Thursday, June 27, 2013

Drummond Schools wind turbines finish the first month of electricity production

After the first month of energy production, Drummond Public Schools joins a small population of state schools turning to wind power.The five Drummond wind turbines completed the first month of production in June, as the grant for the project closed out Friday. A provision of the grant stipulated 50 kilowatts of wind power. Originally, the plan was to build one wind turbine to generate that amount of power, but instead, five 10-kilowatt turbines were built, said Mike Woods, Drummond superintendent.The town of Drummond was the recipient of the grant. Collaboration between the town and the school allowed the school to benefit from the grant. Wecc LLC, a renewable energy consultant company, was instrumental in helping develop the project and make decisions about the turbines.David Burford, Drummond’s mayor during a majority of the grant process, sees the turbines as an investment.“Why not spend the money toward the future?” Burford said. “Anybody that’s looking toward the future should be looking at the schools.”The school could not secure the funds for the project because it was not eligible. After presenting the project to the town board, the town applied for the grant, Burford said. The board was supportive of the idea.“As long as I see those blades moving I can see them generating electricity for the future, which is our school,” Burford said.Mike Steinke, executive managing partner at Wecc, helped get the needed information to decide if wind energy was the right option for the school, and also aided officials in obtaining grant funds, Woods said. Typically, Wecc is involved more with the development of wind farms and distributed energy project. However, Steinke said the company helped Drummond with the project because of the educational benefits.“It’s such a good one from an educational standpoint,” Steinke said.Few schools in Oklahoma have turbines to help cover costs. Steinke said Drummond would be one of a handful using such an innovative idea.“It’s cutting-edge for a small community,” Steinke said. “It’s something for them to be proud of.”

One provision of the grant specified the turbines had to be made by an American manufacturer, Woods said. The 10-kilowatt turbines in Drummond were produced from Bergey Windpower Corp., a company based in Oklahoma.The energy produced belongs to the school and first will be used to power the new ag building; however, it will only take an estimated 30 percent of produced energy to run it. To power the whole school with wind energy would require a bigger grant and a bigger turbine, Steinke said. The cost to power the entire school would be too high. The remaining power will be sold to OG&E Electric Services, Woods said.“Small schools have to be innovative or we’re not going to survive,” Woods said.The blue and gold turbines — Drummond Public Schools’ colors — will serve some educational purposes, too, Woods said. The data collected from the turbines hopefully will be used in the classroom, especially for science and math purposes. Woods hopes the turbines can serve as a model for businesses and other schools to see whether it would be a viable option for someone considering wind power.Drummond school’s next project is a monolithic dome structure: 32 feet tall by 125 feet in diameter, to hold a PE area, large classroom and a stage. The entire building also will be a safe room rated to withstand an EF-5 tornado.For now, though, Woods said the school is going to enjoy the fact the project is done, after the grant was awarded to Drummond nearly four years ago in 2009.“We’re catching our breath … letting the dust settle,” Woods said. “We’re enjoying watching them spin.”

Monday, June 17, 2013

Texas Gulf Coast is prime for offshore wind turbines

In the race to establish the country’s first offshore wind farm, the University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composite Center drifted across the finish line recently, when it launched a small, floating-platform research wind turbine off the coast of Castine, Maine. The Center hopes to connect a full-size turbine to their power grid by 2016, NPR’s web site StateImpac reports.In Texas, however, where steady winds and a gently sloped shoreline could make for ideal conditions to harvest wind, offshore wind is racing to catch up.Offshore wind farms are typically more efficient than their onshore counterparts because there’s fewer physical obstructions and a more predictably consistent flow of wind. But critics of offshore wind cite potential problems, like impacts on wildlife and scenery. Then there’s the hefty price tag: offshore turbines can be twice as expensive to build as onshore ones.The Texas Gulf Coast was at one point thought to be the best candidate for the country’s first offshore wind farm, but efforts by companies such as Coastal Point Energy and Baryonyx have yet to launch. But that might change in the next few years.Off the coast of Texas, a consortium of universities, energy companies and manufacturers have come together to bring offshore wind farms to the Gulf Coast. The Department of Energy (DOE) is partially funding the design of several offshore wind energy projects over this next year, including the Texas Gulf Offshore Wind Project (GoWind), which plans to install three turbines in the Gulf.

GoWind is composed of research teams from several Texas universities, as well as companies like Baryonyx, and turbine and platform manufacturers. In addition to federal funding, the group has contributed between $20 to $25 million of their own money to the project.John Pappas, director of the Texas A&M Wind Energy Center, is one of the project’s leaders. He thinks that the GoWind project will succeed because of the Gulf’s inherent advantages, like its long history of offshore oil drilling.“What’s good about the Gulf of Mexico, first and foremost, is that we have the infrastructure and the people who know how to work offshore,” Pappas said. “In some other places, they don’t have the infrastructure necessary to bring [turbines] offshore and construct them.”Though offshore turbines are relatively common in other parts of the world (especially the United Kingdom and Scandinavia), this is not yet the case in the states. Some promising plans, such as the Cape Wind Project in Massachusetts, have stalled due to bureaucratic gridlock and vocal opposition.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

For First Time, U.S. to Lease Offshore Wind Blocks

The U.S. government announced Tuesday that it would be going forward with long-discussed plans to auction federal leases off the Atlantic Ocean coast for the development of offshore wind energy.The sales, to take place in late July, will be the first time that federal lands have been offered on a competitive basis for the United States’ nascent offshore wind business. Proponents say the industry has significant potential, but for decades it has lagged far behind the country’s onshore wind sector – even as offshore usage has strengthened significantly in other countries.“Today’s announcement is an important milestone in efforts to launch the offshore wind industry in the United States,” Chris Long, manager of offshore wind and siting policy for the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group, told IPS. “Offshore wind energy represents a significant opportunity for our country, and developing this industry will help to create thousands of new jobs.”Currently, the Interior Department has approved nine companies to take part in the auction, which will offer around 165,000 acres in two blocks off the coast of the eastern states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. A third area off the coast of Virginia could be offered for lease later this year.According to recent analysis by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the initial two blocks will be able to produce a regular supply of around 3,500 megawatts, enough to power around a million U.S. homes.Overall, the United States is thought to have around 4,000 gigawatts (or four million megawatts) of offshore wind potential. That’s almost four times the country’s current electricity production of all types.“This leasing announcement is a big deal, a significant move forward on what has been an extensive process to identify appropriate sites and give access to try to build in the water,” Dave Hamilton, the director for clean energy with the Sierra Club, a conservation group, told IPS.

“These are important steps, but now getting equipment in the water, finding communities or entities to buy the power at the price producers can make it – that’s all still ahead of this project.”Proponents have long noted that offshore wind has particular potential in the United States given that almost four-fifths of the electricity requirement comes from states along the coasts and Great Lakes, and thus windfarms could be positioned fairly near demand centres.According to estimates in a recent scientific paper, around a third of all U.S. power demand – or all demand from the East Coast, except during summer – can be satisfied from offshore wind power along the East Coast alone.Strengthened by government subsidies, the U.S. wind energy sector has grown significantly – albeit belatedly – in recent years, currently comprising some three percent of the country’s overall power mix. Meanwhile, the offshore sector has lagged far behind, in part due to the significantly higher costs and technicality associated with installing a turbine on water.The technology has long existed, however, and many models have already gone through a lengthy process of testing. Just last week, the Energy Department formally announced that a new prototype, a floating turbine in Maine, has been connected to the national electricity grid, the first offshore turbine now operating in the country and the first of seven such experimental projects currently underway.The U.S. government has green-lighted at least two smaller East Coast offshore wind projects, but these went forward without a competitive bidding process and are still awaiting regulatory approval. While around a dozen privately financed offshore projects are currently being developed, July’s leasing is being touted as the full opening-up of the new industry to the private sector.“If there is good interest in this one, then I think you will have this happening on a consistent basis,” Sally Jewell, the secretary of the interior, told reporters Monday.“I can’t promise that they will be in production in four years, but we don’t want to be a roadblock. The market will dictate, but we certainly don’t want to get in the way.”