July 21, 2010 - balancing wind into the grid; underperforming community wind turbine; China's Three Gorges Dam flooding

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

License plate seen in Maine:
From Energy Policy Update

How much wind can we really integrate into today's power grid? An interesting article in the Oregonian highlights the challenges. Take, for example, what happened on May 19, when the wind shifted and Bonneville Power Authority grid operators had to make room on the wires for 1000 turbines' worth of wind (nearly 2000 MW). This is a lot of power: more power than the BPA control area needs, more than the amount of hydro production that could be ramped down, and more than BPA could export to neighboring control areas. So what did BPA do? It told wind generators to feather their blades and cut their production -- a less than ideal solution.

In a parallel scenario, Venezuela is undergoing rolling blackouts. Venezuela relies on hydroelectricity for 70% of its power, and a long-lasting drought has crippled power production. Critics also point to chronic mismanagement and underinvestment by the nationalized companies that operate the power grid.

The City of Saco, Maine, is in a bit of a pickle over its community wind project. Back in 2007, Saco bought the turbine and tower for $207,000 from Entegrity Wind Systems. (As mentioned in an earlier blog post, Kittery also bought a turbine from Entegrity. It did better than Saco's, but Kittery's turbine underperformed as well.) At the time, community-scale wind was all the rage. The Maine Legislature had directed the Maine Public Utilities Commission to organize a stakeholder process to evaluate the state's opportunities for community wind. Although this process ultimately resulted in a report concluding that community wind was not generally economic under current conditions, many people and communities decided to pursue small- and medium-scale renewable project for their civic, educational and environmental values.

When Saco bought the turbine, Entegrity told Saco that the unit would generate 90,000 kilowatt-hours annually (about $12,600 worth of electricity) for 10 years. The unit came online in February 2008. It never performed as well as Entegrity had represented. At some point, former Entegrity head James Heath offered to buy the turbine back for $130,000. Then the turbine broke. In the meantime, Entegrity Wind Systems went bankrupt. The City was left holding the underperforming turbine.

Now, the Saco City Council is considering its options. Repair the turbine? Sell the turbine? Negotiate with James Heath? Litigation?

In other news: China's Three Gorges Dam is facing record flooding, comparable to the 1988 floods that killed over 4000 people. The dam had been touted as offering protection against floods. So far the dam is holding, but the massive reservoir is within 20 meters of full. More water is on its way.

A new report by the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Development Foundation suggests that Maine businesses' most critical challenges come from health insurance costs, energy, taxes, regulations and transportation, in that order. A Lewiston Sun Journal editorial calls for an end to "destructive regulatory practices" that drive money, businesses and people out of Maine.

WCSH 6 reports on the plans of Ocean Energy Institute founder Matt Simmons to transform Maine into the "Silicon Valley of ocean energy". The Ocean Energy Institute has previously expressed interest in exploring links between offshore wind and ammonia production for energy storage.

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