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Should Vermont's Ridges Be Developed For Wind Power?


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Professor Ben Luce analyzes whether it makes sense to develop Vermont's wind resource atop its many ridgelines or if there are better alternatives with less impact on natural resources and communities.

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Should Vermont's Ridges Be Developed For Wind Power?

  1. 1. Should Vermont’s Ridges Be Used For Wind Power Development? Dr. Ben Luce, Lyndon State College
  2. 2. An Extremely Serious Issue• Immense Ramifications for the environment and renewable energy development: Far beyond VT’s concerns• Most wind supporters have great intentions• We need to transcend the sound bites• And the politics• Conduct a real analysis of the arguments for and against• Get to the facts 1
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  4. 4. Greenhouse gas levels are rising quickly. So isthe global average temperature: 3
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  6. 6. Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining
  7. 7. My own Conclusions• The impacts of ridge line are enormous – Should be our last resort option, if done at all.• The economics are not promising – Existing projects are not cheap – Electricity rates will not decrease – Wind power costs have been increasing – The industry may actually soon collapse – Significant wind development here will be extremely expensive 6
  8. 8. My own Conclusions• The wind power resources of the Eastern US are essentially negligible – This is not “the answer” supporters assume it is• There are much better alternatives• The current push for wind in Vermont is not based on a rational evaluation of facts, or a well thought out plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 7
  9. 9. What are the impacts?
  10. 10. Impact Summary• Topographical Impacts "The block provides possible habitat for wide ranging• Hydrological Impacts species of concern such as• Habitat Fragmentation & Loss pine martin and Canada lynx."• Impacts to birds and bats -Billy Coster, senior planner and policy analyst with the• Noise Impacts ANR, to Jack Kenworthy, chief executive officer of Eolian• Aesthetic Impacts: Rewewable Energy – Ecotourism – Environmental valuing• Impacts to the Social Fabric of our communities• Implications for the effectiveness of and public support for renewable energy investments 9
  11. 11. Very large roads and platforms areneeded• The Turbines are huge: 400+ feet high• Weight: Hundreds of tons• Very large trucks and industrial strength roads are needed• Extensive bulldozing and blasting is required 10
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  13. 13. Wind Turbine Construction Mars Hill, Maine SUMMER 2011
  14. 14. Lowell Mountains Vermont 13
  15. 15. Mars Hill, Maine SUMMER 2011
  16. 16. Lowell Mountains Vermont 15
  17. 17. Lowell Mountains Vermont 16
  18. 18. Sheffield Vermont SUMMER 2011
  19. 19. Sheffield Vermont 18
  20. 20. Sheffield Vermont (Blasting prep) SUMMER 2011
  21. 21. Brodie Mountain Massachusetts 20
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  24. 24. Mountain Environments are Hydrologically Important and Sensitive• Act as sponge• Large Surface area• Vegetation• 3D Water table
  25. 25. Mountain Aquifers
  26. 26. Hydrological ImpactsSoil Compaction and Impermeablesurfaces impede infiltration, and cancause erosion and have adverseimpacts on streams“The Lowell wind project is a high-risk site with steep elevations andvery erodible soils, the Applicantshave proposed the use of alternateBest Management Practices, whichare essentially untested andunproven at scale this large,” statedGeoff Goll of Princeton Hydro, anexpert who testified to the VermontPublic Service Board on the LowellProject
  27. 27. Birds• Mountain ridges generate updrafts used by migrating raptors. (From: Bildstein 2006).ANR to Eolian: “The land, Coster notes, is a gateway for migratory birds en route to the Nulhegan Basin.” (Orleans County Record, 5/23/12)
  28. 28. Bats• Endangered species of bats do live in Vermont (Myotis Sodalis)• Bats can be killed by merely flying close to turbines• The Lowell Project will use turbines specifically designed for lower wind areas (lower wind speeds), which may be particularly problematic for bats
  29. 29. Noise and Health• “Infrasonic” noise from wind turbines appears to be affecting the health of susceptible people in the vicinity of turbines• Large turbines essentially “shake the air”• This can be amplified by the resonant effect of buildings.• Similar to health impacts on people working in buildings with improperly configured ventilation systems.
  30. 30. Noise and Health• One example of related peer-reviewed research: – “Responses of the ear to low frequency sounds, infrasound and wind turbines” – Hearing Research, Volume 268, Issues 1-2, 1 September 2010, Pages 12-21 – Alec N. Salt, a, and Timothy E. Hullara – a Department of Otolaryngology, Washington University School of Medicine, Box 8115, 660 South Euclid Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63110, USA• See summary at html
  31. 31. ”The noise generated by wind turbines israther unusual, containing high levels (over 90dB SPL) of very low frequency sound(infrasound).” (Washington University Group)
  32. 32. Hear for yourself?• A single visit to a local wind project is not a basis for evaluating noise impacts• Noise varies greatly with: – Wind direction and weather – The observers Location• See: “The Problems With Noise Numbers for Wind Farm Noise Assessment”, Bob Thorne, Bulletin of Science Technology & Society 2011 31: 262. 31
  33. 33. Setbacks?• “It is concluded that no large-scale wind turbine should be operated within 3,500 meters [2.2 miles] of any dwelling or noise-sensitive place unless the operator of the proposed wind farm energy facility, at its own expense, mitigates any noise within the dwelling or noise-sensitive place identified as being from that proposed wind farm energy facility to a level determined subject to the final approval of the occupier of that dwelling or noise-sensitive place.”• Source: “The Problems With Noise Numbers for Wind Farm Noise Assessment”, Bob Thorne, Bulletin of Science Technology & Society 2011 31: 262. 32
  34. 34. Vermont Brand Study• Commissioned by the State of Vermont Tourism Department• Released in 2010 33
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  36. 36. “Unspoiled, Beautiful,Mountains”
  37. 37. The Economics of Wind Power
  38. 38. Subsidies for a Renewable EnergyTechnology are fine if….• They are helping to make the technology reasonably affordable (or better, competitive)• They are supporting development which is truly sustainable, and important for reducing emissions.• Otherwise, they can be counterproductive 38
  39. 39. Cost Trends of Wind Power What DOE Predicted in 2002 Actual40 Wind COE cents/kWh3020100 1980 1990 2000 2010 2020 Source: US Department of Energy (Second plot: 2011 Wind Energy Technology Market Report) 39
  40. 40. Wind’s bad cost trend is why…• Wind is still deeply dependent on subsidies• People think its cheaper than it is• The industry is on the verge of collapse 40
  41. 41. Summary of Wind Power Cost• Well above $.10/kWh in the Northeast (even with subsidies)• Ridge line wind particularly expensive: – Extensive site development – Relatively small projects – Transmission costs – Impact management• No longer cheaper than Natural Gas fired generation.• Probably about the same as solar today when full costs are considered• Hydro: Well under $.10/kWh 41
  42. 42. The solar cost trend is much morepromising: Solar power is on track to become competitive with retail power rates (which is the critical cost consideration for potential buyers) by about 2015. Continuing subsidies for solar power are therefore justified. The US should pay particular attention, though, to retaining a strong solar manufacturing base.• Department of Energy’s Solar Technologies Market Report• 42
  43. 43. Natural gas fired generation has been slowly replacing coal-fired generation, and,due to the shale bas boom, is projected to replace large amounts of coal-firedgeneration in the near future. 43
  44. 44. Natural Gas “Fracking”• Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing• Can pollute aquifiers, among various impacts. I am not personally supportive of fracking and continued dependence on natural gas, but nonetheless the shale gas boom is negatively impacting the economic prospects of wind power strongly. Few if any utilities are now pursuing wind for economic reasons, except to meet mandatory renewable energy requirements.
  45. 45. Additional Transmission Costs for Eastern Wind Power• The Northeast Grid is already fairly congested• According to Gordon van Welie, president and chief executive officer of ISO New England Inc: “A conservative goal for 5,500 megawatts of wind power and 3,000 megawatts of hydro power through 2030 would carry transmission costs of between $7 billion and $12 billion.” – From: “New England grid chief: Cooperate on wind power”, by David Sharp, Associated Press Writer, August 16, 2010.• 4000+ miles of new transmission lines 45
  46. 46. Question: On a resource basis alone, can wind power make a substantial contribution to reducing US greenhouse gas emissions?
  47. 47. Answer:• In the Midwest, maybe (there are still potentially serious issues there with noise, birds, aesthetics, better alternatives, etc)• In Vermont, maybe in the future, but a great cost (if most of the ridges are developed) – And Vermont’s energy demand is basically miniscule• In the Eastern US, no. Unless offshore wind turns out to be environmentally and economically viable (which has not been demonstrated) 47
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  49. 49. State by State Wind Power Potential fromthe Department of Energy(source: 49
  50. 50. Relative Ranking of State Wind ResourcesSource: (see previous slide)Capacity - in peak gigawattsRanking State 1901 1 Texas 2 Kansas 952 3 Montana 944 4 Nebraska 918 5 South Dakota 818 6 North Dakota 770 Western 7 Iowa 570 US 8 Wyoming 552 9 Oklahoma 517 10 New Mexico 492 . 15 New York 25.6 25 Maine 11.3 29 Pennsylvania 3.3 27 Vermont 2.9 Eastern 30 New Hampshire 2.1 31 West Virginia 1.9 US 33 Virginia 1.8 34 Maryland 1.5 35 Massachusetts 1.0 50
  51. 51. Total for Onshore Eastern Wind Resources• As estimated by DOE (unlisted states have little or no potential), in peak gigawatts (GW): – New York: 25.6 GW – Maine : 11.3 GW – Pennsylvania: 3.3 GW – Vermont: 2.9 GW – New Hampshire: 2.1 GW – Virginia: 1.8 GW – West Virginia: 1.9 GW – Maryland: 1.5 GW – MA: 1.0 GW• Total: 52 GW (50% in NY)
  52. 52. Effective Onshore Wind Power Capacity in the entire Eastern US• NREL data applies to CF=.3• NREL Estimates Eastern Peak Capacity = 52 GW• Effective Wind Capacity: .3*52 GW = 15.6 GW• Current average US consumption = 470 GW• Potential average onshore Eastern wind penetration into current US load: (15.6 GW/470 GW) x 100% = 3.3%• Long term: Probably less than 2%• Maximum CO2 reduction: ~ 1% 52
  53. 53. These NREAL estimates are likely a grossover-estimate of onshore wind potential inthe East Myriad local siting issues were not included here
  54. 54. < 2% CO2> 100% CO2 Reduction Potential Reduction Potential 54
  55. 55. Renewable Alternatives to Wind? Really only one serious one for the Eastern US as a whole: Solar Power(This is not say that other sources, such as dairy methanedigesters based generation, are not worth doing forvarious reasons. Just that when it comes to really seriousgreenhouse gas reductions for the electricity sector forthe Eastern US, solar power is the only obviousrenewable that we know can make a major difference).
  56. 56. Solar is the Renewable:• Total Insolation: ~120,000 Trillion Watts• Total World energy demand: 30 TrillionWatts• Current US Primary energy demand:~3.3 Trillion Watts• Solar collectors covering 1-2% of theSahara would provide all World electricaldemand.
  57. 57. Solar Energy Distribution for Montpelier,VT
  58. 58. Photovoltaics
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  60. 60. Typical Grid-Tied “Inverter” Simple!
  61. 61. Energy Storage?• Economic viability not demonstrated yet: – But we will know soon: Electric Vehicles are here• Lithium Ion Batteries?• Super-Capacitors?• Back to Hydrogen & Hydrogen Fuel Cells?• A more or less full transition to intermittent renewables will eventually require deployment of larger amounts energy storage. My own experiences with electric vehicles (see electric bike slide below) has been good, and I am optimistic about storage. But nonetheless we don’t know yet how the economics will develop. 62
  62. 62. Chevy Volt: EV with gas back-up• 35 miles on a charge (16 kWh)• ~$1.50/gallon equivalent• Gas generator back-up (up to 375 miles) 63
  63. 63. My (solar powered) E-Bike • 1000 watts • Cruise control and regenerative braking • 20 miles on 6 cents of electricity
  64. 64. Solar Hot Water: A no-brainer Water
  65. 65. Geothermal Heat PumpsThis is a great option for, along with weatherization of buildings, displacing largeamounts of oil consumption in the Northeast. 70
  66. 66. Summary on VT Renewable Energy Policy Situation• Vermont’s policies on renewable energy have not been well thought out. The policies are utility and developer centric, and in terms of dollars committed have been strongly slanted towards utility-scale wind.• This situation is greatly aggravated by Vermont allowing utilities to sell Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) out-of-state for projects supported by the SPEED Program, which has the effect of fueling development here which may not be desirable or appropriate, while suppressing much needed renewable energy development in other states.• At the same time, support for distributed solar generation, which I believe is by far the most important source to pursue here and throughout the region, has been modest and inconsistent.• An optimal policy would be a greenhouse gas reduction program across all sectors that takes much more advantage of very cost effective measures, while simultaneously supporting the steady and sustainable development of renewable electricity options which are truly appropriate for Vermont, and also for the region.• The SPEED Program (the “feed-in tariff”) should be replaced by genuine Renewable Energy Standard which utilities can meet by purchasing RECS from homeowners and businesses which generate their own power. 71
  67. 67. Optimal Plan for Reduction of Carbon 2010 – 2015 2015 Forward Higher efficiency  Continue other measures Vehicles Weatherization  Greatly expand Photovoltaic transition if Energy efficiency cost has indeed trended Solar Hot Water low enough. Geothermal Heating Plan for, and begin, Photovoltaic transition 72
  68. 68. Further Discussion? 73