Wind Farms in Nantucket (cape Code)
The attitude of the energy industry internationally has changed, and there are two important factors that are the prime reasons for this – the environmental impact due to the different international protocols that have been agreed on, and the cost of the energy at present along with the likely movement of the base source of the energy in future years. The main problems with pricing are with carbon-based fuels as there is now a consciousness that there is an impending shortage of these fuels in the not so distant future and the impacts are already coming through in the form of increasing prices. The other main source of energy developed earlier, nuclear energy is also not being encouraged due to the environmental impacts that it has. On the other hand, wind-based energy does not have these two direct impacts, though there are some other impacts that are presumed to happen, about which there will be discussions during the course of this article. At the same time no industry can develop unless there is a party which provides a technology which will be depended on by the producers of the energy. This is the source for commercial faith and dependence. This has happened in the case of wind power farms on land, but technology has not developed in the case of offshore wind farm projects. This has led to a situation where only 1.3% of the international generation of wind energy being generated off-shore. At the same time, there are some clear advantages in generating wind energy offshore as it helps in terms of the costs of land that is used for the generating station. There are some changes, that are now taking place, and these have to be considered when we talk about the future of energy generation of in Nantucket.
When we talk about different sources of energy, we have to look at two aspects and the first of these is the environmental impact that the use of that particular variety of energy that it has. As on date, the impact of wind energy is not very high on the situation in the United States energy situation and what we may discuss is the potential that it may have in the future. At best the impact of wind power could reduce the consumption of energy from other sources by a maximum of 5% as may be the situation at the end of the year. This analysis was made very recently, on 3rd of November, 2005. Yet the use of this type of energy may help the customers in getting some relief from the high prices of fossil fuels which they would be using otherwise. American Wind Energy Association, which is based in Washington, DC and a core organization for the group of wind energy producers, there will be an installation of about 2,500 megawatts of wind power capacity in the current year, and this will bring the total capacity of wind-based power to about 9,200 megawatts. This is expected to have a very high impact, and the produced energy is expected to be enough to supply more than 2.4 million average United States homes. (Wind power seen reducing need for U.S. Nat gas)
Impact on other fuels
The impact of wind power capacity on other fuels is to replace fuels which are of higher prices and the first impact is on the highest priced fuel first, and that is now natural gas. Other sources of energy, like coal, oil and nuclear energy is less affected. Though in the current year, there are a lot of supplies of natural gas, till now, yet the predictions for future supplies are not so good and the predicted prices are double the level of the previous year. The cost is around $11 per BTU mm as almost half the output of gas from the Gulf of Mexico is down due to the impact of the hurricanes that have taken place during the current year. At the same time, the natural gas industry does not predict a clash of interest with wind power, and the main reason for this is that they are getting record prices and thus making record profits. The major operator of the regional grid, New England Inc. is highly dependant on natural gas has already warned that there is likely to be fuel shortages for the power plants of the organization due to lower from Gulf of Mexico. This is likely to lead to difficulties in supply of power during the current year. (Wind power seen reducing need for U.S. Nat gas) The price of natural gas is rising very fast now and has gone up from $2 per million BTU in 2002 to about $14 per million BTU as at the end of October 2005. This is a growth of seven times in a period of less than 4 years. Some blame it on the Hurricane Katrina that took place, but that has only speeded up the rise in prices from $10 per million BTU to $12 per million BTU after the hurricane passed over. (Kleekamp, 2005) What has to be realized that as a nation, United States is running out of not only cheap petroleum, but also of cheap natural gas.
At the same time, solar and wind power costs are coming down quite rapidly and are today at about half the level that they were about ten years earlier. Thus in many cases, the costs of these energies can compete with retail and wholesale prices of conventional technology even when the conditions are good for the production of conventional technology. Some of these technologies are for the production of bio-fuels or fuels which are based of plant and animal products. These may be made from agricultural products like sugarcane and wheat straw to even waste oil from cooking, and the total quantity of these wastes amount to more than 33 billion liters during 2004. This is about 3% of the total amount of gasoline that is consumed all over the world. In addition there is the use of solar power in about 400,000 homes in countries like Japan, Germany and United States and that is being achieved through the grid into which this power is being fed. Throughout the world there is now a lot of appreciation of the use of renewable energy and the total investment in the sector was a record figure of $30 billion which is 20 to 25% of the total investment in the entire power industry. Among all the sections of the power industry, it is clear that the renewable energy sector is growing at the fastest rate and this was due to both government support and increasing government support and increase in private sector investment. (Beck, 2005)
Pollution and other impacts
The three leading states in installation of wind power during 2005 are currently expected to be Texas, Oklahoma and New York. According to the industry spokesmen, the growth of the industry is expected to be sustained and even increase further due to the impact of the Congress extending the wind energy production tax credit through December 31, 2007. This is expected to ensure the growth of wind power in United States by 51% and reach a total of 14,000 megawatts. This growth will affect the growth of use of natural gas, and that is used mainly for industry and heating of houses. Only a quarter of the energy is used for producing power. The environmental impact of the wind power produced in United States during 2005 will reduce the emission of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by about 7 billion pounds. This is the same as keeping 500,000 sports utility vehicles out of the roads. (Wind power seen reducing need for U.S. Nat gas)
On the other hand, the efforts are still concentrated on using oil or gas and at a stakeholders meeting with the Massachusetts DEP on October 28th of this year, there was a decision taken, that would permit a minimum of four gas fired combustion turbine plants for a greater number of days than they are permitted to with the use of sulfur containing fuel oil as natural gas is expected to be in short supply. The experts in power production and supply are trying to use the minimum amount possible of oil, but this depends on the facilities available within the area. The problem can often be resolved with the use of the Nantucket Wind Farm, if it was available and let us remember the situation during the cold snap crisis of January 14 to 16 of 2004. If the Farm were then available, it would have made a very important contribution to the power supply and reliability of the regional grid then. The Farm would have been able to supply an average of 396 megawatts. This availability is much greater than the deficit that the grid had at that time with a peak at the worst hours of 108 megawatts, and that had nearly caused a cutting down of some load of customers. (Kleekamp, 2005)
The agreement between all the countries at Kyoto had clearly specified that all countries were to cut down on their release of heat trapping gases by 5.2% from the levels that they had reached in 1990 by the period of 2008 to 2012. This is also subject to the condition that Australia and United States did not approve of the protocol through approval by their democratic authorities and China and India are not bound to observe it as they are developing countries. At the same time, it may be noted that China is trying to convert one tenths of its energy requirements come from renewable sources by 2020 according to their own plans, and has now reached a level of 37,000 megawatts of electricity generation from renewable resources. This country is now followed in that respect by Germany, United States, Spain and Japan. Thus in spite of all legal fine-tuning, it seems clear that all countries understand and appreciate the requirement of having less polluting energy resources. The situation in Asia is the most critical as it has to increase its power generation capacity at a time when the global oil prices are rising very sharply. Their power requirement is for rapid economic expansion which has to be met. This is understood by most of the countries, all over the world and they are trying to get 5 to 30% of their power requirement or electricity production before the end of 2012. This is also the time when the first phase of Kyoto Protocol on reducing emission of greenhouse gases ends. (Beck, 2005)
At the same time, the people of Cape Cod are certainly keen on shifting to a cleaner and greener future and they feel that this will require good policy at the town and county level, sustainable behavior at the individual level and the implementation of technologies which can provide energy to homes, businesses, municipal infrastructure and vehicles. They would like to reduce their energy demand and harness their own resources and thus lead the nation in economic growth and set and example to the nation. (What is Cape Cod’s energy future?) This was the main subject matter of a conference held on September 22, but the question still remains whether this is really an attempt at development or just a flexing of economic muscles.
Problems with Nantucket
The difficulties that are seen in the development of wind energy are not on shore as these have been developing over a period of time. Out of the 47,300 megawatts that have been generated all over the world during last year, only 600 megawatts were generated offshore. The major part of the experimentation is going on in Denmark, where there are two projects which generate half of the world production. The slow development is being tracked by some organizations and one of the major organizations is BTM Consult ApS, which keeps track of the worldwide development. The slow growth of the offshore plants has been ascribed to financial uncertainty about the future and the delay due to regulations. Another important factor for the delay is the lack of a technology supplied by one of the leaders in worldwide technology. (Dennehy, 2005) If the power plant at Nantucket based on wind power is built, then the total generating capacity of the plant will be almost half of the capacity of the four plants based on oil that is being talked about. This is an interesting solution, and while it would not solve all problems of the New England area for power, yet it may be looked as a possible solution for a long-term view of the entire exercise of trying to supply enough power to all people as per their requirement. (Kleekamp, 2005)
Another argument that keeps coming up is that the wind farm, if developed at Cape Wind in Nantucket Sound in the coastal waters off Cape Cod would kill many thousands of birds every year. The entire base of the argument is based on the large number of birds that are killed in another wind farm location and that is in Altamont Pass, which is in California. The California-based wind farm has killed many thousands in the twenty years or so since they were first built. At the same time, it is invalid to stretch the arguments of the bird killings that take place in Altamont Pass to Nantucket. It is somewhat like having fault lines in one location which affects construction, and extending the same argument for stopping of construction in another separate area. The two sites are quite different and Nantucket Sound is in the coastal waters off Cape Cod, while Altamont Pass is a rolling stretch of dry grassland situated east of San Francisco. There are not very many similarities between the two places except that there are many thousands of turbines in Altamont Pass and there is a proposal to have 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound. There are also some basic differences between the two areas and while Altamont Pass provides for land-based wind turbines, the wind turbines for Nantucket Sound would be based on water. This would also be the first water-based wind turbines in United States. (Coleman, 2005)
There are also many other differences and the most important among them is that many of the wind turbines in Altamont Pass are very old by today’s standards and thus also inefficient by today’s standards. This is leading to their being replaced slowly by taller machines which have the blades at higher levels from the ground. Thus it is probably not fair to compare the two locations for wind turbines, and it may be more appropriate to compare the situation of Nantucket Sound with the offshore wind farms which exist in Europe. In June of the current year, the results of a six-year radar study of avian impacts from offshore wind turbines were published, and this was the first such study. The concerned researchers were Mark Desholm and Johnny Kahlert who based their study on the effects of 72 wind turbines being used in Nysted off Southern Denmark. Their study began in 1999 when the project for the wind farm was still being planned and the 360-foot high turbines were first operational in December 2003.
Thus there was a four-year time gap between the beginning of the research and the wind farm, and this permitted the research team to fully study the habits of the birds. According to the report, less than 1% of the ducks and geese are at any time in a position to get hit by the wind turbines. The birds become rapidly aware of the blades of the turbines and remain at greater distances from them during night and this reduces further their risks of getting hit. In their study it was seen that less than 1% of the birds ever got into a position where they were likely to be hit by the turbines. Of course like all other good research, there were certain limitation to the research which was pointed out by the researchers themselves – the data was based on the first year of operation of the wind power generation, boats were moving to the turbines for maintenance and this could have affected the behavior of the birds and the type of birds were eider ducks and geese which also could have some effects. (Coleman, 2005) Thus the problems wind turbines having a high effect on birds of the area does not seem likely.
The real reason for bird deaths
There have also been trips to the same wind farm near Nysted on boats. The physical visit confirmed that while there were a large number of birds at a distance away from the farm, there were very few birds close to the farm. Within the farm, even when birds were seen, they were seen to clearly avoid the turbines. The seafarers of the area said that they were not aware of any birds being killed by the turbines, and they feel that the turbines have become some sort of a beacon to the birds in the area. On the other hand, the United States Government Accountability Office report on September 19 urges federal officials to take a more direct and active role in situating farms in an area where there are also fewer chances of them being hit by the turbines. At the same time, the report also mentions that millions of birds are being killed by hitting buildings and towers, consumption of pesticides and attacks by feral and domestic cats. Even in the sea the birds face a high threat from heavy oil that is being carried in barges and that oil regularly spills off into the ocean and that result in the death of many terns, gulls and other birds. (Coleman, 2005)
In totality it may be said that the major cause for death of birds is the destruction of habitat as well as global warming and none of these happen due to wind turbines. Reports of the impact of these events on birds have been pointed out by the British newspaper, The Independent in July 2004. This stated clearly that many hundreds of thousands of Scottish seabirds did not breed in the summer due to the effect of global warming according to scientists. It was noted that there was a two degree Celsius temperature in water temperature during the last twenty years and this had disrupted the marine food chain. According to a census of seabirds in 2000, it was noted that 172,000 breeding pairs in Orkney and Shetland did not produce any young. Another 24,000 pairs of Arctic terns and 16,700 pairs of Shetland Kittiwakes or small gulls did not have any young. At the same time, there has not been any expectation that there will be not bird deaths due to the wind turbines and the project states that there will be 364 bird deaths over a full year. (Coleman, 2005) While this is unfortunate, at the same time, one has to balance this cost against the impact of climate change which we are unable to control with all our expertise.
Another important point in the consideration of wind farms in Nantucket is the attitudes of the political authorities. This can be seen from articles in the Boston Globe of 16th October written by Peter Howe which said in a headline that Governor Mitt Romney was considering the question of being less strict on oil powered energy generating plants so that they could produce more electricity and thus reduce the chances of blackouts and shortages of natural gas. This is the situation that the state had come to during the cold snap of January 14 to 16 of 2004 that has been discussed about. While taking such decisions, it is important to remember that this is the beginning of a slippery path and may end up only doing a favor to power plant owners. The government has to take dynamic decisions so that the citizens do not become victims of shortages of natural as and thus subjected to more pollution through the use of more polluting fuels. The solution may lie in the use of wind power with plants which operate on an economic scale. On the other hand, the governing authority does not seem to be very concerned about the problem as he feels that wind farms are not pretty and that is the reason why he would not like them. (Kleekamp, 2005)
The approval of the proposed energy producing has been delayed due to the shifting of authority for this purpose from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the U.S. Minerals Management Service. The new organization has now set a deadline of environmental impact by May of the next year, and thus the project is likely to be delayed to the early part of 2007. The officials of the new authorities outlined their idea of the process to officials of Cape Wind during their visit to the area, and also to the former authorities. The new authority is a branch of the Interior Department to regulate and manage the development of mineral resources in federal offshore waters. The change in the act gives the agency authority over offshore renewable energy projects. This will permit the opponents of the project to make their case out again and they say that the massive turbines will create a visual blight, and cause difficulties to the fishing and aviation industries. This is also being highlighted by the opposition to the project. (Proposed wind farm delayed by transfer of oversight)
GE is a $150 billion giant which has business interests from power plants to NBC television, and added wind turbines to its portfolio in 2002. During that year, it is reported that the company paid $250 million for Enron’s wind-turbine unit. This unit was a California-based company which employed 1,500 people and is now called GE Wind. GE has developed the business and will sell more than 1,100 wind turbines to developers in the U.S. And Canada, during the current year and that makes the company one of the largest turbine suppliers in the world, along with Siemens and Vestas. The situation for offshore turbines is different and in the U.S. there is one offshore proposal proposed off Long Island, and another is proposed in the waters off the Texas coast. The plan to build 130 turbines in the shallow waters of Nantucket Sound in Cape Cod has existed for quite some time, and 2 years back, GE agreed to provide the turbines to Cape Wind project. (Dennehy, 2005)
That is not the end of its ambition and according to a recent report which has been compiled by GE, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative there are possibilities of over 900,000 megawatts of electricity in the winds as far offshore as 50 nautical miles. This is equal to the country’s entire electricity generating capacity. GE has also tested its new 3.6-megawatt turbine, the largest of its kind and the first turbine over 3 megawatts designed for offshore in a project going on in Ireland. The project has been going on well and the biggest problem has been an incident when an anchor clipped a section of the power cable. A section of the cable had to be replaced. This has also been a lesson for Cape Wind officials, who say that they would bury their transmission cables 6 feet beneath the sea bottom. The turbines have held up well to the harsh conditions. Thus, GE has done well since buying the wind interests of Enron, and their annual wind revenues have jumped from $500 million in 2002 to a projected $2 billion this year, but the offshore market remains sluggish. (Dennehy, 2005)
Thus it is clear that the project has been developing well in terms of technicalities and possible economic opportunities, and probably did not develop fast enough due to the needed muscle behind the project. Recently, Cape Wind engaged Lehman Brothers Inc. To finance the project and has entered into an agreement with General Electric to provide the 130 turbines. The prospects of the project can be seen from a statement by Jack Welch, the company’s C.E.O. For 40 years, in The Times of London; “Americans complain that the environment is a cost. Off the coast of Massachusetts, Senator Edward Kennedy, the great Liberal of America and conservationist, is fighting against the wind farm because it ruins his view when he’s sailing. Yet they still keep driving their SUVs. Now you can’t have that and not want to drill in Alaska. Until the lines (for petrol) get long and the politicians are dealt with in an aggressive action, you won’t get a reaction.” (Walter, 2005) According to him, GE’s decision to invest huge sums in wind farms is one of the best bets the company has made since he left. (Walter, 2005) Thus it is clear that the future of the project is tied up with the prestige of a lot of powerful individuals, and those equations are probably the most important factor.
Beck, Lindsay. (6 November 2005) “Renewable energy investment at record high: Report”
Retrieved at http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=scienceNews&storyID=2005-11-06T115047Z_01_KWA642599_RTRUKOC_0_US-ENERGY-CHINA-RENEWABLES.xml&archived=FalseAccessed 7 November, 2005
Coleman, Jack. (20 October, 2005) “Deconstructing the wind farm bird-kill story” Providence
Journal. Retrieved at http://www.capecodtoday.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=0265Accessed 7 November, 2005
Dennehy, Kevin. (6 November, 2005) “Our future? General Electric has invested millions in this Irish offshore wind complex. Nantucket Sound could be next” Retrieved at http://www.capecodonline.com/cctimes/ourfuture6.htm. Accessed 6 November, 2005
Kleekamp, Charles. W. (31 October, 2005) “The Governor’s choice: Romney on easing air- pollution restrictions on oil-fueled power plants” Retrieved at http://www.capecodtoday.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=0270Accessed 6 November, 2005
Proposed wind farm delayed by transfer of oversight” (4 November 2005) Retrieved at http://www.boston.com/news/local/Massachusetts/articles/2005/11/04/proposed_wind_farm_delayed_by_transfer_of_oversight?mode=PFAccessed 6 November, 2005
Walter, Brooks. (27 September, 2005) “Major players getting aboard Cape Wind farm”
Retrieved at http://www.capecodtoday.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=0237Accessed 7 November, 2005
What is Cape Cod’s energy future?” (8 September, 2005) Retrieved at http://www.capecodtoday.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=0224Accessed 7 November, 2005
Wind power seen reducing need for U.S. Nat gas” (3 November, 2005) Retrieved at http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=scienceNews&storyID=2005-11-03T201558Z_01_FOR372931_RTRUKOC_0_US-ENERGY-WIND-NATURAL-GAS.xmlAccessed 6 November, 2005
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