Sunday, March 22, 2009

Some Good News

Every once in a while I have to stop my kvetching and report on news that gives me at least a little hope. Today's edition has to do with state and local governments getting serious about promoting and funding alternative and renewable energy sources. It comes from the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Recycled turbines that turn renewable wind energy into electricity are expected to begin appearing this summer in Anoka, Buffalo, North St. Paul and eight other Minnesota cities that are part of a power agency.

Buffalo, which expects work to begin in June, is likely to be the first city with one of the 115-foot-tall turbines among the 11-member cities of the Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (MMPA). The joint-powers agency has agreed to pay about $3.6 million for a dozen refurbished windmills that were used in a Palm Springs, Calif., wind farm. The Hometown WindPower program is aimed at meeting a state law requiring most electrical utilities to provide 25 percent of their total electricity sales from renewable sources, such as wind or water power, by 2025. ...

Dave Boyles, the WindPower project manager, said that traditional fossil fuel or nuclear-generated electricity is now cheaper than wind power but that those fuel costs are likely to rise, making windmills more competitive over their 20-year lifetime.

He said that in return for tax subsidies, citizens "will be getting a reliable source of renewable energy that does not contribute to climate change and has no carbon footprint."

There are several good things going on here. The first is that the joint-powers agency was smart enough to purchase refurbished windmills that have proven their effectiveness in California, which is replacing them with later models. The cost savings to Minnesota over purchasing brand new ones will be substantial. The decision also reflects a pretty nifty recycling move.

The second is that the agency has recognized that in the short term, the wind generated power will be more expensive than carbon-based and nuclear power, but that in long term, the benefits to the planet will certainly be much greater than either traditional source. Except for the sour Galtian comments appended to the article, many Minnesotans appear not only willing to bear the additional cost, but actually welcome the move.

The third good thing is that the agency has found a very sensible way of financing the purchase and installation of the windmills. Providing tax credits to bondholders instead of interest makes it a feasible "win-win" approach that may very well lessen the initial start up cost to the project. In these economic times, that's a real plus.

Finally, although perhaps tangential, the first project is expected to commence in June. That should mean jobs for Minnesotans to get the installation finished and the maintenance required rolling this year. Who could be displeased by that?

There is one thing about the article, however, and about wind turbines in general, that still dismays me. The turbines Minnesota is purchasing from Palm Springs were made in Denmark. While I am not certain, I'm pretty sure that no company in the United States is manufacturing the units, which I find puzzling. We certainly have the technological and engineering know-how to do so and a skilled work force to make it work.

Hopefully, with a White House which has made renewable energy an important item on its agenda, that will change. President Obama and his administration would do well to use the same kind of creative thinking that this Minnesota agency has displayed to make it worthwhile for new and/or existing heavy equipment manufacturers to turn out the turbines here in the US. That would be the icing on the cake.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The units purchased were made in Denmark but they were purchased used from Palm Springs. Therefore the money would go to Palm Springs (that could presumably really use it for something like police or something.

Other than the fact that they would likely have to get spare parts from Denmark, their origin at this point is irrelevant.

I too would like very much to see a broad investment in manufacturing that was open source. That is many small manufacturers making interchangeable parts that could be put together by others mush as beige box computers were in the 1990's. But that is seperate from this wind power thingy.

6:37 PM  

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