Green Light For 130 Wind Turbines Off Cape Cod

Well Ken Salazar has spoken and it looks like Cape Cod will receive its wind farm according to the NY Times. Views still appear polarized and emotions will continue to run high as those for the project including both Greenpeace and the US Chamber of Commerce extol its virtues of low carbon and reduction in imported energy supplies while those against it led by the Kennedy family -appear to largely boil down to NIMBY (not in my back yard).

Those for, say that Cape Wind the firm behind the project – will provide 75% of the power for Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard ” the equivalent of that produced by a medium-size coal-fired plant. Although the article makes no mention of where power is going to come to when the wind doesn’t blow. It would also reduce carbon dioxide emissions by the equivalent of taking 175,000 cars off the road, officials said, and provide 1,000 construction jobs.

Apparently Senator John Kerry (not a noted sailor) is said to be in favor of the project but has kept a low profile in view of his friend, recently deceased, Senator Edward Kennedy’s (a lifelong sailor) vehement objections so much for standing up for your convictions John. Kennedy’s position is supported by many local sailing landowners for whom the possibility that they may be able to see the turbines from land or when sailing was the principal objection. Mr. Salazar said he had ordered Cape Wind to limit the number of turbines to 130 instead of the initial 170, to move the farm farther away from Nantucket (it was originally 13.8 miles) and to reduce its breadth to make it less visible from the Nantucket Historic District in an attempt to meet locals concerns. At 440 ft high there is not much one can do to limit the impact when up close by boat but Cape Wind was ordered to paint the turbines a more fetching shade of off white to make them merge into the skyline more effectively.

The people of Massachusetts are said to be overwhelmingly in favor of the project. That’s just as well as they are probably going to have to pay for it in their bills. Meanwhile the ruling is likely to open the floodgates on a host of projects lined up for the eastern seaboard for which progress was held up pending a decision on Cape Wind. Kevin Law, president and chief executive of the Long Island Power Authority, the nation’s second-largest public utility, said it would have “enormous beneficial ramifications for his own proposal ” a wind farm 13 miles off the coast of the Rockaways in Queens that would be big enough to generate twice as much electricity as Cape Wind.

Well intended as the detractors arguments are meant to be however they appear to have missed the most compelling reason for questioning the project who is going to pay. Cape Wind optimistically says the project will result in savings of $185 million annually over the 2013-2037 time period, resulting in an aggregate saving of $4.6 billion over 25 years for local electricity users. But the research they point to (and paid for) by Charles River Associates assumes the savings will come by the downward pressure Cape Winds generating capacity will have on the local wholesale power market New England generates comparatively little power buying most of it from the regional wholesale market. The report also assumes a Federal greenhouse gas program will be in place with prices of $30/ton of carbon dioxide in 2013, escalating by 2030 to $60/ton, to the detriment of coal, oil and a lesser extent gas fired power production. The report states that the variable operating cost of wind turbine generators is almost zero – that may be so but capital costs are high and maintenance and repair will be high too. In addition, the marginal cost of spot power purchased when the wind isn’t generating enough power will probably be considerably higher than base load per kWhr costs today pushing up the bill for consumers.   We at MetalMiner are naturally inclined to support new technologies that reduce man’s impact on the environment and the exposure of the US to imported fuel but we question whether offshore wind power is going to really save money once government subsidies of one sort or another and the provision of standby power sources is factored in. Wind power is not like hydro, geothermal or tidal power predictable and constant, wind power is more like solar, subject to the weather, and as the sailors of Cape Cod will tell you over a quiet martini, the wind doesn’t always blow.

–Stuart Burns

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  • I would like to address some of the issues and questions I have seen discussed regarding Cape Wind and wind power generation in general.

    I see many emotional comments regarding the need to reduce our dependence on oil, and foreign oil in particular; however I do not see the connection between using wind to produce electricity and oil consumption. According to the DOE Energy Information Administration, petroleum is used to generate less than 1% of the total electricity used in the USA. One can effectively say that oil has nothing to do with the generation of electricity. In fact, by increasing the cost of electricity, it is likely that we will make it more difficult to transition away from oil for the main reasons we do use oil, home heating and gasoline powered automobiles.

    To address the question regarding how implementation of subsidized wind turbines might raise the cost of electricity, the answer is in the numbers. I am not an expert on the Cape Wind Project, but the following is what I have found with some very quick investigation. The plan is for 130 wind turbines with a total power generating capacity of 420 MW. The power demand of the Cape and islands is said to be 230 MW, and it is said that the Cape Wind Farm will actually produce three-quarters of this demand, which would be 172.5 MW. This is about 41% of the rated 420 MW capacity, which seems a bit of an overestimate since most other wind facilities operate around 33% or less, but let’s just accept the 172.5 MW figure. Crediting the turbines with a generous assumption of 85% uptime will mean they will operate 7446 hours per year; giving us 172.5 MW x 7446 hours = 1284 GWh of electricity per year. At present average wholesale value this is about $64 million per year (not $185 million). Of course there will be annual operating and maintenance costs, which could well be in excess of $24 million per year, leaving maybe $40 million per year of revenue. This sounds like a lot, until it is compared to the $1 billion to $2 billion that the project is expected to cost. The revenue will not pay back this investment in the 20-25 year life of the wind turbines, UNLESS SOMEONE RAISES THE COST WE PAY FOR ELECTRICITY. Please also consider that the quick analysis here is, in my opinion, deliberately generous to the wind turbines.

    Please ask questions about this. Why are actual investment projections not available? How much of the investment will be subsidized by tax dollars? What deal will be cut regarding the sale price of the electricity, to provide incentives to make the investment?


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