Tuesday, November 19, 2013

New England's invisible wind-power plants

At least 13 wind-powered electricity plants of industrial size, operating in New England during 2007 through 2012, are easily seen by visitors but invisible to federal government. They don't appear in Form EIA-860 data about plant characteristics, maintained by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, so that the plants are apparently unregistered with the U.S. Department of Energy. [1] They don't look to have been submitting Form EIA-923 data on their electricity generation. [2]

Rated outputs of New England's invisible wind plants, as reported by news media, vary from 1.5 to 6.0 peak MW, with from 1 to 3 wind turbines per plant. Of those plants, 11 are located in Massachusetts and 2 are in Rhode Island; 7 are apparently owned by government and 6 by industry and individuals; 3 plants apparently owned by government have commercial operators: ones in Fairhaven, Kingston and Scituate, MA. Among them, the invisible plants have 20 industrial-size wind turbines, rated at a total of 35 peak MW. Considering the plants with full calendar years of operation through 2012, a wind plant of that size would rank seventh largest in the region.

It's no surprise to find nonreporting wind plants in Massachusetts--New England's capital of trophy-size wind power. Starting in 2009, officials in Gov. Patrick's administration had a windfall--so to speak--millions of federal dollars in so-called "stimulus" subsidies to pass out, funding new wind plants. Aside from the Hoosac and Berkshire Wind projects in western Massachusetts, the Patrick administration channeled its largesse to small and trophy-size plants. Once a turbine was turning and the governor spoke, who cared? The following list identifies the 13 wind plants missing in action and their apparent owners and operators. It references some articles in Web-based news media indicating that the plants have been operating.

Jiminy Peak Ski Resort, Hancock (Lanesboro), MA, 2007, 1.50 MW, 1 turbine
-- Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, 37 Corey Rd, Lanesboro, MA 01237, 413-738-5500

Portsmouth High School, Portsmouth, RI, 2009, 1.50 MW, 1 turbine
-- Town of Portsmouth, 2200 East Main Rd., Portsmouth, RI 02871, 401-683-3255

Town of Templeton Municipal Light, Templeton, MA, 2010, 1.65 MW, 1 turbine
-- Templeton Municipal Light & Water, 86 Bridge St., Templeton, MA 01436, 978-939-5323

Kingston Wind, Kingston, MA, 2011, 6.00 MW, 3 turbines
-- No Fossil Fuel, Mary O'Donnell, 47 Marion Dr., Kingston, MA 02364, 617-688-6088

Town of Kingston Landfill, Kingston, MA, 2011, 2.00 MW, 1 turbine
-- Kingston Wind Independence, c/o Aquinergy, 60 Almy Knoll Ter., Portsmouth, RM 02871, 401-835-4033

North Central Correctional Institution, Gardner, MA, 2011, 3.30 MW, 2 turbines
-- NCCI/Massachusetts, 500 Colony Rd., Gardner, MA 01440, 978-630-6000

Town of Scituate Wastewater Treatment, Scituate, MA, 2012, 1.50 MW, 1 turbine
-- Scituate Wind, c/o Solaya Energy, 56 Cummings Park, Woburn, MA 01801, 781-832-0201

Town of Fairhaven Wastewater Treatment, Fairhaven, MA, 2012, 3.00 MW, 2 turbines
-- Fairhaven Wind, c/o Solaya Energy, 56 Cummings Park, Woburn, MA 01801, 781-832-0201

Camelot Wind, Plymouth, MA, 2012, 1.50 MW, 1 turbine
-- Camelot Wind, 74-1 Camelot Dr., Plymouth, MA 02360, 508-888-9282

Lightolier, Fall River, MA, 2012, 2.00 MW, 1 turbine
-- Lightolier Div., Philips Lighting, 631 Airport Rd., Fall River, MA 02720, 508-679-8131

Varian, Gloucester, MA, 2012, 2.50 MW, 1 turbine
-- Varian Semiconductor Equipment, 35 Dory Rd., Gloucester, MA 01930, 978-281-2000

Gloucester Engineering, Gloucester, MA, 2012, 4.00 MW, 2 turbines
-- Gloucester Engineering, 11 Dory Rd., Gloucester, MA 01930, 978-281-1800

Narragansett Bay Wastewater Treatment, Providence, RI, 2012, 4.50 MW, 3 turbines
-- Narragansett Bay Commission, 1 Service Rd., Providence, RI 02905, 401-461-8848

[1] Existing and planned generators, Form EIA-860, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2013, at http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/eia860/

[2] Power plant operating data, Form EIA-923, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 1970-2012, at http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/eia923/

Saturday, November 9, 2013

New England wind capacity factors

New England's wind industry is in its youth--still at a very rapid rate of expansion. New Englanders who don't live near one of the wind plants tend not to know much about the dimensions of the industry and sometimes lack vocabulary to describe it. "Capacity factor" is one of the industry's key phrases.

The capacity factor for a power source is its actual output expressed as a fraction or percentage of its rated capacity. Although that is straightforward, in New England, at least, wind-energy promoters seem to avoid it. Instead they tend to confuse people by citing how many homes their projects could serve--whatever "homes" might mean. Factories, stores, offices, street lights and homes of different sizes don't seem to interest them. An accurate way to characterize a power source is through the average amount of power it can produce: the rated capacity, multiplied by the capacity factor.

It is usual to find the capacity of a wind turbine rated according to its peak output--during the strongest winds it can tolerate--rather than by its average output as installed, even though average output is usually what matters most. A knowledgeable reader encountering a capacity rating in "MW" will interpret that as meaning "peak MW." Capacity factors for a single turbine, a group of turbines or a whole wind plant are figured against their rarely achieved peak outputs.

Since in most places wind speeds are usually much lower than peak winds, capacity factors for wind turbines and wind plants are usually much less than 100 percent. When reporting capacity factors achieved by wind, with its great variability, measured outputs are often averaged over full operating years, avoiding false impressions resulting from seasonal changes. For example, in New England during a midsummer week a wind turbine may produce only a third the electricity that it produces during a midwinter week.

Accurately estimating a wind plant's capacity factor is a critical element for financial success. When a wind plant falls short of its expected capacity factor, its revenue typically falls short in proportion. To the same degree, it fails to displace conventional generation, with its pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions. So far, New England has only modest operating experience with wind plants of commercial sizes. Estimating the capacity factors for the region's wind plants, even averaged over several years, remains somewhat uncertain.

As of late 2013, there were ten New England wind plants of commercial size--rated 10 peak MW or more--with at least one full calendar year of operation. At that time, only three of the plants, with 78 turbines among them rated at 123 peak MW, had been operating for three or more full calendar years. Following are the numbers of commercial-size wind plants in each state, with their numbers of full calendar years of operation. [1] [2]

                 ME  (2) 1-year  (2) 2-year  (1) 3-year  (1) 5-year
                 NH  (1) 1-year  (1) 4-year
                 VT  (1) 1-year
                 MA  (1) 1-year

For the full calendar years 2010 through 2012 during which they operated, New England's commercial-size wind plants achieved a combined capacity factor of 26 percent. Those plants have a combined rated capacity of 515 peak MW, so their average combined output would have been about 134 MW. That is far less than the region's 20 large natural gas-fired plants, which generated, on average, more than 6,000 MW. Following are the plant names, states and opening years, rated capacities and capacity factors of individual wind plants for those years. [2]

           New England wind-power plants                                                                                    Capacity factors
Plant name State Capacity 2012 2011 2010
Mars Hill ME 2007 42 peak MW 36% 35% 33%
Stetson I ME 2009 57 peak MW 21% 31% 31%
Kibby Mountain ME 2010 132 peak MW 23% 24%  
Stetson II ME 2010 26 peak MW 19% 27%  
Rollins Mountain ME 2011 60 peak MW 24%    
Spruce Mountain ME 2011 20 peak MW 32%    
Lempster Mountain NH 2008 24 peak MW 30% 31% 36%
Granite Reliable NH 2011 99 peak MW 16%    
Sheffield VT 2011 40 peak MW 23%    
Berkshire Wind Plant MA 2011 15 peak MW 36%    

When data for calendar 2013 become available, six more commercial-size wind plants will appear in a similar list: Record Hill and Bull Hill in Maine, Groton in New Hampshire, Lowell Montain and Georgia Mountain in Vermont, and Hoosac in Massachusetts (recently renamed New England Wind). These newer plants add a combined rated capacity of 234 peak MW--representing capacity growth of 45 percent in a year.

Operators of Stetson and Rollins Mountain in Maine have noted that those plants were idle or curtailed for substantial periods of 2012, while Central Maine Power installed upgrades to a transmission line, causing an estimated 30 percent loss in total output for the year. [3] [4] The new Lowell Mountain plant in Vermont also experienced severe curtailments. Its operators needed to install a $10.5 million synchronous condenser--a phase-shifting motor-generator--to avoid causing instability on the ISO New England grid. [5]

With a larger and longer base of operations, some countries of western Europe have encountered discrepancies between capacity factors projected for commercial-size wind plants and those experienced. A survey of estimates from project developers, compared with estimates produced by academic researchers and with actual experiences, found a typical developer estimate of 35 percent capacity factor, average academic researcher estimate of 37 percent and average experience of 21 percent. [6] A government survey of the five largest wind development regions in California found an average capacity factor for about 11,600 active wind turbines, during calendar years 2000 and 2001, of about 22 percent. [7]

Experiences in Europe and California were both influenced by many small turbines--under 0.1 peak MW--installed while government promotions during the 1970s and 1980s offered large subsidies. Some either were poorly located or were too closely spaced. [8] More professionally designed and managed wind plants, using the larger and more robust wind turbines produced since the mid-1990s, usually achieve somewhat higher capacity factors. [9]

Nevertheless, for New England we should expect overly optimistic projections from project promoters, and we should be prepared to discount estimates from academic researchers. Not all discrepancies are faults of wind turbines or plant design and operation. In addition to problems during power transmission projects, New England wind outputs have been curtailed to avoid overloading segments of the power grid, called "congestion." [10]

Many practical elements that reduce capacity factors are also often omitted from estimates. Wind turbines are complex machines requiring periodic maintenance. They are exposed to lightning strikes, drastic temerature changes and storms. They suffer electrical, mechanical and control failures. [11] In the snowy country from northeastern Vermont through west central Maine, some roads may remain unplowed in winter. Heavy snow drifts can make back-country roads impassible until spring melt, so that power losses may extend over weeks. [12]

If their rotating components or automatic orientation (yaw control) systems fail, wind turbines can become candidates for disasters. [13] In some accidents, lubricating oil has ignited; turbine compartments have been completely incinerated. [12] In others, heavy blades snapped by strong winds have collided with turbine towers that folded and collapsed. There have been deaths, injuries and wildfires. [14] When turbines of a wind plant are damaged, obviously the plant's capacity factor suffers too.

[1] Existing and planned generators, Form EIA-860, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2013, at http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/eia860/

[2] Power plant operating data, Form EIA-923, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 1970-2012, at http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/eia923/

[3] Tux Turkel, Inadequate transmission lines affect some Maine wind power, Portland (ME) Press Herald, August 4, 2013, at http://www.pressherald.com/news/there-is-a-problem-withwind-power-in-maine_2013-08-04.html

[4] Tux Turkel, Wind industry says tax breaks are key, Portland (ME) Press Herald, December 31, 2012, at http://www.pressherald.com/news/wind-industry-tax-breaks-key_2012-12-31.html

[5] Willem Post, Was Vermont's Lowell Mountain wind turbine facility a good idea?, Energy Collective, July 15, 2011, at http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/61309/lowell-mountain-wind-turbine-facility-vermont

[6] Nicolas Bocard (Department of Economics, University of Girona, Spain), Capacity factor of wind power: realized values vs. estimates, Energy Policy 37:2679–2688 (in English), 2009, available at http://estaticos.soitu.es/documentos/2009/06/capacity_factor_of_wind_power_realized_values_vs_estimates.pdf

[7] Dora Yen-Nakafuji, California wind resources, California Energy Commission, 2005, at http://www.energy.ca.gov/2005publications/CEC-500-2005-071/CEC-500-2005-071-D.PDF

[8] Paul Gipe, Wind Energy Comes of Age, Wiley, 1995, excerpted at http://www.wind-works.org/cms/index.php?id=51&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=10&cHash=385515a9d3e6c6432f94f138fdc22d05

[9] Berthold Hahn, Michael Durstewitz and Kurt Rohrig, Reliability of wind turbines, University of Kassel (Germany), 2005, available at http://www.researchgate.net/publication/205337678_Reliability_of_Wind_Turbines/file/3deec517c0f7157a68.pdf

[10] John Dillon, Grid constraints mean less power output from wind projects, Vermont Public Radio, January 30, 2013, at http://www.vpr.net/archive/97331

[11] Kevin Alewine (Shermco Industries), Wind turbine generator failure modes, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, September 19, 2011, at http://www.nrel.gov/wind/pdfs/day1_sessioniv_04_shermco_alewine.pdf

[12] Whit Richardson, $4-million turbine fire at Kibby Mountain, Bangor (ME) Daily News, April 23, 2013, at http://bangordailynews.com/2013/04/23/news/mid-maine/regulators-advocates-opponents-of-wind-energy-take-sides-after-fire-destroys-a-4-million-turbine-at-maines-largest-wind-farm/

[13] Andred Walden, Wind energy's ghosts, American Thinker, February 10, 2010, at http://www.americanthinker.com/2010/02/wind_energys_ghosts_1.html

[14] Summary of wind turbine accidents, Caithness (UK) Windfarm Information Forum, 2013, at http://www.caithnesswindfarms.co.uk/accidents.pdf

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

New England's wind power and politics

In New England, over the past several years, people would often hear of a new wind facility opening--typically with the state's governor or some other politician present. Yet wind still provides only a tiny fraction of the region's electricity. How come?

A look at New England's wind-power plants told much of the story. Although the machines are large on a human scale, their outputs are small on the scale of industry. At the end of 2012, there were 62 active plants rated at 0.1 MW peak output or more. Only 37 were large enough to be reporting generation to the government--rated at 1.0 MW peak output or more. The rest were "trophy" plants: single turbines just big enough to crow about. [1]

  Reporting Peak MW Trophy Peak MW
  plants total plants total
Maine 10 430 2 1
New Hampshire 3 171 0 0
Vermont 4 119 5 1
Massachusetts 20 84 18 6
Connecticut 0 0 0 0
Rhode Island 0 0 0 0
Totals 37 804 25 8

Electricity from these active wind-power plants remained a small fraction of the region's use. The following table shows state electricity use and reported in-state wind-power generation for New England. [2] [3]

  Use Wind Wind
  TWh* TWh* percent
Maine 11.5 0.88 7.6%
New Hampshire 30.4 0.21 0.7%
Vermont 5.6 0.11 1.9%
Massachusetts 57.1 0.09 0.2%
Connecticut 30.4 0.00 0.0%
Rhode Island 7.8 0.00 0.0%
Totals 142.8 1.28 0.9%

          * TWh, billions of kilowatt-hours

There is substantial flow of electricity across New England states and Canadian provinces. Maine exports most of the wind-generated electricity that Massachusetts and Connecticut import. Massachusetts and Connecticut also import small amounts of wind-generated electricity from upstate New York. [4]

New England has three areas with notable wind potential: (1) a broad swath from northern New Hampshire into central and northern Maine, (2) a north-south spine in western Vermont, dipping into western Massachusetts, and (3) an arc near the Atlantic shoreline extending many miles offshore, particularly around southeastern Massachusetts. [5] With offshore wind very costly and complicated to develop, it could hardly be surprising to find Connecticut and Rhode Island providing no significant wind power.

Today's most productive wind plants in New England are built on mountain ridges: the White and Longfellow Mountains and the Mahoosuc Range of New Hampshire and Maine and the Green and Berkshire Mountains of Vermont and Massachusetts. Conservationist and preservationist movements have sprung up to block the installation of new wind plants and power transmission lines in these areas. [6] [7] [8] So far they have yet to make common cause with similar efforts that focus on the region's southeastern ocean coasts. [9]

Maine has dominated New England's wind power, providing about 53 percent of active capacity at the end of 2012 and about 68 percent of wind-powered generation for the year. Of states participating, Massachusetts came in last with about 10 percent of capacity, although it was by far the leader in trophy plants. In part, that reflected state politics. Govs. Patrick of Massachusetts and Shumlin of Vermont have served as wind gadflies, constrained by finances of wind power and by their state geographies and vigorous protest movements but celebrating, when they can, symbols of what they see as progress.

Former Govs. Baldacci and King of Maine, in contrast, have served as wind promoters--encouraging, finding and participating in financial opportunities for their states. [10] [11] Sen. King's son, Angus King, III, became vice president for mergers and acquisitions at First Wind of Boston--as of 2012 the largest developer of wind power in Maine. Wind power, particularly in Maine, got a boost from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-5), adding new subsidies and loan guarantees to previous federal and state benefits.

For the next few years, the future appears to hold more of the same. In 2008, for example, urged on by Gov. Patrick and his departed environmental affairs secretary, Dr. Ian Bowles, Massachusetts enacted a state law requiring increasing amounts of electricity from renewable sources, including wind--called a "renewable portfolio." [12] [13] By 2008, however, Massachusetts utilities were already paying penalties for noncompliance with previous, less demanding state requirements. [14]

In 2008, Gov. Patrick announced a laughable goal to install 2.0 GW of capacity for wind power in Massachusetts by 2020--well after he has left office. [15] Five years later, the state had only 0.09 GW installed and 0.02 GW under review--all as measured by peak power, not the sustained power expected from conventional sources. [1] At first, Massachusetts agencies qualified only in-state renewable sources, but in June, 2010, the state caved in, quietly recognizing that Massachusetts lacked practical potential and accepting imports. [16]

Maine and New Hampshire look likely to expand wind power substantially. As of late 2013, there were ten major projects under review by Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont (with all plants 0.1 MW peak and over counted in the following table). [1]

Under review
  Plants Turbines Peak MW
Maine 12/7 226/292 431/730
New Hampshire 3/1 69/23 171/76
Vermont 9/2 46/35 120/80
Massachusetts 38/6 74/10 90/16
Totals 62/16 415/360 812/902

Six projects in Maine and the one in New Hampshire have state-approved contracts with Northeast Utilities, National Grid and Connecticut Light & Power--the major utilities serving southern New England. Those would add 296 turbines and 775 peak MW in capacity, nearly doubling the current size of New England wind power. Sparsely populated central and northern Maine, with its good wind potential, is getting nearly all the attention.

Because rural Maine is little developed, it lacks power transmission capacity. Independent operators of power transmission are not much interested. Lines must be sized for maximum power to be carried, but revenues scale with average power. Serving New England's wind power, with 23 percent average capacity factors, offers poor financial prospects compared with serving its gas-fired power, with 61 percent average capacity factors. [17]

New wind facilities can include power transmission in projects qualifying for state and federal benefits. Some projects have already built tens of miles of power lines, but new ones may have to build hundreds of miles. As that happens, prices of electricity from land-based wind plants are likely to rise beyond levels most recently reported for major utility contracts, [18] although not as high as those reported for offshore wind power. [19]

[1] Existing and planned generators, Form EIA-860, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2013, at http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/eia860/ Smaller units from American Wind Energy Association and news media.

[2] Electricity profiles for New England states, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2010, at http://www.eia.gov/state/search/#?1=102 The most recent data were for 2010, as of November 1, 2013.

[3] Power plant operating data, Form EIA-923, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2012, at http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/eia923/

[4] Energy sources in New England, ISO New England, 2013, at http://www.iso-ne.com/nwsiss/grid_mkts/enrgy_srcs/

[5] New England wind resources, U.S. Department of Energy, 2011, at http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov/newengland/building_resource.asp

[6] Environmentally sound approaches to Maine’s energy policy, Citizens' Task Force on Wind Power (Maine), at http://www.windtaskforce.org/

[7] Exposure to industrial wind energy's real impacts, Industrial Wind Action Group (New Hampshire), 2013, at http://www.windaction.org/

[8] Benefits low impacts high, National Wind Watch (Vermont), 2013, at http://www.wind-watch.org/

[9] Beginning of the end, Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound (Massachusetts), 2013, at http://www.saveoursound.org/

[10] Tux Turkel, Wind backers decry conflict-of-interest claims, Portland (ME) Press Herald, January 31, 2010, at http://mainebusiness.mainetoday.com/story_pf.php

[11] John Richardson, Angus King defends his wind career, Portland (ME) Press Herald, September 15, 2012, at http://www.pressherald.com/news/angus-king-defends-his-wind-career_2012-09-16.html

[12] Acts of 2008, Chapter 169. Beth Daley, Patrick signs landmark energy legislation, Boston Globe, July 2, 2008, at http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/green/greenblog/2008/07/patrick_signs_landmark_energy_1.html

[13] The so-called "Green Communities Act" of 2008 expanded on Acts of 1997, Chapter 164, quickening paces of requirements. Polestar Communications, Massachusetts renewable portfolio standard, ISO New England, 2004, at http://www.iso-ne.com/committees/comm_wkgrps/mrkts_comm/mrkts/mtrls/2005/mar302005/A5_RPS_White_Paper.pdf

[14] David Hurlbut, State clean energy practices, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2008, at http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy08osti/43512.pdf

[15] Christopher Nichols, State legislation to boost renewable energy, Taunton Gazette, July 14, 2012, at http://www.heraldnews.com/news/x736422462/State-legislation-to-boost-renewable-energy-paying-off-for-Massachusetts

[16] Jon Chesto, Maine's mountains offer New England a modest alternative, Mass. Markets, August 26, 2010, at http://blogs.wickedlocal.com/massmarkets/2010/08/26/maines-mountains-offer-new-england-a-modest-alternative-to-cape-wind-turbines/

[17] Evaluated for all major New England wind-powered and gas-fired power-plants in 2012. See [3]

[18] Rick Saia, State announces record wind-energy deal, Worcester (MA) Business Journal, September 23, 2013, at http://www.wbjournal.com/article/20130923/NEWS01/130929987/state-announces-record-wind-energy-deal

[19] Michael C. Bailey, DPU approves Cape Wind contract with National Grid, The Enterprise (Falmouth, MA), November 26, 2010, at http://www.capenews.net/communities/region/news/661

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Renewable energy at a fair price

The Cape Wind project, started by Jim Gordon's company, Energy Management, in 2001, [1] has largely turned into a distraction for renewable energy in New England. It aims to build and operate an offshore wind farm between Cape Cod and Nantucket. [2] The site has very good wind potential, [3] relatively shallow waters and adequate access to power transmission. However, the projected construction cost rose steeply, from $0.5 billion in 2001, [4] for 168 MW annual average (not peak) generating capacity, to $2.6 billion in 2013 for 183 MW. [5] Some owners of oceanfront property have sponsored preservationist campaigns and lawsuits, [6] while the nearest residents are about five miles away from the site boundaries.

Comparable conventional electricity is readily found in Massachusetts. In Cambridge, for example, the Kendall Square station--opened by Cambridge Light and Power in 1949 burning coal--was converted to combined-cycle natural gas by Mirant in 2000 and is now run by NRG Energy. Kendall Square has a current year-round (not peak) generating capacity of 218 MW. [7] For calendar years 2010, 2011 and 2012, it ran at an average 68 percent of that capacity. [7] Its output was somewhat above the average 61 percent of capacity for all large gas-fired plants in New England. It was selling into a New England bulk electricity market with average wholesale prices per kilowatt-hour of $0.051 in 2010, $0.048 in 2011 and $0.037 in 2012--according to ISO New England. [8] [9]

By the end of 2012, Cape Wind had two major contracts to sell bulk electricity for $0.187 per kWh that it has not been able to fulfill, because its offshore wind farm remains unbuilt. [10] [11] That would be about five times the actual, average wholesale price of bulk electricity in New England for 2012. In September, 2013, Massachusetts and Connecticut state agencies approved long-term agreements by Northeast Utilities, National Grid and other utilities to buy bulk electricity from land-based wind farms run by First Wind, Iberdrola Renewables and Exergy Development, at an average wholesale price of less than $0.080 per kWh. [12] [13]

The total capacity of New England's land-based wind power coming under contract in 2013 was nearly twice what was promised by Cape Wind. The price per kWh is less than half the price from Cape Wind. If Cape Wind had built its offshore wind farm at the cost projected in 2001, it too could sell renewable energy at a fair price. [14]

[1] Background, Energy Management, Inc., 2012, available at http://agriculturecity.com/pdf/EMI.pdf

[2] Cape Wind Project History, U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, 2013, at http://www.boem.gov/Cape-Wind/

[3] New England wind resources, U.S. Department of Energy, 2011, at http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov/newengland/building_resource.asp

[4] Jeffrey Krasner, Offshore wind farm blows into Cape view, Boston Globe, July 28, 2001, p. A1

[5] Ehren Goossens and Christopher Martin, Cape Wind offshore farm lawsuits, Bloomberg News, October 22, 2013, at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-10-22/cape-wind-offshore-farm-sees-lawsuits-cleared-by-year-end.html

[6] Katharine Q. Seelye, Koch brother wages 12-year fight over wind farm, New York Times, October 23, 2013, at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/23/us/koch-brother-wages-12-year-fight-over-wind-farm.html

[7] Power plant operating data, Form EIA-923 and related forms, U.S. Energy Information Admimistration, 1970-2012, at http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/eia923/

[8] Annual Markets Report, ISO New England, 2011, at http://www.iso-ne.com/markets/mkt_anlys_rpts/annl_mkt_rpts/2011/2011_amr_final_051512.pdf

[9] Annual Markets Report, ISO New England, 2012, at http://www.iso-ne.com/markets/mkt_anlys_rpts/annl_mkt_rpts/2012/amr12_final_051513.pdf

[10] Michael C. Bailey, DPU approves Cape Wind contract with National Grid, The Enterprise (Falmouth, MA), November 26, 2010, at http://www.capenews.net/communities/region/news/661

[11] Erin Ailworth, NStar deal with Cape Wind gets OK, Boston Globe, November 26, 2012, at http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2012/11/26/state-regulators-sign-off-nstar-contract-with-cape-wind/oXqjwSzj1uDgreauBMSI2K/story.html

[12] Rick Saia, State announces record wind-energy deal, Worcester (MA) Business Journal, September 23, 2013, at http://www.wbjournal.com/article/20130923/NEWS01/130929987/state-announces-record-wind-energy-deal

[13] Renewables progress in Northeast, American Wind Energy Association, September 27, 2013, at http://www.awea.org/Membership/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=5679

[14] Expanded from a version appearing in the Brookline (MA) Tab, October 31, 2013, p. B2

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Coal-fired and oil-fired electricity in New England

In New England today, the only significant use of coal is in a dwindling number of coal-fired electricity generating stations. [1] Just after World War II, almost all electricity and most industrial and space heating in the region were coal-fired, [2] but twenty years later most energy users had migrated to fuel oil, which remained remarkably cheap until the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973. Around that time, much more demanding safety requirements rapidly raised costs of nuclear power plants. Then the Three Mile Island disaster of 1979 chilled remaining interest in nuclear power.

In the 1970s and 1980s, some New England generating units were adapted to use coal again, including ones in the large Salem Harbor plant and the giant Brayton Point plant in Somerset, MA. [3] Residents and business owners located nearby protested the pollution, and over time they were partly successful. After a campaign against the "filthy five" (actually six) most polluting power plants, [4] in 2001 Massachusetts issued fairly stringent new emissions rules for existing power plants, reaching full effects in 2012. [5] A similar but later campaign in Connecticut attacked the "sooty six" plants in that state, [6] resulting in less stringent regulations. [7]

In 2003, Exelon took over the giant Mystic plant in Everett, MA, which had been coal-fired, then oil-fired and equipped for steam-cycle natural gas; it was repowered using combined-cycle natural gas. [8] Exelon slid into bankruptcy because of poor earnings, lost its Massachusetts plants and reacquired them years later. [9] As fuel oil became uneconomic over the next few years, Mirant put the large, mostly oil-fired Canal plant in Sandwich, MA, into hibernation, [10] operating it only at extreme peaks of summer demand. That largely disposed of two of the six most polluting power plants in Massachusetts.

In 2007, NRG Energy proposed to convert the smaller, coal-fired Montaup plant in Somerset to coal gasification, [11] but in 2011 it closed the plant instead. [12] GDF Suez tried buying emission credits to keep running the smaller coal-fired Mt. Tom plant in Hoyoke, MA, but the plan became uneconomic; it announced that Mt. Tom will be delisted in 2016. [13] As agreed under a federal court order, in 2012 Dominion announced it would close the coal-fired Salem Harbor plant by the summer of 2014. [14] It sold the property to Footprint Power, which has received preliminary environmental approval to repower Salem Harbor using combined-cycle natural gas. [15] Five of the six most-polluting plants in Massachusetts were thus being closed, idled or repowered.

With the giant, coal-fired Brayton Point, Dominion tried to buck trends, spending over $1 billion to install cooling towers that replace water drawn from Mt. Hope Bay and pollution controls that substantially reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury. [16] However, those efforts were financially undercut by declines in the prices of natural gas, and the plant ran at less than 20 percent of capacity after 2011. Dominion sold the plant in 2013 at a heavy loss. In October, 2013, new owner EquiPower announced that Brayton Point would be delisted by the summer of 2017. [17]

That development completed the disposition of all six of the most polluting power plants in Massachusetts. Just to the north, in Bow, New Hampshire, Merrimack became the one large remaining, frequently operated coal-fired power plant in New England. [18} Like Brayton Point, its output has been made uneconomic much of the time by natural gas prices. In May, 2012, Public Service of New Hampshire announced that Merrimack would be closed for all but peak periods of demand in summer and winter. [19] A 2006 New Hampshire law required Merrimack Station to achieve 80 percent reduction in mercury emissions. The company is in disputes over about $422 million spent through 2011 to retrofit the plant with more than the minimum pollution control specified in the law. [20]

Although stronger state regulations made differences in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire, shifts in the economics of power generation accelerated changes. Effects on New England power plants in recent years are shown in the following table, which tallies the outputs of large power plants for 2010, 2011 and 2012, compiled by the federal government. [21]

New England power plants with over 1 million megawatt-hours annual outputs

Plant name Location MW * 2010 MWh 2011 MWh 2012 MWh
Brayton Point Somerset, MA 1,100 6,574,727 3,382,751 1,817,889
Merrimack Bow, NH 451 2,667,326 1,982,492 1,185,688
** All large coal plants 1,550 9,242,052 5,365,243 3,003,577
Mystic Everett, MA 1,382 9,093,560 9,234,268 8,466,252
Lake Road Plant Dayville, CT 745 3,721,965 5,279,444 4,536,819
Fore River Weymouth, MA 688 4,247,152 4,781,876 4,048,023
Granite Ridge Londonderry, NH 678 3,241,127 3,839,821 4,824,841
Kleen Energy Midldetown, CT 628 0 2,040,433 4,062,939
R.I. State Johnston, RI 528 3,043,081 3,076,553 2,415,704
Newington En. Newington, NH 525 1,920,852 2,712,026 2,122,028
Milford Power Milford, CT 507 3,395,512 3,920,883 3,651,538
Westbrook Westbrook, ME 506 2,689,175 2,659,935 2,446,083
Maine Indep. Veazie, ME 490 2,657,587 1,775,905 1,243,500
Bellingham Bellingham, MA 475 1,728,914 1,095,126 1,728,447
Bridgeport Bridgeport, CT 454 3,294,276 2,861,180 2,913,274
Manchester St. Providence, RI 447 1,928,019 2,399,970 2,455,440
Ocean State Harrisville, RI 437 1,434,006 1,448,894 1,551,102
Blackstone Blackstone, MA 437 1,746,412 2,087,965 2,098,048
Millennium Charlton, MA 325 2,033,339 2,407,211 2,002,904
Tiverton Power Tiverton, RI 250 1,099,210 1,578,676 1,610,946
Verso Paper Bucksport, ME 250 1,380,078 1,346,241 1,382,575
Berkshire Power Agawam, MA 229 1,002,963 1,060,233 761,901
Kendall Square Cambridge, MA 218 1,485,468 1,053,133 1,346,268
** All large gas plants 10,199 51,142,696 56,659,773 55,668,631
Seabrook-1 Seabrook, NH 1,247 10,910,055 8,362,807 8,189,181
Millstone-3 Waterford, CT 1,233 9,335,738 9,344,084 10,751,630
Millstone-2 Waterford, CT 869 7,414,566 6,583,753 6,326,257
Pilgrim Plymouth, MA 685 5,917,813 5,085,220 5,859,540
Vermont Yankee Vernon, VT 620 4,782,473 4,907,355 4,989,338
** All operating nuclear units 4,655 38,360,645 34,283,219 36,115,946

               * Rated summer output: operating, non-peaking units

In 2008, outputs of New England's remaining coal-fired power plants began to fall, and in 2010 they entered rapid decline. For 2012, the largest ones operated at only 22 percent of capacity on average, with further declines in 2013. Plants powered by combined-cycle natural gas have been filling most of the gaps. However, only some of the gas-fired plants prospered during these years. Granite Ridge, in New Hampshire, and Tiverton, in Rhode Island, saw large increases in outputs. After a terrible explosion a few months before it was to open in 2010, [22] the Kleen Energy plant in Connecticut was repaired and has done well. Half the other large natural gas-fired plants in New England suffered declines in outputs, shown in the table.

Financial pressures have also affected the five remaining nuclear power units in New England. In August, 2013, Entergy threw in the towel with Vermont Yankee, located in Vernon. [23] It will close by the end of 2014. Of the ten New England nuclear power units, Seabrook-2 was abandoned before completion, and four others were previously closed. [24] The Seabrook-1 unit in New Hampshire shows a substantial drop in output. Prolonged subnormal outputs at Seabrook-1 and at Millstone-2 in Connecticut suggest those units might be threatened.

Although several combined-cycle natural gas-fired plants became successful by 2010, during the 20 years before that the owners of such plants suffered through many problems and financial losses. Besides increases in total electricity powered by combined-cycle natural gas, the recent declines in coal-fired and nuclear power have been partly offset by increased outputs of wind and solar power, contributing to reduced total outputs from fossil-fueled and nuclear plants. [25] A problem that will continue to need attention is limited transmission capacity to convey power from generators to customers. [26]

So-called "congestion" on transmission lines has been a chronic factor in low outputs from plants using combined-cycle natural gas that are distant from the major demand centers in Connecticut and Massachusetts. [27] [28] Plants notably affected include Maine Independence in Veazie, Berkshire Power in Agawam, MA, Bellingham Energy, also in Massachusetts, and Ocean State Power in Harrisville, RI. Wind farms in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont have also encountered transmission restrictions. [29]

Through the bramble of changes, however, one result has remained consistent and strong. In New England, the long era of coal-fired, then oil-fired electricity generation has ended. A surge in natural gas from shale has provided an opportunity to expand renewable power sources, whose costs still remain so high that they operate mainly because of mandates and subsidies. If those costs can be reduced enough before prices of natural gas rise again, then coal and fuel oil will never return to dominate New England electricity.

[1] Lindsey Konkel, Coal's slipping grip: New England, virtually coal-free, leads the way, Environmental Health News, July 1, 2013 at http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2013/new-england-coal

[2] Utilities promoted efficiency. Unattributed, Edgar steam-electric station in Weymouth, Massachusetts, 1925: a national historic mechanical engineering landmark, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, 1976, at https://www.asme.org/getmedia/3f6395d3-c8d6-48fe-bd38-2f8144940638/17-Edison-Electric-Illuminating-Co.aspx Today the former Edgar, now Fore River plant in Weymouth has been repowered with combined-cycle natural gas.

[3] New England Region Annual Report, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1982, at http://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyPURL.cgi?Dockey=901K0G00.txt EPA issued coal-conversion permits in 1979 for Brayton Point, in 1981 for Mt. Tom and in 1982 for Salem Harbor, all in Massachusetts.

[4] Rob Sargent, Cleaning up the filthy five, Environment Massachusetts and Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, 2007, at http://www.environmentmassachusetts.org/clean-air/power-plants

[5] Emission standards for power plants, Statement of reasons and response to comments for 310 CMR 7.29, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, 2001, at http://www.mass.gov/dep/air/laws/finalrsn.doc

[6] The Connecticut campaign concentrated on mercury and sulfur dioxide emissions. Unattributed, Sooty six power plants, Clean Water Action (CT), 2003, at http://cleanwater.org/story/sooty-six-power-plants

[7] Liz Halloran, [Connecticut] takes action on mercury, Hartford Courant, 2003, at http://articles.courant.com/2003-07-03/news/0307030486_1_coal-burning-power-plants-coal-fired

[8] Jon Chesto, Mystic and Fore River plants are about to get yet another owner, Mass. Markets, 2011, at http://blogs.wickedlocal.com/massmarkets/2011/04/28/mystic-fore-river-plants-are-about-to-get-yet-another-owner-but-this-one-is-familiar/

[9] Unattributed, Boston Generating LCDS (loan-only credit default swap) auction results, CDS Market Information, 2010, at http://blog.creditlime.com/2010/09/29/boston-generating-lcds-auction-results/

[10] Chuck Kleekamp, Why oil is on the way out for New England's electric grid, Cape Cod (Hyannis) Times, 2007, at http://www.capecodtoday.com/blogs/index.php/Footnotes/2007/09/21/wind_the_beginning_of_the_end_of_oil_gen

[11] John Moss, Somerset Power gets OK to begin coal gasification, Wicked Local Somerset (MA) and Herald News, 2008, at http://www.wickedlocal.com/somerset/archive/x603847019

[12] Marc Munroe Dion, Somerset's NRG power plant closing down, Fall River (MA) Herald News, November, 2011, at http://www.heraldnews.com/business/x1312013989/Somersets-NRG-power-plant-closing-down

[13] Shanna Cleveland, Familiar cautionary tale unfolding at Mt. Tom, Conservation Law Foundation (MA), March 7, 2013, at http://www.clf.org/blog/clean-energy-climate-change/familiar-cautionary-tale-unfolding-at-mt-tom/

[14] U.S. District Court for Massachusetts, Conservation Law v. Dominion, Case cv-11069, Consent decree, February, 2012, available at http://www.clf.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Signed-Consent-Decree-12_11.pdf See 26. Shutdown of Salem Harbor Station.

[15] Tom Dalton, Salem power plant gets tentative state approval, Salem (MA) News, October 9, 2013, at http://www.salemnews.com/local/x1442581214/initial-State-OK-for-power-plant

[16] Jo C. Goode, Financial future of Somerset's Brayton Point is bleak, Fall River (MA) Herald News, March 1, 2013, at http://www.heraldnews.com/news/x898140479/Report-Financial-future-of-Somersets-Brayton-Point-is-bleak

[17] Steve Urbon, Brayton power station to close by 2017, New Bedford (MA) Standard-Times, October 8, 2013, at http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20131008/NEWS05/310080337 The event was ignored at the time by large general-interest news media in New England.

[18] A few coal-fired plants, including 530 MW Bridgeport Harbor, remain in standby for extreme summer peaks and emergencies. However, in 2012 Bridgeport Harbor ran an average of only 3 percent of rated capacity. Brian Lockhart, Bridgeport Harbor Station gets permit for five more years, (Bridgeport) Connecticut Post, November, 2012, at http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/Bridgeport-s-Harbor-Station-plant-gets-permit-for-4010666.php

[19] Kathryn Marchocki, Merrimack Station power plant in Bow temporarily shut down, Manchester (NH) Union Leader, May, 2012, at http://www.unionleader.com/article/20120508/NEWS05/705089931

[20] Bob Sanders, Public Service of New Hampshire turns to New Hampshire Supreme Court in scrubber showdown with state's Public Utilities Commission, New Hampshire Business Review, October 4, 2013, at http://www.nhbr.com/October-4-2013/PSNH-turns-to-NH-Supreme-Court-in-scrubber-showdown-with-PUC/ PSNH installed wet gas desulfurization when it might have gotten by with less expensive sorbent injection and fabric filters.

[21] Power plant operating data, Form EIA-923 and related forms, U.S. Energy Information Admimistration, 1970-2012, at http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/eia923/

[22] Unattributed, Kleen Energy natural gas explosion, U.S. Chemical Safety Board, 2010, at http://www.csb.gov/kleen-energy-natural-gas-explosion/

[23] Matthew L. Wald, Entergy will close the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, New York Times, August 28, 2013, at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/28/science/entergy-announces-closing-of-vermont-nuclear-plant.html

[24] Unattributed, Nuclear power safety in New England, Union of Concerned Scientists (MA), April, 2012, at http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/nuclear_power/nuclear-power-safety-in-new-england.pdf

[25] Massachusetts state profile and energy estimates, U.S. Energy Information Admimistration, 2013, at http://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=MA See similar data for other New England states.

[26] New England congestion area of concern, in National Electric Transmission Congestion Study, U.S. Department of Energy, 2009, pp. 52-58 at http://congestion09.anl.gov/documents/docs/congestion_study_2009.pdf

[27] Unattributed, Transmission congestion cost rising in New England, Electric Light and Power, 2001, at http://www.elp.com/articles/2001/10/transmission-congestion-cost-rising-in-new-england.html

[28] Brad Kane, Billion-dollar transmission project anticipates power weaknesses, Hartford (CT) Business Review, 2010, at http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/article/20101129/PRINTEDITION/311299991/billion-dollar-transmission-project-anticipates-power-weaknesses

[29] Diane Cardwell, Intermittent nature of green power is challenge for utilities, New York Times, August 15, 2013, at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/15/business/energy-environment/intermittent-nature-of-green-power-is-challenge-for-utilities.html