Five states partner with federal government to review plans for Great Lakes wind farms

Last month, five states with Great Lakes shorelines reached an agreement with each other and the federal government to accelerate plans to consider building offshore wind farms on the Great Lakes. Currently, there are no wind turbines in the region, but development has been proposed in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. The states’ agreement would allow plans to progress quickly while still adhering to environmental and safety standards.

A plan proposed by the New York Power Authority in September 2011 would place as many as two hundred 450-foot-high turbines in the two lakes. A demonstration project is also planned for Lake Erie, constructing seven wind turbines generating twenty to thirty megawatts of energy and placing them in the lake near Cleveland.

Federal agencies involved in the agreement include the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Pentagon, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania signed the agreement; three other states that border the Great Lakes—Ohio, Wisconsin, and Indiana—did not sign on to the partnership, but could have an opportunity to join later. The Canadian province of Ontario, the only province to possess Great Lakes coastlines, suspended development on possible Great Lakes wind turbines off of its shores in February 2011, saying that the project needed further exploration into its possible environmental impacts.  The partnership resembles one that currently exists between ten states on the Atlantic coast and the United States Interior Department, designed to support offshore wind energy production off of Atlantic shorelines.

Opponents of the plan worry that offshore wind farms will decrease the value of beachfront property and homes, ruin lake views, and cause damage to native birds and fish. Supporters, however, believe that the five lakes have an enormous potential to provide clean energy and economic growth to the country. Wind farms in the region could produce over 700 gigawatts of energy; each gigawatt can power 300,000 homes, meaning that together, the Great Lakes wind turbines could provide power to a staggering 210 million homes. Producing domestic energy would shift the energy industry away from the rising cost of foreign oil and would create thousands of green-collar jobs for American workers—and at a time when the economy is still suffering, the prospect of economic growth is an appealing incentive to conduct a project.

According to the Great Lakes Wind Collaborative, wind energy also translates to water savings and cost savings on home electricity bills, as well as decreased air pollution.

Besides contributing to the growth of the economy and green energy, wind farms decrease reliance on dirty forms of energy, such as coal. It would “promote economic development and create jobs, while reducing our dependence on foreign energy sources,” Illinois Governor Pat Quinn told the Huffington Post.

“This agreement will enable states to work together to ensure that any proposed offshore wind projects are reviewed in a consistent manner, and that the various state and federal agencies involved collaborate and coordinate their reviews,” Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said in the same article.

Under the agreement, state and federal approval would be required in order to build the wind turbines, with all ten federal agencies in the partnership required to examine the proposals. Logistical hurdles, expense factors, and public debate (especially in states like Michigan and New York, where wind farms have been proposed), along with governmental barriers, present obstacles to the success and progress of wind farm projects; however, this new agreement establishes a structure that allows federal agencies and states to work together to overcome those barriers and find solutions.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/iliveisl/5197174739

Offshore Wind May Increase Biodiversity

As more utilities turn to wind power to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, many green-minded individuals are understandably concerned about the environmental impacts of wind turbines.  After all, wind turbines are large, artificial structures, often built in what are otherwise semi-natural areas.  It makes sense to question what the impacts of wind turbines on wildlife and local ecosystems might be. 

Fortunately, a new study reveals that at least some wind farms seem to have very minimal impact on wildlife—and in fact may even increase local biodiversity.  The study looked at the effects on wildlife of the first large offshore wind farm in the Netherlands, over a period of two years.  The researchers examined effects of the giant wind turbines on sea birds, fish, marine mammals, and the plethora of invertebrate species that live on the ocean floor. 

The conclusion of the study is the overall effect of the Dutch wind farm was to increase biodiversity by providing habitat for invertebrates that attach themselves to hard underwater surfaces, and by serving as a haven for fish and other species that are protected from fishing within the confines of the wind farm. 

Though some kinds of birds are negatively impacted, even this effect seems to be minimal.  The study is welcome news for those who believe wind energy must have a place in the transition to a low-carbon energy grid. 

The most direct positive impact on marine species is that the submerged turbine pillars provide a hard surface on which mussels, anemones, and other invertebrates can anchor themselves.  In the ocean, almost all hard objects from large rocks to floating drift wood serve as habitat for largely stationary invertebrates that fix themselves to a surface and glean their food from the plankton and small fish swept past in the tides. 

These invertebrates in turn attract species like sea stars, crabs, and snails that rely on forests of stationary invertebrates for food, shelter, or both.  Healthy invertebrate populations also ensure a stable food source for many sea birds and marine mammals.

It’s unsurprising that submerged turbine pillars should turn out to serve as habitat for invertebrate communities.  However the Dutch study confirms what seems to make intuitive sense: offshore wind turbines attract a wide variety of invertebrates, actually increasing overall local biodiversity in the process. 

More indirect is the Dutch wind farm’s positive impact on large fish like cod, which have learned to seek refuge among the wind turbines.  Because fishing is not allowed in the wind farm, it serves as a de facto shelter for species that have suffered from decades or centuries of over-harvesting.  Similarly, the researchers recorded hearing more porpoise vocalizations inside the wind farm than outside.  The relative abundance of fish may have attracted these marine mammals to the area.

One group of animals on which offshore turbines clearly can have a negative impact is on sea birds—although even here, the Dutch study finds fewer negative effects than might be expected.  The researchers estimate the number of birds killed by rotating turbine blades to be very low.  However some bird species, like gannets, tend to avoid the area around the turbines.  Other species, like cormorants, actually seem to be drawn to the wind farm, perhaps because of the abundance of fish in the waters.

In short, the offshore wind farm examined in the study is not a disaster for wildlife, and even seems to provide benefits for some species.  Of course impacts on the local environment will vary from one farm to another, and may be more pronounced in other locations not looked at in this particular study. 

With that in mind, it’s important to remember what kind of energy development wind farms are displacing.  Failing to develop wind power will mean drilling and mining for more oil, coal, and gas—both in the oceans and on land.  This kind of energy has huge impacts on wildlife, from marine mammals affected by sonar equipment used to explore for oil and gas, to the multitude of species put at risk whenever an oil spill occurs

In the end, environmentalists may need to choose whether to embrace wind energy in offshore areas, or go along with the alternative choice of more oil, coal, and gas extraction.  Judging from the recently released Dutch study, wind farms should be the clear winner.  Not only does wind energy avoid the environmental devastation that comes with extracting fossil fuels, it can even provide benefits for at least some of the species that call offshore areas home.  

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/pebondestad/3533177131/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Rising Bird Death Rates: Is Wind Energy Really Sustainable?

 

As many parts of the world continue to push for alternate energy sources and less dependence on oil, there is rising concern that wind energy is actually not too good for the environment. The fact that wind farms can generate electricity without producing any emissions often overshadows its problems, such as the number of birds and other flying animals killed or injured from colliding with wind turbines and its physical appearance and noise that many people consider to be bothersome.

For instance, a wind farm in Southern California could be facing legal issues. Because of the increasing death rate of birds near the facility, investigations have begun recently on the Pine Tree Wind Project headed by Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

The 120-megawatt facility occupies 8,000 acres of land in the Tehachapi Mountains and is blamed for the deaths of many migratory birds, including a number of endangered golden eagles which are protected under the Endangered Species Act and could make Pine Tree the first ever wind farm to be charged under the Act.

In June 2010, the DWP conducted an internal study and concluded that the death rates of birds at Pine Tree were “relatively high” compared with 45 other wind energy plants in the country.

Other than activists, residents also have complaints with wind turbines. With blades that can be as long as a football field, many consider them to be a huge eyesore. Additionally, they generate a considerable amount of noise.

In the Bay Area, wind turbines also have a bad image to animal activists and residents. Providing thousands of nearby homes with clean, wind generated electricity since the 1980s, the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area also causes a significant amount of bird deaths. Having 5,000 wind turbines, the wind farm at Altamont Pass causes about 67 golden eagle deaths a year. However, the much smaller Pine Tree wind farm and its 90 turbines has a higher death rate per turbine; about 3 times greater than the Altamont Pass wind farm.

Although high bird mortality rates is one of the most detrimental impacts wind turbines have, governments have been rather slow to address the problem. Says Shawn Smallwood, an expert on raptor ecology, “Wind farms have been killing birds for decades and law enforcement has done nothing about it.” Perhaps the reason for the government’s slow action is the push for renewable energy sources. In April, California governor Jerry Brown passed a law requiring a third of electricity used in the state to come from renewable sources, including wind, by 2020. The new law is the most aggressive of any state in the US.

A possible solution to ease the damage to migrating birds is to shut down wind farms during migrating seasons. TransAlta Corpopration in Ontario, Canada has been urged by activists to turn off wind turbines during the summer and early fall, which are considered “high-risk periods.” Says Ted Cheskey, of Nature Canada,“That period is when the vast majority of birds seem to be killed. The evidence is there, and now there is an obligation for [TransAlta] to act.”

Cheskey also accuses TransAlta that their turbines cause about 1,500 bird and 3,800 bat deaths each year. However, TransAlta claims their wind farm stays within the allowable number of bird and bat deaths. Says Glen Whelan, TransAlta’s manager of public affairs, although “bird and bat mortality is unfortunately inevitable at wind power facilities, we are seeing numbers that are within the ranges that are called for by regulators.”

According to the Wildlife Service, 440,000 birds are killed each year by turbines at wind farms nationwide. Even though wind energy is a clean alternative to oil, is it really a clean source of energy if it causes this much damage to bird populations?

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/clairegribbin/2210390576/

s many parts of the world continue to push for alternate energy sources and less dependence on oil, there is rising concern that wind energy is actually not too good for the environment. The fact that wind farms can generate electricity without producing any emissions often overshadows its problems, such as the number of birds and other flying animals killed or injured from colliding with wind turbines and its appearance and noise that many people consider to be bothersome.

 

For instance, a wind farm in Southern California could be facing legal issues. Because of the increasing death rate of birds near the facility, investigations (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/greenspace/2011/08/an-investigation-has-been-launched-into-the-deaths-of-migratory-birds-including-several-federally-protected-golden-eagles-at.html) have begun on the Pine Tree Wind Project headed by Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

 

The 120-megawatt facility occupies 8,000 acres of land in the Tehachapi Mountains and is blamed for the deaths of many migratory birds, including a number of endangered golden eagles which are protected under the Endangered Species Act and could make Pine Tree the first ever wind farm to be charged under the Act.

 

In June 2010, the DWP conducted an internal study and concluded that the death rates of birds at Pine Tree were “relatively high” compared with 45 other wind energy plants in the country.

 

Other than activists, residents also have complaints with wind turbines. With blades almost as long as a football field, many consider them as a huge eyesore. Additionally, they generate a considerable amount of noise.

 

In the Bay Area, wind turbines also have a bad image to animal activists and residents. Providing thousands of nearby homes with clean, wind generated electricity since the 1980s, the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area also causes a significant amount of bird deaths. Having 5,000 wind turbines, the wind farm at Altamont Pass causes about 67 golden eagle deaths a year. However, the much smaller Pine Tree wind farm and its 90 turbines has a higher death rate per turbine; about 3 times greater than the Altamont Pass wind farm.

 

Although high bird mortality rates is one of the most detrimental impacts wind turbines have, governments have been rather slow to address the problem. Says Shawn Smallwood, an expert on raptor ecology, “Wind farms have been killing birds for decades and law enforcement has done nothing about it.”

 

Perhaps the reason for the government’s slow action is the push for renewable energy sources. California governor Jerry Brown passed a law requiring a third of electricity used in the state

Gov. Jerry Brown in April signed into law a mandate that a third of the electricity used in California come from renewable sources, including wind and solar, by 2020. The new law is the most aggressive of any state.

A possible solution to ease the damage to migrating birds is to shut down wind farms during migrating seasons. TransAlta Corpopration in Ontario, Canada has been urged (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/transalta-urged-to-shut-down-wind-farm-during-migration-season/article2117615/) by activists to turn off wind turbines during the summer and early fall, which are considered “high-risk periods.” Says Ted Cheskey, of Nature Canada,“That period is when the vast majority of birds seem to be killed. The evidence is there, and now there is an obligation for [TransAlta] to act.”

 

Cheskey also accuses TransAlta that their turbines cause about 1,500 bird and 3,800 bat deaths each year. However, TransAlta claims their wind farm stays within the allowable number of bird and bat deaths. Says Glen Whelan, TransAlta’s manager of public affairs, although “bird and bat mortality is unfortunately inevitable at wind power facilities, we are seeing numbers that are within the ranges that are called for by regulators.”

 

According to the Wildlife Service, 440,000 birds are killed each year by turbines at wind farms nationwide. Even though wind energy is an alternative to oil, is it really a clean source of energy if it causes this much damage to bird populations?

 

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/clairegribbin/2210390576/

Ikea Announces Renewable Energy Plans

Ikea, the world’s largest provider of home furnishings, has announced the company’s move towards investing in renewable energy sources. The company has purchased a wind farm in Scotland and announced plans to install 39,000 solar panels on its U.K. stores.

Ikea has purchased a 12.3-megawatt wind farm in Huntly, Scotland, from Good Energies Capital Inc. The power produced from the wind farm is enough to cover 30 percent of Ikea’s U.K. energy use. The solar panels that will be installed on the stores will provide approximately 5 percent of each store’s power consumption. The solar panels, which are produced by the Chinese company GS Solar Fujian Co., will cost around $6.5 million to install. The price of the wind farm, whose turbines are provided by the Danish company Vestas Wind Systems A/S, has not yet been announced.

The purchase of the wind farm in Scotland is not Ikea’s first experience with renewable energy sources; the company currently owns wind farms in France, Germany, and Denmark. According to Steve Howard, Ikea’s Chief Sustainability Officer, the company is investing in renewable energy as a money saving measure. The company is vulnerable to the constantly changing prices of energy, costing the company approximately $1.7 billion each year. The newest wind farm acquisition brings the total number of Ikea’s wind turbines to 67, which provide a total of 127 megawatts of capacity. Of Ikea’s newest green move, Howard notes that “The principle strategy is to match the direct energy consumption of the business with electricity production from renewable assets.”

Ikea’s environmental track record is far from perfect, but the company has recently taken steps to improve environmental performance. The company has eliminated or reduced volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde, chromium, and other chemicals from its products. Ikea has also started using recyclable packaging and provides recycling receptacles in their stores. Recently, the company has stopped offering plastic bags to customers, instead providing reusable bags for sale. Ikea’s products are also packaged in a way that makes shipping more efficient and more environmentally effective.

Despite the company’s efforts to move towards a greener brand, Ikea has come under fire from some environmentalists. The quality of the furniture and the material it is made from is not the most sustainable choice; Ikea is the third-largest consumer of wood in the world. Furthermore, the company has been accused of sourcing their wood from regions where illegal logging is prevalent, such as Eastern Europe. Furthermore, Ikea furniture is essentially disposable and is not intended to be long-lasting, necessitating more frequent purchases and replacements.

The company is not carbon-neutral, but with the newest wind farm purchase, the company may begin to sell “renewable obligation certificates.” As part of the obligation, suppliers of electricity will be required to provide a portion of their power using renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar energy, and provide a certificate as proof. Ikea will also have guaranteed prices paid for electricity generated by renewable sources known as “feed-in tariffs.” Currently, 50 percent of the energy consumed by the company is generated from alternative energy sources.

Ikea has announced that the company is headed towards becoming completely renewable at some point in the future. The Chief Sustainability Officer has admitted that while there is no deadline set for the company to become carbon neutral, he estimates Ikea will most likely become between 70 and 80 percent renewable by 2015. By investing in renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, Ikea is taking the necessary steps in moving toward a more environmentally-friendly company.

Photo Credit: manage.baycounty-mi.gov/uploads/Wind%20Energy%20Images/wind_energy.jpg

Despite Controversy, Cape Wind Project Approved for Construction

The Cape Wind Energy Project, which plans to build a 130-turbine wind farm off Nantucket Sound, has been approved for construction. Last Tuesday, the US government announced its decision to allow this construction despite the decade-long dispute concerning environmental impacts and increased power costs for customers. The construction could begin as early as autumn and is expected to supply energy to hundreds of thousands of American homes.

Despite many efforts to prevent this wind farm from proceeding, the Obama administration has backed the project, emphasizing its potential to create thousands of jobs and spur offshore wind development in the US.

“Offshore wind power is the new frontier for our industry,” said Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association. “The Secretary understands the manufacturing and job opportunities that offshore wind brings to America and knows that it needs long-term policy support in order to do so.” 

Earlier this month, project managers began looking for a partner to help finance the initial steps of the $1.7 billion project. The finalized project will be the first in the US and is expected to cut carbon dioxide emissions in Massachusetts by over 700,000 tons annually.

Photo credit: manage.baycounty-mi.gov

Largest Wind Power Project in the United States Breaks Ground

Mojave, CA, July 27 (GreenAnswers) — The largest wind energy project in the country officially breaks ground on Tuesday. The Alta Wind Energy Center, which will span thousands of acres in the notoriously windy Tehachapi Pass in the Mojave Desert foothills, could ultimately generate three gigawatts of energy, making it three times larger than the current largest wind farm in the United States.

Technically, the Alta Wind Energy Center is a collection of a series of wind farms scattered across the Tehachapi Pass wind corridor, about 70 miles north of Los Angeles. The Tehachapi Pass region, along with the San Gorgonio Pass near Palm Springs and Altamont Pass in Northern California, accounts for 95% of the wind power generation in California.

Ground breaking on Tuesday will be for the first cluster of 290 wind turbines which will spread across 9,000 acres of land, much of which has been leased from private owners. The second batch of 300 turbines is set to be commissioned by 2015.

The turbines for the wind farm are being manufactured by Vestas-American Wind Technology, which is fulfilling the largest single order ever for wind turbines in that company’s history. Incredibly, the blades for the largest turbines will span nearly 100 yards in length.

The Alta Wind Energy Center is being developed by New York based renewable energy company, Terra-Gen Power, which recently secured $1.2 billion in funding for the project.

With the Alta project actually breaking ground, there is an excitement in the wind industry that has been absent for years. This excitement stems from not only beginning work on the country’s largest wind farm, but also from the hope that the ground breaking on Alta will bring other wind projects, such as those championed by T. Boone Pickens, back to life.

Photo courtesy of Terra-Gen Power.

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