Thursday, January 3, 2013

“Fiscal cliff” deal preserves America’s leading source of new electric generation

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 1, 2013 – Congress has included the long-sought extension of wind energy tax credits in final passage of a bill to avert the "fiscal cliff" that now moves to President Obama for his expected signature.

America's 75,000 workers in wind energy are celebrating tonight over the continuation of policies expected to save up to 37,000 jobs and create far more over time, and to revive business at nearly 500 manufacturing facilities across the country. The extension of the wind energy Production Tax Credit (PTC), and Investment Tax Credits for community and offshore projects, will allow continued growth of the energy source that installed the most new electrical generating capacity in America last year, with factories or wind farms in all 50 states.

The version included in tonight's deal would cover all wind projects that start construction in 2013. Companies that manufacture wind turbines and install them sought that definition to allow for the 18-24 months it takes to develop a new wind farm.

Leaders of the Senate Finance Committee included that version in a "tax extenders" package they assembled in August, which made it into the overall fiscal cliff deal that passed the Senate early this morning and the House tonight. The bill is expected to be swiftly signed into law by President Obama, who consistently supported the wind energy tax credits throughout the process.

Wind set a new record in 2012 by installing 44 percent of all new electrical generating capacity in America, according to the Energy Information Administration, leading the electric sector compared with 30 percent for natural gas, and lesser amounts for coal and other sources.

However, America's wind energy workers have been living under threat of the PTC's expiration for over a year and layoffs had already begun, as companies idled factories because of a lack of orders for 2013. Uncertain federal policies have caused a "boom-bust" cycle in U.S. wind energy development for over a decade.

Half the American jobs in wind energy – 37,000 out of 75,000 – and hundreds of U.S. factories in the supply chain would have been at stake had the PTC been allowed to expire, according to a study by Navigant Consulting.

In the closing days of this year's "lame duck" session of Congress, America's wind energy workers have been posting videos to tell their stories of working in the new industry. The 2,000 companies that belong to AWEA have sent delegations to Capitol Hill repeatedly, invited Members of Congress on tours of wind farms and factories, and delivered hundreds of thousands of letters from constituents.

"On behalf of all the people working in wind energy manufacturing facilities, their families, and all the communities that benefit, we thank President Obama and all the Members of the House and Senate who had the foresight to extend this successful policy, so wind projects can continue to be developed in 2013 and 2014," said Denise Bode, CEO of AWEA for the past four years.

"Now we can continue to provide America with more clean, affordable, homegrown energy, and keep growing a new manufacturing sector that's now making nearly 70 percent of our wind turbines in the U.S.A.," said Rob Gramlich, who becomes AWEA's interim CEO on January 2 with Bode's return to private practice as a tax attorney, as previously announced.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Triple Bottom Line Benefits of Clean Energy

Wind Power Adds Jobs and Increases Wealth in Rural Communities

The first study to use detailed econometric methods to measure the economic development impacts of wind power installations in a 12-state region between 2000 and 2008 shows a positive net annual increase on county-level personal income and jobs. “For every megawatt of additional wind in County A, one would expect an $11,150 increase in income,” said Ryan Wiser, Staff Scientist and Deputy Group Leader in the Electricity Markets and Policy Group at LBL. Along with the increase in income, there was also an average 0.48 increase in net jobs, and Wiser added that the net job measure is meaningful only when most wind farms are bigger than 1 MW. “There is no doubt that local communities, especially rural communities, are impacted by these projects,” said Wiser. “We are not prepared to say whether [the numbers] are significant or insignificant, but some counties are being substantially positively impacted by wind development.”

The study, conducted by the USDA Economic Research Service, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, focused on 1,009 counties in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, North and South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota.

The $11,150-per-MW increase in total county-level personal income and the 0.48-per-MW net employment increase translate to an average 0.22% increase in personal income and 0.4% employment gains from 2000 to 2008.

Wiser said the numbers are “a bit misleadingly low, because we take into account only wind development in the past, and there has already been a lot of development since 2008.” Furthermore, he said, the study team did not count people switching into a wind sector job as a net positive gain in employment, only as an increase in income, if it included one. The study team chose to use personal income instead of labor income to account for things like royalties paid to a landowner for wind turbine installation, Wiser said.

Such a study was not possible until now, Wiser said. “It requires enough wind development in the past to identify impacts that exist. If [USDA] had come to me 4 years ago, I would have said there’s not enough development to determine econometric impact.”

The study, “The Impact of Wind Development on County-Level Income and Employment: A Review of Methods and an Empirical Analysis,” can be purchased through the website of journal Energy Economics. The study is also summarized in a fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

By Marsha W. Johnston

Monday, March 12, 2012

Big Wind, Renewable Energy Boost in Illinois

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announced a project that over a three-year period will support wind turbine and transmission manufacturing in Illinois and create 1,450 union construction jobs. The Rock Island Clean Line will enable some $7 billion worth of investments in new wind energy projects to move forward.

A $2 billion Rock Island Clean Line transmission line will deliver 3,500 megawatts (MW) of clean, renewable energy to communities and businesses across Illinois and other states to the east.  The project will allow greater access to low-cost clean wind energy and will deliver enough energy to power more than 1.4 million Midwest homes.  In addition to creating clean energy construction jobs, building the Rock Island Clean Line overhead high voltage direct current (OHVDC) transmission line will boost clean energy manufacturing in Illinois and the Midwest.

Developing wind and renewable energy resources has been a focal point of Gov. Quinn’s administration. The Illinois Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) mandates that renewable energy resources are to supply 25% of Illinois’ electricity needs by 2025. Seventy-five percent of that is to come from wind energy.  There are 2,743 MW of wind generation installed in Illinois, enough to power nearly 1 million homes, and 523 MW of new wind is now under construction.

A study conducted by Illinois State University found that wind energy in Illinois supports local economies by generating $22.2 million in annual property taxes, and supports nearly 600 permanent jobs and over 13,000 construction jobs, according to an Illinois State University study.

Gov. Quinn highlighted the magnitude of the project and stressed its benefits, not only in terms of generating clean, renewable energy and long-term job creation in construction and manufacturing, but also in terms of the principal role renewable energy investment is playing in terms of enhancing US energy independence and security.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Myhrvold finds we need clean energy yesterday (and no natural gas) to avoid being cooked

Nathan Myhrvold — former Microsoft exec, kajillionaire, inventor, founder of Intellectual Ventures, and all-around polymath genius type — was quoted in the book SuperFreakonomics saying dismissive things about climate activists.  He took some heat for it at the time and the experience apparently convinced him that he needs to get a better handle on things climate and energy-related.  Myhrvold built a specialized set of models to capture the global temperature effects of transitions to low-carbon energy of varying speeds, using varying technologies.  Flash forward a few years: Myhrvold is out with a paper on his results, co-authored with respected climate scientist Ken Caldeira, published in Environmental Research Letters.  The results are … grim.

In their results, Myhrvold and Caldeira highlight a few poorly appreciated but crucial features of energy transitions. The first is that they take quite a while to have an appreciable effect on CO2 concentrations. The world’s oceans have considerable “thermal inertia” — it takes them a long time to absorb heat and a long time to release it. Even after CO2 concentrations start falling, it will take the oceans a while to stop releasing the excess heat they’ve already absorbed.

So much CO2 accumulation is already “baked in” that temperature will continue to rise for a while even in the context of rapid emission reductions. We’ve already gotten drunk on fossil fuels; there’s no way to avoid the hangover.

The consequences of this time lag are twofold. First, substantially affecting global temperature in the first half of the century is all but impossible; even to secure temperature reductions in the second half of the century, a rapid transition to clean energy needs to begin immediately. Second, lower-carbon energy — like, say, natural gas — just won’t do it. If we transitioned to something with half of coal’s emissions, it would take more than a century to produce even a 25 percent decline in CO2 relative to the status quo baseline. By then we’d be cooked.

Myhrvold and Caldeira have shown in pretty stark terms that, if we’re not willing to substantially reduce population growth or economic growth, we’re going to need an absolutely gargantuan amount of zero-carbon energy, without delay. They conclude:  We’re going to need “immediate and precipitous anti-carbon initiatives.”

Here’s Caldeira discussing the paper:

Renewables Now Cheaper than Coal in Michigan

New renewable energy--wind, biomass, landfill gas, digesters, hydro--now costs less than a new coal plant.  Don't believe it?  That is the finding of the Michigan Public Service Commission that quietly released on February 15th its statutorily required report to the Michigan legislature.  See the details at:

Looking at the actual prices bid to build new renewable energy plants, the Michigan regulators found:

1. new wind plants from 2008-2011 on average cost 8.76 cents per kilowatt-hour;
2. new biomass cost 9.89 cents per kilowatt-hour;
3. new landfill gas cost 9.81 cents per kilowatt-hour;
4. new digester power cost 12.2 cents per kilowatt-hour.

The average renewable energy cost was 9.19 cents per kilowatt-hour for the entire 3 year period and would be even lower if only 2012 prices were included.  By comparison, the cost of new coal-fired plant for a life cycle of 40 years is 13.3 cents per kilowatt-hour.

And where are renewable energy prices headed?  The Michigan PSC states "...that the average levelized costs of the [renewable energy] contract continue to decline" and that "contract prices have been much lower than expected."  Indeed, the renewable energy prices are lower in 2012 than in  2011, 2010, 2009, or 2008.  Consequently, the prices expressed in the report overstate the price of renewable energy in 2012.

Gas is certainly remaking the energy marketplace, but it is not alone in doing so.  Renewable energy and its sharp price drop is an equally profound change, making both gas and renewable energy the dominant fuel sources for the next 20 years.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Nearly One Quarter of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Come From Fossil Fuels Mined and Drilled on Public Lands

A new report shows that 23 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from oil, gas, and coal extracted from federal lands and waters.  Under Executive Order 13514, all federal agencies were required to “report and reduce greenhouse gas pollution,” which included items such as energy use, fuel consumed by government fleets, and methane generated by landfill waste.

This analysis suggests that ultimate GHG emissions from fossil fuels extracted from federal lands and waters by private leaseholders in 2010 could be more than 20-times larger than the estimate reported.  Approximately 44% of coal, 36% of crude oil, and 18% of natural gas produced in this country are extracted from public lands, which combined create an astounding amount of carbon released into the atmosphere.

That fact is critically important as our government considers strategies to reduce emissions over the coming years.  Federally-managed lands and waters provide a unique opportunity in this process due to their extent and geographic diversity.