Sunday, August 31, 2008

Postcard From South China

NY Times

August 31, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist

Guangzhou, China

I had the pleasure the other day of visiting the delightfully named Zhuhai Guohua Wonderful Wind Power Exploitation Co. in Zhuhai, on the southern coast of China. It’s a good news/bad news story.

The good news was that the Chinese engineers showed me their control room, which has a giant glass window that looks out onto their 21 wind turbines that crown the peaks of a nearby mountain. “How nice,” I thought. “China’s really starting to go green.”

But as my eye drifted just to the left of that mountain, I saw Macau, with its rising skyline of casino skyscrapers. The Venetian Hotel in Macau alone has some 870 gaming tables and 3,400 slot machines. So, I did a quick calculation and figured that those 21 wind turbines together might power the Venetian’s army of one-armed bandits for a few hours of green gambling.

That dichotomy runs through a lot of what is going on here in Guangdong Province, where 30 years ago China began its economic opening. You’re starting to see the emergence of Chinese clean-tech companies — I also visited a solar panel start-up — and real environmental awareness among officials and students. But the momentum of this region’s growth, the sheer land-of-the-giants scale of the buildings, makes the renewable energy here literally a drop in the bucket.

As a result, there is a dawning awareness that if China is to break its own addiction to oil, it will take a much more fundamental shift from the growth model that powered its first 30 years. That model was based on two linked ideas: 1) energy was inexhaustible, inexpensive and benign; and 2) China could count on raising its living standards by forever being the world’s low-cost manufacturing workshop, based on cheap energy.

In recent years, though, fossil-fuel energy has become expensive, exhaustible and toxic, and rising wages — to some extent because of rising environmental considerations and social security requirements — have meant that the workshops of southern China are no longer the low-cost producers in Asia. Vietnam and Western China now beckon.

The only way forward, say officials, is for China to gradually develop a cleaner, knowledge-based, service/finance economy. It has to move from “made in China” to “designed in China” to “imagined in China.” In short, the economy here has to become greener and smarter. (Sound familiar?)

In 1992, China’s coastal economic powerhouses hit a similar wall when they found they could not grow further without the government loosening travel restrictions to attract workers from all over China. So, more personal freedom to move around China was unleashed then. Now, these same provinces need to allow more “mind movement” to get to the next level.

The problem for the ruling Communist Party is this: China can’t have a greener society without empowering citizens to become watchdogs and allowing them to sue local businesses and governments that pollute, and it can’t have a more knowledge-intensive innovation society without a freer flow of information and experimentation.

What surprised me is how much the party is thinking about all this. I actually came here at the invitation of Wang Yang, the Communist Party secretary, i.e. the boss of Guangdong Province. He had read one of my books on globalization in Chinese.

Wang is also a member of the Politburo in Beijing and is considered one of the most innovative thinkers in China’s leadership today. He has been given room to experiment and has begun advocating something he calls “mind liberation” — primarily an effort to change the culture of his bureaucracy and open it up to new ways of thinking. Right now he is focused on trying to shift dirty, low-wage manufacturing out of Guangzhou to the countryside, where jobs are still scarce. And he is trying to attract clean industries and services to the city. His goal, he said, was a more “low-carbon economy.”

“Please put it in your column that Party Secretary Wang Yang welcomes [Western] clean energy technology companies to come to Guangdong Province and use it as a laboratory to develop their products,” he told me. “We will be most willing to participate in the innovation and provide the services they need.”

So my postcard from Guangzhou would read like this: “Dear Mom and Dad, this place is so much more interesting than it looks from abroad. I met wind and solar companies eager for Western investment and Chinese college students who were organizing a boycott of an Indonesian paper company for despoiling their forest. An ‘Institute of Civil Society’ has quietly opened at the local Sun Yat-sen University. The Communist Party is trying to break the old mold without breaking its hold. It’s quite a drama. Can’t wait to come back next summer and see how they’re doing ...”

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Work begins on Kibby wind farm

Sun Journal

By Donna M. Perry , Staff Writer

Friday, August 29, 2008

FARMINGTON - Work on the $320 million Kibby Wind Power project has started on Kibby Mountain in northern Franklin County.

The project that will span Kibby Mountain and Kibby Range in Kibby and Skinner townships has moved from the regulatory and business development stage to the implementation stage.

The 44-turbine commercial wind farm has received all permits to move forward, project manager Wolfgang Neuhoff said Thursday.

TransCanada MaineWind Development Inc., an affiliate of TransCanada Corp., a Canadian-based energy company, is also asking Maine Land Use Regulation Commission for approval of some minor amendments to the permit that will reduce environmental impacts, he said.

In the meantime, clearing for the 17 or so miles of roads has started and TransCanada has started work with engineering, procurement and construction contractor, Reed & Reed of Woolwich.

"They will be constructing the roads and the foundations for wind turbines and will be erecting the wind turbines," Neuhoff said. "They will also construct the electrical collector system - the lines that transport the power to the substation."

Ongoing clearing work is being done by Plum Creek, which owns the land TransCanada is leasing for the project. Once some of the timber was removed for the proposed roads leading to where the turbines will be erected, it gave the company better information to develop a revised layout that will lessen the impact on the environment, Neuhoff said.

Reed & Reed is doing survey work and geotechnical work. The latter entails drilling holes and collecting rock samples to analyze for strength and composition, he said.

The contractor will start construction of roads this week, either by improving what already exists or building new roads.

"We are now planning to have the first set of 22 turbines completely erected and online in December 2009," Neuhoff said. "The first turbine will be going up in June. The second set of 22 turbines is targeted to be on line in 2010."

Two other major contract packages for the project are going out to bid.

One is for engineering and construction of a substation off Gold Brook Road, a well-maintained logging road, and the second contract is for the construction of 27.7 miles of transmission line to connect the Kibby substation with Central Maine Power Co.'s Bigelow substation in Carrabassett Valley.

"The work is scheduled to be awarded in the middle of October and construction on transmission line will start this fall and continue through winter," Neuhoff said.

The installation of a temporary office for contractors and TransCanada started Thursday at the beginning of Gold Brook Road, off Route 27, in Chain of Ponds Township.

It is estimated about 250 people will be employed during the construction phase of the wind farm, and it is expected there will be 10 to 12 permanent jobs once the project is operational.

The project is being built under a tax-increment financing agreement approved by the state and Franklin County commissioners in June. It is the second TIF agreement in the state to be approved for an unorganized territory and the third commercial wind farm to receive approval to be built in Maine.

TransCanada's taxable investment covered under the 20-year TIF is capped at $220 million in value with the minimum amount invested at $150 million. Anything over the $220 million valuation would be assessed taxes that would go into the statewide unorganized territory fund.

Wind power zoning law change hits snag

Sun Journal

By Terry Karkos , Staff Writer

Friday, August 29, 2008

ROXBURY - Brunswick-based wind power developers Robert Gardiner and Angus King were at a Planning Board meeting Thursday night for expected work on zoning changes that would allow wind towers on town hills.

But that didn't happen.

The planning meeting was supposed to have been preceded by a meeting Tuesday at which selectmen were expected to appoint planners Barry Bunten, Mark Henry and Randy Orr to a planning commission.

That commission would be tasked with reviewing and recommending revisions to the comprehensive plan and the proposed creation of a new mountain district zone.

Until that happens, Henry said, planners couldn't legally work on either document.

That clearly disappointed King and Gardiner, who for the past year and a half have held off applying for state permits and purchasing turbines and equipment.

They have held informational meetings and submitted proposed ordinance language, which was revised and simplified multiple times by Roxbury officials. The changes were approved by voters at town meeting in March. However, because state-required procedural matters weren't followed, voters next OK'd a moratorium on wind power projects to allow more in-depth review.

At Thursday night's meeting, King and Gardiner told planners the matter must be settled this fall.

"If we really pushed hard to do this, the earliest we could do it would be by the end of October," Henry said after the meeting.

The mountain district zone would include portions of Record Hill, Flathead Mountain, Mine Notch, Partridge Peak and North and South Twin mountains at or above an elevation of 1,500 feet. The district would be restricted to wind energy facilities.

The proposed ordinance as written states that wind energy facilities will not be considered as industrial structures, which could be interpreted to mean they can be placed in both the shoreland and general districts. Both districts prohibit industrial structures.

Henry said planners must rework that part of the ordinance and provide a definition of an industrial structure, but they want a lawyer to examine the document to ensure its legality before taking it to special town meeting this fall.

But selectmen, intent on keeping down costs, won't let planners hire a lawyer, Henry said.

"I've been asking for legal representation for the town for six months so we could be doing our due diligence," he said.

Surge in Natural Gas Cars Has Utah Driving Cheaply

NY Times
August 30, 2008


SALT LAKE CITY — The best deal on fuel in the country right now might be here in Utah, where people are waiting in lines to pay the equivalent of 87 cents a gallon. Demand is so strong at rush hour that fuel runs low, and some days people can pump only half a tank.

It is not gasoline they are buying for their cars, but natural gas.

By an odd confluence of public policy and private initiative, Utah has become the first state in the country to experience broad consumer interest in the idea of running cars on clean natural gas.

Utahans are hunting the Internet and traveling the country to pick up used natural gas cars at auctions. They are spending thousands of dollars to transform their trucks and sport utility vehicles to run on compressed gas. Some fueling stations that sell it to the public are so busy they frequently run low on pressure, forcing drivers to return before dawn when demand is down.

It all began when unleaded gasoline rose above $3.25 a gallon last year, and has spiraled into a frenzy in the last few months.

Ron Brown, Honda’s salesman here for the Civic GX, the only car powered by natural gas made by a major automaker in the country, has sold one out of every four of the 800 cars Honda has made so far this year, and he has a pile of 330 deposit slips in his office, each designating a customer waiting months for a new car.

“It’s nuts,” Mr. Brown said. “People are buying these cars from me and turning around and selling them as if they were flipping real estate.”

Advocates for these cars see Mr. Brown’s brisk sales as a sign that natural gas could become the transport fuel of the future, replacing much of the oil the nation imports. While that remains a distant dream, big increases recently in the country’s production of natural gas do raise the possibility of making wider use of the fuel.

To a degree, it is already starting to happen in Utah, where the cost savings have gotten the public’s attention. Natural gas is especially cheap here, so that people spend about 87 cents for a quantity of gas sufficient to propel a car approximately the same distance as a $3.95 gallon of gasoline.

The word about natural gas cars has been spreading in news reports and by word of mouth, and so many Utahans are now trying to get their hands on used natural gas vehicles that they are drying up the national supply. Used car lots are stocking up, and beginning to look like county government parking lots with multiple lines of identical white Civic GXs once used in out-of-state fleets.

Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. got into the act last year, spending $12,000 out of his own pocket to convert his state sport utility vehicle to run on natural gas. “We can create a model that others can look to,” Mr. Huntsman said in an interview. “Every state in America can make this a reality.”

In fact, some unique factors apply in Utah. Natural gas prices at the pump here are controlled and are the cheapest in the country, while the price of conventional gasoline is one of the highest. Questar Gas, the public utility, has compressed-gas pumps around the state open to the public, a fueling infrastructure that few states can match.

Special factors or not, the sudden popularity of natural gas vehicles here demonstrates their potential, according to advocates like T. Boone Pickens, the Texas oil billionaire who is financing a national campaign promoting wind power and natural gas to replace imported oil. “Utah shows that the technology is here and the fuel works and the fuel is better than foreign oil,” Mr. Pickens said.

Natural gas cars produce at least 20 percent less greenhouse gas per mile than regular cars, according to a California study.

No official figures are available on how many natural gas vehicles Utah has, in part because so many people go to garages that install conversion kits that are not certified by the Environmental Protection Agency and are therefore illegal.

(Governor Huntsman has expressed concern, and some in the installation business have requested that the E.P.A. close down the unauthorized operations; the agency says it does not comment on possible investigations.)

But Questar estimates the number at 6,000 and growing by several hundred a month. That is small compared with the 2.7 million vehicles registered in the state, but natural gas executives and state government officials say it makes Utah the fastest-growing market in the country for such cars.

Cars fueled by compressed natural gas have been available intermittently in the United States for decades, and have found wide use in fleets, but have never attracted much consumer interest. The situation is markedly different abroad. Of the eight million natural gas vehicles operating worldwide, only about 116,000 were in the United States, mostly as fleet vans, buses and cars, according to a 2006 Energy Department estimate.

Congress mandated the use of fleets capable of using alternative fuel cars for governments and some energy companies in the early 1990s, but public interest petered out as gasoline prices plummeted. Over the years, all the major car companies except Honda dropped their production in the United States.

The cars have two major disadvantages — a shortage of fueling stations and limited range. (A typical natural gas car goes half as far on a full tank as a gasoline car.) Utah is one of the few states where a driver can travel across the state without being out of range of a station.

The situation is a Catch-22: Carmakers do not want to make natural gas cars when few filling stations are set up for them, and few stations want to install expensive equipment to compress gas with so few cars on the road.

Hundreds of stations supply compressed gas in a few states like California, New York and Arizona, but most are either closed to the public or charge only modestly less than regular gasoline prices.

Retail natural gas prices in some states are triple the price in Utah. The only state that comes close to Utah’s low gas prices is Oklahoma, and a surge of natural gas car buying is going on there, too.

The natural gas industry and some politicians are pushing to open up the market to gas-powered vehicles across the country. Even in states without fueling stations, a few drivers have switched by spending several thousand dollars to install a home gas compressor.

A proposal on the ballot in California this fall would allow the state to sell $5 billion in bonds to finance rebates of $2,000 and more to buyers of natural gas vehicles. Legislation has been introduced in Congress to offer more tax credits to producers and consumers and mandate the installation of gas pumps in certain service stations, with the goal of making natural gas cars 10 percent of the nation’s vehicle fleet over the next decade.

“If the incentives are right and the fuel and cars are available, natural gas can work,” said Gordon Larsen, supervisor for natural gas vehicle operations at Questar Gas. But he said that any drop in gasoline prices douses enthusiasm among drivers considering the switch.

With gasoline hovering just below $4 a gallon for unleaded regular here, interest in the Salt Lake City area is strong.

Questar reports that the volume of natural gas pumped at its 21 filling stations is up 240 percent this year from last, after a 50 percent rise in 2007. Demand has grown so fast that the compressors at many of Questar’s stations run low during the day, forcing drivers to settle for half a tank or fill up during off-peak hours.

The natural gas car surge in Utah is because of several factors. Questar has had filling pumps around the state to fuel its own fleet of service vehicles since the 1980s, and because it had excess capacity, it opened those stations to the public. Natural gas prices are cheap because under Utah regulations, the utility is obliged to offer about half of the gas that it sells to its retail customers at the cost of production.

The state and a few municipalities are preparing to open more filling stations. If the trend continues, it could eventually lower the environmental impact of driving in Utah.

For now, demand for compressed-gas cars is outstripping supply.

“People get into a frenzy and they just have to buy,” said Rick Oliver, owner of a company that converts vehicles. He said that in a recent online auction, a Utah buyer paid $19,000 for a 2001 Civic GX with 50,000 miles — the price a buyer of a new GX would pay after state and federal tax credits.

Gary Frederickson, a 48-year-old computer technician, has bought six natural gas vehicles on Craigslist over the last year, flying as far as Portland and Oakland to pick up the cars. One 1998 Ford Contour he bought for $3,000 in effect cost him nothing because he will receive a $3,000 state tax credit for buying an alternative fuel car.

“It’s crazy to be in Utah and have access to 85-cent-a-gallon fuel and not take advantage of it,” he said before a recent 2-cent increase.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Biblical Seven Years

August 27, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist


After attending the spectacular closing ceremony at the Beijing Olympics and feeling the vibrations from hundreds of Chinese drummers pulsating in my own chest, I was tempted to conclude two things: “Holy mackerel, the energy coming out of this country is unrivaled.” And, two: “We are so cooked. Start teaching your kids Mandarin.”

However, I’ve learned over the years not to over-interpret any two-week event. Olympics don’t change history. They are mere snapshots — a country posing in its Sunday bests for all the world too see. But, as snapshots go, the one China presented through the Olympics was enormously powerful — and it’s one that Americans need to reflect upon this election season.

China did not build the magnificent $43 billion infrastructure for these games, or put on the unparalleled opening and closing ceremonies, simply by the dumb luck of discovering oil. No, it was the culmination of seven years of national investment, planning, concentrated state power, national mobilization and hard work.

Seven years ... Seven years ... Oh, that’s right. China was awarded these Olympic Games on July 13, 2001 — just two months before 9/11.

As I sat in my seat at the Bird’s Nest, watching thousands of Chinese dancers, drummers, singers and acrobats on stilts perform their magic at the closing ceremony, I couldn’t help but reflect on how China and America have spent the last seven years: China has been preparing for the Olympics; we’ve been preparing for Al Qaeda. They’ve been building better stadiums, subways, airports, roads and parks. And we’ve been building better metal detectors, armored Humvees and pilotless drones.

The difference is starting to show. Just compare arriving at La Guardia’s dumpy terminal in New York City and driving through the crumbling infrastructure into Manhattan with arriving at Shanghai’s sleek airport and taking the 220-mile-per-hour magnetic levitation train, which uses electromagnetic propulsion instead of steel wheels and tracks, to get to town in a blink.

Then ask yourself: Who is living in the third world country?

Yes, if you drive an hour out of Beijing, you meet the vast dirt-poor third world of China. But here’s what’s new: The rich parts of China, the modern parts of Beijing or Shanghai or Dalian, are now more state of the art than rich America. The buildings are architecturally more interesting, the wireless networks more sophisticated, the roads and trains more efficient and nicer. And, I repeat, they did not get all this by discovering oil. They got it by digging inside themselves.

I realize the differences: We were attacked on 9/11; they were not. We have real enemies; theirs are small and mostly domestic. We had to respond to 9/11 at least by eliminating the Al Qaeda base in Afghanistan and investing in tighter homeland security. They could avoid foreign entanglements. Trying to build democracy in Iraq, though, which I supported, was a war of choice and is unlikely to ever produce anything equal to its huge price tag.

But the first rule of holes is that when you’re in one, stop digging. When you see how much modern infrastructure has been built in China since 2001, under the banner of the Olympics, and you see how much infrastructure has been postponed in America since 2001, under the banner of the war on terrorism, it’s clear that the next seven years need to be devoted to nation-building in America.

We need to finish our business in Iraq and Afghanistan as quickly as possible, which is why it is a travesty that the Iraqi Parliament has gone on vacation while 130,000 U.S. troops are standing guard. We can no longer afford to postpone our nation-building while Iraqis squabble over whether to do theirs.

A lot of people are now advising Barack Obama to get dirty with John McCain. Sure, fight fire with fire. That’s necessary, but it is not sufficient.

Obama got this far because many voters projected onto him that he could be the leader of an American renewal. They know we need nation-building at home now — not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in Georgia, but in America. Obama cannot lose that theme.

He cannot let Republicans make this election about who is tough enough to stand up to Russia or bin Laden. It has to be about who is strong enough, focused enough, creative enough and unifying enough to get Americans to rebuild America. The next president can have all the foreign affairs experience in the world, but it will be useless, utterly useless, if we, as a country, are weak.

Obama is more right than he knows when he proclaims that this is “our” moment, this is “our” time. But it is our time to get back to work on the only home we have, our time for nation-building in America. I never want to tell my girls — and I’m sure Obama feels the same about his — that they have to go to China to see the future.

Wind Energy Bumps Into Power Grid’s Limits

August 27, 2008
The Energy Challenge

When the builders of the Maple Ridge Wind farm spent $320 million to put nearly 200 wind turbines in upstate New York, the idea was to get paid for producing electricity. But at times, regional electric lines have been so congested that Maple Ridge has been forced to shut down even with a brisk wind blowing.

That is a symptom of a broad national problem. Expansive dreams about renewable energy, like Al Gore’s hope of replacing all fossil fuels in a decade, are bumping up against the reality of a power grid that cannot handle the new demands.

The dirty secret of clean energy is that while generating it is getting easier, moving it to market is not.

The grid today, according to experts, is a system conceived 100 years ago to let utilities prop each other up, reducing blackouts and sharing power in small regions. It resembles a network of streets, avenues and country roads.

“We need an interstate transmission superhighway system,” said Suedeen G. Kelly, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

While the United States today gets barely 1 percent of its electricity from wind turbines, many experts are starting to think that figure could hit 20 percent.

Achieving that would require moving large amounts of power over long distances, from the windy, lightly populated plains in the middle of the country to the coasts where many people live. Builders are also contemplating immense solar-power stations in the nation’s deserts that would pose the same transmission problems.

The grid’s limitations are putting a damper on such projects already. Gabriel Alonso, chief development officer of Horizon Wind Energy, the company that operates Maple Ridge, said that in parts of Wyoming, a turbine could make 50 percent more electricity than the identical model built in New York or Texas.

“The windiest sites have not been built, because there is no way to move that electricity from there to the load centers,” he said.

The basic problem is that many transmission lines, and the connections between them, are simply too small for the amount of power companies would like to squeeze through them. The difficulty is most acute for long-distance transmission, but shows up at times even over distances of a few hundred miles.

Transmission lines carrying power away from the Maple Ridge farm, near Lowville, N.Y., have sometimes become so congested that the company’s only choice is to shut down — or pay fees for the privilege of continuing to pump power into the lines.

Politicians in Washington have long known about the grid’s limitations but have made scant headway in solving them. They are reluctant to trample the prerogatives of state governments, which have traditionally exercised authority over the grid and have little incentive to push improvements that would benefit neighboring states.

In Texas, T. Boone Pickens, the oilman building the world’s largest wind farm, plans to tackle the grid problem by using a right of way he is developing for water pipelines for a 250-mile transmission line from the Panhandle to the Dallas market. He has testified in Congress that Texas policy is especially favorable for such a project and that other wind developers cannot be expected to match his efforts.

“If you want to do it on a national scale, where the transmission line distances will be much longer, and utility regulations are different, Congress must act,” he said on Capitol Hill.

Enthusiasm for wind energy is running at fever pitch these days, with bold plans on the drawing boards, like Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s notion of dotting New York City with turbines. Companies are even reviving ideas of storing wind-generated energy using compressed air or spinning flywheels.

Yet experts say that without a solution to the grid problem, effective use of wind power on a wide scale is likely to remain a dream.

The power grid is balkanized, with about 200,000 miles of power lines divided among 500 owners. Big transmission upgrades often involve multiple companies, many state governments and numerous permits. Every addition to the grid provokes fights with property owners.

These barriers mean that electrical generation is growing four times faster than transmission, according to federal figures.

In a 2005 energy law, Congress gave the Energy Department the authority to step in to approve transmission if states refused to act. The department designated two areas, one in the Middle Atlantic States and one in the Southwest, as national priorities where it might do so; 14 United States senators then signed a letter saying the department was being too aggressive.

Energy Department leaders say that, however understandable the local concerns, they are getting in the way. “Modernizing the electric infrastructure is an urgent national problem, and one we all share,” said Kevin M. Kolevar, assistant secretary for electricity delivery and energy reliability, in a speech last year.

Unlike answers to many of the nation’s energy problems, improvements to the grid would require no new technology. An Energy Department plan to source 20 percent of the nation’s electricity from wind calls for a high-voltage backbone spanning the country that would be similar to 2,100 miles of lines already operated by a company called American Electric Power.

The cost would be high, $60 billion or more, but in theory could be spread across many years and tens of millions of electrical customers. However, in most states, rules used by public service commissions to evaluate transmission investments discourage multistate projects of this sort. In some states with low electric rates, elected officials fear that new lines will simply export their cheap power and drive rates up.

Without a clear way of recovering the costs and earning a profit, and with little leadership on the issue from the federal government, no company or organization has offered to fight the political battles necessary to get such a transmission backbone built.

Texas and California have recently made some progress in building transmission lines for wind power, but nationally, the problem seems likely to get worse. Today, New York State has about 1,500 megawatts of wind capacity. A megawatt is an instantaneous measure of power. A large Wal-Mart draws about one megawatt. The state is planning for an additional 8,000 megawatts of capacity.

But those turbines will need to go in remote, windy areas that are far off the beaten path, electrically speaking, and it is not clear enough transmission capacity will be developed. Save for two underwater connections to Long Island, New York State has not built a major new power line in 20 years.

A handful of states like California that have set aggressive goals for renewable energy are being forced to deal with the issue, since the goals cannot be met without additional power lines.

But Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico and a former energy secretary under President Bill Clinton, contends that these piecemeal efforts are not enough to tap the nation’s potential for renewable energy.

Wind advocates say that just two of the windiest states, North Dakota and South Dakota, could in principle generate half the nation’s electricity from turbines. But the way the national grid is configured, half the country would have to move to the Dakotas in order to use the power.

“We still have a third-world grid,” Mr. Richardson said, repeating a comment he has made several times. “With the federal government not investing, not setting good regulatory mechanisms, and basically taking a back seat on everything except drilling and fossil fuels, the grid has not been modernized, especially for wind energy.”

Despite lack of state assistance, businesses still encourage people to go solar

Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2008

Associate Editor

ARUNDEL — Nearly all of the funds of the state’s solar power rebate program have been reserved by applicants through next year, but the popularity of the rebate program is working against some solar power providers.

“The rebates stifle business,” said Naoto Inoue, owner of Solar Market in Arundel. “People stop buying solar until the new set of rebates comes in. We’re better off without it.”

A total of $500,000 is designated for the solar investment rebates each year. The money was already reserved by June this year, the fastest it’s ever gone, said Fred Bever, spokesman for Efficiency Maine, which administers the rebates.

For private homes and businesses, the state rebate program provides 25 to 35 percent of the cost for solar installments, up to $3,000. But when the program runs out of money, much of the local business dries up, said Inoue – so he’s lobbying to have it retracted.

Since the rebate program began, Inoue said Solar Market is getting more calls from people who can only afford to invest in solar power with the rebate – and often back out once they realize they can’t obtain state aid.

Solar Market has been able to stay afloat largely by doing business out of state, said Inoue.

“The money ran out about a month and a half ago, so there’s virtually no business anymore in Maine,” he said.

Other solar companies are more optimistic, however. In Kennebunk, a new start-up, Skyconnect Solar, has just completed staff training through the PUC.

“With oil prices recently, solar just seems to be taking off,” said Erinn Mccusker, who owns the business with her fiancé, Carl Jones.

“It’s a little unfortunate (the rebate program) took off so quickly that all of the money is exhausted,” she said. “Once it’s back up and running I think it would help.”

The cost of solar installments can range widely, from as little as $5,000 to more than $100,000. According to PUC data for 2007, most rebates came in at about $1,250, with solar power systems ranging from $5,000 to $50,000. Most systems cost about $12,000.

Those who make the investment in solar electricity or hot water save considerable amounts of money in the long run, said Inoue, because their costs are fixed for the life of the system.

But it’s a major up-front expense that most homeowners can’t afford without some help – and that help may become even harder to get.

Federal tax credits are still available for solar investments – at 30 percent of the cost of the system, up to $2,000 –-but are set to expire at the end of the year, unless renewal legislation is passed.

In Maine, the rebate program was also originally scheduled to end in 2008, but was extended through 2010 due to consumer interest. It is funded by a small charge on electric bills throughout the state. The cap for rebates is $2.75 million.

In 2009, solar rebates will be limited further because the state legislature has allotted 20 percent of the $500,000 to go toward wind power initiatives, said Bever.

“It is clear that demand is fast increasing,” said Bever, who said that many solar installers who are certified with the Public Utilities Commission are booked through December.

Rep. Larry Bliss (South Portland/Cape Elizabeth), chair of the House Energy and Utilities Committee, said he believed that the public’s interest in investing in alternative energy sources was strong previously. Now that oil is more than $100 per barrel, he said, “I’m even more sure that the public understands the necessity to move away from dependence on fossil fuel.”

State legislation was recently passed to provide the wind power rebates as well, and there is not another funding source available, said Bliss.

“It’s not unreasonable to earmark part of the funding for (wind power),” Bliss said in written correspondence. “The goal, of course, is to move the state in the direction of alternative sources of energy, and to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels.”

The rebate allotment of $500,000 per-year is based upon available funds, as determined by the PUC, said Bliss.

“It would be terrific if we could double or triple that amount,” he said. “But we can’t offer rebates with funds that we don’t have.”

For more information on state rebates, visit; for federal rebates visit

— Contact Kristen Schulze Muszynski, call 282-1535 ext. 322 or e-mail at

Friday, August 15, 2008

Trust says no to wind farm

Sun Journal

By Leslie H. Dixon , Staff Writer
Friday, August 15, 2008

NORWAY - A Western Foothills Land Trust official said Thursday that as owner of the 150-acre Roberts Farm Preserve on Pike's Hill, it has no interest in hosting a wind farm.

"We were never interested in putting any wind power on the 150-acre site," said Lee Dassler, land trust coordinator, after reading a story in the Sun Journal about Norway resident Wes Wentworth investigating the possible placement of a turbine on 10.5 acres next to the preserve.

The 150-acre site will eventually be opened for recreational trails, Dassler said.

In July, Wentworth suggested to area officials that they look at placing a turbine on a 10.5 acre parcel that was part of the original 160-acre Roberts farm as a means to generate power and recoup money lost several years ago when six area towns invested in a failed technology park plan for the site.

Wentworth said he will ask Norway selectmen to fund a wind meter test on Pike's Hill.

The Western Foothills Land Trust is investigating purchase of the 10.5 acre site from the Growth Council of Oxford Hills. Dassler said Thursday that even if the trust buys the 10.5 acres, she could not speak for the board as to its future plans, except to say the council is trying to buy it to provide an additional access point to the 150 acres and to protect the land.

Dassler commended Wentworth for his "forward thinking" and agreed that alternative forms of energy should be investigated, but said wind power isn't in the cards for the 150-acre preserve.

Wentworth could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Hearing set on Roxbury zoning change

Sun Journal

By Terry Karkos , Staff Writer
Friday, August 15, 2008

ROXBURY - At Thursday night's meeting, planners discussed how to conduct next week's public hearing on a proposed zoning change to allow wind power facilities to be built on the town's hillsides.

That hearing will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 21, in the town office.

The proposal would create a mountain zone district, which would include all areas of the mountain ridge comprising portions of Record Hill, Flathead Mountain, Mine Notch, Partridge Peak and North and South Twin mountains at or above an elevation of 1,500 feet. The district would be restricted to wind energy facilities.

At town meeting in March, a majority vote OK'd incorporating that zoning change and accompanying new language into Roxbury's 1976 land-use ordinance. However, because legal and procedural issues were not followed prior to the vote, selectmen agreed to revisit the proposed change to avoid being taken to court by the group Concerned Citizens to Save Roxbury and losing.

The group pressured selectmen for the second chance while seeking more information from proponents and opponents of wind power facilities.

They did this through a petition that created an ordinance placing a 180-day moratorium on wind power development. Approved by majority vote on June 17, the moratorium, which is retroactive to the March 3 town meeting and continues to Sept. 3, prevents planners from issuing building permits in the new zone.

One of two companies studying the area for wind towers, and Concerned Citizens, have each held informational meetings.

At Thursday night's meeting, planners Barry Bunten, Mark Henry and Randy Orr argued that no one's talking about the actual zoning change that's up for discussion, just why they don't want wind towers.

"We need to put something in that we're looking at any alternative energy project, but we don't want to see a power plant on top of the mountain," said Bunten, the board's chairman and a wind-power project proponent.

The two companies are Brunswick-based Independence Wind LLC and Massachusetts-based UPC Wind, which recently changed its name to First Wind.

UPC Wind/First Wind built and operates the Mars Hill wind power project and is constructing another facility, Stetson Wind, in Danforth.

Independence Wind partnered with area landowner Bayroot LLC and its land manager, Wagner Forest Management in Lyme, N.H., to form Record Hill Wind LLC, which wants to develop wind power on a portion of Bayroot's lands in Roxbury.

First Wind has been content to wait and see what happens with Record Hill Wind while conducting studies on Roxbury and Rumford mountainsides.

Bunten argued that planners need to correct misinformation floating around town regarding wind power and turbines.

Only Roxbury residents will be allowed to vote at the upcoming special town meeting, but residents and nonresidents can speak at the Aug. 21 hearing. Each person may only get five minutes to talk to prevent filibustering.

Planners also intend to have a moderator conduct the hearing, "so it doesn't turn into a circus," Henry added.

Lincoln announces wind farm hearing

Friday, August 15, 2008 - Bangor Daily News

LINCOLN, Maine - Evergreen Wind Power LLC will hold a hearing Wednesday on its plans to build a $120 million wind farm in Burlington, Lee, Winn and Lincoln. It would be the largest such electricity-generating facility in New England.


Fast Facts

WHO: Evergreen Wind Power LLC, a subsidiary of First Wind of Massachusetts, the state’s largest producer of wind-to-energy facilities.
WHAT: Public hearing.
WHERE: Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln.
WHEN: 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 19.
WHY: This is the first opportunity for extensive public comment on Evergreen’s proposed $120 million wind farm, the largest such electricity-generating facility, in New England, in Burlington, Lee, Winn and Lincoln.


The hearing is part of the company’s efforts to secure permits to build 40 1.5-megawatt windmills creating as much as 60 megawatts of electricity on sites in the four towns. Evergreen is a subsidiary of First Wind of Massachusetts, the state’s largest producer of wind-to-energy facilities.

The windmills would be built on two sites on the Rollins Mountain range and Rocky Dundee Road areas, which run north to south through Lincoln from Burlington to Lee and Winn. Lincoln would have 19 or 20 turbines; Winn, three; Lee, seven; and Burlington, 12. Two turbine sites are listed as alternates, company officials have said.

The company also would install a 115,000-volt transmission line that would run from the north end of Rollins Mountain to a Mattawamkeag connection to the New England grid.

Interim Town Manager Lisa Goodwin said the hearing is a required and integral part of Evergreen’s Rollins Mountain application before the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and other agencies. The hearing will be at Mattanawcook Academy from 6 to 9 p.m. The public is invited.

Evergreen’s success is far from assured. Wind farm critics contend that they are noisy eyesores that upset the natural beauty of landscapes, fail to generate anywhere close to their peak capacities, and — given that their electricity often is sold elsewhere in New England — provide little direct benefit to host municipalities.

Still, the town continues to work on developing a tax-break agreement with Evergreen that would help the project be built and operate should it be approved.

"We have made our agreements for them to pay for our attorneys and consulting fees and we expect to have the TIF agreements ready for a public hearing in the next month or two," Goodwin said Thursday. "That’s our hope. It depends on their work."

First Wind is building a 38-turbine farm in Stetson Mountain between Danforth and Springfield and operating a 28-turbine wind farm in Mars Hill. That work, and efforts to install a 38-mile, 115,000-volt line from Stetson to the Keene Substation in Chester, already have provided economic benefits to the town, Goodwin said.

As many as 300 workers are helping build Stetson and the new electrical line.

"They are staying in our hotels, eating in our establishments and utilizing our stores," Goodwin said.

One primary line construction firm, PowerTel Utilities Contractors LTD of Ontario, temporarily moved into a former Chevrolet dealership on Route 2 on July 1. About 65 workers, including subcontractors, work and store equipment there.

The firm will be there until the job is finished, probably by December, said Scott Ingraham, project manager.

"This is an ideal situation for us, because we have lots of yard space to repair and store things," Ingraham said.

Warehouse supervisor Shawn Picard was glad the company got the Stetson Mountain job. A Millinocket resident and Maine Maritime Academy student, the 20-year-old was pleased to be working closer to home than Nova Scotia and Ontario, the company’s previous work sites.

More direct benefits are expected when First Wind selects a town location for an office that will oversee its northern Maine operations. Its search is ongoing, Goodwin said.

Company officials did not immediately return messages seeking comment Thursday.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Eight Strikes and You’re Out

NY Times

August 13, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist

John McCain recently tried to underscore his seriousness about pushing through a new energy policy, with a strong focus on more drilling for oil, by telling a motorcycle convention that Congress needed to come back from vacation immediately and do something about America’s energy crisis. “Tell them to come back and get to work!” McCain bellowed.

Sorry, but I can’t let that one go by. McCain knows why.

It was only five days earlier, on July 30, that the Senate was voting for the eighth time in the past year on a broad, vitally important bill — S. 3335 — that would have extended the investment tax credits for installing solar energy and the production tax credits for building wind turbines and other energy-efficiency systems.

Both the wind and solar industries depend on these credits — which expire in December — to scale their businesses and become competitive with coal, oil and natural gas. Unlike offshore drilling, these credits could have an immediate impact on America’s energy profile.

Senator McCain did not show up for the crucial vote on July 30, and the renewable energy bill was defeated for the eighth time. In fact, John McCain has a perfect record on this renewable energy legislation. He has missed all eight votes over the last year — which effectively counts as a no vote each time. Once, he was even in the Senate and wouldn’t leave his office to vote.

“McCain did not show up on any votes,” said Scott Sklar, president of The Stella Group, which tracks clean-technology legislation. Despite that, McCain’s campaign commercial running during the Olympics shows a bunch of spinning wind turbines — the very wind turbines that he would not cast a vote to subsidize, even though he supports big subsidies for nuclear power.

Barack Obama did not vote on July 30 either — which is equally inexcusable in my book — but he did vote on three previous occasions in favor of the solar and wind credits.

The fact that Congress has failed eight times to renew them is largely because of a hard core of Republican senators who either don’t want to give Democrats such a victory in an election year or simply don’t believe in renewable energy.

What impact does this have? In the solar industry today there is a rush to finish any project that would be up and running by Dec. 31 — when the credits expire — and most everything beyond that is now on hold. Consider the Solana concentrated solar power plant, 70 miles southwest of Phoenix in McCain’s home state. It is the biggest proposed concentrating solar energy project ever. The farsighted local utility is ready to buy its power.

But because of the Senate’s refusal to extend the solar tax credits, “we cannot get our bank financing,” said Fred Morse, a senior adviser for the American operations of Abengoa Solar, which is building the project. “Without the credits, the numbers don’t work.” Some 2,000 construction jobs are on hold.

Roger Efird is president of Suntech America — a major Chinese-owned solar panel maker that actually wants to build a new factory in America. They’ve been scouting the country for sites, and several governors have been courting them. But Efird told me that when the solar credits failed to pass the Senate, his boss told him: “Don’t set up any more meetings with governors. It makes absolutely no sense to do this if we don’t have stability in the incentive programs.”

One of the biggest canards peddled by Big Oil is that, “Sure, we’ll need wind and solar energy, but it’s just not cost effective yet.” They’ve been saying that for 30 years. What these tax credits are designed to do is to stimulate investments by many players in solar and wind so these technologies can quickly move down the learning curve and become competitive with coal and oil — which is why some people are trying to block them.

As Richard K. Lester, an energy-innovation expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, notes, “The best chance we have — perhaps the only chance” of addressing the combined challenges of energy supply and demand, climate change and energy security “is to accelerate the introduction of new technologies for energy supply and use and deploy them on a very large scale.”

This, he argues, will take more than a Manhattan Project. It will require a fundamental reshaping by government of the prices and regulations and research-and-development budgets that shape the energy market. Without taxing fossil fuels so they become more expensive and giving subsidies to renewable fuels so they become more competitive — and changing regulations so more people and companies have an interest in energy efficiency — we will not get innovation in clean power at the scale we need.

That is what this election should be focusing on. Everything else is just bogus rhetoric designed by cynical candidates who think Americans are so stupid — so bloody stupid — that if you just show them wind turbines in your Olympics ad they’ll actually think you showed up and voted for such renewable power — when you didn’t.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Wind power firm eyes Maine

Saturday, August 09, 2008 - Bangor Daily News


A Boston company that is developing wind turbines capable of operating in deeper waters is eyeing the coast of Maine for a large wind-energy project.

Representatives of Blue H USA have been talking with state leaders about their plans to locate a complex of wind turbines somewhere in the Gulf of Maine.

An exact location has not been selected yet, Blue H officials said, but any site likely would be far enough at sea so that the large turbines would not be visible from land.

"What we’re trying to do is focus in and find an appropriate location in the state of Maine that will have minimal impact on the fisheries and the environment," Raymond Dackerman, general manager for the company, said Thursday.

Maine is rapidly becoming one of the East Coast’s premier destinations for wind energy. To date, all of the projects that have been approved or proposed in Maine are land-based.

But experts estimate more than 100,000 megawatts of potential wind energy is available for tapping in the Gulf of Maine, where the resource blows strong and steady year round. By comparison, all homes and businesses in Maine eat up about 2,200 megawatts of electricity at peak usage on a hot summer day.

The challenge has been developing technology capable of operating in deep waters.

Blue H USA claims to have developed and patented a turbine that is shorter and lighter than most land-based industrial turbines yet produces more power. The turbines sit on a floating platform modeled after technology used with oil and gas drilling platforms.

The two-bladed turbines can be located in 150- to 900-foot-deep water and are connected by chains to an enormous anchor weight. Because the turbines are deployed in deep waters far from shore, they should avoid the type of public relations battles with coastal landowners that has plagued the Cape Wind project near Cape Cod, company officials said.

Blue H has deployed a demonstration turbine in Italian waters and hopes to begin construction on a full-scale, commercial project at the Italian site next year, Dackerman said.

The company also has filed paperwork with the U.S. Minerals Management Service seeking a lease for a similar demonstration project off the coast of Massachusetts. If successful, the Massachusetts project could grow into a 120-turbine facility generating at capacity more than 400 megawatts of electricity.

Preliminary plans for the hypothetical Maine project call for 90 larger turbines capable of cranking out up to 450 megawatts.

"As we move forward in Massachusetts we are similarly moving forward in Maine," said Martin Reilly, a Blue H spokesman.

Blue H officials claim their system is also more cost-efficient because the entire structure — from the turbines and towers to the floating platform and anchor — is assembled on land and then hauled by tugboat to the location.

Dackerman said construction of such massive structures requires highly skilled laborers such as those found in Maine’s shipbuilding industry. He said Blue H is already talking with potential partner companies, including Pittsfield-based Cianbro, which is constructing massive building modules for an oil refinery at its new Brewer facility.

"We feel the skilled labor force here in Maine is very compatible with building our turbines," Dackerman said.

Company officials have met with Gov. John Baldacci, members of Maine’s congressional delegation and other business or government leaders in recent weeks to discuss their plans. On Thursday, Dackerman and Reilly briefed former Gov. Angus King, a partner in a wind-energy development firm.

King’s company, Independence Wind, has focused on building wind-energy projects on land. But King is a strong believer that wind energy’s biggest potential is off the coast of Maine. And while he said Blue H still has research and development to do, King was excited about the prospects.

"This is one of those things where the more I think about it, the more it makes sense to me," King said of offshore wind-energy projects. "There is just a gigantic amount of energy out there and why should we be importing from people who don’t like us when it is right there on our shores?"


Thursday, August 07, 2008

Learning to Speak Climate

NY Times

August 6, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist

Ilulissat, Greenland

Sometimes you just wish you were a photographer. I simply do not have the words to describe the awesome majesty of Greenland’s Kangia Glacier, shedding massive icebergs the size of skyscrapers and slowly pushing them down the Ilulissat Fjord until they crash into the ocean off the west coast of Greenland. There, these natural ice sculptures float and bob around the glassy waters near here. You can sail between them in a fishing boat, listening to these white ice monsters crackle and break, heave and sigh, as if they were noisily protesting their fate.

You are entirely alone here amid the giant icebergs, save for the solitary halibut fisherman who floats by. Our Greenlandic boat skipper sidles up to the tiny fishing craft, where my hosts buy a few halibut right out of his nets, slice open the tender cheeks and cut me the freshest halibut sushi I’ve ever tasted. “Greenland fast food,” quips Kim Kielsen, Greenland’s minister of the environment.

We wash it down with Scotch whiskey cooled by a 5,000-year-old ice cube chipped off one of the floating glacier bits. Some countries have vintage whiskey. Some have vintage wine. Greenland has vintage ice.

Alas, though, I do not work for National Geographic. This is the opinion page. And my trip with Denmark’s minister of climate and energy, Connie Hedegaard, to see the effects of climate change on Greenland’s ice sheet leaves me with a very strong opinion: Our kids are going to be so angry with us one day.

We’ve charged their future on our Visa cards. We’ve added so many greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, for our generation’s growth, that our kids are likely going to spend a good part of their adulthood, maybe all of it, just dealing with the climate implications of our profligacy. And now our leaders are telling them the way out is “offshore drilling” for more climate-changing fossil fuels.

Madness. Sheer madness.

Most people assume that the effects of climate change are going to be felt through another big disaster, like Katrina. Not necessarily, says Minik Thorleif Rosing, a top geologist at Denmark’s National History Museum and one of my traveling companions. “Most people will actually feel climate change delivered to them by the postman,” he explains. It will come in the form of higher water bills, because of increased droughts in some areas; higher energy bills, because the use of fossil fuels becomes prohibitive; and higher insurance and mortgage rates, because of much more violently unpredictable weather.

Remember: climate change means “global weirding,” not just global warming.

Greenland is one of the best places to observe the effects of climate change. Because the world’s biggest island has just 55,000 people and no industry, the condition of its huge ice sheet — as well as its temperature, precipitation and winds — is influenced by the global atmospheric and ocean currents that converge here. Whatever happens in China or Brazil gets felt here. And because Greenlanders live close to nature, they are walking barometers of climate change.

That’s how I learned a new language here: “Climate-Speak.”

It’s easy to learn. There are only three phrases. The first is: “Just a few years ago ...” Just a few years ago you could dogsled in winter from Greenland, across a 40-mile ice bank, to Disko Island. But for the past few years, the rising winter temperatures in Greenland have melted that link. Now Disko is cut off. Put away the dogsled.

There has been a 30 percent increase in the melting of the Greenland ice sheet between 1979 and 2007, and in 2007, the melt was 10 percent bigger than in any previous year, said Konrad Steffen, director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado, which monitors the ice. Greenland is now losing 200 cubic kilometers of ice per year — from melt and ice sliding into the ocean from outlet glaciers along its edges — which far exceeds the volume of all the ice in the European Alps, he added. “Everything is happening faster than anticipated.”

The second phrase is: “I’ve never seen that before...” It rained in December and January in Ilulissat. This is well above the Arctic Circle! It’s not supposed to rain here in winter. Said Steffen: “Twenty years ago, if I had told the people of Ilulissat that it would rain at Christmas 2007, they would have just laughed at me. Today it is a reality.”

The third phrase is: “Well usually ...but now I don’t know anymore.” Traditional climate patterns that Greenland elders have known their whole lives have changed so quickly in some places that “the accumulated experience of older people is not as valuable as before,” said Rosing. The river that was always there is now dry. The glacier that always covered that hill has disappeared. The reindeer that were always there when the hunting season opened on Aug. 1 didn’t show up.

No wonder everyone here speaks climate now — your kids will, too, and sooner than they think.