Posts Tagged ‘wind power’

Snowden is missing.  The IRS scandal is ongoing. SCOTUS struck down DOMA and punted on affirmative action. A Texas filibuster over a proposed abortion bill was picked up by a historic crowd at the state capitol who effectively blocked the legislation through sheer willpower. A red panda went missing from the National Zoo. DC United won a game. It’s been a hell of a week, and it’s only Wednesday.


I feel ya, buddy.

In the middle of it all, President Obama delivered the policy speech that environmentalists have been waiting for since the day he took office: the one on climate change. The President’s agenda outlined broad goals for the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, invest in renewable energy, respond to the ongoing impacts of climate change, and finally, lead the international community in all of those areas, too. The official White House fact sheet is available here. But what about the details?

Coal, more than any other industry, took it on the chin in this one – not surprising given just how much pollution is generated by coal-fired power plants.  The plan directs EPA to move forward with regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants by June 2014.  The plan also included expanded effort to fund renewable energy and use public lands for renewable energy sources, efficiency initiatives, and reforestation measures.

The plan was met with mixed reactions.  Commentators were quick to judge the measures as a scaled-back version of the lofty goals that Obama set at the outset of his Presidency, and not surprisingly, many Republicans continued the drumbeat of erroneously pitting environmental initiatives against economic goals. (Side note: when will they give up, and realize the renewable energy can also create jobs? Sigh.)  Coal stocks responded by plummeting.  Many environmental groups, including Sierra Club and 350.org applauded the measures as the long-awaited concrete action to back up the President’s constant promises to tackle climate change.  Former Vice President and environmental advocate Al Gore called the speech “terrific and historic,” responding optimistically to the steps proposed in the President’s plan as well as his willingness to finally move forward on a longstanding issue.  The mention of the infamous Keystone XL pipeline caught many by surprise, as did the President’s comments that the pipeline will not go forward if it is found to increase GHG emissions.  That of course, is a finding that in reality is stupid – of course expanded tar sands development, and continuing to enable fossil fuel exports, will increase emissions and accelerate climate change.  But, the “official” outcome could go either way depending on how groups calculate the emissions and how directly they tie the impacts to the pipeline itself.  You know the saying- lies, damned lies, and impact assessments.  Another surprising feature was the mention of fossil fuel subsidies, which was included in the President’s international goals, but not within his steps to curb emissions in the US.  (Honestly, I don’t know why nobody listens to me on this one.  Cut fossil fuel subsidies, cut federal spending, and cut emissions by forcing people to think about how much and how often they drive and make better choices. Oh well.)

Overall, while the actions were not as bold as some groups hoped, the result of the speech was a net positive – an acknowledgement that climate change is real, here, and happening, and a specific plan for moving forward.  Let’s hope that the follow-through is real.

A summary of the main points of the plan is available through Grist.org right here. A full transcript of the President’s speech is available here. As for Team Spinach, a detailed analysis of the plan by our resident climate expert, El Nino, will follow soon.

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Hi guys. It’s Friday, DC decided to be cold and raining, and my brain sort of hurts from reading too many articles on oil prices.

So, instead of words, I present you this magnificent link, which a friend shared with me today.  I’d love to credit whomever is responsible, but I don’t know who that person is.  All I can tell you is that this thing is pretty nifty, and kind of makes you think about the potential that exists for wind energy in this country.


Behold: the wind map!




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It’s been a windy week here for we SpinachHeads. We launched a new feature called “Food Fight” where we duke it out, all taking on the same issue from different perspectives. This week’s topic: how to square wind power’s clean benefits with it’s frequently noisy side effects that drive nearby communities mad.

Now, however, it appears we’ve stumbled upon a solution — a compromise to bridge the gap and appease those whiny townspeople delirious from the humming in their ears.

Pay them. Or better yet, give them ownership over part of the wind project. In 2010, Dutch researchers Fabian David Musall and Onno Kuik ran a study at the Amsterdam Institute of Environmental Studies on wind’s benefits and detriments. The research was based on a survey. One community, Nossen, owned by a major company and another town, Zschadraß, with local ownership. Here’s a quick snapshot of their findings:

The locally owned project had 45 percent of residents holding a positive view toward wind energy, and more of it, in fact. The absentee ownership only acquired 16 percent of residents’ approval.
No doubt easier said than done. But giving communities a share of ownership in local wind projects sure seems one way to make them tolerate those pesky sound effects.

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So, first of all, I’d like to start off this post by congratulating each and every one of you reading this right now: you survived one of the most treacherous days of the year yesterday.  If you made it without ending up broke, in a diabetic coma, sobbing into a jack and coke while listening to Alanis Morisette on repeat, or staring blankly at a steak knife that was stabbed into your front door with a note from that girl or guy you never called back saying “SEE YOU IN HELL, SUCKER,” then you should give yourself a serious pat on the back.  It’s February 15th! Everyone breathe a sigh of relief.

Dan the Man posted an interesting story yesterday about one of the major sources of renewable energy out there – wind – and opened the conversation about one of the major downsides of wind energy, which is …noise pollution. But before we start picking the broccoli out of that salad, let’s talk a little bit about wind energy basics.

Wind turbines usually evoke an image that looks something like this:

See? Even Rainbow Brite loves wind energy. You can tell from this photo.

Wind is certainly an appealing option when comes to renewable energy.  But for those of you who aren’t familiar with the technology, I thought I’d give you something to crunch on.  Also, for those of you who aren’t familiar with Rainbow Brite, this is what she looks like:

Halloween Costumes for 2012, from left to right: Kara, Dan, Pam

Rainbow Brite  and her green and orange sprites are super curious how wind energy works.  So here goes:

How Does Wind Energy Work?  By simply converting energy from one form to another.  Wind, which we are all familiar with (I hope?) moves the blades on a wind turbine, knetic energy from the wind is converted into mechanical energy.  A windmill or a wind pump uses this mechanical energy to perform some task, such as rotating a wheel or the blade of a grinder.  If the mechanical energy from the rotating blades is used to produce electricity, then you have a wind generator.  That’s wind power.  Simple, easy, and delicious.

How Much Power Does a Wind Turbine Produce?  It depends on the size of the turbine and the amount of wind.  A wind generator (the kind of turbine we use for power) has a nameplate capacity, which the the amount of energy generated at peak capacity, but won’t be operating fully all the time (because wind changes).  But, the largest turbine currently in operation generates (nameplate capacity) of 7.58 MW.  Several (about a dozen) companies claim they are close to developing a wind generator that will produce up to 10 MW.

How Much Does It Cost?  Estimates for the price of new wind energy in terms of cost per Mwatt-hour (the unit of measure usually used to represent the cost of electricity – so, the amount of power generated per hour) is comparable to coal and natural gas.  Wind is clocking in at $55.80, coal at $53.10, and natural gas at $52.50.  No, I’m not kidding.  And that’s assuming you have to go out and build the turbine.  Once it’s put in place, the maintenance costs are minimal.  And the wind itself is free! So it gets cheaper from there.

What are the Other Advantages of wind energy?  Wind is free.  Like I just said, wind is free.  And there is plenty of it pretty much everywhere.  Nobody is going to buy it, sell it, or form OWEC (Organization of Wind Exporting Countries) just so they can sit back and control the price of wind per barrel.  Mostly because wind doesn’t come in barrels, at least, not yet (come to think of it, that could be pretty funny.)  For those of you who care about things like air quality (not me, at all) wind has no emissions.  For those of you who care about water quality, well, it’s pretty hard to spill your wind everywhere.  For those of you who care about global warming, climate change, coral reefs, nuclear waste, ocean pollution, industrial spills, or pharmaceuticals in your drinking water, wind doesn’t have negative impacts in any of those areas.  It’s zero emissions.  You can grow crops and graze animals within a few feet of the base of the turbine.  In fact, pretty much the worst that will happen is that some bird might fly right into the wind turbine, which is just a reminder to everyone that even though eagles may soar, weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines or wind turbines.

What’s the Main Challenge of Using Wind for Power? The fact that, when we depend on an energy source for our grid, we’re using to having it there twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.  Seriously.  Remember the last time that the power went out at your house during a snow storm or thunderstorm?  Think about all the things you couldn’t do.  That’s the problem right now with wind: storage.  When operating at peak, wind can generate as much – or more – energy and electricity than other sources. But when the wind dies down, so do the turbines.  C’est problem.  But once we create a grid that can handle wind, the only thing we’ll have to worry about is the noise.  That and the weasels getting sucked into the wind turbine.

So What About That Noise?  So a wind “farm” is a grouping of numerous turbines together, which are linked and work collectively to generate power.  You can group hundreds of these together, and it doesn’t even cause land use issues.  But it can be noisy.  Oddly enough, most towns and areas have noise ordinances, which apply to everything – factories, hydro power, drilling operations, construction operations, etc – limiting the amount of noise that can be generated, particularly at night.  However, some residents who are unhappy with wind farms installed near their homes or land are complaining that there are issues with the ways wind companies predict and measure the amount of noise generated at peak hours.

The problem has many aspects to it.  As Dan pointed out, everyone wants energy, but nobody really wants it generated near them – that’s the “not in my backyard” school of thinking.  The problem is, it has to be in somebody’s backyard. In case none of you have ever been aboard ship, or on an oil rig (I have been both places, wheee!) neither one of those is exactly quiet.  Noise complains regarding wind energy are likely exaggerated by the fact that many of these turbines are located in open, rural areas where there isn’t a whole lot of other ambient noise.  People who live near a factory, drilling operation, or even off a busy highway might not even notice the level of noise generated.  They’re also likely worse because, well, wind is new.  People tend to dislike change.

So, what should be done about it? Quieter technology? Develop better turbines? Tell people to suck it up and use less electricity if they want less noise?  Could wind farms be more carefully located?  What about moving them offshore? Would the folks who want to sail complain about their view being ruined?  Or is “noise pollution” really the least evil of all the evil byproducts of energy generation out there – including nuclear waste, oil spills, particulates and heavy metals in our air, batteries we don’t know how to dispose of, and a myriad of other byproducts of “dirty” energy sources such as coal, oil, and nuclear?

After all this thinking, I’m going to need another cup of coffee.  And then? Let the wild rumpus begin, by that I mean: it’s comment time, people.  Let’s get into this.

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