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Clean Power Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA)(caffeinatedthoughts.com/)

Published on May 5th, 2014 | by Sandy Dechert

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Republican Senator Slams Fossil & Nuclear Energy Subsidies In Face Of Wind Energy Tax Credit Attacks

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May 5th, 2014 by
 
Grassley

Several weeks ago Peter Sinclair of Climate Denial Crock of the Week took up the latest news from the seesawing $14 billion wind industry in the US, which is the world’s second-largest buyer of turbines. Sinclair publicized a short video of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA, above) revealing an “intellectually dishonest” accusation put forward by Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, a fellow Republican senator from Pennsylvania, at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on April 3rd.

Despite being known as a longtime fiscal conservative, Grassley—an early supporter of solar energy and six-termer beloved to his state—strongly favors reinstating the renewable energy Production Tax Credit through 2015 in the absence of comprehensive energy tax reform. (Tina Casey and others here on CleanTechnica covered the last wind credit extension drama numerous times.)

Grassley placed 2014 wind energy tax credits firmly in context for the Finance Committee by recalling the facts about the government’s longstanding incentives for oil and gas and nuclear power. Grassley’s argument effectively squashed Toomey’s move to “eliminate crony capitalist energy tax credits”—an expression that to this writer much more aptly describes the huge tax breaks and subsidies awarded to Big Fossil Energy for over a century, and to nuclear since the 1960s.

Toomey was roundly defeated in the finance committee vote, and the Expiring Provisions Improvement Reform and Efficiency (EXPIRE) Act of 2014 (a two-year PTC extension) won approval. It will now move to the Senate floor for consideration. However, the incident serves to remind us that funding for wind power continues to “blow in the wind” (pardon the expression) in the US.

During the past month, Fox News and Bloomberg have both characterized the industry as unpopular, “reeling,” and “on a respirator.” Bloomberg blames the increase in shale gas production and the low cost of that product for slowing wind. Fox cites a report from Capital Alpha Partners that states that the appetite on Capitol Hill for continuing the PTC is declining and that fiscal hawks and competing energy interests say wind is mature enough to take off “the federal training wheels.”

Investopedia says that, like shale gas, wind has shattered records in 2013. “Installed wind energy capacity continues to hit new highs across the US,” echoing similar gains around the globe, says Society of American Business Editors and Writers investment journalist and analyst Aaron Levitt. AWEA estimates that nearly 60,000 MW of new wind projects could be set up in the US over the next few years, Levitt says—basically double the current US capacity.

In its Wind Industry Annual Market Report Year Ending 2013, released April 10 (and characterized by one reporter as “difficult reading”), the American Wind Energy Association details a historic 12,000 MW of new wind projects under construction at year’s end 2013, “record construction numbers, more business for American factories, and more deployment of wind energy that has become a new cash crop for our farmers and ranchers.”

AWEA also notes:

Operational wind energy projects, combined with the projects under construction, will avoid 115 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually—more than 5% of U.S. power sector emissions – while avoiding the consumption of over 36 billion gallons of water each year, because wind turbines use virtually no water in operation.

AWEA takes the position that the industry relies on a PTC revival to maintain “a stable business environment for further investment.”

The Freedonia Group, Inc., a Cleveland market research firm, reported at the end of March that US demand for wind turbine systems is forecast to reach $18.9 billion in 2018, a nearly ninefold increase over 2013 levels. In January, wind produced almost 5% of America’s electricity. Over 40% if the nation (21 states) is developing sites, with Texas (8 GW), Iowa (1+ GW), Kansas (700 MW), North Dakota (600 MW), and Oklahoma (nearly 500 MW) leading. Despite the current lack of a federal PTC, Freedonia still expects wind to rebound significantly due to other incentives, including feed-in tariff payments, grants from the Department of Energy, and the need to meet state-level renewable standards.

And on May 1, James Quilter, associate editor of Windpower Monthly, reminded us:

[F]or 2014, the Global Wind Energy Council… predicted a 34% surge in installations to 43GW by year end. Much of this is likely to come from the US, with Brazil and China also supplying a large proportion.

Quilter points to politics at different levels in each market and the changing structure of the industry from pure wind players toward turbine-making conglomerates like GE and Siemens as determinants of the future for wind energy.

The Senate took a recess for Easter from April 14 to April 28 and just returned on Monday. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said he wants the full Senate to vote soon on the wind energy tax credit and other energy incentives. Ron Wyden (D-OR), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, concurs. And the largest wind energy conference in North America, WINDPOWER 2014, is coming up on Tuesday. Siemens calls it “the nexus of wind energy professionals who converge to generate actionable ideas for expanding the wind energy industry through technology and collaboration.” So look for more news on wind energy in the near future.

2013 AWEA conference (AWEA, from flickr)

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About the Author

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm, writes two top-level blogs on Examiner.com, ranked #2 on ONPP's 2011 Top 50 blogs on Women's Health, and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."



  • Penny Gray

    We can fill every inch of our air space with industrial wind turbines but until we have a way to store the energy, the power they produce is redundant.

    • Bob_Wallace

      No, the power produced by wind turbines is replacing power from industrial fossil fuel plants.

      Fossil fuel plants are killing us. Don’t you think that getting rid of things that are killing us is a good idea?

      • Penny Gray

        I’d love to see a list of all the fossil powered generators that have been shut down because of industrial wind. The problem is, wind needs back-up 24/7 due to the fact that it’s unpredictable, so in effect two power plants are now running to provide what the original power plant provided. Not smart. Faith based energy policies should be replaced by science based solutions. And I’m not anti-renewables, I’ve lived off grid for close to 30 years. I’m just being realistic. Solar and wind won’t do it for us until we have storage capacity. Hydro and nuclear are to two green energy sources that can actually provide energy 24/7 to the grid. We should be looking into thorium reactors. They’re building them in China. We would have gone down that path a long time ago except we wanted to build nuclear bombs.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Penny, we got more than 4% of our electricity from wind in 2013. If wind hadn’t contributed 167,665,000,000 kWh of electricity to the grid we would have burned fossil fuels to produce that power.

          Wind does not need constant backup. However large thermal (coal and nuclear) plants do. Learn how the grid works before you try to tell us stuff.

          We can convert 30+% of our grid to wind and solar before we need to add storage. In fact, the number may be quite a bit higher as we learn more about how to best integrate renewables. (BTW, in order to use nuclear we added 21 GW of storage to our grids.)

          If China gets a thorium reactor to work then we can figure out the cost and consider building thorium. But it’s highly unlikely people would want to see their electricity bills increased by building more nuclear of any kind.

          • Penny Gray

            Bob, with all due respect, I think it’s you who needs to do the homework. At present, wind must be used when it’s generated because there is no storage available. Hence the reason why it’s being dumped (at great cost) if the wind is blowing when energy demand is low. Storage is critical. Fossil fuel plants cannot be shut down when the wind is blowing because it takes to long to ramp them back up, so they idle, and like vehicles, they burn dirtier when they’re not working at capacity. This isn’t reducing CO2, it’s increasing it. Here in Maine the wind projects are performing poorly because wind quality in Maine is poor to fair. But these projects aren’t about producing electricity, they’re about reaping the huge tax write offs and the tax payer subsidies and selling carbon credits to coal plants out west so they can continue polluting our air. The tax write offs are why oil companies (among others) are big into industrial wind right now. Renewables need to be used at their source. Erecting these big turbines on top of mountains hundreds of miles away from the cities is foolish. The line loss alone is reason enough not to site them remotely. Here in Maine the wind projects are the power companies biggest customers due to the power required by the turbines when the wind isn’t blowing, which is 75% of the time. These wind projects fragment critical wildlife habitat and destroy hundreds of acres of forest for transmission lines, pad clearings, roads and so forth. Raptor and migratory bird and bat kills, herbicide spraying, erosion…none of this is “green”. You want to see green, look to the trees. They feed on CO2 and give us back oxygen, prevent erosion, cool with their shade, provide us with rain. We should focus on protecting and enhancing the health of our forests.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Peter, we have 150 pump-up hydro storage systems in the US, a total of 20 GW. Plus a GW of CAES. It’s not the case that we have no storage.

            Perhaps you have some data on how much wind is being dumped? I’m under the impression that it’s not all that much.

            Natural gas plants ramp up and down quite quickly. A gas turbine can go from full off to full on in 10 to 15 minutes. Grid operators know is advance when the wind is going to slow down, it’s not like they have to scramble because all the wind disappears at once.

            The wind doesn’t blow for 5 minutes, stop for 10, blow for 7, stop for 3, ….

            Go spend some time in the wind or talk to a sailor. Winds almost always start slow and build, then drop off gradually. Then when you link multiple wind farms to a grid you decrease the rate of change.

            ==

            “This isn’t reducing CO2, it’s increasing it.”

            Let’s look at some real data…

            “EVIDENCE SHOWS WIND FARMS DON’T NEED FOSSIL FUEL BACK-UP (sic)

            It has become an article of popular faith that building wind farms also involves constructing fossil-fuelled power stations for back‑up when the weather is calm. As a result, some opponents go on to say, wind turbines do little or nothing to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

            Now the National Grid has studied what actually happens in practice, with explosive, if surprising, results. Between April 2011 and September 2012 – its head of energy strategy, Richard Smith, told the Hay Festival – wind produced some 23,700 gigawatt hours (GWh) of power. Only 22GWh of power from fossil fuels was needed to fill the gaps when the wind didn’t blow. That’s less than a thousandth of the turbines’ output – and, as it happens, less than a tenth of what was needed to back up conventional power stations.

            It proved to be much the same with emissions. Wind saved nearly 11 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over that 18 months; standby burning of fossil fuels only reduced this by 8,800 tonnes, or 0.081 per cent.

            Not surprisingly, given these figures, no new fossil‑fuel power station has been built to provide back‑up for wind farms, and none is in prospect.”

            http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/10091645/The-badger-cull-is-no-black-and-white-issue.html

          • Bob_Wallace

            (cont.)

            “The tax write offs are why oil companies (among others) are big into industrial wind right now.”

            What oil companies are big into industrial wind? Some data please?

            ” Erecting these big turbines on top of mountains hundreds of miles away from the cities is foolish.”

            Do you have a plan to transport wind from the windy places to cities so that we can put the turbines close to cities? Perhaps some great big pipes?

            ” The line loss alone is reason enough not to site them remotely.”

            The line loss is minimal. Transmission losses on the grid run in the 3% range.

            Obviously there are a bunch of things you don’t know. Perhaps you’d be better off asking questions rather than making statements of fact when you don’t have the facts at hand.

            “These wind projects fragment critical wildlife habitat and destroy hundreds of acres of forest for transmission lines, pad clearings, roads and so forth. Raptor and migratory bird and bat kills, herbicide spraying, erosion…none of this is “green”.”

            Fragment critical wildlife habitat. Prove it. Give us some data. Show us that there are now orphan populations of animals that are cut off from other members of their species by wind turbines.

            Hundreds of acres of forests. Perhaps. Are there thousands of wind turbines in Maine? A wind turbine uses about 1/4 acres for footing, access road, transmission, and ancillary buildings. Four turbines per acre, 400 per 100 acres. How many “hundreds” are we talking about? And how large is Maine?

            Bird kills per GWh with wind is lower than for coal and nuclear. You’d rather use coal and nuclear and kill more birds?

            Sounds to me like you’ve been reading anti-wind BS sites.

            BTW, Penny, have you considered what climate change will do to the forests you love if we don’t get things under control? Why don’t you check Colorado’s forests and get a preview….

          • Otis11

            I just wanted to take a second to thank you for that incredibly thorough rebuttal – it was a great refresher.

          • Peter Gray

            ” Here in Maine the wind projects are the power companies biggest
            customers due to the power required by the turbines when the wind isn’t
            blowing, which is 75% of the time.”

            Bob caught most of the other howlers, but this one is a sure tip-off that Penny’s education comes from wingnut anti-wind sites, unless she’s just making up numbers or cobbling together random disparate factoids.

            What next? All those bogus health effects caused by turbine “infrasound”?

          • Bob_Wallace

            She telegraphs it with “industrial”. As if coal and nuclear were cottage industries and natural gas was knitted by little old ladies sitting under apple trees.

          • Peter Gray

            Yup, you nailed it.
            Along with stunning revelations about how the wind doesn’t blow all the time (but when it blows too much, getting rid of the energy is somehow costly), the thorium reference also points to a classic case of Crank Magnetism. I’ve had to refer to that sadly often lately: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Crank_magnetism

          • Penny Gray

            Maine’s wind projects are coming in between 11 to 25% efficient, these figures are provided by FERC and don’t include energy drawn off the grid. Mountain wind is fickle. Gusty. I live on a mountain so I know about how the wind blows in the mountains. It turns on and off suddenly. Gear boxes on the turbines don’t like gusty wind. Gusty wind is unpredicatable. Maybe the wind is predictable in kansas but is sure ain’t in Maine.

          • Bob_Wallace

            New blades are being installed which are increasing CF by 10% or so.

            Lidar systems “look ahead” and see gusts coming so that turbines can minimize the shock loading.

            Suck it up Penny. You Maniacs need to do your part to combat global warming.

          • Penny Gray

            The term is “climate change”, Bob. I only wish it would warm up a little here so I could plant the garden.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Might I suggest Eliot Coleman’s excellent book “Four-Season Harvesting”? Those of us who live where spring comes late and winter turns up early can adapt. Our gardening problems are first world problems.

            A warmer planet would be nice for my garden, too. But it will play hell for hundreds of millions who live in places that are now too hot and too dry to comfortably support them.

            I can keep growing my tomatoes under cover for a couple more weeks and covering my strawberries when frost is threatening, but other people are watching their crops fail and cattle die.

          • Bob_Wallace

            BTW, Penny. We’re warming the planet and that is causing all sorts of climate change. Warming is even causing incidents of colder than usual weather as the Polar Vortex breaks down and the jet stream pattern is altered.

            Neither term is “the correct one”, correct choice depends on context.

    • Calamity_Jean

      That’s almost completely false. Wind power could replace half or more of fossil fuel power with little or no storage. Read some more CleanTechnica and elsewhere to learn more.

  • Banned by Bob

    We’ve never had so many energy choices as we do today. Therefore, there should be no need for any subsidies of any form. Time to clean all of this up. There’s too much temptation for political greed and misconduct associated with these.

    • Penny Gray

      Excellent point. Let the free market decide our energy policies, not political cronyism.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Great, Penny. Get in touch with your senators and congress member and demand they eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels and demand that fossil fuels pay for their external costs.

        Once you get that done then the wind and solar industries will be very willing to give up their subsidies.

        That’s fair, don’t you think?

      • Peter Gray

        Except in trivial cases involving small handfuls of participants, free markets don’t solve the problem of externalities. Ever. By definition.

        I’m with you on cronyism, but before pushing free markets as the solution to everything, please take the time to educate yourself on the basics.

  • Matt

    (R-IA) IA stands for Iowa which now has 1GW+ of wind. So he like many R’s at state and local levels see a big benefit for his votes. And yes it is dishonest and misleading at best to vote to keep oil/gas/coal “give aways” and then vote to raise taxes on wind. Any tax break, or closed loop hole to a friend of the republicans is call a tax hike!

  • Chris Herz

    What happened? Did Koch Industries forget to send Mr Grassley his check?

  • Ross

    Maybe a little early to declare victory, but the tide, whatever causes those, is turning.

  • JamesWimberley

    The way to think of the wind and solar PTCs is as second-best proxies for the carbon taxes that coal and gas ought to pay but don’t. A “comprehensive energy tax reform” that simply abolished all energy tax breaks would not create a level playing field. It would however be enough to ensure the triumph of renewable energy.

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