Elwha Dam removal illustrates growing movement

The largest dam demolition in the nation’s history will begin Saturday when an excavator claws away at the concrete supports for Washington’s 108-foot Elwha River Dam, a ceremonial act of destruction that will signal not only the structure’s demise but the latest step in a broad shift in the way Americans are managing rivers.

Faced with aging infrastructure and declining fish stocks, communities are tearing down dams across the country in key waterways that can generate more economic benefits when they’re unfettered than when they’re controlled.

“What once seemed radical is now mainstream,” said American Rivers President Bob Irvin, whose group has advocated dam removal for environmental reasons. “All of these are experiments in how nature can restore itself, and the Elwha is the biggest example of that.”

The pace of removal has quickened, with 241 dams demolished between 2006 and 2010, more than a 40 percent increase over the previous five years. Many of them are in the East and Midwest, having powered everything, including textile mills and paper operations at the turn of the 20th century.

A drumbeat of litigation by tribes and environmental groups has pushed federal officials to dismantle some dams that otherwise would have remained in place. Although this has led to political fights in regions where dams matter the most, such as the Pacific Northwest, it has also forged historic compromises.

“The Elwha River restoration marks a new era of river restoration in which broad community support provides the bedrock for work to sustain our rivers and the communities that rely on them,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.

Wind farm paid £1.2 million to produce no electricity

A wind farm has been paid £1.2 million not to produce electricity for eight-and-a-half hours.

By Edward Malnick and Robert Mendick

9:00PM BST 17 Sep 2011

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The amount is ten times greater than the wind farm’s owners would have received had they actually generated any electricity.

The disclosure exposes the bizarre workings of Britain’s electricity supply, prompting calls last night for an official investigation into the payments system.

The £1.2 million will go to a Norwegian company which owns 60 turbines in the Scottish Borders.

The National Grid asked the company, Fred Olsen Renewables, to shut down its Crystal Rig II wind farm last Saturday for a little over eight hours amid fears the electricity network would become overloaded.

The problem was caused by high winds buffeting the country in the wake of Hurricane Katia.

In total, 11 wind farms were closed down last week, receiving a total of £2.6 million. The money – detailed in calculations provided by National Grid – will be added on to household bills and paid for by consumers.

As Britain pushes for more and more wind farms, critics claim the size of the ‘constraint payments’ will grow accordingly – raising serious concern about the long-term suitability of wind power to meet Britain’s energy needs.

Crystal Rig received by far the largest single payment because the National Grid runs an auction, inviting energy companies to say how much they want in compensation for switching off.

Crystal Rig’s owners asked for £999 per megawatt hour of energy they would have produced had they been switched on. Incredibly, the figure Crystal Rig had bid was accepted by the National Grid.

Wind farms under fire for bird kills

Six birds found dead recently in Southern California’s Tehachapi Mountains were majestic golden eagles. But some bird watchers say that in an area where dozens of wind turbines slice the air they were also sitting ducks.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating to determine what killed the big raptors, and declined to divulge the conditions of the remains. But the likely cause of death is no mystery to wildlife biologists who say they were probably clipped by the blades of some of the 80 wind turbines at the three-year-old Pine Tree Wind Farm Project, operated by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

As the Obama administration pushes to develop enough wind power to provide 20 percent of America’s energy by 2030, some bird advocates worry that the grim discovery of the eagles this month will be a far more common occurrence.

Windmills kill nearly half a million birds a year, according to a Fish and Wildlife estimate. The American Bird Conservancy projected that the number could more than double in 20 years if the administration realizes its goal for wind power.

Locally made biofuel to power airport emergency generator

Hawaiian Electric Co. has selected Pacific Biodiesel Inc. to supply locally produced biodiesel for an emergency power generation system at Honolulu International Airport.

Maui-based Pacific Biodiesel will provide HECO with at least 250,000 gallons of made from locally recycled cooking oil under the three-year contract, the companies said. The biodiesel will be burned in an 8-megawatt generating station scheduled to be completed in October 2010.

The four generating units at the facility will feed electricity into the HECO grid during normal operations, but will be isolated to power the airport exclusively during an emergency, HECO said.

Locally made biofuel to power airport emergency generator – Hawaii News – Staradvertiser.com

County, Life of the Land to intervene in wind case

The Public Utilities Commission has allowed Maui County and the organization Life of the Land to become intervenors in Hawaiian Electric Co.’s proposal to charge customers for a $4 million study on “Big Wind.”

Henry Curtis of Life of the Land said customers should not be forced to finance the studies, because past rulings by the PUC clearly ordered HECO to evaluate alternatives to the massive wind-power project. The commission’s decision and order, which was signed Wednesday, said HECO’s review of the project should have also evaluated alternatives such as expanding residential or large-scale photovoltaic systems, biomass, biofuel and concentrated solar energy.

But although they granted the interventions, the commission also cautioned Life of the Land and the county that their involvement would be limited to the issues currently on the table.

“The commission will preclude any effort by them to unreasonably broaden the issues,” the decision stated.

It then inserted a curious and unusual note that the commissioners said they expect the intervenors “will comply with the commission’s rules and orders.”

County Energy Coordinator Doug McLeod said the language was “interesting,” but he believes there will be some latitude “in what we can legitimately discuss.”

The county’s principal concern from the start, he said, has been “the lack of community benefits from Big Wind.”

Water shortages threaten renewable energy production, experts warn

The development of new renewable energy technologies and other expanding sources of energy such as shale gas will be limited by the availability of water in some regions of the world, according to research by a US thinktank.

The study shows the reliance on large amounts of water to create biofuels and run solar thermal energy and hydraulic fracturing – a technique for extracting gas from unconventional geological formations underground – means droughts could hamper their deployment.

“Water consumption is going up dramatically. We are introducing all kinds of technology to reduce the carbon impact of energy, without doing anything to reduce its impact on water,” Michele Wucker, co-author of the report, told a seminar at the New America Foundation, a thinktank in Washington.

The study, estimating the water consumption of conventional and renewable energy, found even so-called clean energy solutions use vast amounts of water.

Hydroelectricity far outstrips other forms of energy in its use of water, requiring 4,500 gallons to produce a single megawatt hour of electricity – or about the amount needed to run a flat-screen TV for a year. Geothermal energy uses 1,400 gallons per MW/h.

Corn-based ethanol uses a lot of water to irrigate crops, as do nuclear plants which rely on water for cooling systems. Even some renewable energy sources – such as solar farms – are water hogs because they rely on water for cooling.

Viewpoint: Big Wind project clarifications offered

The June 14 article about Maui County’s powerful letter to the Public Utilities Commission – and the county’s decision to intervene in Hawaiian Electric Co.’s request to be reimbursed by ratepayers to the tune of $4 million – contained a number of inaccuracies.

The article identifies two organizations that were denied intervention by the PUC: Life of the Land and Lanaians for Sensible Growth. That is incorrect. The two parties denied intervener status were Friends of Lana’i and Life of the Land.

The article states that the Big Wind project will likely have an enormous impact on Lanai and possibly Molokai. True enough, but one look at the state’s project maps (www.hirep-wind.com/documents/EISPN_PROJECT_AREA_22NOV2010.pdf) confirms for all Maui residents that the state plans to run a cable to/from Maui as well. And First Wind Hawaii, the developer that was unsuccessful in its attempt to develop a wind power plant on Molokai, stated in an April 26 Pacific Business News article that it has now turned its sights to Maui, suggesting that “Maui be included in the interisland cable project.”

The June 14 article’s comments about the deal struck between Castle & Cooke and Pattern Energy also requires clarification

Big Wind must be transparent – Hawaii Editorials

Wind energy is cited among the green alternatives to fossil fuel, but environmental and community groups are irritated about the handling of a massive project to transmit energy to Oahu from windmills on Lanai and Molokai. They should be provided more access to preliminary work on the plan by state agencies and Hawaiian Electric Co., and hold project members to promises of full access and participation at future venues.

HECO is seeking a “power purchase agreement” from the Public Utilities Commission to recover $4 million from ratepayers in costs for studies associated with the Big Wind, or Interisland Wind, project. The PUC has endorsed the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, which mandates that 40 percent of the state’s energy come from renewable sources by 2030, so the studies are consistent with the state’s goals. The path to getting there, though, has the potential to keep lay people in the dark until it emerges as a fait accompli.

Even Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa is complaining that “no one can tell us where the cable will run, its overall cost or how it would interconnect with the grids on the islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai.… We need a clear, complete, accurate, detailed analysis for the cable system before we agree to finance it on the backs of the ratepayers.”

Clean energy future racing toward reality

Maui Electric Co. and other Hawaii utilities once again were ranked among the top utilities in the country for solar power capacity.

MECO parent Hawaiian Electric Co. again was named one of the nation’s Top 10 electric utilities for the amount of solar power added to its system per customer in the the 2010 Solar Electric Power Association Utility Solar Rankings. MECO was ranked in fifth place for total solar watts per customer.

The amount of grid-connected solar is growing fast, and even a little faster than vendors had promised, if the experience of businessmen Thomas Kafsack and Josh Stone is any indication.

Both installed solar generators since the last round of SEPA solar rankings.

Kafsack, operator of Surfing Goat Dairy, just broke ground for phase two of his 43 kilowatt project, but he is pleased with phase one, which covers half his barn roof and was switched on a couple of weeks ago.

The project, designed and built by Haleakala Solar, cost more than $300,000, but after two tries Kafsack got a Renewable Energy for America grant from the Department of Agriculture to cover 20 percent of the cost.

Without the grant, he said Friday, the investment would not have made a sufficient return, but with it he will recover his costs “in under 10 years.”