Energy and Global Warming News for May 3: Offshore wind update; Social media and the spill

Offshore Wind update

An environmental permit granted last week for the Cape Wind power project is not the last hurdle facing the most advanced offshore wind farm proposed for the United States. However, wind power technology developers and analysts express confidence that the nine-year-old offshore wind project will get built, and that more like it will dot U.S. coastal waters by 2020.

The drive toward offshore wind, however, may be driven more by politics than economic and energy policy. Offshore wind farms cost up to twice as much as land-based wind installations, but they offer political leaders in densely populated U.S. coastal states a source of local energy other than offshore oil and gas. “They want their energy to be local. They want to harvest it inside their own state. And for the first time they can conceive of that possibility,” says Walt Musial, who leads offshore wind energy research activities for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO.

Musial’s analyses show that the 28 U.S. coastal states consume 78 percent of the nation’s electricity, but only six could meet even one-fifth of their power demand with land-based wind energy–the fastest growing source of energy. Add in offshore wind potential in shallow waters, however, and that number jumps to 26 states; for many it could serve 100 percent of power demand. But achieving favorable economics will be hard.

Cape Wind’s top challenge now is to get a deal with an electric utility. Proving that it has a firm buyer and price for its energy is a prerequisite to then clearing the next hurdle, which is raising the close to $2 billion in financing that’s likely necessary to build the 130-turbine, 468-megawatt project. Cape Wind and local utility National Grid say they are negotiating an agreement.

Social Media and the Spill

With the consequences of the Gulf of Mexico’s oil spill seeming to worsen by the day, expressions of outrage and anguish over the disaster are mounting in the online universe.

In addition to thousands of stories on the spill from traditional media sources, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are alight with posts from government, the oil industry and citizens from around the globe.

“Someone said BP must not be let off the hook. I agree,” the Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator, Lisa Jackson, tweeted on Saturday.

BP in particular is being hammered by critics all over the Web, with thousands of posts on Twitter and Facebook slamming the company for its failure to prevent the disaster and its inability to stanch the flow of oil from their well nearly two weeks after the accident.

“You can rest assured that I will walk before I would ever buy a gallon of your gasoline,” read a recent Twitter post, directed at BP America.

“Thanks for fighting standards & regulations that would have prevented this leak,” another user opined on Sunday afternoon.

In response, the oil companies involved are stepping up what will almost certainly be a long and painful exercise in public relations damage control. British Petroleum and Transocean, which owns the rig that exploded and sank, are using a new Web site and Facebook page to spread information about the spill response. BP America is turning to Twitter to share its side of the story.

Preparation for groundbreaking offshore wind farm project begins in Atlantic City

An 85-foot research vessel pulled away from Barney’s Dock in Atlantic City last Thursday, an American flag fluttering from its rigging, and a yellow painted buoy perched on its stern.

Riding the tide, the trawler headed for a spot 2.8 miles as the crow flies from Tennessee Avenue and the Boardwalk before dropping the buoy, bristling with scientific instruments, into the cold waters of the Atlantic.

It is the beginning of a two-year wind and whale study for what may end up being the nation’s first offshore wind farm, where pylon-mounted turbines perched high above the waves, driven by huge, aerodynamic blades spinning freely to catch the wind, are expected to generate enough power one day to light up thousands of homes.

New Jersey is in a race to have the first offshore wind-generated power project, and the state just might beat Massachusetts, where U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last week announced the approval of a 130-turbine wind farm in Nantucket Sound. That project, under review for nine years, continues to be threatened by lawsuits.

The issue has taken on renewed urgency as the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which threatens wildlife and beaches along the Louisiana and Florida coastline, has dampened enthusiasm for offshore drilling. On Friday, a group of New Jersey lawmakers called for a moratorium on oil exploration off parts of the Atlantic Coast, and urged the federal government to speed up the permitting process for offshore wind farms.

The shore of the Garden State slopes to a shallow continental sea shelf “” perfect for locating turbines “” and at least four sites are under study. Three are in federal waters as far as 20 miles from shore. A fourth, the focus of the research being conducted out of Atlantic City, is in state waters much closer to land.

Credits help meet targets for renewable energy

California law will soon force the state’s electric utilities to get 20 percent of their power from renewable sources, a hard target to reach.

But the law has a loophole.

Under rules recently approved by the state, the utilities will be allowed to use “renewable energy credits” to meet that 20 percent goal. The credits are a kind of financial asset, not a contract to buy power from a wind farm or solar power plant. Their use means that the amount of renewable power flowing over California’s electrical grid probably won’t be as high as advertised.

Think of the renewable energy credit, or REC, as a chit. Every time a wind farm, geothermal power plant or solar facility generates one megawatt-hour of electricity, its owner gets a REC. That REC can be sold along with the electricity or on its own. Utilities can buy RECs from renewable power generators within California or several states away.

EU, China strengthen green ties

Chinese and European officials on Friday hailed the important role the clean energy sector is playing in bilateral trade as the two sides step up the fight against climate change.

Chinese and European officials on Friday hailed the important role the clean energy sector is playing in bilateral trade as the two sides step up the fight against climate change.

“We are very happy to see very important prospects for the development of many concrete projects between China and the EU,” Jos Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, said at the launch ceremony of the Europe-China Clean Energy Center in Beijing on Friday.

He was speaking a day after a meeting with Premier Wen Jiabao during which the two leaders discussed issues including China-EU relations and climate change.

Based at Tsinghua University, the center is a China-EU cooperation project, which, with more than 12 million euros investment from the EU, aims to propel technical transfer and communication between China and Europe.

Major projects will include the use of clean coal, sustainable bio fuels, renewable energy resources, energy efficiency in energy consumption and efficient distribution systems.

“The center is an another step in the common efforts between China and the EU in shaping a more sustainable, environmental friendly and efficient energy sector,” said Barroso.

China is committed to reducing carbon intensity by 40 to 45 percent by 2020 based on the 2005 level and raising the share of non-fossil fuels in total energy consumption to 15 percent by 2020.

To that end, clean energy development will top the agenda of the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) for the energy sector. Both the goals for emission reduction and the rise of non-fossil energies require long-term efforts and early deployment, said Li Junfeng, deputy director-general of the Energy Research Institute under the National Development and Reform Commission.

Pentagon withdraws objection to Oregon wind farm project; construction to begin

The Pentagon has withdrawn its objection to what promises to be the world’s largest wind farm, allowing for construction to move ahead on the Shepherds Flat project in Oregon.

Senior Defense Department officials called Oregon Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley on Friday to say they will update the radar system near Fossil, Ore., so that its operation would not be affected by the 338 turbines that will be installed as part of the project. Both senators had lobbied fiercely for the $2 billion project, which could generate 16,000 jobs nationwide, after the Pentagon held up a permit that needs to be granted by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Construction had been slated to begin Saturday.

“The bottom line for me is, had this not been worked out, blocking this project would have chilled the entire opportunity to generate significant new private investment in clean energy in this country,” Wyden said. He added that the resolution of the impasse “is showing that protecting America in a dangerous world and shaking free our dependence on foreign oil are not mutually exclusive. It’s going to be possible to address both of these very significant policy concerns.”

A religious take on climate change

Were it not for the setting in a stately Romanesque cathedral near downtown Los Angeles, the gathering might have been mistaken for a political rally.

Many of the 90 people present signed cards to California’s two U.S. senators urging them to support legislation to roll back greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Others pledged to oppose efforts by oil companies and conservative activists in California to suspend the state’s landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. They signed a “carbon covenant” to oppose illegal logging and deforestation in the developing world.

Yet for most of those last Sunday, the underlying motivation was not political but religious. They said they had a moral duty to care for the Earth and all of God’s creation. They called for a widened understanding of what it means to love one’s neighbor in a world where choices made on one continent can affect people thousands of miles away, including those in poor countries least able to cope with climate shifts.

The gathering at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral was yet another sign of a maturing religious environmental activism and sophistication 40 years after the first Earth Day. At that time, religious bodies were virtually silent about “green” issues. Not now. Indeed, longtime environmental advocates such as author Bill McKibben, the keynote speaker at St. John’s, said that whatever success there may be in staunching the worst effects of climate change will depend in large part on people of faith.

7 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for May 3: Offshore wind update; Social media and the spill

  1. catman306 says:

    I read somewhere that because the surface of the Gulf is much warmer than Prince William Sound, the crude oil is behaving differently. More of it is evaporating, they wrote. What would those gases be? Are they greenhouse gases? Will there be enough of these evaporates to effect climate? Opinions welcome.

  2. Bob Wallace says:

    “The drive toward offshore wind, however, may be driven more by politics than economic and energy policy. Offshore wind farms cost up to twice as much as land-based wind installations, ….”

    Take a look at a US wind map that shows both over land and offshore wind.

    Notice where the “Outstanding” wind is found? Offshore. Both coasts. Think that while it might cost more to install turbines offshore the extra wind might mitigate some of that cost?

    Notice how close the red/Outstanding zones are to the densely populated Eastern and Western Coasts? How much extra would it cost to ship power from less ‘powerful’ wind areas in the Midwest? Think harvesting the power closer to the point of use might mitigate some of that cost?

    Finally, we know that when we hook wind farms from different geographical areas together we end up with more reliable output and minimize our need for storage and backup. It can well be that wind energy harvested off the Atlantic or Pacific coast might be shipped to the Midwest when their wind dies down. That also has value and offsets offshore costs.

  3. Bob Wallace says:

    “New Jersey is in a race to have the first offshore wind-generated power project….”

    That should read “first offshore *salt water* wind-generated ….”

    Projects for the Great Lakes seem to be further along. And there’s some serious wind to be harvested there. (Check the wind map link in my previous post.)

  4. riverat says:

    I’m not sure how practical off-shore wind is on the west coast. There is not a lot of shallow water off shore along most of it.

  5. Bob Wallace says:

    West coast – you float ’em.

    Floating rigs in very deep water are being tested right now in Europe.

  6. Saar Herman says:

    We cannot afford to be careless specially since the earth is not as strong as it once was. Here’s a related article about an oil spill:

  7. Jerry Graf says:

    If your concern is American dependence on oil, consider that oil has virually nothing to do with production of electricity; therefore, implementation of wind power generation can not reduce our use of oil.

    In fact, because of its high cost of implementation and relative inefficiency, use of wind power generation will in general drive up the cost of electricity, which will hamper any efforts to transition away from our primary uses for oil (gasoline powered automobiles and home heating).