The Production Tax Credit (PTC) is a little-known federal incentive to promote economic development from the private wind industry here in the United States. Wind farms have been slow to develop here in the Southeast, but the region already benefits from the PTC.
To kill the Alabama’s first two wind farms, a small number of local residents is suing Pioneer Green Energy through two separate but very similar lawsuits. While these foes exhibit just about every tell-tale sign of wind farm opposition, they now appear to be borrowing a tactic from high school: plagiarism. Indeed, the lawsuit (which is available online here) mirrors a 2005 lawsuit from Texas where a small number of residents there sued to block a wind farm (text of that lawsuit is available here). By 2008, that Texas lawsuit proved to be a losing strategy on four separate occasions – in front of a trial judge, a trial by jury, by an appeals court and by the Texas Supreme Court through its refusal to reject the lower courts’ decisions. Just like in high school, the consequence of plagiarism is failure and history suggests the plagiarized Alabama lawsuits won’t make the grade.
This year in Providence, Rhode Island, the American Wind Energy Association and the Offshore Wind Development Coalition hosted the Offshore WINDPOWER Expo. One of the unique aspects of this conference was the renewed focus on the value of offshore wind energy. Another aspect that was new to this conference was the focus on logistics – specifically ports, vessels and transmission capabilities. Several speakers and many attendees from various government agencies could not confirm their attendance until just a few days before the exposition. But, some people still were unable to attend in part because of sequestration and the reduction in available federal funds. With all the manufacturing, ship-building and offshore energy expertise here in the South, perhaps the conference organizers should look towards New Orleans or Jacksonville as potential conference locations.
Alabama has become a hotbed of wind energy activity. At least four different wind farms have been proposed across the Yellowhammer State – from upstate, mid-state and downstate Alabama. Alabama Power is buying 404 megawatts of wind energy from the Plains (enough to supply 3% of the company’s power), and the state’s biggest power company just erected a tiny 4 kilowatt turbine on their headquarters building in Birmingham. The flurry of activity has some people asking, “Why?” Here’s just a few reasons that may help explain the interest. State electric costs are high. The wind is better than estimated. Alabama’s Pro-Business. Wind turbines have dramatically improved. Wind energy costs are predictable.
Here in the South, we’re getting a lot of new attention from the wind industry. And why shouldn’t we? New turbine technology is now capable of capturing our wind resources in an efficient and cost effective manner to the point where wind farm development in the South is inevitable. Wind farm development companies have proposed projects in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, North Carolina, Kentucky and so on. The problem is, while the rest of the country has moved into the 21st century on clean energy, wind farms are still a mystery to many folks here in the South – we’ve just not seen them enough to form a good opinion. As such, folks likely have a hard time identifying wind power opponents with an agenda and may be more likely to catch anti-wind turbine syndrome. Here’s a few ways to identify a biased and deceptive opinion.
This year, the American Wind Energy Association and the Offshore Wind Development Coalition are hosting their Offshore WINDPOWER conference in Providence, Rhode Island on October 22-23. This annual event usually draws about 1,000 participants from all over the world so they can “learn more about technological advancements, hear first-hand how the U.S. government is successfully advancing offshore energy development, and network with top-tier developers, government agency representatives, and many other industry leaders making offshore wind energy news.” If you’re working with the industry, or just interested in offshore wind energy, you should absolutely plan on attending this event. (Tip: Even though the conference officially starts on Oct. 22, you should really plan on arriving earlier on Oct. 21 to take advantage of the U.S. Offshore Wind Market and Supply Chain Workshop at 1PM and an evening reception later that day.)
While beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, there are certainly a lot of beholders that want more wind energy. A recent Gallup poll shows that 65 percent of Southerners believe the U.S. should place “more emphasis” on domestic wind energy production (in regions where wind farms are familiar sights, support rises to 75%). Perhaps when people see wind farms, they realize how beautiful they really can be.
Wind power could provide some jobs and income for northeastern Alabama. In Cherokee and Etowah counties, where two wind farms have been proposed, the poverty rate exceeds the national average – nearly 1 in 5 people in those counties is living in poverty. It’s not every day that a 18 megawatt and 80 megawatt wind farm gets proposed here in the South; but according to studies by Jacksonville State University, the Shinbone and Noccalula wind projects could create about 350-490 full time equivalent construction jobs, and about 36 to 53 full time jobs annually for the projects’ expected 30 year lifespans. Additionally, the projects could pay $30 million in combined new tax revenues for the counties over the projects lifespans. The Shinbone wind farm has a signed contract with the Tennessee Valley Authority to provide power, but will still undergo rigorous environmental review this fall. According to an informal online poll, some 68% of AL.com readers are OK with wind energy companies putting wind farms in Alabama.
Relatively, the proposed Florida Atlantic University pilot project is a drop in the bucket of the electrical demands for the state. The proposal is for a 20 kilowatt turbine at first, possibly expanding up to 100 kilowatts which could power about 40-50 homes. But this is the first step in conducting vital research to unleash an energy tsunami. According to Florida Atlantic University, the Gulf Stream may contain some 200,000,000 kilowatts (or 200 gigawatts) of energy potential. The state’s total electrical capacity is around 60 gigawatts.
It’s all about the sea breeze effect. During the summertime, as the sun beats down, the oceans and land absorb and radiate heat at different rates. As such, air over the lands tend to heat up quicker than air over water. The temperature difference between the land air (hot) and ocean air (cold) causes the ocean air to rush inland and fill the vacuum over land. The result is a sea breeze rushing inland in the hot summer afternoons. Simply put, offshore and nearshore wind farms can generate electricity by using the sea breeze effect to serve peak demands, including our air conditioners. Particularly for offshore wind, where costs are estimated to be higher than onshore wind farms, supplying high-value energy when its needed the most may help justify a higher price for those resources.