Thursday, April 4, 2013

Stories fit to fight a feed-in frenzy

In honour of the "feed-in tariff forum" finishing up in Toronto today ... a review of recent articles with a special view to renewables, emissions and Germany, from whence the inspiration for Ontario's feed-in tariff (FIT) regime came

Wind-Power Subsidies? No Thanks | The Wall Street Journal has received a lot of recognition (including from Fox)as it is written by wind industry executive Patrick Jenevein:  
Government subsidies to new wind farms have only made the industry less focused on reducing costs. In turn, the industry produces a product that isn't as efficient or cheap as it might be if we focused less on working the political system and more on research and development. After the 2009 subsidy became available, wind farms were increasingly built in less-windy locations, according to the Department of Energy's "2011 Wind Technologies Market Report." The average wind-power project built in 2011 was located in an area with wind conditions 16% worse than those of the average project in 1998-99...
If our communities can't reasonably afford to purchase and rely on the wind power we sell, it is difficult to make the moral case for our businesses, let alone an economic one. Yet as long as these subsidies and tax credits exist, clean-energy executives will likely spend most of their time pursuing advanced legal and accounting methods rather than investing in studies, innovation, new transmission technology and turbine development.
 The perspective is a welcome one, particularly following the analysis I communicated in A(nother) reason to be skeptical about wind energy reducing emissions.

Unfortunately it isn't hard to find those who don't seem to have ever thought about trivial things like selecting locations rich in the wind resource. One prominent blogger, and I gather always aspiring politician, John Hanger has noted, based on the same data, that performance in a set of windy states means "Wind can be a main means of powering whole states!" - pushing for wind in Pennsylvania because it seems to be working in Iowa.  More recently Mr. Hanger points to rates below the national average in windy states being below the national rate as indicative of something about wind - and not the structure of federal subsidies that benefit a small set of windy states (generally less populated states where both senators count on continuing the same pork to maintain their offices), or the remainder of the generation mix in those primarily high-emissions "wind" states, and definitely not noting the wind states have been far below the national average pricing for decades.   Most are in a region lying between West Virginia,Wyoming and North Dakota - all of which not only generate mostly with coal, but all of which export far more of their production than is sold within the state.

Speaking of coal states that are wind states ...
COAL POWER posted an article by it's editor-in-chief Dr. Robert Peltier, PE: Germany’s Expensive Experiment.  The article notes a number of issues in Europe regarding maintaining capacity with adding wind and solar capacity while working towards this finale:
Germany is building new ultrasupercritical coal plants designed to ramp up and down at 30 MW/minute and 500 MW within 15 minutes and shutting down older, less-efficient, and less-nimble plants. In other words, Germany’s new coal fleet is designed to operate in a symbiotic relationship with renewables. In the U.S., the choices are presented as renewables or coal. As in Germany, the better choice is renewables and coal.
Midwest Energy News has a related story, detailing the reasons coal use is expanding in Europe - along with emissions: Coal makes a comeback in Europe as conventional gas dries up

For Europe to remain in the game, energy taxes must be held in check and no new taxes levied, said the European Union’s energy commissioner, Gunther Oettinger.
Instead, Europe must use its energy more efficiently and the European Union’s 27 member countries should open their energy markets to cross-border competition, Oettinger said at a news conference last week in Brussels.
With its conventional gas fields nearly depleted and gas prices four times higher than in the United States, Europe would like to develop a thriving shale gas industry, but that seems unlikely in the near term.
“We do not have that many North Dakotas in Europe. We do not have those deserted areas where you can drill and no one is being asked or complaining,” said Connie Hedegaard, the European Union’s commissioner for climate action.
European drillers also face greater geological challenges, more stringent environmental regulations and stronger public skepticism of hydraulic fracturing.
“We will not see prices in Europe for shale gas come down to the level in the U.S.,” she said.
This article concludes
 “Coal has become a new and economically interesting input for power production in the E.U.,” says the paper. “The lifetime of power plants that were expected to close is now being extended, and as such the risk related to carbon lock-in for new fossil fuel developments increases.”In Britain alone, the use of gas in power stations dropped 31 percent and the use of coal rose by the same amount from 2011 to 2012, driving a 4.5 percent increase in carbon emissions, according to figures released last week by the U.K. Department of Climate and Energy.
 The U.K. isn't the only country cited for increased emissions.  Germany's greenhouse gas emissions are reported to have risen 1.6% in 2012.
CO2 isn't the only emission of concern in recent news.

Power Magazine reported that:
"The European Commission is reportedly considering initiating infringement proceedings against the countries for exceeding emissions limits for nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, and ammonia."
Germany was the only member state to have exceeded emission ceilings for three of the four pollutants covered under the directive both in 2010 and 2011, the EEA said.
Those "other" emissions were part of the formula that led James Hanson and Pushker Kharecha to conclude, in the study I noted in my previous post, that 1.84 million lives have been "saved by the worldwide use of nuclear power instead of fossil fuels." 

More specific to Ontario is a recent study from Donald Dewees, of the University of Toronto, titled "The Economics of Renewable Electricity Policy in Ontario."  The study also reviews health costs, but still concludes:

Wind power justifies prices of $60 to $95/MWh, well below the 2012 Ontario FIT price of $115. Wind can be justified only by the most pessimistic view of health harm and very high expected gas prices or a value of greenhouse gases exceeding $100/tonne.
Solar power justifies prices of $117 to $152/MWh, which is more than wind because solar power is concentrated in the daytime when demand and spot prices are higher. Still, these values are a fraction of the 2012 Ontario FIT prices of $347 to $549/MWh
I do not agree with some aspect of the Dewees study.  In nuclear heavy Ontario it is intended, by many proponents of renewables, that they will displace nuclear, and therefore could up emissions and health care costs (re: Hanson/Kharecha study) ... I say could because there are SCR's and scrubbers that do greatly reduce many of the non-CO2 emissions these studies are referencing.

The final topic, which is emphasized by the Dewees study, is increasing worries about escalating electricity costs driving out industry.

In the U.K. worries that a more thorough accounting of the costs of government decisions will result in "Uncompetitive energy prices and poor energy security will drive energy intensive manufacturing off shore."
In Germany, "German EU Energy Commissionar, Günther Oettinger... warned that Germany might lose its competitiveness given its hesitant stance towards energy issues such as fracking, geothermal energy and the CCS technology. He welcomed the recent debate about a limitation of the electricity prices."

Related: Killing Time: Ontario's Feed In Tariff ... original content at morecoldair

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