Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Learn about the USDA's REAP and RUS Electric Loan programs!

I am excited to tell you that the USDA offers two primary programs for renewable energy projects – REAP and the RUS Electric Loan Program.  The former is for smaller scale endeavors such as a single wind turbine and the latter is for large scale projects like a wind farm.  Both of these programs are available for use in all of the Great Lake states.  REAP stands for the Rural Energy for America Program and your local state office will accept applications all-year-round.  At this time funding is only announced once per year.  REAP applications may consist of a grant request for up to 25% of total project costs, a loan guarantee, or a combination of the two.  The RUS Electric Loan Program offers much larger loans, $10MM and up, with a low interest rate tied to the Treasury rate.  Small, rural businesses and agricultural producers qualify to use REAP while any entity that provides electric service to rural consumers is eligible to apply for the Electric Loan Program.  Applications for that program are accepted by the national, Rural Development office in Washington, DC.

I very much enjoy being a part of REAP in the Columbus, Ohio state office.  Here in Ohio we have seen many small businesses and agricultural producers benefit from REAP.  In one case we were able to fund a 100kW wind turbine on a dairy farm.  The applicant was able to secure a REAP grant in the amount of $137,500 covering 25% of his total project costs.  The dairy farm had an annual electric usage of 128,228 kWh.  The new wind turbine now produces over 134,000 kWh annually.  The grantee has successfully replaced all of their electric power with a renewable energy source.  These projects are exciting because they save the grantee money over decades of use and they help the environment.

Currently Ohio has not completed a RUS Electric Loan program project; though a large scale solar undertaking is in the works.  In other states, large wind projects have been quite fruitful.  As an example, in the state of North Dakota, an electric cooperative used a RUS Electric Loan in the amount of $204MM to install 115.5MW of wind power.  These large scale renewable energy ventures help to greatly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. 

I hope to see both of these USDA programs used for wind and other renewable energy projects in the Great Lakes region.  If you would like any more information on these programs, please contact me!

Christie Hooks, USDA
(614) 255-2397

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Socioeconomic indicators of support/opposition and willingness to pay for offshore wind development in the Great Lakes

In 2009 Scandia, a Norwegian offshore wind developer, proposed a utility-scale offshore wind (OSW) farm near Ludington and Pentwater, Michigan. The project never reached fruition and was rejected – vehemently – by the nearby communities. Meanwhile, a non-profit group in Evanston, Illinois, has been considering the idea of offshore wind development but remains hesitant to launch official development support given how this proposal unfolded.

So, what socioeconomic factors were, and are currently, indicative of support or opposition for offshore wind development in these two areas? For my master’s research at the University of Michigan, I and three other researchers aimed to answer this question in these two regions: 1) Evanston, Rogers Park, and Wilmette, Illinois and 2) Mason and Oceana Counties, Michigan. In the main part of the survey, participants were presented with:

1) Industry developed simulations of a 400 megawatt (MW) OSW farm three (3), six (6), and ten (10) miles from each region’s respective shoreline; and

Caption: Simulated 400 MW Offshore Wind Farm near Pentwater, MI (3 miles)

2) One positive or negative price impact on their monthly electricity rates.

Respondents where then asked to vote ‘for’ or ‘against’ each combination of price impact and offshore wind farm distance.

While some results were surprising, others followed the cutting-edge, published literature out of the University of Delaware -- the leading U.S. institution that focuses on public perceptions related to offshore wind development around the Delaware and Cape Wind projects.  Here’s what we found:
  • Initial (probit) results suggest the variables for monthly increase/decrease in utility bill price, offshore wind farm siting distance, and liberal political ideology are statistically significant in determining the probability of support for the proposed offshore wind farm.
  • Mean willingness to pay (WTP) calculations suggest local communities would incur a social cost from siting a wind farm 3 and 6 miles offshore but a social benefit if it were setback 10 miles for the average respondent.
  • We also found notable uncertainty among respondents regarding not only their current support for offshore wind development but also in their perception of type and extent of its subsequent impacts.

Overall, these findings demonstrate a critical need for education on this technology’s likely environmental, social, and economic impacts; moreover, they suggest that at some point past 6 miles from the shoreline, some people are willing to pay more on their electricity bill and support building an offshore wind farm.

We are currently compiling these findings and expect to publish them in two peer-reviewed journals later this year. Please do not hesitate to contact me (lknapp@glc.org) if you’re interested in learning more about this study or would like to be notified once the results are published.

Lauren Knapp
Great Lakes Wind Collaborative

Monday, July 1, 2013

Wind Energy in the Great Lakes Region and Jobs

The Great Lakes region has a tremendous opportunity to install both onshore and offshore wind energy.  In my home state of Illinois, we have 3,334.91 MW of installed capacity in projects that are larger than 50MW with another 3,000 MW already permitted.  This ranks Illinois as the fourth largest wind state in the nation.  Minnesota ranks seventh and Indiana ranks 13th.  Michigan added 611 MW in 2012 putting it in the state leaders for new capacity additions.

The primary benefit of these new wind farms are the renewable energy that they produce while benefiting the environment relative to other forms of electricity generation.  But there is a secondary economic development aspect to these wind farms.  According to an analysis done by the Center for Renewable Energy at Illinois State University, the 23 largest wind farms in Illinois (3,334.91 MW) supported:

  • Approximately 19,047 full-time equivalent jobs during construction periods with a total payroll of over $1.1 billion
  • Approximately 814 permanent jobs in rural Illinois areas with a total annual payroll of nearly $48 million
  • Local economies by generating $28.5 million in annual property taxes
  • $13 million annually in extra income for Illinois landowners who lease their land to the wind farm developer
  • Will generate a total economic benefit of $5.98 billion over the life of the projects
(see http://renewableenergy.illinoisstate.edu/downloads/publications/2012EconomicImpactReportForWeb.pdf for more details)

Similarly, offshore wind in the Great Lakes has great potential to support jobs and economic development in the region.  According to a recent analysis that I did for the Great Lakes Wind Collaborative, cumulative installed capacity additions by 2030 of offshore wind in the Great Lakes of 1,000 MW, 2,000 MW, or 5,000 MW could support approximately 12,500 construction jobs, 31,000 construction jobs, and 122,000 construction jobs respectively.  In addition, these scenarios would support 750-3,900 ongoing jobs during operations.

If you would like to help bring more wind energy and more jobs to the Great Lake Region, consider joining the Transmission and Economic Development Workgroup.  I am the Chair of the workgroup and I am interested in hearing your ideas of what we can do together.

David Loomis
Professor of Economics, Illinois State University
Director, Center for Renewable Energy

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

WINDPOWER 2013 conference in Chicago: Stirrings of optimism

At last week's gathering of nearly 10,000 wind energy professionals for the WINDPOWER 2013 Conference & Exhibition in Chicago, there were signs of optimism, with most industry participants expecting a drop in new wind farm installations this year, but a solid recovery in 2014.
The outlook follows a very late extension (January 1) of the federal wind energy production tax credit (PTC), the wind industry's primary incentive. Congress allowed the incentive to expire December 31, 2012, before renewing it the next day. The impact? A record year in 2012, with wind installing 42 percent of new U.S. generating capacity as developers rushed to meet the deadline, but severe whiplash for wind turbine component suppliers, who saw a crash in lead orders for 2013. Now the industry is on the mend, with utilities again placing orders for new wind generation because of its ability to offer low-cost electricity at long-term fixed rates.

The U.S. wind industry's annual gathering featured: induction of new leadership for the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), a packed schedule of educational sessions and a dynamic exhibition with hundreds of booths covering a total area equal to 11 football fields.

Some highlights from WINDPOWER 2013:

- At the opening general session on Monday, incoming AWEA Board Chair Gabriel Alonso, of EDP Renewables, outlined his vision of a strategy for the industry to achieve the stability and sustainability it needs. First, he said, AWEA must be strengthened so it can better advocate, provide essential data for members’ success, develop standards, powerfully convey wind power’s compelling message, and do more for the industry. Second, the industry must strengthen its brand against competitors and unify its message in order for America to truly understand how wind power is good for the nation. Third, the industry must develop a long-term plan and strategy that includes clear near-term and mid-term action steps. Fourth, members of the industry must become united by tapping the power of AWEA, its regional partners, and other vehicles to speak for wind power with one voice.

Finally: “We need you,” Alonso said. The number of people speaking to their government representatives, whether in Washington, D.C., or in their communities, must grow manyfold, he said. If 100 people today are participating in trips to the nation’s capital to visit with their representatives, that number must become 1,000. “You are powerful,” said Alonso. “You have a message that matters.”

- Incoming AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan was officially introduced to his new industry, and his introduction proved more substantial than a simple hello. Previously president of the National Parks Conservation Association since 1998, and a senior official at the Environmental Protection Agency under President George H.W. Bush, he said his passion for wind energy is personal: “Wind power is clean, affordable, and homegrown. The country needs us to succeed. The natural world needs us to succeed. And frankly, my children and your children need us to succeed.”

- At another session Monday afternoon, high-level representatives of AWEA, the National Wildlife Federation, the American Wind Wildlife Institute, and the National Audubon Society joined Jose Zayas, director of the Wind and Water Power Technologies Office at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), to launch discussion of a new vision for the wind energy's future. Zayas said DOE’s new effort will succeed the “20 Percent by 2030” technical report produced by DOE in 2008, and will take into account changes in wind technology, energy markets, and competing forms of energy in the intervening years. "My job," Zayas said, "is to make sure wind energy is at the table and has a key part to play in the energy mix of the future." The process for developing the new strategy, he said, will be a collaborative one much like that employed in developing the 20 Percent report, in which environmental groups, utilities, energy experts and others will be brought together to look at the potential for wind energy in 2020, 2030, and 2050. He said DOE’s goal is to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Panelists underscored the urgency of addressing climate change with clean energy. Larry Schweiger, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said 70 percent of the species on Earth are at stake. “We desperately need to move quickly,” he said, using the best available science to minimize impacts on wildlife.

- Another key session featured major corporate purchasers of wind and other renewable energy--Bloomberg, medical technology company BD, Motorola Mobility, Google, and Walmart--sharing their firsthand experiences. Lee Balin, Sustainability Manager for Bloomberg's Global Sustainability Group, reported that his company has saved $48 million since 2008, thanks to its renewable energy purchases and efficiency programs.  For Walmart, energy is its second greatest controllable expense, said Greg Pool, Senior Manager for Renewable Energy and Emissions. Saving on renewable energy, therefore, helps the company's bottom line as well as helping the company in its goal to be a good global citizen, and fostering clean air in communities where it operates—which in itself has economic benefits for the company, he noted. Walmart has set the bold goal of running on 100 percent renewable energy worldwide. Pool said the world's largest retailer is ready to discuss possible power contracts directly with wind project owners: "Walmart is open for business to do wind deals." He said the industry should look beyond utilities to diversify its customer base.

As the conference closed on Wednesday, attendees and exhibitors started wrapping up business and heading home—ready to capitalize on the business opportunity presented by the PTC extension in the near term, and help make the case for long-term policy stability in the future.

Tom Gray

Monday, April 15, 2013

Lake St. Clair: Ducks on the Horizon

Beginning in the autumn of 2012 the Great Lakes Commission began a collaborative project to document bird distribution in the offshore waters of the Great Lakes.  One of the ultimate goals of this project was to use the bird distribution data collected to help inform wind energy developers about important bird areas and consequently help mitigate the negative impacts of wind farms on birds that use the open waters of the Great Lakes.  Data is collected for this project via aerial surveys, and I am part of a team of observers that makes weekly flights over Lake St. Clair, the Detroit River, and western Lake Erie recording and mapping bird locations.
Lake St. Clair lies between lakes Huron and Erie connecting to the two through the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers, and even though it measures close to 24 mile across at its widest point it’s rarely included as a member of the Great Lakes.  Despite its small stature in comparison to Superior or even Erie, Lake St. Clair is an incredibly productive fishery and one of the most important migration staging areas for ducks, geese, and swans in North America.  Because Lake St. Clair encompasses over 400 square miles of open water but rarely exceeds 20 feet in depth the entire lake is capable of supporting aquatic plants that provide the habitat and food resources necessary to support strong populations of smallmouth bass, walleye, and muskie and hundreds of thousands of waterfowl every fall and spring.
Picture taken during our winter aerial survey work over Lake St. Clair that contains over 1700 canvasbacks.
On any given survey it’s not unusual for us to see a host of different bird species including bald eagles, northern harriers, common loons, tundra swans, coot, and any number of different dabbling duck species; however, if one is looking for a headliner, diving ducks certainly steal the show.  Canvasback, scaup, and redheads are all members of a guild of ducks collectively referred to as diving ducks because they often feed by diving underwater to eat aquatic plants or small invertebrates and all three species stage in staggering numbers on Lake St. Clair during October and November.  Our peak estimates of all diving ducks on Lake St. Clair and western Lake Erie have exceeded over a half a million ducks during peak fall migration!  To put this in perspective, on one particular survey we counted 262,200 canvasbacks.  The entire population of canvasbacks as estimated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the spring of 2012 was 759,900 meaning that approximately 36% of the entire population of canvasbacks was on Lake St. Clair on that one, single day.  Furthermore, we have encountered a flock of diving ducks that covered approximately 12 square miles of water and through a series of photos we estimated that group to contain at least 350,000 ducks.

Picture taken during our winter aerial survey work on Lake St. Clair that includes canvasbacks, scaup, and redheads.  Notice the muddy water that is likely an indication these birds were feeding prior to being alerted to the presence of the airplane.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Lake St. Clair isn’t just that it supports booming fish populations and hundreds of thousands of birds, but that it does all this while at the same time being in millions of people’s backyards seeing as it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump from Detroit, Michigan.  This proximity to people is a bit of double edged sword because Lake St. Clair offers a tremendous number of folks an opportunity to hunt, fish, and appreciate Michigan’s natural resources, but ultimately it’s this proximity to such a heavily altered and developed landscape that causes a multitude of problems for the lake.  Negative impacts from invasive species, decreased water quality, and shoreline development can all be observed on Lake St. Clair, and although wind energy is largely perceived as green energy, without careful planning offshore wind turbines could have significant impacts on waterfowl and other waterbirds.  Although most research suggests mortality caused by collisions between waterfowl and wind turbines is minimal, it is likely large wind farms will exclude ducks from using large portions of the lake as they tend to give these turbines a wide berth.  This being said, it will be critical for wind energy developers to avoid areas of the lake that are important feeding and loafing areas for the birds and corridors that help connect these areas if Lake St. Clair is to continue as an area of continental significance to waterfowl.  The thought of depriving my child or your child of the opportunity to see 10,000 canvasbacks fill the western sky as they arrive on Lake St. Clair fresh off their travels from the windswept prairies of Canada is not a thought I am comfortable with.

Canvasbacks and scaup in flight observed during our second survey of this spring over Lake St. Clair.

Special thanks to my fellow observers Howie Singer, Ryan Boyer, and Dave Luukkonen as well as Northwoods Aviation’s Derek DeRuiter.  Without these people none of this work would have been possible.

Brendan Shirkey
Research Assistant
Michigan State University