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Archive for the ‘wind power’ Category

photo: Clipper Windpower

Tech and defense industry conglomerate United Technologies has shown growing interest in alternative energy and this week it bought nearly half of California wind turbine maker Clipper Windpower. As I write Friday in The New York Times:

United Technologies, a global industrial heavyweight, will invest $270 million for a 49.5 percent stake in Clipper Windpower, a struggling California-based turbine maker.

The deal, announced this week, marks a change in the ownership structure for one of the few major American-owned turbine makers. (Another is General Electric.)

United Technologies, a Hartford-based parent company to businesses such as jet engine maker Pratt & Whitney and elevator maker Otis, has recently shown interest in alternative energy. For example, it has licensed its molten salt storage technology to solar power plant builder SolarReserve.

In a statement on Wednesday, United Technologies said that it “expects to work closely with Clipper Windpower to improve the company’s core technology, manufacturing, product quality, and supply management capabilities.”

The agreement, the company added, “allows U.T.C. to expand its power generation portfolio and enter the high-growth wind power segment.”

Clipper, which is listed on London’s A.I.M. stock exchange, began to look for investors earlier this year as the global recession took its toll and customers delayed turbine orders. Millions of dollars spent fixing defects in some older turbines further sapped Clipper’s cash flow. Its share price rose by close to 20 percent on Thursday, after the deal was announced.

Douglas Pertz, Clipper’s chief executive, said in an interview on Friday that he expects to see the market revive in the latter half of 2010. (On Thursday, G.E. announced a $1.4 billion deal to supply turbines to what would be the nation’s largest wind farm, in Oregon.)

United Technologies has agreed not to acquire additional shares of Clipper for two years following the close of the deal.

Mr. Pertz argued that there are similarities between General Electric and United Technologies — as well as a bit of history.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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I’ve written before about the coming collision between green energy projects and endangered wildlife. Now we have a federal court decision in a case involving an endangered bat and a West Virginia wind farm. As I write Thursday in The New York Times:

A federal judge’s ruling that stopped construction of a West Virginia wind farm to protect an endangered bat underscores the growing conflicts between green energy and imperiled wildlife.

But the case, thought to be the first of its kind involving a wind energy project, seems unlikely to derail other projects, as some wind energy advocates have feared, unless the operators ignore endangered species laws.

In the West Virginia dispute, a subsidiary of wind developer Invenergy called Beech Ridge Energy applied to build a 122-turbine project along an Appalachian ridgeline in Greenbrier County. The county is home to the Indiana bat, which the federal government listed as endangered in 1967.

“This is a case about bats, wind turbines, and two federal policies, one favoring the protection of endangered species, and the other encouraging development of renewable energy resources,” wrote Judge Roger W. Titus of the Federal District Court in Maryland in Tuesday’s ruling. “The two vital federal policies at issue in this case are not necessarily in conflict.”

That’s because under the Endangered Species Act, developers can apply for an “incidental take permit” that allows the inadvertent killing of protected wildlife if other measures are taken to protect the animals.

Invenergy told federal wildlife officials that surveys had not detected the Indiana bat at the West Virginia wind farm site. Although officials at the Fish and Wildlife Service had urged the company’s consultants to conduct more extensive surveys, a West Virginia state agency approved the project and construction of the wind turbines began.

The Animal Welfare Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit group, sued to stop construction. An initial assessment of the project had estimated that it would annually kill 6,746 bats of all kinds.

After listening to expert testimony from both sides, Judge Titus concluded that Invenergy’s consultants avoided undertaking surveys that would have shown the presence of Indiana bats at the project site.

“By a preponderance of the evidence, that, like death and taxes, there is a virtual certainty that Indiana bats will be harmed, wounded, or killed imminently by the Beech Ridge Project,” the judge wrote in his ruling. “This court has concluded that the only avenue available to defendants to resolve the self-imposed plight in which they now find themselves is to do belatedly that which they should have done long ago: apply for an I.T.P.” (I.T.P. refers to incidental take permit.)

You can read the rest of the story here.

photo: U.S. FIsh and Wildlife Service

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image002There are a growing number of “green” software applications for the iPhone. One of the newest is an app that turns the gadget into an anemometer to clock wind speeds for those considering installing a backyard turbine. As I write in The New York Times on Thursday:

Thinking of putting a wind turbine in your backyard? Mariah Power is introducing a program that will let you measure the wind speed around your house by pointing your iPhone toward the sky.

The application uses the phone’s microphone to capture wind noise. It filters out ambient sound and an algorithm converts the result into a decibel rating that corresponds to wind speed, according to Bill Westerman, a principal at Create with Context, a Silicon Valley digital design company that developed the app for Mariah.

“If you go out in your backyard and do a few measurements it gives you a pretty good idea of the wind speed and tells you what kinds of things you could power with a wind turbine,” said Mr. Westerman.

Mariah, based in Reno, Nev., makes the Windspire, 1.2-kilowatt residential turbine with horizontal blades that looks more like a piece of modern art than a conventional windmill.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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The wind industry has been getting a lot of love of late from the Obama administration.

The president spent Earth Day at an Iowa factory that makes wind turbine towers and announced new regulations for offshore wind farms. Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has been talking up the potential of offshore wind to generate as much as 20% of the eastern seaboard’s electricity that is now provided by coal-fired power plants.

But such scenarios won’t come to pass unless the administration seriously tackles the transmission grid problems that are keeping wind from becoming a nationwide source of green energy, according to panel of wind industry executives who spoke at Fortune Magazine’s Brainstorm Green panel this week.

“The real challenge is to connect wind farms in the Great Plains with the population centers of the Midwest,” said Bob Gates, senior vice president of commercial operations for Clipper Windpower. California-based Clipper is one of two U.S.-owned wind turbine makers (the other being General Electric (GE) ).

For instance, Clipper and BP (BP) have signed an agreement to build a 5,000-megawatt wind farm – the nation’s largest – in South Dakota. But the deal is more a dream at this stage because there are no power lines to transmit such massive amounts of electricity to Chicago and other Midwestern cities. (Gates said there is enough transmission available to begin construction this summer of a small 25-megawatt portion of the wind farm.)

The Obama administration has devoted billions of dollars in stimulus package funding to transmission projects and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week approved incentives for a company planning to build a $12 billion “Green Power Express” transmission project to bring wind to Midwest metropolises.

Gates and the other panelists — Andris Cukurs, CEO of Indian turbine maker Suzlon’s North American operations; Don Furman, a transmission executive with Spanish wind developer Iberdrola Renewables, and James Walker, vice chairman of French-owned wind developer enXco – said the development of wind offshore from East Coast cities would ease transmission bottlenecks.

“Connecting offshore wind to cities is relatively cheap and easy compared to bringing wind power from the Dakotas to New York City,” Gates said. Another way to work around transmission gridlock would be to develop highly efficient small turbines that could be placed near cities and existing power lines, said Gates.

Despite Obama’s embrace of wind, the executives said they don’t see the industry resuming its record growth in 2008 – when U.S. wind capacity more than doubled – until 2010 or later. The credit crunch delayed or scuttled numerous wind farms and turbine orders have fallen dramatically.

One bright spot: Growing interest from well-capitalized utilities in directly investing in wind farms.

“Utility ownership is about 15% of the U.S. turbine fleet,” said Furman of Iberdrola Renewables. “I see more utility ownership in the coming years,, perhaps up to a third of the fleet.”

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three_in_row_hi_mediumWave farm developers must overcome more hurdles to get their projects approved under an agreement signed Thursday ending a feud between two federal agencies that warred over the regulation of offshore wind and wave farms.

A jurisdictional dispute between the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had left in limbo a number of wave energy projects planned for the outer continental shelf, particularly applications from Grays Harbor Ocean Energy of Seattle to build half a dozen combined wave-and-wind farms from New Jersey to Hawaii. The Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service had challenged FERC’s right to approve approve projects on the outer continental shelf. Last month the agencies agreed to end the water fight but offered few specifics on how offshore wind and wave farms would be regulated.

On Thursday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and FERC chairman Jon Wellinghoff signed an accord detailing how their agencies will deal with such projects. FERC will license the construction and operation of wave farms on the outer continental shelf but the Minerals Management Service will issue leases and rights-of-way for those projects. The Minerals Management Service also will be the sole agency to license wind and solar projects on the outer continental shelf.

Previously, a wave energy developer applied to FERC for a preliminary permit to explore the feasibility of a project in a particular stretch of ocean. As such permits award developers first rights to build a project in a given locale, there’s been something of an offshore land rush over the past couple of years to stake claims on the best sites. (The city of San Francisco and Grays Harbor Ocean Energy, for instance, are feuding over competing claims.)

Under Thursday’s agreement, FERC will no longer issue such preliminary permits for wave farms on the outer continental shelf and will not license any projects until developers first secure a lease or right-of-way from the Interior Department.

That should slow the land rush as developers will now be dealing with two federal agencies when it comes to floating their projects.

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siting1

Can Google help defuse a simmering green civil war between renewable energy advocates and wildlife conservationists in the American West?

That’s the idea behind a new Google Earth mapping project launched Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Audubon Society. Path to Green Energy will identify areas in 13 western states potentially suitable for massive megawatt solar power plants, wind farms, transmission lines and other green energy projects. The app will also pinpoint critical habitat for protected wildlife such as the desert tortoise in California and Wyoming’s sage grouse as well as other environmentally sensitive lands.

“This was information that was unavailable or very scattered,” said Google.org program director David Bercovich at a press conference. “The potential cost savings from this will be enormous. If we can get people to the right areas and streamline the process that will have enormous benefits in getting clean energy online faster.”

NRDC senior attorney Johanna Wald said her group already is using Path to Green Energy in New Mexico to help plan a new transmission project. “Careful siting is the key to renewable energy development,” she said, noting that NRDC has mapped 860 million acres. “We’re not greenlighting development on places that are on our map but we’re providing a framework for discussion.”

siting2The unveiling of Path to Green Energy comes two weeks after California Senator Dianne Feinstein announced she would introduce legislation to put as many as 600,000 acres of the Mojave Desert off limits to renewable energy development to protect endangered wildlife and their habitats.  Solar developers have filed lease claims on a million acres of federal land in the California Mojave and there are state and federal efforts already under way to identify green energy zones across the West.

Path to Green Energy is designed to give regulators and developers a tool to choose the best potential sites for solar and wind farms so they don’t get bogged down in years-long and multimillion-dollar fights over wildlife.  Ausra, BrightSource Energy and other developers of the first half-dozen solar power plant projects moving through the licensing process in California have spent big sums on hiring wildlife consultants who spend thousands of hours surveying sites for desert tortoises, blunt-nosed leopard lizards and other protected species.

The Google Earth app won’t do away with the need to do such detailed environmental review but puts in one package a variety of information that developers must now cobble together themselves — if they can find it. Path to Green Energy could also prove valuable to utilities like PG&E (PCG) and Southern California Edison (EIX) as more and more projects are proposed and regulators scrutinize the cumulative impact of Big Solar power plants across regions.

For instance, in California’s San Luis Obispo County, three large-scale solar farms are being planned within a few miles of each other by Ausra, SunPower (SPWRA) and First Solar (FSLR). That has resulted in delays as wildlife officials initiate studies looking at how all those projects affect the movement of wildlife throughout the area. Going forward, Path to Green Energy will give developers a snapshot of where the wild things are, as well as wildlife corridors to help them avoid siting one plant too close to another in a way that may impede animals’ migration. That could save millions of dollars in mitigation costs – money builders must spend to acquire land to replace wildlife habitat taken for a power plant project as well as avoid fights with environmental groups that have become increasingly uneasy about Big Solar projects.

If the desert tortoise is the critter to avoid when building solar power plants in the Mojave, the sage grouse poses problems for Wyoming wind farms. Brian Rutledge, executive director of Audubon Wyoming, said Path to Green Energy shows the densities of sage grouse across the state, allowing developers to stay clear of those areas.

“We get a solid indication of where energy development shouldn’t go,” he said. “Just as important, we get a better sense of the places that should be evaluated for wind turbine farms and transmission lines. The maps make clear that there is plenty of room for green energy.”

The payback from using Web 2.0 software could indeed be tremendous, given that Google (GOOG) spent a scant $50,000 in donations to NRDC and Audubon to create the maps.

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Infighting among U.S. federal agencies over regulation of wind and wave energy development on the outer continental shelf ended Tuesday with an accord that gives the Department of the Interior oversight of offshore wind farms while the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gets jurisdiction over wave and tidal projects.

While the deal brokered by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and acting FERC chairman Jon Wellinghoff will allow wind and wave projects to proceed, it’s still unclear what the impact will be on proposals to build combined offshore wind-and-wave farms.

As Green Wombat wrote earlier this month, a Seattle company called Grays Harbor Ocean Energy has filed applications with FERC to build such combo plants off several states. Among them, California, where the city of San Francisco is attempting to scuttle Grays’ proposed 100 megawatt project that would be located in a marine sanctuary in favor of its own 30 megawatt wave farm that would be built closer to shore.

Environmentalists, surfers and sailors also have objected to the Grays Harbor wave farm and the Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service had challenged FERC’s right to approve combined wind-wave projects.

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