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

No comments: