Monday, August 18, 2008

Give me green power, but don't give me power lines

Environmentalist say they want green power, but when someone actually tries to give them green power they make it impossible because they don't want anyone to build the power lines necessary to deliver the power. This is going to be a very big fight because if the country is going to go over to renewable power in a real way the little power line links talked about in the column below are tiny compared to what will be necessary. Going over completely to renewables as folks like Al Gore suggest would mean thousands of miles of big power corridors spreading out across the whole country to hold superconducting electric lines surrounded by liquid hydrogen pipelines to keep them cold.

This opinion column in the Wall Street Journal tells the story - - I've pasted a copy of the article below because the WSJ requires registration.

Wind JammersAugust 18, 2008

In this year's great energy debate, Democrats describe a future when the U.S. finally embraces the anything-but-carbon avant-garde. It turns out, however, that when wind and solar power do start to come on line, they face a familiar obstacle: environmentalists and many Democrats.
To wit, the greens are blocking the very transmission network needed for renewable electricity to move throughout the economy.

The best sites for wind and solar energy happen to be in the sticks -- in the desert Southwest where sunlight is most intense for longest, or the plains where the wind blows most often. To exploit this energy, utilities need to build transmission lines to connect their electricity to the places where consumers actually live. In addition to other technical problems, the transmission gap is a big reason wind only provides two-thirds of 1% of electricity generated in the U.S., and solar one-tenth of 1%.

Only last week, Duke Energy and American Electric Power announced a $1 billion joint venture to build a mere 240 miles of transmission line in Indiana necessary to accommodate new wind farms. Yet the utilities don't expect to be able to complete the lines for six long years -- until 2014, at the earliest, because of the time necessary to obtain regulatory approval and rights-of-way, plus the obligatory lawsuits.

In California, hundreds turned out at the end of July to protest a connection between the solar and geothermal fields of the Imperial Valley to Los Angeles and Orange County. The environmental class is likewise lobbying state commissioners to kill a 150-mile link between San Diego and solar panels because it would entail a 20-mile jaunt through Anza-Borrego state park. "It's kind of schizophrenic behavior," Arnold Schwarzenegger said recently. "They say that we want renewable energy, but we don't want you to put it anywhere."

California has a law mandating that utilities generate 20% of their electricity from "clean-tech" by 2010. Some 24 states have adopted a "renewable portfolio standard," while Barack Obama wants to impose a national renewable mandate. But the states, with the exception of Texas, didn't make transmission lines easier to build, though it won't prevent them from penalizing the power companies that fail to meet an impossible goal.

Texas is now the wind capital of America (though wind still generates only 3% of state electricity) because it streamlined the regulatory and legal snarls that block transmission in other states. By contrast, though Pennsylvania's Democratic Governor Ed Rendell adopted wind power as a main political plank, he and Senator Bob Casey are leading a charge to repeal a 2005 law that makes transmission lines slightly easier to build.

Wind power has also become contentious in oh-so-green Oregon, once people realized that transmission lines would cut through forests. Transmissions lines from a wind project on the Nevada-Idaho border are clogged because of possible effects on the greater sage grouse. Similar melodramas are playing out in Arizona, the Dakotas, the Carolinas, Tennessee, West Virginia, northern Maine, upstate New York, and elsewhere.

In other words, the liberal push for alternatives has the look of a huge bait-and-switch. Washington responds to the climate change panic with multibillion-dollar taxpayer subsidies for supposedly clean tech. But then when those incentives start to have an effect in the real world, the same greens who favor the subsidies say build the turbines or towers somewhere else. The only energy sources they seem to like are the ones we don't have.


Anonymous said...

This is classic. The enviros have come up with so many solutions as to what we as a society should do to "improve" the planet, that their ideas are now in conflict with each other, sometimes within the same article.

Here's an example:

Excerpted from the New York Times:

Op-Ed Contributor
An Ill Wind Off Cape Cod
Published: December 16, 2005

First, Kennedy says that offshore wind is not economically feasible:

"And because offshore wind costs twice as much as gas-fired electricity and significantly more than onshore wind, the project is financially feasible only because the federal and state governments have promised $241 million in subsidies."

But then at the end, he writes:

"If Cape Wind were to place its project further offshore, it could build not just 130, but thousands of windmills - where they can make a real difference in the battle against global warming without endangering the birds or impoverishing the experience of millions of tourists and residents and fishing families who rely on the sound's unspoiled bounties."

Taking into account that they would be constructing these windmills further off shore (increased transportation costs) and in deeper waters (increased construction costs in time and materials), I am curious as to how this is going to be more cost effective.

CarolOverland said...

Try putting the wind and concentrated solar around natural gas peaking plants, using natural gas only for backup for dispatchability when wind isn't blowing (cutting natural gas use) and utilize the transmission infrastructure and reservations. They're doing this in AZ with concentrated solar, in MN with wind/gas, and Delaware approved the first offshore wind, also with gas backup which will connect at the Indian River coal plant (if only it will take that coal plant off line... oh well, can't have everything). Site well and carefully and you don't need new transmission. Take the wind and solar resource maps, overlay with natural gas peaking plants and overlay with xmsn lines, put it all together and look at what you can do without new xmsn! Look at the prices of offshore wind proposed for Delaware and you'll see it's competitive, and was in line with the regular bids that the utility received in the latest round.

Anonymous said...

Excellent ideas, Carol.

Sully said...

CArol - "Take the wind and solar resource maps, overlay with natural gas peaking plants and overlay with xmsn lines, put it all together and look at what you can do without new xmsn!"

This is a good point. But I would assume the utility companies are already studying this for simple cost efficiency reasons. The problem is that there are few existing utility transmission corridors cutting through the uninhabited desert areas where solar makes the most sense and the very windy ridge locations where wind power makes the most sense. Also the required transmission corridor for a very high powered line need to be wider and differently designed than the existing lines.

There is a pdf of a Scientific American article that you can find by googling "Scientific American: A Power Grid for the Hydrogen Economy" which talks about the scaling issues involved.