"March 18 News: Battle-proof wind farms survive Japan’s trial by fire; Plan to build twin coal-to-gas plants vetoed; What’s next for wind?"
Despite assertions by its detractors that wind energy would not survive an earthquake or tsunami the Japanese wind industry is still functioning and helping to keep the lights on during the Fuksuhima crisis.
Colleagues and I have been directly corresponding with Yoshinori Ueda leader of the International Committee of the Japan Wind Power Association & Japan Wind Energy Association, and according to Ueda there has been no wind facility damage reported by any association members, from either the earthquake or the tsunami. Even the Kamisu semi-offshore wind farm, located about 300km from the epicenter of the quake, survived. Its anti-earthquake “battle proof design” came through with flying colors.
Mr. Ueda confirms that most Japanese wind turbines are fully operational. Indeed, he says that electric companies have asked wind farm owners to step up operations as much as possible in order to make up for shortages in the eastern part of the country:
“Eurus Energy Japan says that 174.9MW with eight wind farms (64% of their total capacity with 11 wind farms in eastern part of Japan) are in operation now. The residual three wind farms (Kamaishi 42.9MW, Takinekoshirai 46MW, Satomi 10.02MW) are stopped due to the grid failure caused by the earthquake and Tsunami. Satomi is to re-start operations in a few days. Kamaishi is notorious for tsunami disaster, but this wind farm is safe because it is locate in the mountains about 900m high from sea level.”
The largest wind farm operator in Japan, Eurus Energy with about 22% of all wind turbines in Japan, is a subsidiary of Tokyo Electric Company (TEPCO) which operates the Fukushima nuclear facility. Right now, it is likely the company is very happy about its diversified portfolio:
While shares in the Tokyo stock market have fallen during the crisis, the stock price of Japan Wind Development Co. Ltd. has risen from 31,500 yen on 11 March to 47,800 yen on 16 March.
Wind power is cheap. At around 7 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), including subsidies, wind turbines can already compete with natural gas combined cycle plants that produce power at 6 to 9 cents per kWh. So why are utilities still building gas plants? In the U.S. in 2009, natural gas plants represented 43% of all new generating capacity installed, and wind represented 39%.
The intermittent nature of wind power puts it at a major disadvantage: gas plants can provide power 24 hours a day. Compressed air, batteries or other types of storage can offset this liability, but at around 5 cents or more per kWh, storage isn’t cheap. But if wind could get down to 4 cents per kWh, and storage continues to lower its cost, wind with storage could eventually dominate the electricity generation market.
So how do we get there?
Based on a basic cost breakdown for a traditional 2.5 MW turbine (see pie chart below), the most promising areas for shaving costs are the blades, gearbox, generator, and tower, which combined represent 53% of the total turbine capital cost. Of all these pain points, the gearbox, and the potential for direct drives, has garnered quite a bit of attention. After all, 24% of the total turbine cost relates to the gearbox and the generator.
Small wind companies are going in a completely different direction, trying to deliver electricity at the point of use rather than at a large centralized farm that requires costly transmission. Another way to buck the trend is with vertical axis turbines that look more like an old-fashioned lawnmower turned on its side.
Can the current models be tweaked — or do we need a start fresh?
And if wind really wants to take the remaining 61% share of new electricity generation from natural gas and coal — how can storage be incorporated in an economical fashion?
… Democrats are turning to their own dual argument — one that links oil-futures markets to fuel costs and attacks the GOP for proposing to cut the regulation of “speculators.”
Pinning an increase in gas prices on oil speculation is not a new maneuver for Democrats, who made similar calls for stricter regulation by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) when gasoline hit $4 per gallon in the summer of 2008. But the Democratic return to blaming pump prices partly on Wall Street comes as Republicans press to cut CFTC’s budget by one-third, giving Democrats a fresh pushback against the GOP message that reining in EPA would help drive gas costs down.
“There is no question” that speculation is playing a role in the rise in gas prices, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who empowered CFTC to crack down on oil futures traders in last year’s financial reform law, said in an interview.
The $56 million cut to CFTC included in the House GOP’s continuing resolution (CR), which passed Feb. 19, means the commission would “lose the ability to restrict that speculation,” added Frank, the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee.
Many in Frank’s party have hammered home that point in recent days. The House Democratic leadership circulated a memo last week that warned the GOP-backed CR would require CFTC to cut its staff by “about 2/3,” diminishing its power to “monitor the energy markets for fraud and manipulation, which could lead to higher oil prices.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), a member of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee that has jurisdiction over CFTC, recalled yesterday that “even the threat of the specter of that kind of restriction several years ago brought [oil] prices down.”
Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed legislation Monday that would have allowed coal gasification plants to be built on the Southeast Side of Chicago and in Southern Illinois. “Our investments in clean coal must not come at the expense of consumers,” said Mr. Quinn, echoing critics who said the Chicago measure would result in an increase in gas bills by requiring that utilities buy substitute natural gas at a fixed rate for 30 years from a subsidiary of the Leucadia National Corporation, which wanted to build the Chicago plant.
The bill promised that the $3 billion project would save customers at least $100 million. Opponents questioned whether Leucadia could keep its pledge to capture and store 85 percent of the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions, the major driver ofclimate change.
Hoyt Hudson, a spokesman for the company, said the carbon dioxide would be pumped to the Gulf Coast, where it would be used to force oil out of depleted wells, or to sites in central Illinois where it would be stored underground. But no commercial-scale sequestration facility exists in Illinois, and the pipelines needed for either plan would have to be built “” raising financial, political and environmental challenges.
A Texas company, Denbury Resources, has proposed a carbon dioxide pipeline from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast, but that plan is stalled until other gasification plants are built.
“The veto was definitely a disappointment,” Mr. Hudson said. “But our supporters are still encouraging us to come back, and we’re contemplating that.”
In the continuing political battle over the Obama administration’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gases, Democrats and Republicans rarely take aim at the most deserving target: the Supreme Court.
As Democrats are fond of noting, it wasn’t the Obama administration but the Supreme Court that decided in its 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA ruling that greenhouse gases could be regulated under the Clean Air Act.
The court told U.S. EPA to conduct the analysis that led to the so-called endangerment finding — in which EPA concluded that greenhouse gases were harmful — that triggered rules that Republicans in particular are now railing against.
Like other major Supreme Court decisions — including the 2006 wetlands ruling in Rapanos v. United States that still has lawyers and EPA officials befuddled — the justices gave little thought to the practical or political impact of the decision (Greenwire, Feb. 7).
As a result, how lawmakers interpret the ruling varies wildly, depending on the party and environmental predilections of the specific lawmaker.
“The Supreme Court gave EPA permission to act, but it did not mandate it to act,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), author of a bill that would strip the federal government of any authority over greenhouse gases, said in an interview. “I think EPA is overstepping what it should be doing in terms of impacting Americans’ ability to compete globally.”
Lately, the amount of time House Republicans have dedicated to crying over spilled milk would make even the casual observer suspicious.
Fortunately, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is savvy enough to detect that particular brand of crocodile tears unique to Capitol Hill.
However, she still might have to consider changing her title to chief EPA mythbuster if representatives keep using congressional hearings as a forum to boo-hoo to her about cooked-up regulations they know are fallacies yet continue to insist her agency is preparing to promulgate.
Though she sometimes cracks a knowing smile from the witness chair, Jackson is always her gracious, measured and down-to-earth self when she patiently explains to one committee or another that the Environmental Protection Agency does not now “” and will not in the future “” regulate cow flatulence, farm dust or milk spilled on dairy farms.
Those familiar with the hearing room-as-theater scenario in the nation’s capital are accustomed to these sorts of ploys. But even hardened veterans are questioning why Republicans are persisting with this sideshow act when they have created a serious firestorm on center stage by trying to slash EPA’s budget by one-third for the remainder of the fiscal year and threatening to prevent Jackson from deploying the Clean Air Act to curb emissions from heat-trapping gases.