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Was Vermont’s Lowell Mountain wind turbine facility a good idea? 

Credit:  Willem Post, The Energy Collective, theenergycollective.com 15 July 2011 ~~

The Green Mountain Power-proposed 63 MW Lowell Mountain wind turbine facility with (21) 3 MW Danish wind turbines stretched along 4 miles of ridge lines has nothing to do with community-scale wind, everything with utility-scale wind. GMP is using blatant PR to soft-soap/deceive Vermonters. 


Gaz Metro of Quebec, Canada, owns GMP. It recently accquired Central Vermont Public Service Corporation. It now controls at least 70% of Vermont’s electric energy market.


The capital cost would be at least 63 MW x $2,500,000/MW = $157.5 million, excluding grid modifications. The  $2,500,000/MW is from recently built Maine ridge line wind facilities.



The reality is the Lowell Mountain wind turbine facility would be a capital intensive, highly visual, noisy facility that is proposed to be built on environmentally-sensitive ridge lines. The wind turbines would be about 440 feet tall, equal to a 40-story building, with noise-making rotors. People living within about a mile would be disturbed by an irregular din of whoosh type sounds, especially during nighttime.


Wind Energy Dispatch Value


As wind speeds are highly variable and wind energy is proportional to the cube of the wind speed, a doubling of windspeeds cause 8-fold increases in highly-variable wind energy. As a result, wind energy consists of irregularly-spaced, sporadic spurts varying in amplitude and duration. 


At least 10 percent of the year, the wind speeds are too low to produce any wind energy. Most of a year’s wind energy production is at night during the winter. Accordingly, wind energy has near-zero dispatch value to grid operators, such as ISO-NE. 


Wind Energy Accommodation Fees


The Lowell Mountain wind facility will add extra owning and O&M costs to New England’s rate payers. These costs are due to:


– increased use of the spare quick-ramping gas-fired balancing capacity of the grid.*  

– expanded transmission and distribution systems

– expanded weather prediction systems

– increased frequency regulation 

– additional ISO-NE grid management efforts 


These extra owning and O&M costs would be significant. What percentage of those costs should be charged as wind energy accommodation fees to GMP? Will GMP get a free pass?


* Adding more wind turbines to the New England grid would not only deplete this spare balancing capacity, but require the addition of new capacity. Who will pay for this?


Wind Energy and CO2 Emissions Reduction


The Lowell Mountain wind turbine facility has little to do with reducing CO2 emissions or generating wind energy. Most of the CO2 emissions that the wind energy was meant to reduce is offset by the increased CO2 emissions due to the inefficient operation of the gas-fired balancing facilities, as shown by this study.  



Wind Energy and Circumventing Environment and Quality of Life Regulations


State legislatures and state government agencies are pressured to pave the regulatory ways to essentially circumvent state environmental and quality of life laws. Pro-forma hearings, usually required by law, are held to create a semblance of democratic process but effectively are rubber-stamp approvals of pre-ordained decisions.  


The Lowell Mountain wind turbine facility received a Certificate of “Public Good” from the Vermont Public Service Board, a mostly political entity, regardless of widespread public opposition regarding impacts on quality of life (noise, visual, psychological), property values and the environment. 


The Town of Lowell receives more than $500,000/yr for hosting the Lowell Mountain wind turbine facility. The surrounding downs get nothing. Will the Town of Lowell declare the facility access road a town road and provide free maintenance and snow plowing?



Because of quality of life, property values and environmental issues, the goverments of Denmark and the Netherlands, after years of increasing public protests against wind turbine facilities, have finally stopped construction of onshore wind turbines.



Wind Energy and Job Creation


The Lowell Mountain wind turbine facility job creation is largely a mirage. The facility would temporarily employ a number of people during the construction phase for about a year. During the next 20 years, just a few people would be permanently employed to perform operations and maintenance. An enormous waste of capital to create just a few permanent jobs, as shown by this Vermont Department of Public Service study. http://publicservice.vermont.gov/planning/DPS%20White%20Paper%20Feed%20i…  


Wind Energy and Tax Shelters


The federal government and state legislatures are pressured to provide increasingly greater subsidies to politically well-connected renewables vendors, developers, financial entities (such as Goldman Sachs on Wall Street) and their high-income clients who use them for tax shelters.


Over the past 10 years, the subsidies for wind turbine facility owners have become so excessive that facilities are built in marginal wind areas, as on most Vermont ridge lines, or before facilities are built to transmit the wind energy to population centers, as in the Texas Panhandle, just to cash in on the lucrative subsidies. 


The Lowell Mountain wind turbine facility would not be built if there were no subsidies equivalent to at least 50% of the capital cost. Without subsidies, the wind energy produced would be at least $0.15/kWh delivered to the grid, significantly higher than New England average grid prices of about $0.055/kWh.


The Lowell Mountain wind turbine facility has everything to do with grabbing as much federal subsidies as possible and “coursing” them through Vermont’s economy for the short-term benefit of the well-connected few (including high-income, non-Vermonters looking for tax shelters and foreign companies supplying wind turbines), and at the long-term economic expense (higher electric rates) of the many.


Wind Energy and Subsidies; a partial list


– Federal grant for 30% of the total project cost which also applies to Spanish, Danish, German and Chinese wind turbines thus creating jobs in those nations instead of the US. These nations would not dream to have such a measure benefitting US wind turbine companies.


– Federal accelerated depreciation allowing the entire project to be written off in five years which is particularly beneficial to wealthy, high-income people looking for additional tax shelters.


– Federal production credit of $0.022/kWh of wind energy produced.


– Owners of wind turbine facilities receive Renewable Energy Certificates which they can sell on the open market. The RECs are subsequently bought by polluting companies that find it less expensive to buy the RECs than clean up their pollution.


A More Effective Alternative to Wind Energy


For the same capital cost a new 60% efficient combined cycle gas turbine facility, operated at rated output, in base-loaded mode, would produce about ($157.6 million/$1,250,000/MW) x 1 GW/1000 MW x 8,760 hr/yr x CF 0.90 = 993.4 GWh/yr, or about 16.5% of Vermont’s 6,000 GWh/yr consumption, more than 5 times as much electrical energy per invested dollar. The levelized energy cost for advanced 60% efficient CCGT would be about $0.0631/kWh, according to the US Energy Information Administration. 



Some of the advantages of a gas-fired CCGT facility are: 


– No grid modifications would be required

– No inefficient operation of gas-fired wind energy balancing facilities would be required

– Impacts on quality of life (visual, noise, psychological) and property values would be minimal

– The facility would take up only a few acres

– The electrical energy would be low-cost, steady 24/7/365, reliable and dispatchable 

Willem Post BSME New Jersey Institute of Technology, MSME Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, MBA, University of Connecticut. P.E. Connecticut. Consulting Engineer and Project Manager. Performed feasibility studies, wrote master plans, and evaluated designs for air pollution control systems, power plants, and integrated energy systems for campus-style building complexes. Currently specializing in energy efficiency in buildings.

Source:  Willem Post, The Energy Collective, theenergycollective.com 15 July 2011

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial educational effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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