Resource Documents: California (28 items)
Documents presented here are not the product of nor are they necessarily endorsed by National Wind Watch. These resource documents are provided to assist anyone wishing to research the issue of industrial wind power and the impacts of its development. The information should be evaluated by each reader to come to their own conclusions about the many areas of debate.
Author: Temple, James
A pair of 500-foot smokestacks rise from a natural-gas power plant on the harbor of Moss Landing, California, casting an industrial pall over the pretty seaside town.
If state regulators sign off, however, it could be the site of the world’s largest lithium-ion battery project by late 2020, helping to balance fluctuating wind and solar energy on the California grid.
The 300-megawatt facility is one of four giant lithium-ion storage projects that Pacific Gas and Electric, California’s largest utility, asked the California Public Utilities Commission to approve in late June. Collectively, they would add enough storage capacity to the grid to supply about 2,700 homes for a month (or to store about 0.0009 percent of the electricity the state uses each year).
The California projects are among a growing number of efforts around the world, including Tesla’s 100-megawatt battery array in South Australia, to build ever larger lithium-ion storage systems as prices decline and renewable generation increases. They’re fueling growing optimism that these giant batteries will allow wind and solar power to displace a growing share of fossil-fuel plants.
But there’s a problem with this rosy scenario. These batteries are far too expensive and don’t last nearly long enough, limiting the role they can play on the grid, experts say. If we plan to rely on them for massive amounts of storage as more renewables come online—rather than turning to a broader mix of low-carbon sources like nuclear and natural gas with carbon capture technology—we could be headed down a dangerously unaffordable path.
Today’s battery storage technology works best in a limited role, as a substitute for “peaking” power plants, according to a 2016 analysis by researchers at MIT and Argonne National Lab. These are smaller facilities, frequently fueled by natural gas today, that can afford to operate infrequently, firing up quickly when prices and demand are high.
Lithium-ion batteries could compete economically with these natural-gas peakers within the next five years, says Marco Ferrara, a cofounder of Form Energy, an MIT spinout developing grid storage batteries.
“The gas peaker business is pretty close to ending, and lithium-ion is a great replacement,” he says.
This peaker role is precisely the one that most of the new and forthcoming lithium-ion battery projects are designed to fill. Indeed, the California storage projects could eventually replace three natural-gas facilities in the region, two of which are peaker plants.
But much beyond this role, batteries run into real problems. The authors of the 2016 study found steeply diminishing returns when a lot of battery storage is added to the grid. They concluded that coupling battery storage with renewable plants is a “weak substitute” for large, flexible coal or natural-gas combined-cycle plants, the type that can be tapped at any time, run continuously, and vary output levels to meet shifting demand throughout the day.
Not only is lithium-ion technology too expensive for this role, but limited battery life means it’s not well suited to filling gaps during the days, weeks, and even months when wind and solar generation flags.
This problem is particularly acute in California, where both wind and solar fall off precipitously during the fall and winter months. Here’s what the seasonal pattern looks like:
This leads to a critical problem: when renewables reach high levels on the grid, you need far, far more wind and solar plants to crank out enough excess power during peak times to keep the grid operating through those long seasonal dips, says Jesse Jenkins, a coauthor of the study and an energy systems researcher. That, in turn, requires banks upon banks of batteries that can store it all away until it’s needed.
And that ends up being astronomically expensive.
There are issues California can’t afford to ignore for long. The state is already on track to get 50 percent of its electricity from clean sources by 2020, and the legislature is once again considering a bill that would require it to reach 100 percent by 2045. To complicate things, regulators voted in January to close the state’s last nuclear plant, a carbon-free source that provides 24 percent of PG&E’s energy. That will leave California heavily reliant on renewable sources to meet its goals.
The Clean Air Task Force, a Boston-based energy policy think tank, recently found that reaching the 80 percent mark for renewables in California would mean massive amounts of surplus generation during the summer months, requiring 9.6 million megawatt-hours of energy storage. Achieving 100 percent would require 36.3 million.
The state currently has 150,000 megawatt-hours of energy storage in total. (That’s mainly pumped hydroelectric storage, with a small share of batteries.)
Building the level of renewable generation and storage necessary to reach the state’s goals would drive up costs exponentially, from $49 per megawatt-hour of generation at 50 percent to $1,612 at 100 percent.
And that’s assuming lithium-ion batteries will cost roughly a third what they do now.
“The system becomes completely dominated by the cost of storage,” says Steve Brick, a senior advisor for the Clean Air Task Force. “You build this enormous storage machine that you fill up by midyear and then just dissipate it. It’s a massive capital investment that gets utilized very little.”
These forces would dramatically increase electricity costs for consumers.
“You have to pause and ask yourself: ‘Is there any way the public would stand for that?’” Brick says.
Similarly, a study earlier this year in Energy & Environmental Science found that meeting 80 percent of US electricity demand with wind and solar would require either a nationwide high-speed transmission system, which can balance renewable generation over hundreds of miles, or 12 hours of electricity storage for the whole system (see “Relying on renewables alone significantly inflates the cost of overhauling energy”).
At current prices, a battery storage system of that size would cost more than $2.5 trillion.
A scary price tag
Of course, cheaper and better grid storage is possible, and researchers and startups are exploring various possibilities. Form Energy, which recently secured funding from Bill Gates’s Breakthrough Energy Ventures, is trying to develop aqueous sulfur flow batteries with far longer duration, at a fifth the cost where lithium-ion batteries are likely to land.
Ferrara’s modeling has found that such a battery could make it possible for renewables to provide 90 percent of electricity needs for most grids, for just marginally higher costs than today’s.
But it’s dangerous to bank on those kinds of battery breakthroughs—and even if Form Energy or some other company does pull it off, costs would still rise exponentially beyond the 90 percent threshold, Ferrara says.
“The risk,” Jenkins says, “is we drive up the cost of deep decarbonization in the power sector to the point where the public decides it’s simply unaffordable to continue toward zero carbon.”
James Temple, Senior Editor, Energy
I am the senior editor for energy at MIT Technology Review. I’m focused on renewable energy and the use of technology to combat climate change. Previously, I was a senior director at the Verge, deputy managing editor at Recode, and columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle. When I’m not writing about energy and climate change, I’m often hiking with my dog or shooting video of California landscapes.
Author: Hales, Roy
Ocotillo, in Imperial County, has been inflicted by massive dust storms ever since 112 turbines were built around it. The desert surface was scraped clean of vegetation as a preparation for the project. Now there is nothing to hold the dust down.
That’s not the only complaint. Since the project went online, less than two years ago:
- 3 turbines have had their gear boxes replaced,
- 9 turbines have had blade replacements
- a 173-foot-long-blade flew off one turbine
- Ocotillo residents have also documented oil leaks in 40% of the turbines. The Department of Toxic substance control subsequently gave the project a summary of violations.
Two Ocotillo residents, Jim Pelley and Parke Ewing, have documented this project on the web. There are hundreds of videos on Pelley’s Youtube site “Save Ocotillo” and Ewing’s Facebook page Ocotillo Wind Turbine Destruction is a visual chronicle of this project and related materials.
(October 23, 2014)
The Ocotillo wind farm went online almost five years ago. Were they not documented in such meticulous detail, some of the reports coming from the tiny desert community this project surrounds would be difficult to believe. I once received a constant stream of YouTube videos and reports from this project. It was one of the sites that shaped my perception of the energy sector. To some extent, I’ve moved on from this story since then, but I always knew I would be revisiting Ocotillo.
Parke Ewing has not been able to move on.
Last May, I asked him for an update.
Ewing replied, “It’s about 9:30 – 10:00 o’clock in the morning. Not one wind turbine is spinning. There is no wind. Their capacity factor, since they became operational, is only about 21.3%. Pattern Energy stated the wind farm would be 34% and they also said it would produce 891 gigawatts (GW) per year. So far, the most they’ve ever generated is 536 GW. So it is substantially less than what they proposed to get approval on this project …”
Update On Mechanical Failures
This is the beginning of a four minute clip, which you can listen to on the podcast. Some of the details include:
- “About 70% of the turbines leaked oil. They had a crew out here cleaning all the turbines. They did a lot of them and I am sure they fixed some of the leaks.”
- On November 21, 2016, turbine #126 crumpled and fell over. “They’re in the process of replacing the entire turbine right now. The nacelle came in today and the tower sections and they are unloading those as we speak,”
These are just the latest in a litany of problems.
Six months after the project officially went online, a 173 foot-long-blade flew off one of the turbines.
There was a turbine fire in 2015.
Since this project went online:
- 10 turbines underwent blade replacements
- 9 turbines had their gear boxes replaced
- 2 turbines were replaced
Contacting The Developers
Attempts to contact the turbine manufacturer, developer and local utility have been futile.
Ewing says, “We’ve tried to talk to Pattern Energy [the developer], of course we always get a generic reply that they’re working on this or checking on that, but we never get an answer on the noise, or the lights, or anything. They really just write us off. They don’t talk to us. We get an email reply sometimes, that’s about it.”
I phoned Jeff Grappone, of Siemens USA after the turbine caught fire in 2015. He suggested I send an email. I did this, asking:
- Do they know what caused this fire?
- How often turbine fires occur? Are they, for example, as common as traffic accidents are for automobile drivers?
- What about the oil leaks? the blade replacements? the three replaced yaw gears? Is this normal for a two year old wind farm?
- There are also some extreme conditions at Ocotillo. I have seen videos of those incredible dust storms. There are good winds at times, but they are more often 0-4 mph and there are occasionally incredible blow ups. Is this a an exceptionally difficult location?
Grappone never replied.
Maybe I asked too many questions.
I recently tried a different tactic, when asking Pattern Energy about the dust storms that have plagued Ocotillo since the site was built. I sent them the video you see below and asked for an explanation.
Matt Dallas emailed back, “Ocotillo Wind operates its equipment in accordance with our permits. The dust in the video was created by the wind, not by the turbines. You’ll see many of the turbines are not operating in the video because the wind speeds that day were so high they exceeded our maximum operating capacity.”
He was not aware that I had previously interviewed a site developer about dust storms on utility scale wind and solar sites.
According to Harvey Stephens, Vice President of Operations at World Wind & Solar, fugitive dust problems are caused by scraping large areas of the desert crust clean of vegetation. This leaves the underlaying soil exposed to the wind. There are remedies, such as planting grasses, windflowers and other materials as a protective blanket to stabilize areas disturbed by grading operations. When developers follow these procedures, the dust storms normally cease after a year or so.
Ocotillo has been inflicted by dust storms since construction began. In the video below, you can see one from August 2012.
I pointed this out to Matt Dallas, who did not reply.
Ewing and his wife suspect, but can not prove, that infrasound noise from the turbines might be the reason that are “tired all the time.”
He describes the sound made by the turbines, when they are turning, as “… the most irritating sound I have ever heard.”
(There is a recording on the podcast.)
“One of Pattern’s project managers came by and listened to the sound once and said he would take it back to whoever is in charge. We never heard another word about it,” says Ewing.
“We like to be outside. That’s why we are here in the desert. We have a fairly nice place here, with a lot of trees and stuff that we need to keep watered. It is difficult to do when they are making noise. It is kind of like a noise trespassing, that really shouldn’t be happening on your property.”
What’s The Problem?
Parke Ewing believes the problem is wind technology.
I agreed with him, until I saw some German sites in 2014. [NWW still agrees with Ewing.]
The problem at Ocotillo does not appear to be so much with the technology, as how it was used. This is not a good location for wind turbines. The site was politically expedient and there were massive tax credits in 2012, but should never have been built. Now the manufacturer and developer have made their money, and people like Parke Ewing are left with the mess.
September 3, 2017, Roy L Hales, theecoreport.com
Author: Agha, Mickey; et al.
There is little information on predator–prey interactions in wind energy landscapes in North America, especially among terrestrial vertebrates. Here, we evaluated how proximity to roads and wind turbines affect mesocarnivore visitation with desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) and their burrows in a wind energy landscape. In 2013, we placed motion-sensor cameras facing the entrances of 46 active desert tortoise burrows in a 5.2-km² wind energy facility near Palm Springs, California, USA. Cameras recorded images of 35 species of reptiles, mammals, and birds. Counts for 4 species of mesocarnivores at desert tortoise burrows increased closer to dirt roads, and decreased closer to wind turbines. Our results suggest that anthropogenic infrastructure associated with wind energy facilities could influence the general behavior of mammalian predators and their prey. Further investigation of proximate mechanisms that underlie road and wind turbine effects (i.e., ground vibrations, sound emission, and traffic volume) and on wind energy facility spatial designs (i.e., road and wind turbine configuration) could prove useful for better understanding wildlife responses to wind energy development.
Mickey Agha, Amanda L. Smith, Jeffrey E. Lovich, David Delaney, Joshua R. Ennen, Jessica Briggs, Leo J. Fleckenstein, Laura A. Tennant, Shellie R. Puffer, Andrew Walde, Terence R. Arundel, Steven J. Price, and Brian D. Todd
Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology, University of California, Davis;
U.S. Geological Survey, Southwest Biological Science Center, Flagstaff, AZ;
U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratory, Champaign, IL;
Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, Chattanooga;
Colorado State University, Fort Collins;
Department of Forestry, University of Kentucky, Lexington; and
Walde Research and Environmental Consulting, Atascadero, CA
Journal of Wildlife Management
First published: 12 April 2017
Download original document: “Mammalian mesocarnivore visitation at tortoise burrows in a wind farm”
Author: Katzner, Todd; et al.
Abstract. Renewable energy production is expanding rapidly despite mostly unknown environmental effects on wildlife and habitats. We used genetic and stable isotope data collected from Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) killed at the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (APWRA) in California in demographic models to test hypotheses about the geographic extent and demographic consequences of fatalities caused by renewable energy facilities. Geospatial analyses of δ2H values obtained from feathers showed that ≥25% of these APWRA-killed eagles were recent immigrants to the population, most from long distances away (>100 km). Data from nuclear genes indicated this subset of immigrant eagles was genetically similar to birds identified as locals from the δ2H data. Demographic models implied that in the face of this mortality, the apparent stability of the local Golden Eagle population was maintained by continental-scale immigration. These analyses demonstrate that ecosystem management decisions concerning the effects of local-scale renewable energy can have continental-scale consequences.
Todd E. Katzner, U.S. Geological Survey, Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, Boise, Idaho
David M. Nelson and Matthew C. Fitzpatrick, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Appalachian Laboratory, Frostburg, Maryland
Melissa A. Braham, Adam E. Duerr, and Tricia A. Miller, Division of Forestry and Natural Resources, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia
Jacqueline M. Doyle, Nadia B. Fernandez, and J. Andrew DeWoody, Department of Forestry & Natural Resources, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
Peter H. Bloom, Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, Camarillo, California
Renee C. E. Culver and Loan Braswell, NextEra Energy Resources, Juno Beach, Florida
First published: 27 September 2016
Fatalidades del Águila Dorada y Consecuencias a Escala Continental de la Generación Local de Energía Eólica
La producción de energía renovable se está expandiendo rápidamente a pesar de los muchos efectos desconocidos sobre la vida silvestre y sus hábitats. Utilizamos los datos genéticos y de isotopos estables recolectados de águilas doradas (Aquila chrysaetos) muertas en el Área de Recursos de Aire del Paso de Altamont (ARAPA) en California en modelos demográficos para probar las hipótesis sobre la extensión geográfica y las consecuencias demográficas de las fatalidades causadas por las instalaciones de energía renovable. Los análisis geoespaciales de los valores de δ2H obtenidos de las plumas mostraron que ≥25 % de estas águilas muertas en ARAPA eran migrantes recientes hacia la población, la mayoría desde distancias lejanas (>100 km). Los datos de los genes nucleares indicaron que este subconjunto de águilas inmigrantes era genéticamente similar a las aves identificadas como locales a partir de los datos de δ2H. Los modelos demográficos insinuaron que, de frente a esta mortalidad, la estabilidad aparente de la población local de águilas doradas fue mantenida por una inmigración a escala continental. Estos análisis demuestran que las decisiones de manejo del ecosistema con respecto a los efectos de la energía renovable a escala local pueden tener consecuencias a escala continental.
Download original document: “Golden Eagle fatalities and the continental-scale consequences of local wind-energy generation”