Barrels of Oil vs. Kilowatt-Hours: Comparing Offshore Wind and Oil

Posted on June 7, 2010. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , , |

For the amount of money BP was going to spend over 25 years on the Deepwater Horizon, 7 million electric cars could be powered with offshore wind turbines. Well not quite, but the author brings up an interesting point. He produces some questionable calculations, and despite overlooking some obvious shortfalls inherent with offshore wind power at this time, his point still stands: for the roughly $12 billion BP was going to spend (now possibly over triple that amount after counting cleanup costs and everything else), billions of kilowatt-hours of power could be produced by offshore wind.

A recently completed German offshore wind project, Alpha Ventus, is a 12-turbine, 60 megawatt (1mW=1000kW) site, that cost $282 million. The author assumed maximum capacity/energy yield, and mislabeled calculations, so to avoid confusion: maximum yearly output of the plant is 525.6 million kilowatt-hours.

Using this as a comparison, and assuming prices stabilize around $200 million (that’s what the project was estimated to cost), 60 of these wind farms could be had for BP’s $12 billion investment. That’s about 31.5 billion kilowatt-hours, which is a lot of power!

Of course nowhere near that figure would make it to the end consumer, but the idea is certainly worth considering. Check out the full article over on

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2010 MD General Assembly Wrapup

Posted on April 15, 2010. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

The 427th MD General Assembly has wrapped for the year.  Several important renewable energy bills were heard (and voted on) this year.

Clean Currents would like to thank those elected officials who remained committed to green issues.  We would also like to offer a “spanks” to those officials who continued to deny the urgency of pressing for greater renewable goals.


Thanks and Spanks for the 2010 Maryland General Assembly Session

The Maryland General Assembly has wrapped up for the year and now the politicians are about to enter full campaign mode. Who was good for clean energy, and deserves a “thanks” from us and who was bad and deserves a “spanks” from us? The number one priority of Clean Currents and the environmental plus solar business community was Governor Martin O’Malley’s solar RPS improvement. Thanks to the hard work of Governor O’Malley and his people at the Maryland Energy Administration, plus our staff here at Clean Currents and hundreds of likeminded supporters, the bill passed. This is a huge accomplishment in an election year session. Big Thanks to Governor O’Malley! The bill increases the value of Solar Renewable Energy Credits and requires more solar installations in the state. This means more money for homeowners and businesses that want to go green with solar panels.

In all, Clean Currents supported nine bills and opposed one as our top priorities for the session. Our record on these bills was pretty good. Of the nine we supported, four passed and will be signed into law, one passed the House but died in the Senate on Sine Die, and four were killed. The one bill we opposed was killed.

The bills that passed include the above-mentioned solar RPS bill (SB 277), as well as a bill to force the utilities to pay consumers for excess green power they generate via net metering (SB 355) and a bill to make it easier to install solar on master metered properties (SB 538).

BIG THANKS These are our big champions for the 2010 session:
Governor O’Malley, Senator Rob Garagiola (Potomac), Delegate Sue Hecht (Frederick)

THANKS These folks were consistent supporters of Clean Currents legislation, rock solid on solar and green energy.
Del. McHale came up with the amendment that saved the Governor’s solar RPS bill in House Economic Matters. Sen. Catherine Pugh (Baltimore) Sen. Kathy Klausemeier (Baltimore) Del. Herman Taylor (Silver Spring) Del. Roger Manno (Silver Spring) Del. Brian McHale (Baltimore)

BIG SPANKS There’s really one “superstar” of the anti-solar, anti-green energy side of the equation: Sen. EJ Pipkin (Eastern Shore)

SPANKS These folks voted against the Solar RPS bill and/or were not supportive of green electricity bills:
Sen. Delores Kelley (Baltimore) Sen. Alan Kittleman (Howard) Sen. Norman Stone (Baltimore County)Sen. Roy Dyson (Southern Md)Del. D Stifler

Finally, I want to give a big thanks to all who wrote letters, emailed, or called about the vital pieces of legislation we supported for a cleaner, greener future.

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Are Americans moving away from cars for good?

Posted on January 7, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

In a really interesting post, Earth Policy Institute reports via Sustainablog that the US car fleet shrunk by 4 million in 2009, the first time since World War II that cars scrapped have exceeded new car sales. This finding is pretty significant, but is it enough to conlcude that, “The U.S. fleet has apparently peaked and started to decline” permenantly?

Auto graveyard

As the Earth Policy Insitute post notes, a major cause of the decline in new car sales is the economic depression, but they identify other trends that are car sales low, at least for the medium term. Among these are:

  • Market saturation
  • Increasing urbanization and trend for younger people to prefer other modes of transportation.
  • Oil price uncertainty leading to fluctuating car prices
  • Increasing concerns about environmental impact of cars and climate change
  • Increased concerns about traffic.

According to Earth Policy Institute, this first reason, market saturation is likely the most signifcant. Currently, there are 5 vehicles for every 4 licensed drivers!

Though cars are a necessity in the strip mall suburbs, 4 out of 5 Americans now reside in cities. And many cities are expanding public transportation and promoting alternatives like biking and walking to work, while at the same time limiting options and increasing costs of parking to discourage drivers and ease congestion.

It also seems that the car is no longer the idolized symbol of teenage freedom that was so central to young adult life in the past. In fact, the post points out,

“Many of today’s young people living in a more urban society learn to live without cars. They socialize on the Internet and on smart phones, not in cars…Despite the largest U.S. teenage population ever, the number of teenagers with licenses, which peaked at 12 million in 1978, is now under 10 million.”

And young-adults, as well as older people, have less disposable income to spend on vehicles in trying economic times.

All these trends lead Earth Policy Insitute to conclude:

“The United States is entering a new era, evolving from a car-dominated transport system to one that is much more diversified.”

Hopefully this is true and the US will follow in the footsteps of Japan, where car ownership peaked in the 1990’s and has since steadily declined, encouraged by public transportation alternatives and urbanization. Will this recession convince Americans that have 5 cars for every 4 drivers may not a fulfilling expression of the American dream? Or will this just be a temporary blip that will be reversed as the economy recovers?

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MD, DE and VA Governors Sign Offshore Wind Agreement

Posted on November 12, 2009. Filed under: Events, News | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Back in September, Maryland announced that it was considering plans for offshore wind development. Now, it seems like the initiative is moving forward in cooperation with its neighbors. Tuesday, the Governors of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia signed a Memorandum of Understanding establishing a partnership for offshore wind development off their coasts.

The Governor’s discussed the benefits of offshore wind from the environmental and economic points of view. Governor O’Malley commented,

“Our states share many common resources and opportunities.  This collaboration will allow us to take full advantage of these opportunities and pool our collective abilities for not only a Smart, Green and Growing Maryland, but a cleaner and more sustainable region as well.”

Governor Kaine of Virginia and Governor Markell emphasized the necesssity to create jobs in these tough economic times and highlighted the potential of offshore wind development to create these opportunities.

The MOU is a step towards harnessing offshore wind power to create sustainable energy supply and green jobs for the three states. The key priorities of the agreement are:

  • Identify common transmission options for offshore wind
  • Develop strategies to encourage market demand for offshore wind power
  • Seek federal resources to develop offshore wind by working together.

Other points of the agreement:

  • Coordinate regional supply chain facilities to secure supply, deployment, and operations and maintenance functions to support offshore wind energy facilities,
  • Work with academic institutions in all three states to build capacity for wind related jobs.
And on a related note (sort of)… here is Governor O’Malley with Clean Currents Solar Business Development Associate, Katherine. The picture is from CCAN’s Climate Leaders Award Ceremony where the Governor recieved the Climate Leadership Award for his support of the Maryland Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act, which passed earlier this year.
Governor O'Malley with Katherine from Clean Currents

Governor O'Malley with Katherine from Clean Currents

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Stimulus Funds Huge West Texas Wind Farm Joint-Venture with Chinese Company

Posted on November 2, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Last week, Green Inc announced a planned 600 MW wind farm to begin construction by 2010 in West Texas. The project is a joint venture involving A-Power Energy Generation Services, a Chinese wind turbine manufacturer; Renewable Energy Group,  a US Investment firm; and the Texas based Cielo Wind Power. With the support of US government stimulus incentives including cash grants and loan guarantees, Chinese banks will finance a large percentage of the $1.5 billion project.

The 240 wind turbines required for the farm will be made in Shenyang, China in the first example of Chinese exporting turbines to the United States. John Lin, CEO of A- Power Energy Generation Systems,

“This wind farm project came about thanks to the openness of the United States for investments in the field of renewable energy”

Interestingly, a follow up from Green Inc. yesterday showed that not everyone in the US is that open to Chinese involvement in this project. Many readers and observers were unhappy to see US stimulus money going to Chinese companies. Though, the project would create 300 construction jobs in the US, only 30 of these would be permanent. And, this pales in comparison to the 2,000 Chinese jobs created by the project.

“Why are U.S. stimulus funds being used to subsidize manufacturing jobs in China?”

Asked a reader that was perplexed by how US government officials could keep making statements about the threat of US losing its competitiveness in the clean energy field to Chinese companies, and at the time is making a huge stimulus investment that seems to benefit these same companies.

According to a recent study by the Investigative Reporting Project at American University School of Communication,

“84 percent of the $1.05 billion in clean-energy grants distributed by the government since Sept. 1 has gone to foreign renewable energy companies — specifically, wind companies”

Russ Choma, an author of the study explains that much of the investment for wind power has gone to European companies, because the American wind energy manufacturing base lags far behind that of Europe.

Several other factors account for the negative reaction to Chinese investment in the West Texas wind project. First, China’s is know for practicing “green protectionism” by enforcing local content provisions on clean technologies to boost domestic production. At a recent US-China summit, the China agreed to lift the restrictions on wind turbines.

Second, China is already dominating the solar industry and exports 95% of its products to the US and Europe, giving US producers a run for their money as they try to compete with the low Chinese solar panel prices.

Finally, China tends to make Americans (or at least a subset of them) nervous. In many industries, Chinese manufacturers are the toughest competitors. And don’t forget about that huge bilateral trade deficit. So the strong reaction to this latest announcement is no surprise.

And there are some difficult questions posed for even the biggest China fans. Should US stimulus money really be spent to create jobs in China? How will the US stay competitive in the future without making significant domestic  investments in new industries like wind turbine manufacturing? Still, US-China cooperation is key to crafting a global climate change treaty and plan, and though it may be a leap of faith, isn’t a joint venture like this a useful way to get the ball rolling?

Here’s a follow up post from Green Inc, with comments from US Renewable Energy Group’s, CEO Cappy McGarr (is that a great name or what?) He argues that the project’s positive impact on US jobs will be much larger than originally outlined.

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Obama’s Clean Energy Speech at MIT

Posted on October 23, 2009. Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , , , |

President Obama spoke to students at MIT today about clean energy development in the United States. The brief speech focused on the importance of research and development of new energy technologies in order for the US to be competitive and play a leading role in the global shift away from petroleum. The President applauded the state of Massachusetts leadership in promoting clean energy and described the development of a new wind turbine at MIT that was made possible due to federal and state investment.

Overall, the speech framed the issue of clean energy development as an imperative, rather than a choice for the US economy- not only for recovering from the recession, but for emerging from the downturn as a leader.

Check out MIT’s alum blog for more about the event and the MIT Energy Initiative to learn about the school’s clean energy research.

Updated 10/27: The New York Times take on the issue. This article features my favorite part of the speech, a great example of Obama’s classically elegant rhetoric:

There is also another myth we must dispel…And it is one far more dangerous than any attack made by those who wish to stand in the way of progress — and that’s the idea that there is little or nothing we can do. That is the pessimistic notion that our politics are too broken and our people too unwilling to make hard choices. Implicit in this argument is the sense that we’ve lost something important — that fighting American spirit, that willingness to tackle hard challenges and the determination to see those challenges to their end.”

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Move Over Health Care, Congress has a New Climate Bill to Pick Apart

Posted on October 6, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , |

Last week, the Senators John Kerry and Barbara Boxer introduced their version of a climate bill called the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act. The title of the 800 + page bill, like the House American Clean Energy and Security Bill, does not use the terms “global warming” or “climate change”. Green Inc points out that this purposeful omission shows how politically contentious the topic of climate change remains and foreshadows continued struggle to reach agreement on a Senate bill.

Here are some of the highlights of this bill from Wonk Room, Grist and the Washington Post:

  • Emissions reductions targets are set at 20% below 2005 levels, which is stronger than the 17% target in the House bill.
  • There are provisions to use revenues from carbon regulation to promote “green transportation” including bike paths
  • The bill allows for EPA regulation of coal plants (as does the house bill) and also includes provision to reward coal plants that switch to producing natural gas as urged by Senators from states with large natural gas reserves (Colorado, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Kansas, New Mexico).
  • In Kerry’s words: This system is tough on corporate pollution, taking aim at America’s largest polluters: those emitting 25,000 tons of carbon each year. The 7,500 facilities covered in 2012—mostly power plants, industrial facilities and petroleum and petrochemical operations—account for nearly three-quarters of America’s carbon emissions. Farmers and nearly all small business are exempt. More than 98 percent of all American businesses fall below the threshold.”
  • Report about the efforts in major polluting countries such as China and India on how they are fairing in their efforts to  cut emissions.

The response to the bill has been mixed.

Some prominent environmentalists are supporting the bills tougher emissions reduction target. Carl Pope, President of the Sierra Club, offered the following statement:

“We are pleased that the Senate bill sets a strong short-term target for carbon pollution reductions and retains E.P.A.’s authority to regulate global warming emissions”

Al Gore also applauded the bill in a statement that was eerily similar to President Obama’s

“I applaud the leadership of Senators Barbara Boxer and John Kerry and their committees’ efforts to advance historic comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation in the U.S. Congress…Today’s Senate action brings our nation one step closer to enacting the policies that will create new jobs and industries by repowering America with clean energy, bring meaningful cuts in global warming pollution, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil… America has the opportunity to lead the international community and enact a truly global response to the climate crisis.”

On the other side of the debate, criticism from the American Petroleum Institute and Senator Inhofe (R-OK) focused on the vagueness of the bill and its lack of attention to nuclear regulatory issues. Frank Maisano argued against the the provision to “tailor” regulations to target polluters of 25,000 tons, in his October 5 Energy Update. He states:

Most experts know it is not practical to regulate major sources of 250 tons or more – as the CAA says – and still be able to function.”

Personally, I think its a sign of progress that Senators Kerry and Boxer have introduced this bill when congress (and the country) is absorbed in the health care debate and the economic crisis. It will be interesting to see how far it gets before Copenhagen in December.

Update: Here is the Union of Concerned Scientists Summary of the Bill

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Positive Signs: Transition to a Greener Economy

Posted on September 14, 2009. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , |

On Friday, Renewable Energy World reported that a plan was in the works to convert a former Ford plant in Michigan into a renewable energy park. According to the article, if the project is approved:

“The Wixom facility will be refurbished and upgraded with new manufacturing lines for solar panels and advanced energy storage. The first part of the facility that is expected to be developed is a solar thin-film manufacturing plant”

This is exciting news for clean energy advocates and a promising indicator that new opportunities in the renewable energy sector will help the economy recover from the recession. The article also mentions that the new plan is expected to create 300 new jobs when it opens in 2011 and add up to 700 more based on demand. 

On a related note, the New York Times reports today on a new study released by Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council finds that if countries shift resources from fossil fuels to alternative forms of energy, the electricity could gain a total of 2.7 million jobs by 2030. 

At least there is something for Van Jones to be happy about this week! 


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