The United States military is trying very hard to expand and incorporate alternative energy sources into its ranks. The American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE) published an excellent review last year on Renewable Energy For Military Installations.
But poorly-sited wind turbines continue to present problems to both flyovers and to radar and surveillance systems. Three- and five-hundred foot thin linear rotating structures can cause quite a few issues with aircraft and with long-distance remote sensing systems.
The America Wind Energy Association (AWEA) says these issues can be worked out “through proper planning, transparency and, when necessary, mitigation.” Of course everyone’s supposed to talk to everyone else when they decide to build a wind farm with 500-foot towers, but often that doesn’t happen.
Each state seems to have this recurring issue as we struggle to make renewable energy routine, but North Carolina seems to have some whoppers right now.
Spanish wind turbine manufacturer, Iberdrola Renewables, just broke ground on a $600 million wind farm, The Desert Wind project, that will erect one-hundred and fifty 500-ft wind turbines on about 20 square miles in North Carolina just across the border with Virginia.
Which might be fine if it didn’t interfer with the nearby Hampton RoadsNaval base. Hampton Roads houses a sophisticated and semi-classified AN/TPS-71 ROTHR (Over The Horizon Radar) – one of only two such facilities in the United States.
This state-of-the-art ROTHR facility, which monitors over 2 million square miles, is an integral part of our homeland security, covering criminal operations, terrorist threats, and menacing activity of unfriendly nations in the Gulf of Mexico and northern South America. The ROTHR also supports other critical matters like hurricane predictions and climate change monitoring.
Government studies (ROTHR, USACE) concluded that any industrial wind project closer than 28 miles to a ROTHR receiver would seriously degrade the performance of the ROTHR. The Desert Wind project is 14 miles away from the ROTHR receiver and has much larger turbines than those modeled in the government’s studies.
Although senior military leaders testified last yearbefore Congress that they had little confidence in proposed solutions put forward by wind developers, and that the wind project could erode 15% of the ROTHR operational performance, the Navy signed an agreementwith Iberdrola in October of 2014. In that agreement, a Presidential signature would be required even to temporarily shut down the wind project for whatever reason.
With the bar set that high, the military has to just eat any problems caused by the wind farm.
All of this seemed to be moot, however, when none of the big energy companies in America – Duke, Dominion, and Progress – would put a power-purchase agreement in place with Iberdrola for such expensive energy (The Virginia Pilot).
Then-Governor Bev Perdue tried to intervene on behalf of the Spanish company, imploring all three energy companies to sign agreements with Iberdrola, hoping to use this project to address some of the State’s renewable energy mandate which states that over 12% of the North Carolina’s energy needs to come from renewables by 2021.
Iberdrola gets more subsidies from U.S. taxpayers than any other renewable energy company in the world. Yet, it seems to be on the verge of economic collapse and is the subject of several federal investigations (FitBit). That also didn’t sit very well with the energy companies.
Even worse, many in the North Carolina legislature want to eliminate their mandate, citing higher energy costs and its dampening effect on bringing new businesses to the state. A recent study by the Institute for Energy Research shows that electricity generated from new wind farms is between two and four times more expensive than electricity from the existing coal, natural gas and nuclear plants that make up 90% of North Carolina’s power. The new legislature is striving to reduce the state’s renewable mandate from 12.5% to 6%, and will vote on it this month (WSJ).
So things did not look good for the Desert Wind Project.
Then, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos flew in to the rescue, agreeing to purchase the electricity to power his US East region data centers in Virginia (Tech Crunch). Bezos is even calling it the Amazon Wind Farm US East.
Energy expert John Droz wrote an open letter to Jeff Bezos wondering why Amazon would pick up a power-purchase agreement when Duke, Dominion, and Progress turned down the project because it was so uneconomical. Or why Amazon or Iberdrola didn’t do a serious environmental assessment, even though the state asked them to (NCDNER). Or why Amazon didn’t care much about the national security issues associated with the effects on ROTHR operations when they are usually so concerned about it from a cybersecurity standpoint.
The answer appears to be just the personal goal of the company. The company has repeatedlystated that it aims “to achieve 100 percent renewable energy usage for the global infrastructure footprint of its Amazon Web Services” in the long term.
Amazon also invested in an80 MW solar farm in Virginia, scheduled to go online in October 2016, and in a 150MWIndiana wind farmearlier this year, for approximately $300 million combined.
“These [projects] put Amazon Web Services on track to surpass our goal of 40% renewable energy globally by the end of 2016,” said Jerry Hunter, Vice President of Infrastructure at Amazon Web Services.
Once Amazon Wind Farm US East is completed and online, it will produce almost 650,000 MWhs per year – about 5% of the amount of the energy produced by any of four nuclear power plants in North Carolina or Virginia (1,2,3,4). Any of these four power plants could have delivered that much energy for $40 million – 24 hours a day, seven days a week – like sophisticated IT facilities need, and along the lines of Google’s renewable energy study and project results (Google).
But getting this wind farm for $600 million, that’s a steal…for Iberdrola.
Follow Jim on https://twitter.com/JimConca and see his and Dr. Wright’s book at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1419675885/sr=1-10/qid=1195953013/
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