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Giant wind farm clears first hurdle, gets state approval

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State officials this morning approved the construction of a 300-megawatt wind farm in eastern North Carolina, by far the single largest green energy project proposed in this state by many orders of magnitude.

The approval by the N.C. Utilities Commission is just the first of a numerous local, state and federal permits the Desert Wind Energy Project will need before it can proceed with building the proposed 150 turbines across 31 square miles of farmland in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties.

If Desert Wind is built on schedule next year, it would be the first commercial-scale wind energy project in the Southeast and one of the biggest wind farms in the nation. It would generate enough power for 55,000 to 70,000 homes per year on average.

The $600 million project, planned to begin generating power at the end of 2012, is proposed by the American subsidiary of Iberdrola, a Spanish energy company that's the world's biggest developer of wind energy projects.

Desert Wind would sell power to U.S. electric utilities that are required to use green energy to meet state requirements for including more renewables in their energy mix. Among the likely candidates to buy the power would be Raleigh-based Progress Energy and Charlotte-based Duke Energy.

The project has to get permits from half-dozen N.C. agencies, including the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Iberdrola also has to get clearance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as well as three branches of the U.S. armed forces.

Iberdrola is also in the early stages of exploring developing 450 megawatts of wind farms in Camden and Currituck counties, but it has not filed applications for these projects with the N.C. Utilities Commission. Iberdrola has set up wind-speed measuring equipment and is discussing land-lease options with local property owners for erecting the turbines, which are nearly 500 feet tall from the ground to the tip of the outstretched blade.

Iberdrola is reportedly paying landowners about $6,000 a year for each tower they agree to host on their property.

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A BUNCH OF HOT AIR

Oh boy! A wind farm! Now North Carolina will be able to say "Hey, we have a wind farm here in North Carolina - break out the granola because we're green!"  Meanwhile, we'll still be paying higher electric bills.

Giant Wind farm

With all the wind in Washington, Chicago. and maybe even Raleigh they have plenty of other places to put it.

Bring it on!

I hope I can fit one on my 1/5ac lot! (humor)

I also hope a nearby vacant paper mill can be converted to biofuel power generation with forest and agric. residue.  That can put hundreds (thousands?) of people back to work.  After all, throughout time that plants have existed, earth has had fires that burn hundreds of millions of tons per year.  If it's good enough for Mother Nature, it should be okay with us, right?

Makes sense to about everybody but the "experts".

And biofuels can "pick up the slack" when the wind and/or sun isn't/aren't productive. 

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has recently began another dishonest propaganda campaign against using wood as biofuel.  Of course, they characterize the situation as slashing through beautiful mature forests, when the truth is that no one with any sense would sell their trees for a few dollars per ton.

Instead, just as some forward-thinking states are already doing, NC can utilize "waste wood" and "weeding" operations along guidelines already established to ensure forest protection.  Someone should call NRDC on their misbehavior - someone who is a friend of the rural.

wind farms

So it's going to cover 31 square miles. How much wind, for how long to produce the 300mW? At what cost? And, if the wind goes still? Solar farms aren't much better. They too take a lot of land and don't work the entire day.

A coal or nuclear plant can produce much more energy at a lesser cost on 14-15 acres of land. And it's much more reliable. "Green" may make you feel all gushy inside but until better methods are derived it's not very practical.

Ahem...

I'm in favor of new nuclear energy capacity, because we absolutely have to get off of as much coal as we can as soon as we can for dozens of reasons.

Still, the capital cost of this per mWe is going to come in at probably a third of the capital cost of the Shearon-Harris expansion ($6m/mWe vs $2m/mWe), and has no fuel or waste storage costs.  The downside is that it isn't as constant as nuclear, so has to be supplemented.  However, to say it isn't cost effective is ridiculous.

And this may be hard to figure out, while the farm will cover 31 square miles, it won't use that area exclusively.  In fact, it'll probably take up a couple thousand square feet for the footings of the towers, and the rest of it can continue to be farmland.  Complex idea, I know.

You know, they probably

You know, they probably didn't think of the economics before they decided to invest $600M in this.  I'm sure their CEO is going to really mad he didn't approach it this way when he reads your post.  

Or... just maybe, they ran their numbers and feel pretty good that being "green" is not only a sustainable model, but also a profitable one.  

Coal runs out and is a pollutant.  Nuclear power has some potentially unfortunate side effects.  There's room for nuclear reactors out there, just like there's room for wind farms.  Redundancy is the way to ensure reliability - ask the folks of Japan if they would (currently and in the past) appreciate a couple of diverse methods of generating power.

Spanish company?

Why are we giving $600M in business to a Spanish company? Are there no wholly owned American companies that could do this job?

Who is giving $600M?  This

Who is giving $600M?  This quoted amount is the cost of developing the infrastructure; while there might be some tax incentives, this company is spending $600M to put this in place.

Reading comprehension, despite perceptions to the otherwise, really is for everyone.

To the point around American companies - time for them to wake up and realize this is a global market and they need to compete globally if they want to get in on the game.

"...despite perceptions to

"...despite perceptions to the otherwise..."?

I would suggest that writing proficiency is right up there with reading comprehension.

Regarding the wind project, I just wonder how profitable this "green" project is without the myriad forms of government cajoling. These Iberdola guys may be brilliant. They can see that:

1) NC has mandated the use of so-called alternative energy, even though virtually none is currently available to purchase.

2) NC has built quite a reputation for pay-to-play politics over the past 20 years.

They will likely have a monopoly on "alternative energy", and the sky is the limit on what they could make extorting the citizens of this state through monthly power bills. Nobody can know the actual cost to produce wind energy, since you don't know what the wind will do. In this scenario, cost simply does not matter.

What's not to like?

Ahh yes, good point.

Ahh yes, good point.  Perhaps I should have stated "the apparent belief of many..." .  Fair enough, I was a bit distracted at the time.

They will likely have a monopoly on "alternative energy" -

Maybe, maybe not.  The same argument could be made for the first nuclear plant for NC. Does that mean that nuclear energy was a poor decision years ago?

Nobody can know the actual cost to produce wind energy, since you don't know what the wind will do. 

The power industry is already heavily regulated to ensure against drastic price increases to consumers.  However, a base price is negotiated based on expected and (eventually) realized trends.  The rate doesn't change based on whether the wind blows or not.  That's the risk this company takes, not us.

Additionally, nuclear _already_ obtains a significant amount of government subsidies.  The 2006 figure (yes, older) is 20.9%.  At the same time, wind was 11.6%.  Should we shut down any source of energy that has subsidies?

1) NC has mandated the use of so-called alternative energy, even though virtually none is currently available to purchase.

And to grow that number and have competing sources it needs to start somewhere...

2) NC has built quite a reputation for pay-to-play politics over the past 20 years.

I'm sure that's true, but I question what point you are trying to make here.  If we have problems with government, we should be critical of attempts to improve technologies, grow industries, and impede private industry initiatives?  Watchdog the situation?  Sure.  Condemn it based on a non-detailed article?  Sorry, I can't get there.

Energy is also a national security and quality of life issue.  The importance of ensuring we have multiple sources (especially renewable), in my opinion, will outweigh some subsidies we provide to culture a nascent industry that will benefit us.  Of course, Iberdola is going to make a profit on this - yay, capitalism.

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About the blogger

John Murawski has been a full-time newspaper reporter since 1991, with stints at Legal Times and The Chronicle of Philanthropy (both in Washington, DC), The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Palm Beach Post (in South Florida) before arriving at the N&O in December 2004. At the N&O he covers energy (nuclear, coal, renewable, efficiency), hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking"), public utilities and health care. His beat includes PSNC Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, Duke Energy Progress, PowerSecure International, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Biogen Idec and others. He has also contributed more than 30 book reviews on topics spanning botany, history, science and religion. You can reach him at 919-829-8932 or e-mail him.
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