glances with the neighbors over these changes we cannot speak of because it’s somehow become radical to openly declare that climate change is happening, even though people in all walks of life can see it plainly. I’m thinking about farmers, landscapers, urban planners, builders, utility managers, insurers, scientists, oceanographers, biologists, botanists, power plant operators….

Our political leaders and mass media are at least partly to blame for having distorted the dialogue. By depriving the topic of oxygen, they’ve suffocated discussion. So while thousands of agencies around the world grapple with the reality of climate change, maple sugar farmers in Vermont prepare to lose their business to Canada and NASA snaps another picture of the disappearing Arctic,  it fails to penetrate even the endless Republican debates. Lord knows they’ve had enough air time to get into it.

It could be just one more disconnect, similar to how income disparity has rankled the masses but bounced off the rubber politi-scape.

Except it’s not. A disconnect.

With climate change, anyway, leaders of both parties are deliberately avoiding the issue. Acknowledging this giant gorilla in the corner would be to admit that carbon pollution, and therefore  that our fossil fuel-based economy, has unhealthy consequences.

A question we can and must ask is how  do we step away from the fossil fuels that heat our houses, cook our food, propel our cars and serve as the building blocks for the plastic products that encase our food and electronics?

We can take two important steps:

The Energy Information Administration chart breaks down where our energy came from in 2010.

First, we support the move toward clean, renewable energy – wind, solar and geothermal — to power our buildings. If the US continues to provide tax credits to these job-creating, carbon-reducing industries, and states continue to set goals to add renewables to their portfolios, residents will reap the rewards with reliable electricity that will ultimately cost less. We’ll have cleaner air and jobs designed for the future. Already, the American solar and wind industries employ some 180,000 people in America and provide a small, but rapidly growing slice of the power pie (see chart above).

We could all learn from Iowa, where leaders decided that wind power gave its residents options. Now Iowa’s farmers earn lease money from the wind farms that provide nearly 20 percent of that state’s energy. Communities have jumped in with locally owned wind installations. School districts have installed wind towers in the sweet spots. Universities and community colleges have added courses to support new energy. Local economies are growing stronger, and consumers pay no more for their wind-powered electricity.

Texas also has a great wind story, with three of its cities, Dallas, Austin and Houston, using wind for municipal power and San Antonio planning a solar farm to rival any in the world. California pushed solar forward with solar with its million rooftops initiative. Then New Jersey offered solar incentives and shot to the top of the states making solar gains.

Consumers can participate in all these developments in a variety of ways. They can add solar panels or small wind to their own households. They can buy clean power from the grid. They can advocate for their town or business to use clean energy. And they can support retailers who’ve shifted to renewables through programs like WindMade, which identifies products that are manufactured using wind power. (We can do all that, and not waste our time with recalcitrant national politicians.)

Second, we must reduce the energy, mainly gasoline, that we consume for transportation.

That’s where the Obama Administration is heading with its proposal to gradually increase the average mileage for US-made cars and trucks to 54.5 mpg between 2017 and 2025.

This single, sweeping change would cut in half the amount of gasoline Americans consume.  Most people offering comments on the proposal at a hearing in Detroit yesterday were strongly supportive of this non-partisan effort.

The move to stricter mileage standards will reduce dependence on foreign oil, cut carbon pollution, reduce costs for consumers and create new jobs in the auto industry, enthused Bob King, president of the United Autoworkers Union.

“That’s a strong set of positives,” he said.

The new mileage goals will circumvent the need to drill in fragile places like the Alaskan Arctic or deep in the ocean, risking disasters like the BP Gulf oil spill, said Larry Schweiger, executive president of the National Wildlife Federation.

“The best place to drill for oil,” declared Schweiger at the hearing, “is under the hoods of our cars.”

By saving on gasoline, if not on the upfront cost of a car, consumers will still net a savings of around $3,000 over the 10-year life of an automobile, said Dr. Mark Cooper, director of research for the Consumer Federation of America.

“These standards may well be the most important energy policy of the last quarter century,” he said. “They are win, win, win.”

But it’s not just workers, consumers and environmentalists who will benefit. The auto industry is embracing these new standards as a path toward revived relevance, with the provision that the federal government can review progress and make adjustments midway in the 13-year process.

Car dealers expressed some concern at the Detroit hearing that the new technologically advanced cars will cost consumers more at the outset – perhaps as much as $3,000 compared with today. Even though they’ll easily recoup that cost at the pump, buyers of modest means could be shut out of financing.

But another dealer pointed out that the costs could be leveled as technology advances.

Manufacturers representatives speaking during the opening of the hearing predicted that consumers will want the new technology, and understand that it affords them a net savings.

As John Viera, director of sustainability for Ford Motor Co. noted, one-third of the carmaker’s 2012 models already offer 40 mpg or better — a response to consumer desires.

“The standards proposed are aggressive,” he said, “but so are the demands from consumers for fuel efficiency.”

Copyright © 2011 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Jan 122012

From Green Right Now Reports

Vestas wind turbines in the US.

In an ominous sign that the world economy is dragging on the wind industry, Denmark-based Vestas Wind announced today that it will lay off more than 2,300 employees as part of a reorganization to keep the company competitive.

The lay off of employees — 1,749 in Europe, 182 in the US and 404 in China and elsewhere — will help the company streamline and reduce its fixed costs by more than 150 million Euro, according to a statement.

Vestas, the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturer, also announced that it is preparing for a “potential slowdown in the US in case the present Production Tax Credit (PTC) is not extended.”

The PTC offers wind developers a tax credit based on the size of their project. It has been credited with keeping the industry’s sails billowing, even during the recent economic recession.

The PTC is due to expire at the end of 2012, and US wind advocates have urged Congress to renew the provision so that wind developers can continue to attract businesses and provide jobs. But deficit hawks in Congress have been reluctant to pass such measures, even though they are not direct spending bills, but tax abatements.

If the US fails to extend the PTC, Vestas says it will lay off an additional 1,600 employees at plants in the US, an announcement that caused the American Wind Energy Association to issue its own statement urging Congress to pay attention.

“Today’s Vestas announcement shows the danger to U.S. manufacturing jobs if Congress waits any longer to extend the Production Tax Credit (PTC). The layoffs have begun, and every week that goes by without a PTC extension puts these good American jobs at greater risk,” said AWEA CEO Denise Bode.

“Manufacturers like Vestas have invested billions of dollars a year in the U.S. economy, and wind energy has become one of the fastest-growing sources of new American manufacturing jobs. Studies show that with stable tax policy the wind industry can grow to nearly 100,000 American jobs in the next four years and support 500,000 American jobs by 2030. But we have to provide this industry with stable tax policy and a predictable business climate. A PTC extension needs to be first on the list of priorities to be included when Congress gets back to work again in a few weeks.”

The rest of Vestas’ multi-page announcement explained that the company’s restructuring of top management and divisions was aimed at reducing costs, achieving better economies of scale and readying the company for a renewed emphasis on offshore wind.

The statement noted that Vestas remains flush with business,  starting 2012 with a backlog of orders for 7.4 Gigawatts of wind.

It will continue forward after the layoffs with 20,400 employees.