Wind Energy Zoning Needs Improvement

Tthe Center for Rural Affairs has released a report, “Zoned Out: An Analysis of Wind Energy Zoning in Four Midwest States,” that finds zoning need improvement. According to Alissa Doerr, Center for Rural Affairs legal extern and author of the report, Zoned Out analyses different approaches to zoning commercial wind energy systems in four different Midwest states – Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. The report also broke down the advantages and disadvantages of these approaches, and what makes for effective zoning standards.

Center for Rural Affairs Logo“Wind energy zoning remains generally uncoordinated and subject to state and local regulations, resulting in a piecemeal approach where zoning standards vary between states and within states,” Doerr said. “In order for wind energy development to continue increasing, there must be an effective approach to wind energy zoning implemented that reduces inconsistency and unpredictability caused by the patchwork approach that is currently in place.  The key is finding the right balance between local and state control.”

Doerr noted that as more wind energy projects are developed, members of local communities continue to have questions including how it will affect the community and what role the community plays in the development process. She added that zoning authorities must aim for efficient and effective standards, incorporating considerations from the local areas where wind development would take place.

Doerr further explained that the key to effective wind siting and zoning regulation is to strike the right balance between local and state control, avoiding some of the pitfalls for either approach, while trying to capture the benefits. Authorities at the state and local level must consider the pros and cons that can result from difference ordinances. The ideal balance should be focused on consistent standards that still allow for local autonomy.

“As wind power continues to play a bigger role in meeting our energy demands, it’s important that we craft regulations that incorporate local preferences and address local concerns, while also providing clear and consistent standards for developers,” Doerr concluded.

Nature Conservancy Looks to Bird Friendly Wind

The Nature Conservancy has installed the first phase of a bird friendly wind power project. The project is taking place in Palmyra, a national wildlife refuge located in Hawaii, where more than a million nesting seabirds call home. With low wind speeds, traditional wind turbines would have low output, plus, says the Conservancy, conventional wind turbines pose a risk of bird strikes. Thus, the group selected INVELOX, a funnel-based wind power technology developed by SheerWind.

Nature Conservancy/ U.S. Fish Wildlife's Palmyra Atoll by A. Purves (PRNewsFoto/SheerWind)

Nature Conservancy/ U.S. Fish Wildlife's Palmyra Atoll by A. Purves (PRNewsFoto/SheerWind)

The custom system is designed to mirror an hourglass laying on its side. Extending 83 feet horizontally with a big wind scoop at one end, an exhaust on the other, a Venturi section in the middle increases wind speed potentially three to six times. Nets over the intake and enclosed blades keep it bird friendly. The first phase of the installation includes a single turbine inside the Venturi, allowing for two additional to be installed.

The first phase of the INVELOX project is successfully charging batteries at night, says The Nature Conservancy, and on cloudy days to supplement the photovoltaic system also installed on Palmyra.

INVELOX on Palmyra Atoll by Cindy Coker (PRNewsFoto/SheerWind)

INVELOX on Palmyra Atoll by Cindy Coker (PRNewsFoto/SheerWind)

“With a goal to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, SheerWind’s INVELOX was the only viable solution for the multiple restrictions including height, wind speeds, and of course bird populations. This solution works and helped bring the goal to reduce fossil fuel use a reality,” said The Nature Conservancy’s David Sellers, who is the driving force behind the design solution and details of the INVELOX installation.

Palmyra Atoll is located 1,000 miles south of Hawaii in the vast equatorial Pacific, and hosts spectacular coral reef and tropical island ecosystems, but is a challenge for humans to inhabit. There are no commercial flights to this remote outpost, which is co-owned and managed as a scientific research station and national wildlife refuge by The Nature Conservancy and The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Until the recent installation of wind and solar, Palmyra was run on diesel fuel generators. These installations reduced its dependence on fossil fuels by 95 percent according to The Nature Conservancy.

“We are grateful for David Sellers and The Nature Conservancy’s commitment to installing the first commercial system in an extremely challenging location. We are pleased we were able to contribute to this important achievement and hope this is an example to be duplicated globally,” added Dr. Daryoush Allaei, founder and CTO of SheerWind.

U.S. Senate Votes to Extend Federal Tax Credits

The U.S. Senate Finance Committee has voted 23-3 to extend over 50 tax policies through 2016, including the renewable energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) and Investment Tax Credit (ITC) that helps to encourage the development of more renewable energy projects including wind. To qualify for the credits, construction of a product must begin while the tax programs are in place.

The credits has expired at the start of this year, and according to Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the action threw “the future of American wind energy into doubt once projects currently under construction are completed”.

© Hongtao926 | Dreamstime.com - Wind Turbines Photo

© Hongtao926 | Dreamstime.com – Wind Turbines Photo

“This is a big step in the right direction,” said Kiernan. “We applaud the committee’s vote because it recognizes that the vast majority of American voters support these policies and want them continued. We urge the full Senate and the House of Representatives to follow the Senate Finance Committee’s bipartisan lead, and quickly pass this tax extenders package, which will continue to grow American jobs and heavy manufacturing, and support rural economic growth.”

Kiernan said the federal PTC and ITC are predominant drivers of new wind farm development, and have helped lower the cost of American wind power by more than half over the last five years, while making the U.S. number one in the world in wind energy production.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) in the hearing regularly acknowledged the strong sense of bipartisan support for renewing the tax extenders package. Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA), Dan Coats (R-IN), and Rob Portman (R-OH) withdrew amendments opposing the PTC, while Sen. Michael Bennett (D-CO) made the senators aware of the tremendous amounts of economic benefits and jobs wind power has created in Colorado. Continue reading

Mid-Year Renewable Energy Check-Up

Heading in to the second half of 2015, renewable energy accounted for nearly 70 percent of new electrical generation for the firs six months as reported by the latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Office of Energy Projects. The report finds wind accounts for more than half (50.64%) of the 1,969 MW of new installed capacity. Solar accounted for 549 MW, bimomass with 128 MW, geothermal with 45 MW and hydropower with 21 MW. The rest of the new capacity was added using natural gas (1,173 MW).

© Metalmaster | Dreamstime.com - Solar Panels Photo

© Metalmaster | Dreamstime.com – Solar Panels Photo

FERC reported no new capacity for the year-to-date from oil or nuclear power and just 3 MW from one unit of coal. Thus, as calculated by the SUN DAY Campaign, new capacity from renewable energy sources during the first half of 2015 is 904 times greater than that from coal and more than double that from natural gas. For June alone, wind (320 MW), biomass (95 MW), and solar (62 MW) provided 97 percent of new capacity with natural gas providing the balance (15 MW).

Renewable energy sources now account for 17.27 percent of total installed operating generating capacity in the U.S.: water – 8.61 percent, wind – 5.84 percent, biomass – 1.40 percent, solar – 1.08 percent, and geothermal steam – 0.34 percent (for comparison, renewables were 16.28 percent of capacity in June 2014 and 15.81% in June 2013).

Renewable electrical capacity is now greater than that of nuclear (9.20%) and oil (3.87%) combined. In fact, the installed capacity of wind power alone has now surpassed that of oil. On the other hand, sources the SUN DAY Campaign, generating capacity from coal has declined from 28.96 percent in mid-2013 to 26.83 percent today.

“With Congress now debating whether to extend the federal tax incentives for renewable energy sources, it is reasonable to ask whether the American public has gotten a good return on these investments to date,” noted Ken Bossong, executive eirector of the SUN DAY Campaign. “The latest FERC data confirms that the answer is a resounding ‘Yes!’.”

Renewable Tax Credits Before Committee

grassley-head1A Senate committee will consider a package of tax credits for wind, biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa included the tax incentives in the bipartisan tax extenders bill the Finance Committee will consider today.

“Certainty and predictability in tax policy are both important for retaining and creating jobs,” Grassley said. “The Finance Committee leaders deserve credit for getting an early start on extending tax provisions. The energy items not only help support jobs. They also support the renewable energy that consumers want for a cleaner environment and energy independence. The higher education deduction helps families and students afford college.”

The inclusion of the wind energy provision comes after Grassley urged the committee chairman to include it, noting it deserves a fair shake compared to many long-standing tax provisions benefiting non-renewable energy sources. Grassley authored and won enactment of the first-ever wind energy production tax credit in 1992. The incentive was designed to give wind energy the ability to compete against coal-fired and nuclear energy and helped to launch the wind energy industry. He has worked to extend the credit ever since.

Renewable production tax credit. Under the provision, taxpayers can claim a 2.3 cent per kilowatt hour tax credit for wind and other renewable electricity produced for a 10-year period from a facility that has commenced construction by the end of 2014 (the production tax credit). They can also elect to take a 30 percent investment tax credit instead of the production tax credit. The bill extends these credits through December 31, 2016.

Cellulosic biofuels producer tax credit. Under the provision, facilities producing cellulosic biofuels can claim a $1.01 per gallon production tax credit on fuel produced before the end of 2014. The bill would extend this production tax credit for two additional years, for cellulosic biofuels produced through 2016.

Incentives for biodiesel and renewable diesel. The bill extends for two years, through 2016, the $1.00 per gallon tax credit for biodiesel, as well as the small agri-biodiesel producer credit of 10 cents per gallon. The bill also extends through 2016 the $1.00 per gallon tax credit for diesel fuel created from biomass.

Vaisala: Q4 U.S. Wind Production to Remain Low

Vaisala is predicting that wind energy performance is expected to remain below normal in most regions into the fourth quarter (Q4). The company said earlier this year there were record low wind anomalies that challenged many wind operators, and due to a persistent El Niño that is forecast to remain in effect throughout the end of the year wind production will be lower than average.

The wind forecast anticipates that power producers in the Northeast, Northwest, and much of the U.S. wind belt will see below average wind speeds in Q4 2015. While the El Vaisala Q4 Wind PredictionsNiño pattern largely has a negative impact, particularly along the Rocky Mountains, it will have a positive impact in some areas with significant wind generation according to the report.

However, the analysis finds the Southwest, Southeast, Indiana, and southern Texas should see above normal wind speeds. California is an especially bright spot with a high likelihood of elevated wind speeds, which should signal a return to smooth profitability for investors following the lows of the last six months.

“For managing portfolio risk, it is imperative to have a detailed understanding of how over or underperformance at each of your project sites fits within the historical record,” said Dr. Jim McCaa, manager of advanced applications at Vaisala. “As acquisition and merger activity increases, the industry also needs to start thinking strategically about the variability of the assets they are looking to buy and how they fit within the existing portfolio.”

Vaisala has been following the evolution of North American wind anomalies in particular detail since the release of its Q1 study revealing 40-year record low wind speeds. The low wind event caused significant reductions in generation for utilities and project owners, a number of whom reported expected shortfalls in quarterly and annual wind production.

The company’s forecast is based on the wide agreement of the atmospheric research community and all the major global weather models that the current El Niño climate signal will continue through the end of the year. The forecast was created using an ensemble approach blending mesoscale model predictions with three of the leading reanalysis datasets, each representing 35 years of climate data.

Colorado’s RPS Going Forward

Colorado’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is going forward. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the constitutionality of the legislation stating the RPS does not impose unlawful regulations on out-of-state companies. In their written opinion, the judges determined that Colorado’s RPS would not harm interstate commerce.

Current state law requires electric generators to ensure that a percentage of the electricity they sell to Colorado consumers comes from renewable sources. That prompted the Energy and Environment Legal Institute (EELI), which has longtime ties to the coal industry according to the renewable energy industry to file suit in federal court – arguing that out-of-state companies wereScreen Shot 2015-07-14 at 10.14.43 AM unfairly and adversely impacted.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and the Interwest Energy Alliance (a regional partner of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA)) were two of several organizations to intervene on behalf of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and in support of the state’s RPS.

“Because electricity can go anywhere on the grid and come from anywhere on the grid, and because Colorado is a net importer of electricity, Colorado’s renewable energy mandate became a ‘target’ for people and groups hoping to freeze or rollback RPS programs – not only in Colorado, but also in other states around the nation,” said SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch. “By ruling on the substance of the issue, we believe the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals decision sends a clear signal that renewable energy standards are, in fact, legal under the Constitution’s dormant commerce clause. We applaud the court for its clear guidance.”

Colorado was the first state in the U.S. to adopt a renewable energy standard by a popular vote. The renewable energy industry said the law has widely benefited the state as wind power supports up to 7,000 well-paying jobs, including manufacturing jobs at 22 facilities around the state and wind has attracted $7.8 billion in capital investment to the state’s economy. Continue reading

IFC Invests in Renewable Energy

IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, has announced the company is investing $25 million power company Alcazar Energy to develop and multiple solar and wind projects in the Middle East, Turkey and Africa. The hope is that the projects will aid the country’s economic growth while meeting growing power needs.

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 3.08.46 PM“MENA’s solar potential alone is massive,” says Maroun Semaan, Alcazar Energy co-founder and chairman. “Enough solar energy hits the region every year to satisfy the planet’s demand for power. The investment from IFC will help tap into that potential and boost power generation across the region at more competitive costs.”

Many areas throughout the MENA countries don’t have access to realiable power supply. However, cited by IFC show that power demand will grow by 84 percent by 2020. It is estimated that around $280 billion of investment will be required over the next five years to meet MENA’s growing electricity demand and the goal is to ensure much of the power demand is met by renewable energy sources.

“Powers shortages are a key barrier to economic growth and development across the region,” added Mouayed Makhlouf, IFC regional director for the Middle East and North Africa. “By harnessing the region’s considerable renewable potential, we can increase supply of sustainable, clean energy, helping to boost economic growth and alleviate poverty.”

The initiative is part of IFC’s broader regional strategy that focuses on improving the region’s infrastructure through renewable energy projects and fostering regional integration by helping companies expand operations to different parts of the region.

EWEA Calls on EU for Climate Policy Reform

The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) is calling on the EU to make modernization changes to the EU Trading System in order to better integrate renewable energy and reduce the use of fossil fuel-based energy sources.

EWEA logo“The ETS needs root and branch reform. The instrument must be realigned with Europe’s political ambition on climate change. The removal of surplus permits and the elimination of free allocation would be the first steps to achieving this,” said EWEA Chief Policy Officer Kristian Ruby.

Ruby noted that in addition to stimulating a higher price on carbon, ETS reforms post-2020 must include tools that will drive fossil fuel-dependent Member States toward decarbonised and renewable energy portfolios. For example, Ruby explained, the modernisation fund, which will set aside a share of ETS allowances for investment projects between 2021 and 2030, must be key to addressing renewable energy integration in lower income Member States.

“Putting measures in place to phase out the most polluting assets in Europe should be a top priority in this reform, particularly for those Member States in Central and Eastern Europe that rely heavily on coal-fired generation,” continued Ruby. “Already we see that wind energy, particularly onshore, represents the strongest business case for European countries trying to balance decarbonisation pledges with economic competitiveness and growth. With a functioning ETS and a robust carbon price, we can speed up Europe’s energy transition and reach our goals in a more cost-effective manner.”

Ruby also called for the European Investment Bank to play a role in improving the ETS.

Clean Jobs Continue to Rise

A new report finds that more than 9,800 clean energy and clean transportation jobs were announced in the U.S. in the first three months of 2015. This is nearly double the number of jobs announced during the same timeframe in 2014. The report was released by Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2).

E2 Q1 2015 top clean job statesThe top three states for the quarter were: Georgia (2,870 jobs), California (1,885) and Texas (1,612). New Mexico, Michigan, Colorado, Virginia, Utah, Maryland and Indiana rounded out the top 10. Georgia’s No. 1 ranking was its first since E2 began its clean energy job-tracking analysis in 2011. The vast majority of its jobs came in the solar sector.

“Nearly 10,000 new job announcements in one quarter shows just how fast clean energy is growing in America,” said Bob Keefe, executive director of E2. “But building an economy increasingly fueled by clean, renewable energy like wind and solar doesn’t happen in just one quarter. Smart policies like the federal Clean Power Plan – which will reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants and increase clean energy – will help keep the job growth going.” Final Clean Power Plan standards will be announced later this summer.

Nationally, solar was the top sector in Q1, with more than 6,600 jobs announced from nearly 20 projects in solar generation and solar manufacturing. The report attributed declining materials costs as a primary reason for the solar industry’s strong showing. In the wind energy sector, more than 1,400 jobs stemming from 11 projects were announced, while the biomass, energy storage, advanced vehicle and lighting efficiency sectors announced hundreds of jobs each.