Energy and Global Warming News for December 10: GE wins $1.4 billion turbine order for biggest wind farm so far

GE Wind

GE Wins $1.4 Billion Turbine Order for Biggest Wind Farm So Far

General Electric Co. won a $1.4 billion contract to supply turbines and services for an Oregon wind farm that would be bigger than any completed so far and supply a tenth of Southern California Edison’s renewable energy.

GE, whose equipment generates one-third of the world’s electricity, will supply 338 of its 2.5-megawatt turbines to Caithness Energy LLC to be installed in 2011 and 2012 and will hold a 10-year service contract, the companies said in a statement. About 400 people will be needed during construction of the wind farm and 35 to run the plant, GE said.

The Shepherd’s Flat project, when finished, will supply energy to the U.S. west coast grid, including Southern California Edison, Les Gelber a partner at New York-based Caithness, said in the statement. The two-year construction project, to begin in 2010, entails building about 85 miles of road and 90 miles of power lines that will connect to the grid.

Shepherd’s Flat will provide enough energy to power 235,000 average California homes and have the capacity to generate 2 billion kilowatt hours a year, the statement said. GE Energy Financial Services will also invest an undisclosed amount in the project.

During the third quarter, customers of Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE installed wind turbines capable of generating 692 megawatts, or 43 percent of the 1,600 megawatts in wind-power generators added in the period, according to the Washington-based American Wind Energy Association. The GE Energy division is based in Atlanta.

Total U.S. wind power capacity increased 5.4 percent in the third quarter to 31,040 megawatts as project financing resumed and utilities sought to increase supplies of renewable energy to meet state mandates, the association said. Southern California Edison is a unit of Rosemead, California-based Edison International.

Wind energy industry looks to Copenhagen for a mandate

American wind power is blowing strong despite hard economic times. That’s the message from Denise Bode, chief executive officer of the American Wind Energy Association and she’s sticking to it – despite the dicey economy.

“Last year during an almost depression we added 55 new manufacturing facilities and 35,000 new jobs in the US, which I think makes it one of the bright spots in the economy,” she said in an interview last week with the Monitor.

Right now the industry employs more than 85,000 people with many new wind-power factories having taken over previously empty appliance, auto, and steel plants, she says.

Last year the US took over first place globally in terms of the amount of installed wind power, she notes.

No one disputes that 2008 turned out well indeed for US wind power. The economic hammer really didn’t hit the wind industry until the fall – about a year ago. Wind power had its financing yanked out from under it just as the rest of the economy did.

Even so, many projects that already had their funding soldiered ahead, and by year’s end, a record 8,500 megawatts worth of turbines had been installed.

A large number of projects from the heady go-go days when a flush Wall Street was financing wind farms with abandon were still in the pipeline in 2009 – up through the first half of this year, Ms. Bode acknowledges.

Now, however, the picture is less clear even though there are bright spots.

Growth was strong through the end of the third quarter of 2009 with 5,800 megawatts of capacity built – more than the 5,000 last year.

Still, today there is just 5,000 megawatts of wind power in the near-term development pipeline compared with 8,000 megawatts last year. That slowing is hurting US wind manufacturing plants in places like Iowa, where turbine and blade manufacturing facilities have laid off workers and are sitting on a lot of inventory, analysts say.

The wind power industry got a pick-me-up this summer when stimulus funding began to hit. A measure that allowed an alternate means of financing kicked in – enabling wind-power developers to turn investment tax credits into dollars by getting direct refunds from the federal government.

So far at least $1 billion in such financing has supported the industry this year, Bode says.

“Until the end of 2008, [wind power manufacturers] were making machinery as fast as they could,” she says. “Now we’re still seeing significant problems in this manufacturing sector. The recovery package threw us a lifeline, but they’re still hurting.”

But as important is the stimulus aid was, what happens next in Copenhagen and in Congress – and how soon – is critical, she says.

On her wish list this Christmas is a strong statement or agreement coming out of both the climate summit and Capitol Hill committing the US and the rest of the world to shift away from fossil fuels and put in place clear requirements – a mandate – to build renewable energy.

What happens in global climate and global energy politics matters very much, she says. “It makes a huge difference if the world as a community decides to recognize these [carbon emissions] costs “¦ and say we’re going to do something about it collectively – and move to cleaner sources of generation.”

“Tax credits will trickle down as a lifeline to keep manufacturers alive,” she continues. “But what we really need is a strong national commitment from Congress – a hard target” that sets a percentage requirement for how much renewable energy utilities must use.

To do that, climate-energy legislation that provides mandates to build renewable energy generation is needed – not just caps on carbon emissions, she says.

A Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) is featured in both the House version of climate energy legislation passed this spring and the currently stalled Senate version. But neither is as strong as Bode would like.

The House bill’s RES starts in 2011 requiring just 4 percent renewable energy rising to 20 percent by 2020. Much of that, however, can met by energy efficiency improvement and “clean coal,” she says with barely disguised disdain.

At this point, the Senate bill’s standard is even weaker – starting in 2010 at 3 percent and rising to 15 percent with various opt out provisions for governors, she says.

Offshore wind development is a big focus right now for the industry, said Bode, particularly in the New England area. The controversial Cape Wind project appears to be moving ahead as the development group announced this month that National Grid would buy “most likely all of the power,” a Cape Wind spokesman told ClimateWire.

But for offshore wind power development to surge, more comprehensive siting studies and policy development is needed at the federal level between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Department of Energy and Department of Interior.

“New England has to be able to plan for offshore wind power,” Bode says.

Transmission lines are another huge potential roadblock. Without new lines to bring in renewable wind power from distant Plains states, wind generation will be stymied, she says.

New technologies like superconducting cable that could be buried underground out of site, might lessen the local “not-in-my-backyard” type resistance toward lines bring wind power from the Dakotas to major US cities, some industry experts say.

Mortality of wind power to birds and bats remains a question mark and is being studied actively by the industry and independent researchers.

Even so, right now some 300,000 megawatts of wind projects are in the queue, at various stages, Bode says. Many of those aren’t “real” projects yet, she admits.

But it shows that the industry is poised to get to 20 percent of the nation’s energy generation – if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC and other siting authorities can get transmission issues worked out.

“We’re shovel ready, ready to rock and roll, and we can get to 20 percent [of US energy generation] easy, clearly by 2030,” she says. “But transmission is going to be an increasing problem over the next five years.”

Insurers at core of climate change fallout

With the number of extreme weather events continuing to grow around the world the insurance industry is finding itself at the very center of efforts to avert the worst effects of climate change.

But as drought and demand for water intensify; heat waves become more severe; downpours more violent; and destructive coastal flooding more frequent, some even in the industry say its traditional risk-management tool may not be up to the task.

“Perhaps no industry is as aligned with the interests of a changing climate as the insurance industry is,” said Patrick M. Liedtke, managing director of the Geneva Association, an industry body, at a side-event at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen on Wednesday.

“But [tackling climate change] is not something that the industry can do by itself,” Liedtke added.

“It requires flanking action from governments, policy makers, regulators, NGOs and a lot of public dialogue. The whole world can’t be insured, only parts of it.”

“Insurers are on the front lines of climate change,” added Andrew Logan,
director of the investor group Ceres’ insurance program, in an interview.

“Climate change has the potential to bankrupt the industry, or at the very least make it a lot smaller and a lot less profitable. So insurers have every incentive to push for solutions to climate change, including advocating for strong public policy.”

Part of the debate taking place in Copenhagen is centered on addressing what, precisely, it will take to engage private insurers and harness their expertise in the large, complex and unexpected risk associated with increasingly calamitous weather patterns.

And while the issue is undoubtedly a pressing one, particularly for the under-insured societies of the developing world, it is also a cause for some confusion as weather-related coverage largely operates at the intersection of private and state mechanisms.

Plus, there is the fact that, at first blush, investors and policyholders at the household level — in the developed world at least — appear to be little directly affected by weather-related catastrophes.

Their insurance premiums will almost certainly rise, but governments in industrialized countries often largely bear the direct cost of extreme weather events.

Copenhagen at Home: Coal Free Future Begins in Kentucky

As world leaders gather for the Copenhagen Climate Summit, we plan to make our own Copenhagen pledge here at home: It’s time to envision a coal-free future. It’s time for clean energy independence.

For starters, here in Kentucky we disagree with Commerce Lexington that energy legislation is “the most immediate threat to Kentucky’s business climate.”

Nothing could be further from the truth for Lexington, Kentucky, and the rest of our nation. Dirty energy led to Lexington’s embarrassing selection last year as the worst carbon footprint contributor in the nation. Commerce Lexington has taken a giant carbon step backwards.

In 1776, Thomas Paine challenged our country to embrace the cause of independence over compromise. In a moment of crisis, he declared: “We have it in our power to make the world over again.”

Our modern-day Paine, James Hansen at the NASA Goddard Center, has issued a similar clarion call: “Coal is the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on our planet. Our global climate is nearing tipping points.”

It’s time to envision a coal-free future. It’s time for clean energy independence.

Coal mining, which provides 45 percent of our electricity, will not end tomorrow. Every coal miner deserves a right to a sustainable livelihood; given the legacy of our coal miners, we also believe no coal miner should be displaced from his or her job until we develop clean energy alternatives. This means that coalfield residents, like all Americans, deserve a road map for a feasible transition to clean-energy jobs — including a Coal Miner’s GI Bill for retraining and a massive reinvestment in sustainable economic development in coalfield communities — before we reach a point of no return.

All coal mining communities know that the first time in 25 years, utilities coal stockpiles have increased during the summer; absentee coal companies are cutting jobs and idling higher-cost mines to keep their stock holders happy in a period of slumping demand; recent U.S. Geological Survey estimates place “peak coal” production as early as 2020.

As grandchildren of black-lung-afflicted coal miners from Kentucky, Illinois, and southwestern Virginia, we honor our families’ sacrifices in recognizing, not denying, the true cost of coal. Our grandfathers benefited from a transition to mechanization to improve mine safety. The time has come for a transition to clean-energy jobs.

Coal is not cheap nor clean; coal has been killing us — for over 200 years. Over 104,000 Americans have died in coal-mining accidents; three coal miners die daily from black-lung disease. Millions of acres of forests and farmlands have been strip-mined into oblivion; pioneering communities have been plundered. Half of Americans live within an hour of a toxic coal ash dump.

The Physicians for Social Responsibility recently found that coal “contributes to four of the top five causes of mortality in the U.S. and is responsible for increasing the incidence of major diseases.”

The National Academy of Scientists totaled costs of coal at more than $62 billion in “external damages” to our health and lives. A West Virginia University report noted the coal industry “costs the Appalachian region five times more in early deaths than it provides in economic benefits.”

In Kentucky, according to a Mountain Association of Community Economic Development study, coal may provide $528 million in state revenue, but costs $643 million in state expenditures.

Nothing has motivated our commitment for clean energy more than the tragedy of mountaintop-removal mining. We have seen the devastation of clear-cutting our nation’s great forests and carbon sink of Appalachia and blowing up its oldest mountain range. We have met the casualties of absentee commerce; grieving parents who have lost loved ones to coal slurry-contaminated water; veterans and elderly who endure blasting, fly rock and silica dust; families who have seen their homes washed away in floods caused by erosion; streams poisoned with mining waste; boarded-up communities, strangled by a boom-and-bust single economy.

The plunder of Appalachia must end.

More so, with coal-fired plants contributing over 30 percent of our CO2 emissions, everyone’s fate is connected to the coalfields now.

In the end, our fiduciary responsibility to our children demands a new way of generating our electricity in Kentucky and the country. It also affords us a great opportunity for economic and social revitalization

Clean energy independence, not coal, will bring more sustainable jobs.

Wind, solar, hydropower and turbine manufacturing, along with weatherization, retrofitting appliances and homes, could create jobs. The Appalachian Regional Commission found that “energy-efficiency investments could result in an increase of 77,378 net jobs by 2030” in the region.

For us, such a clean energy revolution begins with the proposed Smith # 1 coal-fired plant in eastern Kentucky. Instead of a costly coal-fired dinosaur, a recent study found that a combination of “energy efficiency, weatherization, hydropower and wind power initiatives in the East Kentucky Power Cooperative region would generate more than 8,750 new jobs for Kentucky residents, with a total imp
act of more than $1.7 billon on the region’s economy over the next three years.”

Ultimately, this clean energy independence would meet the energy needs of EKPC customers and cost less than the proposed coal plant.

So, this is our Copenhagen pledge at home: It’s time to imagine a coal-free future.

Obama Seeks Ways to Spur Job Creation From Reducing Emissions

President Barack Obama, during meetings with executives from Duke Energy Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc, sought ways to spur job creation from the type of carbon-dioxide reductions being debated at climate-change talks in Copenhagen.

“His number one concern was, how do we create jobs as we build a bridge to a low-carbon future?” Rogers said of his meeting with Obama, in an interview today on Bloomberg Television.

Obama will go to Copenhagen on Dec. 18, as the U.S. proposes cutting its emissions by about 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. Obama yesterday said rebates for consumers that make their homes more energy efficient would help reduce the U.S. unemployment rate.

The president has also found there’s an “emerging consensus” for wealthy nations to provide $10 billion a year by 2012 to help developing countries deal with global warming, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Dec. 4.

Representatives from 192 nations are meeting in Copenhagen for two weeks to seek agreement on quantifiable goals to reduce global levels of carbon dioxide emissions, which scientists say contribute to climate change.

Among those meeting with the president today was Marvin Odum, president of Shell’s U.S. operations. Along with the corporate executives, Obama met with environmental group leaders, including Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters and Carl Pope, president of the Sierra Club.

It was “a very constructive and important conversation with the president, reaffirming the commitment to get a strong international agreement at the end of next week, reaffirming the need for comprehensive clean-energy legislation,” said Karpinski.

“The tenor of the conversation was extraordinarily collaborative,” said Pope. The idea that businesses and environmental groups are at odds on climate change solutions “simply was not borne out by the conversation today.”

Rogers is among executives who have backed creating a cap- and-trade system to limit carbon dioxide emissions and establish a market to trade pollution allowances.

A cap-and-trade program “gives us the ability to smooth the cost impact out on consumers,” Rogers said. “It is very important we do this in a way that does not dramatically increase the prices of electricity.”

6 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for December 10: GE wins $1.4 billion turbine order for biggest wind farm so far

  1. Cyril R. says:

    Sounds good, about 1657 USD/kWe installed. Prices are clearly falling, especially considering the extremely weak US dollar!

    Those roads and transmission lines may add something like 5-15% to that figure. Probably could be completed for under 2 dollars per Watt all-in.

  2. Kerri Woodberg says:

    As i recall,GE bought the Enron manufacturing and windfarm business. Looks like a very expensive investment.

  3. C. Vink says:

    Ocean acidification rates pose disaster for marine life, major study shows
    The Guardian, December 10 – The world’s oceans are becoming acidic at a faster rate than at any time in the last 55m years, threatening disaster for marine life and food supplies across the globe, delegates at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen have been warned. A report by more than 100 of Europe’s leading marine scientists, released at the climate talks this morning, states that the seas are absorbing dangerous levels of carbon dioxide as a direct result of human activity.

    China emissions could double by 2020: experts
    AFP, December 10 – Despite China’s pledges to improve energy efficiency, its carbon emissions could double by 2020 as compared with 2005 levels, surpassing limits seen as key to fighting global warming, experts say. (…) “With eight percent growth, emissions will increase by 74 percent,” said Emmanuel Guerin, a climate analyst at France’s Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI).

    Tropical Forests Affected by Habitat Fragmentation Store Less Biomass and Carbon Dioxide
    ScienceDaily, December 10 – Deforestation in tropical rain forests could have an even greater impact on climate change than has previously been thought. The combined biomass of a large number of small forest fragments left over after habitat fragmentation can be up to 40 per cent less than in a continuous natural forest of the same overall size.

    10 years to avoid climate change catastrophe, warns Met Office
    The Independent, December 10 – Even if emissions peaked in 2020, there would be a 50/50 chance of temperatures rising by more than two degrees and heralding potential global catastrophe, scientists told the Copenhagen climate change conference. (…) The Met Office’s Avoid study – carried out with several other British scientific groups – found that limiting the rise to 1.5C was now “virtually impossible” because of all the greenhouse gases already pumped out. (…) Even if emissions were suddenly reduced to nothing, there would still be a rise of 1.3C because of the existing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, Avoid has found.
    Also see here and here.

    Finland: Biodiesel Breakthrough or Environmental Nightmare?
    IPS, December 9 – As Finnish energy major Neste Oil scales up production of its ‘green’ diesel NExBTL, environmental activists fear that more land will go under palm oil plantations at the expense of Southeast Asia’s threatened rainforests. Palm oil is the main feedstock that goes into the production of NExBTL of which Neste Oil expects to use 50,000 tonnes this year and scale up that figure in subsequent years.

    Cooling in 2008 caused by natural causes, NOAA scientists say
    Citizen-Times, December 7 – Cooler North American temperatures in 2008 resulted from a strong natural effect, and the overall warming trend that has been observed since 1970 is likely to resume, according to university and NOAA scientists. (…) ‘We found that North American coolness resulted from a strong bout of naturally caused cooling in the tropical and northeastern Pacific sea surface temperatures,’ said Martin Hoerling, a NOAA meteorologist and co-author.

    Carbon taxes deliver more emission reductions: IMF
    The Australian, December 5 – The International Monetary Fund has backed carbon taxes over the emissions trading system favoured by the Rudd government, saying they would deliver greater reduction in emissions and more certainty. (…) An IMF report prepared for the Copenhagen conference is sharply critical of the concessions being granted to industries such as coal, electricity and agriculture in the government’s recent negotiations with the Liberal Party.

  4. Cyril R. says:

    Kerri, it doesn’t look so bad to me. For a 1700 – 1900 USD/kWe all in investment (including infrastructure) and 25-35 percent capacity factor, the levelised cost should be in the range of 5 – 8 cents/kWh delivered to your home.

  5. C. Vink says:

    Mystery Volcano Eruption Solves Global Cooling Puzzle
    National Geographic, December 9 – Scientists have long blamed the 1815 eruption of an Indonesian volcano, Tambora, for a worldwide cold snap the following year – the so-called year without a summer.
    But the entire decade from 1810 to 1819 was about 0.9 degree Fahrenheit (0.5 degree Celsius) cooler than normal – making the dip in temperatures prior to Tambora a mystery.
    Now the case appears to be closed: A recent analysis of ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica reveal that in 1809, a volcano somewhere in the tropics erupted, a new study says.

  6. Lou says:

    To Joe or someone else that can answer:

    Can somebody please explain to me how new capacity for wind power is estimated? For example suppose in year 201x 2000 2.1 MW wind turbines are built. Now does the wind industry simply measure the new capacity for wind power from these turbines at 4.2 GW or do they actually try to legitimately calculate the average expected capacity through computer modeling the average wind speed in the regions in which the turbines were constructed? If the first method is used, isn’t that disingenuous, reporting a maximum potential that will never actually be obtained instead of what energy the turbines would actually generate? Thank you for any help.

    I emailed this question to the American Wind Energy Association weeks ago, but never received a response.