Was Vermont’s Lowell Mountain Wind Turbine Facility A Good Idea?

by Willem Post

The Green Mountain Power-proposed 63 MW Lowell Mountain wind turbine facility with (21) 3 MW Danish wind turbines, 300-ft rotor diameter, 267-ft hub height, total height 433 ft, stretched along about 4 miles of ridge lines has nothing to do with community-scale wind, everything with industrial, utility-scale wind. GMP is using blatantly deceptive PR to soft-soap/deceive Vermonters.

Gaz Metro of Quebec, Canada, owns GMP. It recently accquired Central Vermont Public Service Corporation. It now controls at least 70% of Vermont’s electrical energy market.

The capital cost of the wind turbine facility would be at least 63 MW x $2,500,000/MW = $157.5 million, excluding grid modifications. The $2,500,000/MW is from recently-built, ridge line wind turbine facilities in Maine. The facility has about a 20 – 25 year useful service life. http://www.coalitionforenergysolutions.org/maine_wind_farms.pdf

The reality is the Lowell Mountain wind turbine facility would be a capital intensive, highly-visual, noisy facility that is proposed to be built on environmentally-sensitive ridge lines. The wind turbines would be about 433 feet tall, equal to a 40-story building, with noise-making rotors. People living within about a mile would be disturbed by an irregular din of whoosh-type sounds, especially during nighttime.

Wind Energy Dispatch Value

As wind speeds are highly variable and wind energy is proportional to the cube of the wind speed, a doubling of windspeed causes an 8-fold increase in highly-variable wind energy. As a result, wind energy consists of irregularly-spaced, sporadic spurts varying in amplitude and duration.

Balancing plants consisting of quick-ramping gas turbines would need to ramp down and up at a percent of rated output to offset the ups and downs of wind energy fed into the grid. That mode of operation is very inefficient for gas turbines resulting in significantly increased fuel consumption and increased Btus/kWh and CO2 emissions/kWh.

Grids with a significant capacity of utility-owned, quick-ramping plants may have sufficient spare balancing capacity to accommodate up to about 1 to 2 percent of wind energy penetration. In New England, currently with about 0.5% penetration, the presence of wind energy on the grid is not yet “noticeable”, according to ISO-NE personnel. The main reason it is not noticeable is because of a lack of proper measuring and recording of power plant operating data. As wind energy penetration becomes larger, say 1%, wind energy variations WILL become noticeable, especially during unstable weather.

About 10 – 15 percent of the year, wind speeds are too low (less than 7.8 mph) to produce any wind energy. Most of a year’s wind energy production is at night during the winter. Accordingly, wind energy has near-zero dispatch value to grid operators, such as ISO-NE.

Wind Energy Accommodation Fees

The Lowell Mountain wind facility will add extra owning and O&M costs to New England’s rate payers. These costs are due to:

– Increased use of the spare quick-ramping gas-fired balancing capacity of the grid.*

– Expanded transmission and distribution systems

– Expanded weather prediction systems

– Increased frequency regulation

– Additional ISO-NE grid management efforts

These extra owning and O&M costs would be significant. What percentage of those costs would be charged as wind energy accommodation fees to GMP? Will GMP get a free pass?

Note: Currently, the Bonneville Power Authority, BPA, charges about $5.7/MWh, or $0.0057/kWh, for balancing its hydro plants to accommodate wind energy. Hydro-Quebec would likely charge a similar fee. http://www.lawofrenewableenergy.com/2009/07/articles/bpa-issues-decision

* Adding more wind turbines to the New England grid would not only deplete this spare balancing capacity, but require the addition of new capacity. Who will pay for this?

Wind Energy and Proposed Transmission Corridors 

Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador are interested to transmit their excess electrical energy via high voltage lines to population centers in southern New England which would require new, HVDC transmission corridors.

Future wind turbines would likely be located in areas with the best winds, such as on some of the ridge lines of the north-south spine of Vermont, northern New Hampshire and western Maine; the latter two areas have greater average wind speeds than Vermont.

If the wind turbines are connected to the new transmission corridors, the hydro plants of Hydro-Quebec could perform the wind energy balancing function for a fee, similar to the fee of BPA.

However, the fee could be invisibly rolled into any power purchase agreement to avoid burdening the wind turbine facility owners with any wind energy accommodation fees. Another example of politicians:

– helping to make the economics of wind energy even better for wind turbine facility owners.

– providing another wind energy subsidy as part of doing “constituent service”.

Example of Opposition to Transmission Corridors: The Northern Pass HVDC Transmission Line, capacity about 1,200 MW, is planned to be built from Windsor, Quebec, to Deerfield, New Hampshire. It would run partly in an existing right-of-way adjacent to an existing HVDC line in northern New Hampshire and would run for 16 miles via a new right-of-way through the White Mountain National Forest in New Hamshire. There would be about 1,000, highly-visible towers, each 80 to 135 feet high, looming over the landscape. The estimated cost would be about $1.1 billion.

Public opposition to this project has been fierce. Imagine what the opposition would be to $19 to $25 billion of new, highly, visible transmission lines to accommodate 20% wind energy penetration and the necessary balancing energy to existing grids, as envisioned by the New England Wind Integration Study by GE Wind Division.

Renewables aficionados, legislators, renewables vendors, project developers, financiers and others clamoring for wind energy appear to have no idea regarding the costs and the impacts on the quality of life (noise, visual and psychological), property values and the environment due to reorganizing the New England electric grid towards accommodating wind energy and balancing energy in a such major way.

Wind Energy and CO2 Emissions Reduction

The Lowell Mountain wind turbine facility has little to do with reducing CO2 emissions. Most of the CO2 emissions that the wind energy was meant to reduce is offset by the increased CO2 emissions/kWh due to the inefficient operation of the gas-fired balancing facilities, as shown by this study.

http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/57905/wind-power-and-co2-emissions 

Wind Energy and Circumventing Environment and Quality of Life Regulations

State legislatures and state government agencies are pressured to pave the regulatory ways to essentially circumvent state environmental and quality of life laws. Pro-forma hearings, usually required by law, are held to create a semblance of democratic process but effectively are rubber-stamp approvals of pre-ordained decisions.

The Lowell Mountain wind turbine facility received a Certificate of “Public Good” from the Vermont Public Service Board, a mostly political entity, despite widespread public opposition regarding adverse impacts on quality on life (noise, visual, psychological), property values and the environment. http://vtdigger.org/2011/07/06/lowell-wind/

To soften-up the opposition in the Town of Lowell, GMP would donate more than $500,000/yr to the Town of Lowell for “hosting” the Lowell Mountain wind turbine facility. Whereas the surrounding towns would also have adverse impacts on quality of life (noise, visual, psychological), property values and the environment, they would get nothing.

Will the Town of Lowell declare the 5-mile long facility access road a town road and provide for free the costly road maintenance and snow plowing at an elevation of more than 2,000 ft? Would that not adversely affect town equipment?

 

http://www.bartonchronicle.com/index.php/wind-power-lowell-mountain/in-lowell-which-way-is-the-wind-blowing.html

 

State representatives from surrounding towns, opposed to the Lowell Mountain wind turbine facility, urged members of the Vermont Electric Cooperative to vote against increasing the transmission line capacity that would primarily serve the wind turbine facility.

 

The new transmission line would be another freebie for wind turbine facility owners at the expense of VEC members who would also:

– get to pay higher rates because of the expensive wind energy being rolled into the VEC cost basis.

– have adverse impacts on quality on life (noise, visual, psychological), property values and the environment.

http://vtdigger.org/2011/07/07/lawmakers-urge-defeat-of-power-line-upgrade-linked-to-lowell-wind-project/

http://vtdigger.org/2011/06/15/green-mountain-power-requests-modifications-to-lowell-permit-conditions/

Note: Because of adverse impacts on quality on life (noise, visual, psychological), property values and the environment, the goverments of Denmark and the Netherlands, after years of increasing public protests against wind turbine facilities, have finally stopped construction of onshore wind turbines.

http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/51642/dutch-renewables-about-face-towards-nuclear

The Lowell Mountain wind turbine facility job creation is largely a mirage; the wind turbines are supplied by Denmark. The facility would temporarily employ a number of people during the construction phase for about a year. During the next 20 years, just a few people would be permanently employed to perform operations and maintenance. An enormous waste of capital to create just a few permanent jobs, as shown by this Vermont Department of Public Service study.http://publicservice.vermont.gov/planning/DPS%20White%20Paper%20Feed%20i…

Wind Energy and Tax Shelters

The federal government and state legislatures are pressured to provide increasingly greater subsidies to politically well-connected renewables vendors, developers, financial entities (such as Goldman Sachs on Wall Street) and their high-income clients who use them for tax shelters.

Over the past 10 years, the subsidies for wind turbine facility owners have become so excessive that facilities are built in marginal wind areas, as on most Vermont ridge lines, or before facilities are built to transmit the wind energy to population centers, as in the Texas Panhandle, just to cash in on the lucrative subsidies.

The Lowell Mountain wind turbine facility would not be built if there were no subsidies equivalent to at least 50% of the capital cost. Without subsidies, the wind energy produced would be at least $0.15/kWh delivered to the grid, significantly higher than New England average grid prices of about $0.055/kWh.

The Lowell Mountain wind turbine facility has everything to do with grabbing as much federal subsidies as possible and “coursing” them through Vermont’s economy for the short-term benefit of the well-connected few (including high-income, non-Vermonters looking for tax shelters and foreign companies supplying wind turbines), and at the long-term economic expense (higher electric rates and adverse impacts) of the many.

Wind Energy and Subsidies; a partial list

– Federal grant for 30% of the total project cost which also applies to Spanish, Danish, German and Chinese wind turbines thus creating jobs in those nations instead of the US. These nations would not dream to have such a measure benefitting US wind turbine companies.

– Federal accelerated depreciation allowing the entire project to be written off in five years which is particularly beneficial to wealthy, high-income people looking for additional tax shelters.

– Federal production credit of $0.022/kWh of wind energy produced.

– Owners of wind turbine facilities receive Renewable Energy Certificates which they can sell on the open market. The RECs are subsequently bought by polluting companies that find it less expensive to buy the RECs than clean up their pollution.

A More Effective Alternative to Wind Energy

For the same capital cost a new 60% efficient combined cycle gas turbine facility, operated at rated output, in base-loaded mode, would produce about ($157.6 million/$1,250,000/MW) x 1 GW/1000 MW x 8,760 hr/yr x CF 0.90 = 993.4 GWh/yr, or about 16.5% of Vermont’s 6,000 GWh/yr consumption, more than 5 times as much electrical energy per invested dollar. The facility would have a 35 -40 year useful service life.

The levelized energy cost for advanced 60% efficient CCGT would be about $0.0631/kWh, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

http://www.energytransition.msu.edu/documents/ipu_eia_electricity_generation_estimates_2011.pdf

Some of the advantages of a gas-fired CCGT facility are:

– No grid modifications would be required

– No inefficient operation of gas-fired wind energy balancing facilities would be require

– Impacts on quality of life (noise, visual, psychological), property values and the environment would be minimal

– The facility would take up only a few acres

– The electrical energy would be low-cost, steady 24/7/365, reliable and dispatchable

– Low CO2 emissions/kWh; about 1/3 the CO2 emissions/kWh of coal plants

– No particulate emissions

About Willem PostWillem Post BSME New Jersey Institute of Technology, MSME Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, MBA, University of Connecticut. P.E. Connecticut. Consulting Engineer and Project Manager. Performed feasibility studies, wrote master plans, and evaluated designs for air pollution control systems, power plants, and integrated energy systems for campus-style building complexes. Currently specializing in energy efficiency in buildings.

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