Skip to main content

The Wind and the Tide

repower-5mw-wind-turbine Internet search engine giant Google announced Tuesday that it is investing in a mammoth project to build an underwater "superhighway for clean energy" that would be able to funnel power from offshore wind farms to 1.9 million homes without overtaxing the already congested mid-Atlantic power grid.

Why?

While the project is outside of Google's normal focus, officials said, "We believe in investing in projects that make good business sense and further the development of renewable energy."

Well, that makes enough sense as not to matter. If Google wants to do this, and its shareholders don’t raise objections, why not? It certainly has a good profile.

Some of what I’ve read raises questions, though not really about the utility of the project.

There’s this:

Consumers who would receive electricity through the grid would help fund the project, Mitchell added, although he said at this point, "It's hard to say what will be the impact on the consumer."

Mitchell is Bob Mitchell, chief executive of Trans-Elect, the electric transmission company that is taking the lead on the project. It sounds like CWIP, where consumers help pay for construction of a new plant. I assume this needs public utility commission support in the various states it will serve – I’m not sure this has happened yet.

There’s this interesting tidbit in the New York Times:

Yet even before any wind farms were built, the cable would channel existing supplies of electricity from southern Virginia, where it is cheap, to northern New Jersey, where it is costly, bypassing one of the most congested parts of the North American electric grid while lowering energy costs for northern customers.

That’s a net positive and it suggests where some money can be made by Google, Trans-Elect and their partners while the turbine work is done. But the very next paragraph suggests the countervailing force.

Generating electricity from offshore wind is far more expensive than relying on coal, natural gas or even onshore wind. But energy experts anticipate a growing demand for the offshore turbines to meet state requirements for greater reliance on local renewable energy as a clean alternative to fossil fuels.

So those who thought cap-and-trade an energy tax can now call this an energy tax, too. That’s a little snarky, but the truth is that any movement to renewable energy sources is going to imply a higher cost for electricity – whether it is government or industry that powers the move.

And that may be okay by many as long as the cost of electricity remains manageable and as long as carbon emission reduction as a desirable outcome doesn’t hit headwinds. We’ve seen a lot of politicians in the current election cycle deride global warming, which suggests that an interesting dynamic may emerge if they become a significant block of legislators.

And there’s this:

Now, apply those numbers [the cost of the Cape Wind project in Massachusetts] back to Google and Good Energies’ project. In order to produce 6,000 megawatts, they would need about 1,700 turbines, for a cost of over $32 billion. These are some sketchy numbers — nobody’s seriously proposed 1,700 turbines off the coast, nor is it clear where the extra $27 billion would come from.

I think these numbers are wildly overstated – this is a project where you cannot easily separate the turbines from the transmission – but I agree with writer Matthew Shaffer that numbers are flying around with only a vague sense of how to account for them. That may be the nature of a large project, but it will likely lead to some breathtaking financial obligations – for electricity vendors, state governments, consumers. Or maybe not – that Virginia to New Jersey connection noted above may allow for some impressive cost sharing over the span of the project.

None of this should be construed as objections or as a way to sow doubt over a wind project on a nuclear site. Quite the contrary – an infrastructure project this big raises innumerable questions that will find answers as it moves along, but that doesn’t mean it should be stopped or unnecessarily hindered.

There are many angles from which to compare this project to what a nuclear energy plant might offer in contrast. But let’s leave that aside this time. Instead, consider this post some initial scattered thoughts about a very interesting development and add your own thoughts – even if less scattered – in comments. After all, we’re all electricity buffs, aren’t we?

I’d never really seen a picture of erecting a turbine in the water, but it makes sense that it would include cranes on barges. Presumably there’s a community of divers to root them in place, too.

Comments

DocForesight said…
I can't help but wonder where the NEI gents get their information to stay abreast of "Global Climate Disruption" news and happenings.

It would appear, from some sources at least, that the wheels of the GCD bus are coming off, hubcaps and all.

Popular posts from this blog

Sneak Peek

There's an invisible force powering and propelling our way of life.
It's all around us. You can't feel it. Smell it. Or taste it.
But it's there all the same. And if you look close enough, you can see all the amazing and wondrous things it does.
It not only powers our cities and towns.
And all the high-tech things we love.
It gives us the power to invent.
To explore.
To discover.
To create advanced technologies.
This invisible force creates jobs out of thin air.
It adds billions to our economy.
It's on even when we're not.
And stays on no matter what Mother Nature throws at it.
This invisible force takes us to the outer reaches of outer space.
And to the very depths of our oceans.
It brings us together. And it makes us better.
And most importantly, it has the power to do all this in our lifetime while barely leaving a trace.
Some people might say it's kind of unbelievable.
They wonder, what is this new power that does all these extraordinary things?

A Design Team Pictures the Future of Nuclear Energy

For more than 100 years, the shape and location of human settlements has been defined in large part by energy and water. Cities grew up near natural resources like hydropower, and near water for agricultural, industrial and household use.

So what would the world look like with a new generation of small nuclear reactors that could provide abundant, clean energy for electricity, water pumping and desalination and industrial processes?

Hard to say with precision, but Third Way, the non-partisan think tank, asked the design team at the Washington, D.C. office of Gensler & Associates, an architecture and interior design firm that specializes in sustainable projects like a complex that houses the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. The talented designers saw a blooming desert and a cozy arctic village, an old urban mill re-purposed as an energy producer, a data center that integrates solar panels on its sprawling flat roofs, a naval base and a humming transit hub.

In the converted mill, high temperat…

Seeing the Light on Nuclear Energy

If you think that there is plenty of electricity, that the air is clean enough and that nuclear power is a just one among many options for meeting human needs, then you are probably over-focused on the United States or Western Europe. Even then, you’d be wrong.

That’s the idea at the heart of a new book, “Seeing the Light: The Case for Nuclear Power in the 21st Century,” by Scott L. Montgomery, a geoscientist and energy expert, and Thomas Graham Jr., a retired ambassador and arms control expert.


Billions of people live in energy poverty, they write, and even those who don’t, those who live in places where there is always an electric outlet or a light switch handy, we need to unmake the last 200 years of energy history, and move to non-carbon sources. Energy is integral to our lives but the authors cite a World Health Organization estimate that more than 6.5 million people die each year from air pollution.  In addition, they say, the global climate is heading for ruinous instability. E…