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Turbines propel Nebraska past a wind-energy milestone



Nebraska has joined the “Gigawatt Club.”

With the raising of Grand Prairie, a 400-megawatt wind farm in Holt County, Nebraska has sailed past 1,000 megawatts — or 1 gigawatt — of wind-generated capacity. It’s the 18th state to join the club, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

For the first time last year, wind accounted for more than 10 percent of electricity generated in Nebraska, the association reported last month. Just five years ago, that figure was less than 3 percent, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

Nebraska’s turbines provide 1,328 megawatts of capacity, and there are more on the way, looking to take advantage of the state’s largely untapped wind potential. Developers have 7 megawatts of turbines under construction and others totaling 586 megawatts in development, the association reported in its first quarterly report for 2017.

Despite ranking fourth among states in abundant wind, Nebraska has long been a straggler when it comes to harnessing that resource. The state briefly climbed to 17th in wind energy production last year before being bumped down to 18th by New Mexico during this year’s first quarter.

The fact that Nebraska has lagged behind other states such as Iowa — which became the first state to generate 35 percent of its electricity from wind in 2016 — could play into its favor in attracting future development, said David Bracht, director of the Nebraska Energy Office.

“Given the fact that Nebraska has really good wind and has, relatively speaking, developed less of that, we have more of our very best wind left to develop,” Bracht said.

Another factor in Nebraska’s favor is that its wind is some of the most-productive in the country. Turbines can only spin when the wind blows. Nebraska’s turbines cranked out electricity an average of 45 percent of the time in 2016, the highest rate in the nation, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Nebraska’s electricity is provided by a network of nonprofit public power districts that can’t collect federal wind production tax credits like investor-owned utilities in other states can, a factor that has long been cited as a barrier to wind development.

Lincoln Electric System and other Nebraska utilities have tackled that obstacle by signing contracts to buy power from private turbine owners who collect the tax credits, such as Invenergy, which has a regional office in Littleton, Colorado, and owns Prairie Breeze II Wind Energy Center, a 41-turbine complex in Antelope and Boone counties.

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America’s First Offshore Wind Energy Makes Landfall in Rhode Island

BLOCK ISLAND, Rhode Island—America’s first offshore wind farm will connect today to Block Island, a small, pork chop-shaped landmass off the tip of Long Island. For Cliff McGinnes, a co-owner of the Block Island Power Company, the transition to wind energy can’t come soon enough.

For decades, McGinnes’s company ferried up to a million gallons of diesel fuel a year from the Rhode Island mainland to power this tiny resort community (pop. 1,000). The fuel, a particularly costly and dirty energy source whose carbon dioxide emissions are second only to burning coal, lit up four antiquated generators on an island where power outages are common.

Last year, an oil leak at one generator burst into flames, destroying that dynamo and two others. The fire also melted one of McGinnes’s utility trucks and caused rolling blackouts at the height of the summer tourism season, when the Block Island population balloons past 20,000. The company spent more than $100,000 to rent a pair of portable diesel generators. Customers, who already pay more for electricity than anyone in the country—50 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) or more during peak summer months, nearly five times the national average—shouldered the costs.

From now on, Block Island’s power will emanate from five wind turbines three miles off its southeast coast, each nearly twice the height of the Statue of Liberty. They were built by a company called Deepwater Wind at a cost of roughly $300 million. The energy they produce will not be cheap. Yet at a starting cost of 24 cents per kWh, the new system will save Block Islanders $25 to $30 a month off their electricity bills.

Offshore wind power clearly works for Block Island, a place where the economics of fossil fuels no longer makes sense. Can it also be an important part of the energy mix  for the coastal U.S.? Analysts say it can, though states will have to work with developers to bring the costs down.

For now, fossil fuel-generated power still dominates in New England, where just 3 percent of electricity currently comes from wind and solar. But the Block Island pilot project, capable of powering 17,000 homes, offers the promise of more to come. The environmental group Oceana once dubbed the Eastern Seaboard the “Saudi Arabia of offshore wind” for its strong ocean breezes, shallow waters and close proximity to a densely populated region eager to decarbonize. Massachusetts and New York have both committed to generating a portion of their power in coming years from offshore wind, and Deepwater Wind is slated to build a larger clone of the Rhode Island wind farm—which began supplying power to the mainland in December—to serve Long Island.

Meanwhile, first-mover Rhode Island is in a position to capture a significant share of the approximately 11,000 jobs and $50 billion in investment projected for a potential 20-year regional build-out.

Onshore wind power has proved its worth. Electricity from new installations—which are being erected at a pace of roughly one turbine every two and a half hours around the country—sells for less than 6 cents per kWh, a price competitive with natural gas.

Offshore wind is still much more expensive, but that could change. Europe has shown that, when produced on a big enough scale, such power can compete. There, the price has fallen 46 percent in the last five years to an average of 13 cents per kWh. The figure beats the 16 cents for new nuclear power plants and is closing in on Europe’s 9 cent price tag for new coal plants, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“If we could do what Europe is doing, then it would be at market price today,” said Willett Kempton, research director at the University of Delaware’s center for carbon-free power integration.

Block Island’s McGinnes, a lifelong Republican with no environmental leanings, is a convert. As chief operating officer of the Block Island Power Company, a position the plain-spoken 82-year-old Rhode Island native relinquished in November, his interest in wind was driven mostly by economics.

Block Island Wind Farm

Cliff McGinnes, co-owner of the Block Island Power Company. Photo: Phil McKenna

“For some people in this world, it doesn’t matter what the cost is,” McGinnes said, sitting at his desk last August before he retired as chief operating officer of Block Island Power. “They want to feel green, or they want to have an electric car, or they don’t want to get their electricity from a company that burns fuel oil. I have a tendency to be more about cost. That’s just the way I am.”

When the power company executives flip the switch, energy will flow from the turbines to the island via a subsea cable already connected to the mainland. The turbines will harness a steady offshore breeze that on most days will supply all the island’s energy needs and send additional electricity to the mainland. When the wind is not blowing, electricity will flow in reverse, sending electrons from conventional power plants on the mainland to the island. Costs will be subsidized by the larger pool of ratepayers statewide, who will see their electricity bills increase by an average of $1.35 per month when the system is in full operation.

McGinnes likes both the economics and the relative simplicity of wind power. “Running those diesels is nothing but a headache; there is always something going wrong,” said McGinnes. “If it hadn’t been for the wind farm and cable, we’d still be running them. It’s the best thing that has ever happened to us as a community.”

Read the full story here.

Companies have big plans to make more products using renewables



We’ve seen the good news that Fortune 500 companies like General Motors,Facebook, The Home Depot, and now Apple are making smart investments to procure wind energy, realizing long-term price stability and cutting pollution at the same time.

But how many more companies are in line to invest?

A new report by WWF, Ceres, Calvert Research & Management and CDP shows how more and more Fortune 500 companies are setting renewable energy targets, increasing the number of corporate purchasers ready to procure stably priced and reliable wind energy.

In total the report reveals that 48 percent of all Fortune 500 companies now have targets in place for either renewable energy procurement, carbon pollution reductions, or energy efficiency– a steady increase over the 43 percent reported in 2014.

These goals save America’s companies billions of dollars. In 2016 alone, emissions-saving projects translated to a combined $3.7 billion in savings for these companies.

Looking closer, 53 Fortune 500 companies now have renewable energy procurement goals, with 23 of those companies setting 100 percent renewable energy targets.

Particularly remarkable is that the majority of those companies set 100 percent targets in just the past three years, reminding us that corporate demand for renewable energy is a growing trend – currently most prevalent in the Information Technology sector but expanding rapidly to other sectors such as Consumer Goods.

In fact, more than 6,700 megawatts (MW) of wind power had been procured through the end of 2016 by corporate and other non-utility purchasers through power purchase agreements (PPA), direct ownership, or green power purchase agreements.

To put it simply, companies know that wind energy is a smart investment, and theychoose wind power more than any other source to meet their renewable energy needs. And with costs falling by two-thirds over the past seven years and more than 18,700 MWof wind power capacity coming online in the near term, wind power stands ready to meet growing corporate demand.

Renewables Break Records as Wind and Solar Come Online


Last year saw global renewable energy generation capacity increase by 161 gigawatts (GW), the International Renewable Energy Agency, IRENA, said on Thursday.

IRENA said that, by the end of 2016, the planet’s renewable energy capacity had hit an estimated 2,006 GW.  It added that its data showed renewable energy capacity grew by 8.7 percent, with 71 GW of new solar energy leading the way. Wind energy grew by 51 GW, hydropower increased by 30 GW and bioenergy 9 GW.

“We are witnessing an energy transformation taking hold around the world, and this is reflected in another year of record breaking additions in new renewable energy capacity,” IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin said in a statement.

“This growth in deployment emphasizes the increasingly strong business case for renewables which also have multiple socio-economic benefits in terms of fueling economic growth, creating jobs and improving human welfare and the environment,” Amin added.

Accelerating this momentum would need extra investment “in order to move decisively towards decarbonising the energy sector and meet climate objectives,” he went on to say.

IRENA’s announcement came on the same day the U.K. government released energy statistics which showed that renewable electricity generation in 2016 was 82.8 terawatt hours, down one per cent compared to 2015.

In addition, the government said that renewables’ share of electricity generation fell to 24.4 percent in 2016, a decrease of 0.2 percentage points compared to the previous year. Capacity for renewable energy at the end of 2016 was 34.7 GW, representing an increase of 13.7 percent.

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