Leaving Money On the Table, Polluting For No Reason, the Case For Storing Energy

Dec 22, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Our systems for creating, conveying and using energy are full of nooks, crannies, odd corners and unexpected cul-de-sacs. The wholesale electricity system that includes large generators and the wires and associated hardware that moves power to the local distribution system where energy is transmitted to homes, offices, factories, streetlights and your cell phone charger is a great example of this reality.  However, the regulatory system we have developed over the last 15 years means that much of the information about that system is available online with some notable exceptions like specific maps, apparently on the theory that terrorists would have trouble finding massive power plants and giant transmission towers if they only had Google Earth and their eyes to guide them.

One such odd corner is the fact that the wholesale electricity system sometimes runs into problems during periods when electrical demand gets very low.  These moments, which tend to happen at night when there are very moderate spring or fall temperatures and our air conditioners and heaters are idle and the majority of the population is asleep with their lights off.  As explained by the New England System Operator in a newsletter article these moments are known as Minimum Generation Emergencies.

As an electricity system approaches this kind of condition it becomes hard to maintain the frequency of the power, an obscure but important function of a grid operator.  The operator will begin to order the shut down of power plants but some plants (like many coal fired power plants) simply can not switch off on a moments notice and others (like nuclear power plants) are pretty much always allowed to run.  In this kind of situation wind turbines are “curtailed” (turned off).

None of this makes anyone happy.  Wind facilities that could be generating electricity with no effort are being curtailed.  Some powerplants continue to operate, generating pollution from smokestacks and creating dangerous waste products for even less good reason than usual and in fact some power plants are given special payments to turn themselves down or off. And it happens more than you might think, this morning (December 22, 2012) we approached this condition reports the New England Independent System Operator (ISO-NE), triggering the first steps and measures taken to deal with this kind of condition.

As described in the recent ISO-NE wind integration study (previously discussed on this blog) we do not need to deploy new technologies to store electricity any time in the near future as we ramp up our use of naturally variable energy resources like wind and solar.  However, the fact that (even today) these kind of minimum generation emergencies can happen illustrates the value that storage can have.  Energy storage, whether it is in the form of batteries, heat or mechanical energy in a flywheel, can help to create a resilient and flexible system that efficiently meets our needs will minimizes the pollution we put out into the environment.

Wind Power as a Neighbor: Experience with Techniques for Mitigating Public Impacts

Nov 29, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

We wanted to draw your attention to the below announcement for a free webinar hosted by our friends at New England Wind Energy Education Project (NEWEEP). See below for registration information. If you’re interested, be sure to register. Remember: it’s free!


New England Wind Energy Education Project (NEWEEP) Webinar #6

Title:               “Wind Power as a Neighbor: Experience with Techniques for Mitigating Public Impacts”

Date:               Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Location:        Webinar (Free)

Time:              2:00 – 3:45 PM ET


Questions? Email:  info@neweep.com

Key Discussion Topics & Speakers


  • Charles Newcomb, Wind Technology Deployment Supervisor, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, will describe the technical mitigation strategies invented and refined by wind manufacturers and developers to minimize or avoid impact to project neighbors, along with the background of how these strategies work and where they have been applied.
  • John Knab, Town Supervisor, Sheldon, NY, will discuss the project adjustment and other mitigation techniques used by the Town of Sheldon in the process of allowing the High Sheldon Wind Project to be developed in their town and how these techniques impacted the siting decision-making process.
  • Nils Bolgen, Program Director, Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, will describe project adjustments and mitigation steps taken by wind project proponents during both the planning and post-operation stages, with outcomes and results where available.

Discussion Topics:

The presentations and discussion will provide webinar participants with an understanding of:

  • Technical and non-technical approaches to minimize, eliminate or compensate for direct or indirect impacts during the planning, construction and operation of a wind power project
  • Lessons learned on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of available mitigation techniques and how specific techniques helped produce better outcomes
  • The process of negotiation to achieve public acceptance, and what concessions communities should (and shouldn’t) expect from project proponents
  • The key to successful siting through balancing mitigation of impacts with project economic viability
  • Where current strategies fall short and what additional research is needed to fill the gaps

This free event is designed for attendance by the general public, local officials, state regulators, facility siting decision-makers, policy-makers, and others interested in a review of objective information on the impacts of wind energy.


What are Friends For?

Nov 11, 2011 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Simulation of view of Cape Wind from Cotuit, MA. Photo credit: http://www.capewind.org

When three leading environmental organizations seek to get involved in a federal court case about a proposed development project, it’s not usually on the side of the developer. But, this week, CLF, NRDC and Mass Audubon filed a motion to participate as “Friends of the Court” in support of the defendants in five pending federal cases challenging federal approvals of the Cape Wind offshore wind energy project. The plaintiffs, unsurprisingly including the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, are seeking to overturn the federal government’s 2010 approval of the landmark offshore wind project, the first to be approved in the United States.

Our federal court filing comes after more than a decade of exhaustive review undertaken by state and federal authorities, and by CLF and our colleagues in the environmental community – review that served to ensure Cape Wind’s approval was based on sound science and data, and that the project was thoroughly vetted through an open and transparent public process. Our support for the project reflects our findings that Cape Wind’s benefits far outweigh its impacts.

Between CLF, NRDC and Mass Audubon, we pack a couple hundred years of environmental advocacy and stewardship experience.  Collectively, we represent hundreds of thousands of Americans, from nearby Hyannis to far-flung Hawaii, who believe our country should prioritize a true clean energy agenda and move more quickly to deliver on the environmental, public health, energy security and economic benefits of responsible renewable energy. Backing the developer in the Cape Wind case may, at first blush, go against the grain of environmental advocacy history. But in this case, it is fully consistent with our longstanding missions to protect natural resources and public health – here, by advancing a key project that will begin to unleash the tremendous potential of offshore renewable energy, allowing Massachusetts and the region to dial back polluting fossil fuel power generation.

A renewable energy resource . . . on the web

Nov 7, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

CLF is a proud founding member of Renewable Energy New England, a non-profit association that brings together companies working on and supporting clean renewable energy (including developers of wind farms, manufacturers of equipment that harvests wind and solar power, private builders of transmission lines that serve wind farms) with environmental advocates. RENEW (as the group is known) has a nice new revamped website worth visiting.

Solving our massive environmental and energy problems will involve a lot of saying no to bad projects but will also will require saying yes to what affirmative projects that can meet the needs of our society and economy in a cleaner and better way.

Environmental advocates like CLF will never agree with everything that businesses like renewable project developers say and we will scrutinize their projects and may even oppose some.  But we need to work with them as much as we can if we are truly serious about reaching our shared goal of a thriving New England.

Beacon Power bankruptcy: NOT “another Solyndra”

Oct 31, 2011 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

The unfortunate news that Beacon Power, an innovative technology company based in Massachusetts,  declared bankruptcy has inspired a bit of a media feeding frenzy centered around analogies to the failed California solar company Solyndra,  because Beacon (like Solyndra) received  a federal loan guarantee.

This analogy simply doesn’t hold up for the following reasons:

  • Beacon Power has a fully operational facility in Stephentown New York that is an operating model of their flywheel technology, a innovative technology that provides an essential service to the electricity grid, providing stability to the power system at a very low cost.  This stability will allow smoother operation of the power grid and allow for integration of many more renewable resources like wind and solar smoothly at a reasonable price.
  • The Federal loan guarantee is structured in a way that protects the financial interests of the taxpayers – giving them the right to be repaid out of the assets of Beacon before other companies and people that are owed money.
  • Unlike Solyndra, which was effectively losing a price competition with Chinese and other US manufacturers, Beacon makes a unique product that is being developed here in the United States.
  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a mere 11 days ago, issued a detailed rule that requires utilities to compensate companies like Beacon that provide power system stability in a competitive manner.  This sets a clear trajectory for Beacon, and the handful of other companies providing similar services, to be economically successful.

Given the assaults on the environment and climate and continuing economic and social disruptions there is enough bad news out in the world without alarmist voices generating scary stories because of events like the Beacon bankruptcy.   While it is an unfortunate event for some private investors and employees of Beacon it is not a crisis for taxpayers and can and will not stop the development of innovative and important technologies that will be the backbone of a new clean energy economy.

Why we do what we do: Unfortunately Global Warming is real and having real effects here and now

Oct 31, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Much of CLF‘s work these days is focused on the challenge of global warming and in particular reducing immediately, structurally and effectively the release into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and the other “greenhouse gases” causing the problem.

This is, of course, not all that we do.  But much of our work on this over-arching problem overlaps with other important work like reducing air pollution that directly harms the health and lives of people or providing good transit access to urban communities, thus providing access to jobs for residents of those communities while reducing automobile trips and emissions. Still other CLF work, like protecting and nurturing our fisheries and forests, ensures that management of those resources is mindful of the changing climate while preserving unique ecosystems both for their own benefit and to ensure that future generations will be able to use and enjoy special places and resources.

When we step up and assert the benefit to the climate of, for example, wind farms in Maine or in Nantucket Sound or energy efficient light bulbs or the need to consider the climate in considering a transmission line across New Hampshire or in a merger proposed between utilities the question comes back to us: is it worth the cost?  Often it is a cost measured in dollars but sometimes it is a “cost” in terms of a view from a house or a beach or a mountain changing.

Responding to this question presents us with two challenges: first we need to show that the result we are advocating in favor of will actually reduce emissions and then we need to show that the need for those emissions reductions outweighs the cost of taking the action we are advocating.

One good example of how we show that an action will actually reduce emissions comes from the world of wind farms.  In those cases we can present expert testimony about how deploying wind resources will reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.  And that analysis isn’t just created by our experts, it draws upon reports done by the planners and operators of New England’s wholesale electricity system – work that is sometimes summed up in official summaries and nice presentations that include informative charts like this one showing how when the system gets 9% of its power from wind that emissions drop by 9% but when it gets 20% of its power from wind the emissions drop by 24% for reasons explained in the report:









And then we turn to the question of showing that this all matters and the cost of taking action outweighs the price of that action.  In our cases, again using the wind farm example, we use expert testimony.

But the bottom line is that we as a society are getting to the point where the cost of global warming is no longer a horrible possibility- it is an immediate reality, all around the world from Russia to Texas and points in between like New England.  And what we are experiencing is only a preview of what is to come and a strong reminder of the need to take action.

Defend America – by building clean energy . . . and supporting clean transportation

Oct 11, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

No one knows better than the US military that our dependence on fossil fuels comes with enormous hidden costs.  In this Op-Ed in the Tampa Tribune three retired generals and one retired admiral discuss the hundreds of soldiers who have died and the thousands of their brother-in-arms who have been seriously wounded guarding fuel convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our military has long known about the overarching threat to our security from unchecked global warming.

Reducing our dependence on oil and building a clean energy future will require work on a wide variety of fronts – and that is why CLF is working not only to foster renewable generation like wind and solar power but also working “on the demand side” to ensure that energy efficiency prosper as well.

This is a challenge that stretches far beyond the realm of electricity use or heating or cooling buildings and homes.  We use enormous amounts of energy in our transportation sector.   We can be more efficient and reduce our fossil fuel use by driving cleaner cars that get more miles per gallon.  We also can build and operate transit systems that move masses of people in a far more efficient manner.  Even just building sidewalks and more “walkable” communities reduces driving, fuel consumption and emissions.

Pushing for better transit, more sidewalks, more efficient buildings, the retirement of old coal plants and wind and solar power might seem very far removed from the effort to protect the nation, but it really isn’t such a stretch and it is part of what drives forward the work of organizations like CLF and our many friends, allies and partners.

CLF Ventures Releases Land-based Wind Energy Guide

Jul 6, 2011 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

In partnership with the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), CLF Ventures recently released Land-based Wind Energy: A Guide to Understanding the Issues and Making Informed Decisions. (PDF, 1.6MB)

Wind energy has the potential to play a significant and beneficial role in an energy economy that seeks to rely less heavily on fossil-fuel based electricity production. For this reason, many communities are currently trying to learn more about wind energy development and determine whether it makes sense in their city or town.  Land-based Wind Energy provides municipal officials and other local decision-makers with clear overviews of wind energy siting issues as well as best practices for community engagement.

Specifically, the guide includes:

  • Guidelines for how to assess the quality of available information and how to resolve conflicting points;
  • Overviews, contextual information, and recommended reading on important topics like wind turbine sound, shadow flicker, health, property values, and energy project economics; and
  • Recommendations on how to structure a robust local review process when siting wind energy projects. By this we mean a process with full participation by relevant stakeholders, transparent decision-making, and durable outcomes with public support.

Download the guide, and learn more about CLF Ventures.

Ipswich Kids Give Three Cheers for Wind Energy

Apr 1, 2011 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Ipswich, Massachusetts received its first wind turbine this week!

Parts for the wind turbine, including three 132-foot-long blades were delivered to the Town Farm Road site on Wednesday March 30th.  The wind turbine is expected to be constructed and in operation by Memorial Day and it will supply power to the Ipswich High School/Middle School. Check out the enthusiasm displayed by kids as the blades passed by Ipswich Elementary School: