Somewhere deep in the bowels of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, a small cadre of presidential aides is working feverishly to unearth proof that wind turbines cause cancer. Don’t worry, they’ll find it! It must be down there somewhere. Meanwhile, out in the sunlight, the US wind industry is bursting into flower.
Wind Turbines To Commander-In-Chief: Why Do You Hate Me?
Before we get to those flowers, let’s take a brief break to refresh the Law of Unintended Consequences. President* Trump regularly makes fun of the US wind industry, but yesterday he took the insults up to another notch with this observation (thanks, Vanity Fair):
“They say the noise causes cancer…if you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations—your house just went down 75 percent in value.”
Lolololo! The cancer accusation caught the attention of many a reporter, and in the full glare of the media spotlight one of our favorite topics emerged into view: The President’s long running legal battle against — you guessed it — a proposed offshore wind farm in Scotland.
The Scottish wind farm could also have an outsized impact on the current occupant of the Oval Office. Last month the legal battle took another in a long series of turns against the Trump Organization, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.
Wind Turbines Up, Coal Power Plants Down
Meanwhile, wind turbines are sprouting up all over the US like mushrooms in the rain. The latest development is especially interesting because it coincides with big news about one of the nation’s largest and most polluting coal power plants.
Earlier this week our friends over at Arizona Public Media reported that a leading Arizona utility, Tucson Electric Power, has begun construction on 61 wind turbines at a new wind farm near Roswell, New Mexico.
Don’t start in with the Roswell thing. Let’s focus on those 61 wind turbines. The new wind farm is huge news for TEP. At 250 megawatts the Roswell project will dwarf TEP’s current stock of wind turbines, which total a mere 80 megawatts.
The new wind turbines will also provide TEP with a renewable resource to complement its solar investments, as Arizona Public Radio reports:
[TEP spokesperson Joseph] Barrios said the company wants to move away from coal-fired power by investing in renewable resources, like wind and solar. He said diversifying TEP’s resources will fill in the gaps solar energy leaves behind.
“Clearly solar, in and of itself, it doesn’t do much for you at night because there’s no sunshine. If you look at studies, wind resources, their production will pick up in the evening and continue overnight,” said Barrios.
The utility is already planning on adding more wind and solar, so stay tuned for more on that.
Wind Turbines Cure Cancer
The TEP news coincided with some equally significant news about coal power in Arizona, which happens to be the home state of the infamous Navajo Generating Station coal power plant.
Or, was. The Navajo Generating Station is owned by a consortium that has been trying to decommission it. That’s a win for air quality, but the closure will throw hundreds of workers on the street, mainly Native Americans who live in the area.
That includes workers at the Kayenta coal mine, which loses its best customer when the power plant shuts down.
Local leaders fought to keep the plant open as a matter of economic survival, but the low cost of renewable energy is finally opening up new alternatives.
Earlier this week, the Navajo Nation formally pulled itself out of efforts to keep the plant alive — and it issued a formal proclamation declaring that renewable energy is a “top priority.” The Farmington Daily Times reports:
The proclamation – named the Navajo Háyoołkááł Proclamation – calls for a diverse energy portfolio and job creation from projects that focus on clean energy development.
It also calls for restoring land and water impacted by uranium and coal mining, developing off-grid solar-generated electricity for homes, and building utility scale renewable energy projects that supply tribal and state lands.
The same proclamation also advocated for New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to include more funds for renewables in the state’s capital outlay budget.
US Department Of Energy Goes Rogue On Renewables
The Navajo Nation’s renewable energy transition has been years in the making, and the Energy Department has played a role.
Back in 2016, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority broke ground on its first utility scale solar array, with a healthy financial assist from the US Department of Energy. The Kayenta Solar Facility began operations last year.
As for wind, in 2005 NTUA received a $200,000 grant from the US Department of Energy for a wind power feasibility study. That has not resulted in a utility scale investment in wind turbines — yet, but the Gray Mountain area was identified as a “superb” site for a wind farm.
The Navajo Nation has also been an early adopter of small wind turbines. That percolating interest in small wind could get support from the Energy Department, which is a strong advocate for small, distributed wind energy.
The Energy Department’s interest in small wind turbines has continued apace under the Trump administration. Last week, the agency chipped in another $28 million in funding to help fill in gaps in the nation’s wind power profile. The initiative includes tall turbine towers and offshore wind turbines as well as small wind turbines.
That’s the tip of the wind iceberg for the Department of Energy. Among an number of other wind power initiatives, last year the agency established a new wind R&D consortium — lead by wind-friendly New York State — aimed at turbo-boosting the US wind industry.
All of this activity is bad news for coal jobs, but then again, we have to keep one step ahead of the European Offshore Wind Deployment Center.
After all, we are number one, right?
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Photo: Navajo Generating Station by Matthew Dillon, flickr.com creative commons license.