Environment Forum

Caveat investor: Wind may let you down

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John Laforet is president of Wind Concerns Ontario, a coalition of 42 grassroots organizations aiming to curtail development of wind farms in the central Canadian province of Ontario.  He is also running for municipal public office.

Governments around the world are actively seeking private development of renewable energy projects by offering generous feed-in tariffs that often see developers paid many times the market rate for the power they produce.

This has encouraged a surge of applications, but the volume of applications and other challenges associated with these projects present potential risks to prospective investors.

Projects require transmission capacity to carry their energy to market, but the agencies accepting applications for a given jurisdiction often aren’t responsible for managing transmission systems.

In the Czech Republic, a boom of renewable projects has caused considerable challenges to the transmission system and has caused the grid operator to block future wind projects, while threatening to disrupt grid connections for existing renewable energy projects.

Which way will the wind (power) blow in 2010?

windturbinesThe United States became the No. 1 wind power market in the world in 2008. But under the credit crisis in 2009, the building of new wind farms slackened and the United States ceded its top global spot to China.

With the demand for renewable energy still growing, the American Wind Energy Association is eyeing 2010 as a critical year. Here are some of their top trends to watch for:

Second to natural gas: Wind power generates only 2 percent of the U.S. electrical supply. But new wind power generation in the United States has been second only to natural gas generation in terms of new capacity built each year since 2005. Watch for the industry to work to keep that spot.

Wind projects don’t harm property values: study

Not-in-my-backyard — or NIMBY — protests can stall or stop wind power projects, with their spinning turbines, or other renewable energy projects, as Reuters has reported here.

But a new study issued by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory gives wind power companies and developers a leg up in the debate.

The study — which can be read here – examined the sales of 7,500 single-family homes from 1996 to 2007. It found that wind power does not deserve the stigma — like causing a nuisance or ruining the scenery — that it sometimes carries.

Gaze into clean technology’s crystal ball for 2010

Clean technology investors who have suffered through 2009 can find cheer in a new report by the Cleantech Group that gives its top ten predictions for 2010.

The number one prediction: Private capital growth will recover, the research group said.

The group believes that the amount of money from global venture capital and private equity in clean technology in 2010 will surpass that in 2009 “by a healthy margin” and could be a record year. The group also is watching for major investments like Khosla Ventures’ raising $1 billion for renewable energy and clean technology funds, more capital in Asia and innovative fund strategies.

Which U.S. states make the grade on net-metering?

Advocates for renewable energy hail net-metering as a key policy so that electricity from solar and wind is generated at the same place where it is consumed.

Supporters refer to it as the policy that lets the electric meter spin backwards. It allows people who own solar power systems, for example, export electricity to the grid and earn credits — at retail prices — on their utility bill.

In a new report called “Freeing the Grid,” advocates with several groups grade each state on their net-metering policies.

The race for U.S. smart-grid cash

Utilities across the United States are rushing to a federal stimulus program that is doling out money to create a “smart grid” — systems that will upgrade the electricity grid.******In this story, Reuters correspondent Eileen O’Grady looks at the tough job facing the U.S. Department of Energy: They have to divvy up $4.5 billion in smart-grid money among some 565 applications.******Smart grid technology measures and modifies power usage in homes and businesses and improves grid reliability. Experts envision that it will open the door to a new era with “smart” appliances that turn themselves on and off, electric cars, more renewable energy and more efficiency on power lines.******San Diego Gas & Electric is one of the utilities hoping to launch a smart grid through the federal program and has applied for $100 million in stimulus funds.******Their plan would build micro smart grids at the University of California, San Diego and a residential community in San Diego County. They would work with companies like IBM, Cisco and Itron on the system technologies, software and hardware.******”They not only have to talk with each other but we have to make sure the entire network is secure. So from an intellectual security standpoint, we’ll ensure that we have that set-up, that we have the ability to communicate from one device and we make it seamless for the customer,” said Michael Niggli, chief operations officer at San Diego Gas & Electric.******Another major issue the utility hopes to solve is what happens when energy from renewable resources is intermittent, with its power generated fading or spiking.******”If the wind stops blowing or if the sun has clouds that intervene, so you can be in a situation where the power supply is affected,” Niggli said in a phone interview with Reuters.******”That’s a lot different than what we have today … where it’s like driving a car. If you want to go faster, you push the accelerator.”******Niggli envisions a system where customers can control their home energy use remotely, turning on the air-conditioning from a computer through the Internet or even on  their handset.******Some companies that are partnering with utilities are not putting all their eggs in one basket in the race for the smart-grid stimulus funds.******IBM is working as a vendor with a dozen utilities that have applied for money.******If the smart grid is done right, then customers won’t even notice a difference, said IBM’s Stephen Callahan, who leads the company’s Intelligent Utility Network unit for the Americas.******”Those customers shouldn’t see anything but improvement in cost, reliability, all those things,” Callahan said.******We wanted to know what readers think about the federal program to jump-start smart grid projects. What should the DOE prioritize? What kind of projects would you like to see?******(Photo: The sun is shown as it rises between power transmission lines in Burbank, California. Photo credit: Fred Prouser/Reuters)*********************

from Tales from the Trail:

Team Obama’s Environmental Irony Tour

OBAMA/Okay, so it's August in Washington. It's hot. Congress has gone home. Even the summer interns are packing up and getting out of town. So it's not surprising that top members of the Obama administration might be ready for a road trip.

That's basically what the White House announced in a statement headlined: "Obama Administration Officials Travel America, Talk Clean Energy Economy." President Obama went to Indiana to announce $2.4 billion in funding for advanced battery and electric drive projects; Energy Secretary Steven Chu headed for Minnesota to look at renewable energy projects and North Carolina to announce a big grant to a lithium battery firm, finishing up the week in Massachusetts to talk about clean energy jobs at Harvard; Interior Secretary Ken Salazar went to a solar panel company in Colorado; EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was in Florida and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke traveled to Missouri.

ENVIRONMENT-USA/WINDProbably only a crank would wonder just how much greenhouse gas all this official travel spewed into the atmosphere. There's no hybrid Air Force One, after all. But it does seem like an exquisite irony that, with the best of environmental intentions, the Obama team may have stomped all over the United States with a heavy-duty carbon footprint.

Green Portfolio: Pacific Ethanol shines

Shares in the suffering utility Pacific Ethanol shot up over 8 percent on Tuesday, reaping the rewards of cheaper ethanol prices, thanks largely to what is expected to be a bumper crop year for U.S. corn. Units of Pacific Ethanol that owned four ethanol plants filed for Chapter 11 protection last month, stung by volatile prices for corn, low fuel demand and the credit crisis.******A senior company official at India’s Suzlon Energy said the wind power company was looking at selling assets and shares to lower its debt, dealing a major blow to its shares, falling 11.44 percent in Tuesday trading.

Wacky windmill forces California highway shutdown

Turns out birds aren’t the only ones with a reason to steer clear of wind farms.

This past weekend, a wind turbine spinning out of control forced California police to shut down a stretch of highway because of concerns that it could break into large, heavy, and very fast-moving pieces.

California Highway Patrol officers late on Sunday morning noticed that a roughly 125-foot tall turbine on a ridge near the desert town of Tehachapi was spinning much faster than any of the others at the Tehachapi farm.

Dark days for renewable energy

We knew things were going badly in the renewable energy industry, but this week we got a grim view of just how ugly it looks out there.

Today, research group New Energy Finance said first-quarter investment in so-called clean energy fell 44 percent from the fourth quarter of last year, which in the immediate aftermath of the credit crisis wasn’t exactly stellar itself.

The $13.3 billion of investment in the most recent quarter was 53 percent below the same quarter of last year, the group said.

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