Important lessons in handicapping clean energy

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This is an interesting development and provides some interesting lessons:

Facebook will buy renewable energy from northeast Nebraska wind development, breathing new life into dormant project

Facebook’s sprawling Papillion data center project has breathed new life into a dormant wind development project in northeast Nebraska.

The social media company on Thursday said it would procure renewable energy from the Rattlesnake Creek wind project in Dixon County, just west of South Sioux City and situated between the towns of Allen, Emerson and Wakefield.

The proposed wind development generated a buzz in 2013 when Kansas-based Tradewind Energy made its plans for the development public. But the company mothballed the project when it couldn’t find a buyer in time to take advantage of federal tax credits.

Beginning construction on the then-$300 million project without a buyer would have been too big a risk, Tradewind officials said at the time.

So, one lesson is that one major corporation, at this point, can breath life into a project that will make a big difference in the energy transition.

Another lesson is that the original investors were overcautious and wrong. People who remain overcautious about similar clean energy projects are even wronger.

The re-energized Rattlesnake Creek project at 320 megawatts is significantly larger than the original iteration of 200 megawatts.

When built, it will be the second-largest wind farm in Nebraska behind the 400-megawatt Grande Prairie project in Holt County, which was the largest wind development built anywhere in the U.S. in 2016.

Construction is expected to start by the end of this year and the project will be generating electricity in fourth-quarter 2018, said Brice Barton, vice president of development for Tradewind. That will cap a decadelong endeavor to bring Rattlesnake Creek to fruition.

Holy crap, man. If this was a one-reactor nuke plant (which would be just a bit larger in capacity than this one) they would be talking about coming on line in ten years. Not one or two years. That’s another lesson. Clean energy solutions are often very quickly deployable.

Along with declining costs to build wind energy projects — wind is now closely competitive with cheap conventional generators like coal and natural gas, even without subsidies, according to investment banking firm Lazard — Bracht said more productive developments in Nebraska are clearly capturing the attention of companies keen on powering their operations with more renewable energy.

Facebook will purchase 200 megawatts of the Rattlesnake Creek’s output and the remaining 120 megawatts will be sold to other buyers.

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7 thoughts on “Important lessons in handicapping clean energy

  1. If one wants some important lessons in handicapping clean energy, one cannot go past the Australian conservative federal government and its energy policies. Just in the last week they’ve eschewed a clean energy target and supported coal as a “dispatchable” energy source that will lower household power prices, as if this is the over-riding imperative going into the long-term future.

    And this, despite the fact that the rapidly-escalating price increases are the result of privatisation and over-investment in unnecessary transmission infrastructure, rather than of renewable energy.

    Oh, and to rub salt into the would they are saying that renewable energy makes power prices higher, and yet they simultaneously argue that renewables should not be subsidised (as fossil fuels are) because renewables are becoming so cheap that they are taken up regardless. Yes, according to the rabid right-wing of the Australian LNP, cheap (and becoming even cheaper) renewables deliver expensive (and continuing to be ever more expensive) power. It’s Orwellian doublethink at it’s most extreme.

  2. > the result of privatisation and over-investment in unnecessary transmission infrastructure,

    Any comment, BBD?

    Anyone else get a first impression of another definition of handicapping?

    1. Any comment, BBD?

      Australia needs significant upgrades to its long-distance transmission capacity. It also needs large-scale pumped hydro:

      Although PV and wind are variable energy resources, the approaches to support them to achieve a reliable 100% renewable electricity grid are straightforward:

      – Energy storage in the form of pumped hydro energy storage (PHES) and batteries, coupled with demand management; and

      – Strong interconnection of the electricity grid between states using high-voltage power lines spanning long distances (in the case of the National Electricity Market, from North Queensland to South Australia). This allows wind and PV generation to access a wide range of weather, climate and demand patterns, greatly reducing the amount of storage needed.

      * * *

      “This wind project would not be built without Facebook’s commitment and the energy requirements of our data center,” Facebook’s announcement said.

      Because without adding long-distance transmission capacity to get the electricity to customers far away from Nebraska, the customers must come *to* Nebraska. A few will but most won’t because it will not be practical for them to. So, as I have said before, in order to make the US energy transition actually work for the US as a whole not a few corporations chasing cheap power, it will be necessary to upgrade the US grid very significantly. This will involve significant costs and take decades, both factors that will handicap an energy transition that markets itself as cheap and fast.

      * * *

      In fact, Nebraska wind farms in 2016 boasted an average capacity factor of 45 percent — higher than in any other state, according to the American Wind Energy Association. In other words, Nebraska wind farms generated electricity at 45 percent of their hypothetical maximum potential rate.

      The average capacity factor for the U.S. wind fleet in 2016 was 35 percent.

      320MW nameplate x 45% cap fac = 144MW average output

      Facebook will purchase 200 megawatts of the Rattlesnake Creek’s output and the remaining 120 megawatts will be sold to other buyers.

      This will be interesting. Or maybe it’s just the usual energy-illiterate industry PR bollocks we all know and love.

  3. I’ll concede that Australia takes the renewables-obstruction crown. But the U.S. remains a strong contender, thanks to its on-again, off-again production tax credits for wind energy, which I suspect are part of the reason for the temporary failure of the Tradewind Energy project.

    See e.g. Harvest the Wind, a 2012 book by Philip Warburg.

  4. Im not sure australia does take the renewable obstruction crown. Theres a shitload of panels out there.
    We have had windmills for geez, a hundred years at least.
    Almost an icon of farming. We have had hydro for well over a hundred years. Solar hot water is VERY common too
    If genuine obstructionism was present, windmills, hydro and solar would be illegal.
    Its not so much obstruction , as, the gov could do more.

  5. Oh, and may i say, the Carmichael proposal sucks dogs balls and is abhorrent. In case someone takes my last post as some sort of fossil fuel defence or government apologist stance.

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