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While the pros and cons of the Fiscal Cliff deal continue to swirl in the pool of the American body politic, and the debate rages on even here in an orangy and "robust" fashion, here's one nugget of good news that relates to the deal and affects all of our lives in a positive way, regardless of your leanings on the deal:

Wind-turbine installations are poised to exceed natural gas-fueled power plants in the U.S. for the first time this year as developers race to complete projects before a renewable energy tax credit expires.
Wind power installations are exceeding hydro-fracked backed natural gas installations (as well as coal) for the first time in our history and it's because of a tax credit that was set to expire on December 31st if a deal could not be brokered.

New wind capacity reached 6,519 megawatts this year, so far beating natural gas and coal, and the reason we, as a society, were able to clear our air a little more, reduce CO2 emissions, offset another rural drinking water aquifer poisoning, maybe reduce another mountain top removal, is because of a tax credit that encourages wind generation that utilities took advantage of and would like to continue to do so.

The tax credit offers a 2.2 cent per kilowatt-hour incentive to utilities for 10 years for installations completed before January 1. Here's another case where the government can encourage changes in our society that lead directly to better health outcomes, longer lives, clearer skies, and cleaner drinking water.

It was thought that if the tax incentive expired and went over the Fiscal Cliff (along with other things that people depend on) well then this was a possibility:

Unless Congress extends the incentive, wind turbine installations may fall 88 percent next year to as low as 1.5 gigawatts, New Energy Finance forecasts.
I don't know about you but I enjoy clearer skies, cleaner drinking water, full mountains with their tops still on them, and power generation that has a very small ecological footprint.

As this article notes, the uncertainty over whether or not the tax incentive would be renewed had negative effects on industry jobs and product orders for companies that manufacture wind turbines and their parts. Hopefully, now that the deal has passed, more stability will be seen in the wind energy sector and utilities will start to order more turbines again putting people back to work and cleaning up our energy production at the same time.

Meanwhile, in the Gulf of Alaska, Shell Oil's exploratory drilling rig Kulluk ran aground on the southeast of Sitkalidak Island, stranded with over 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel and oil-based lubricants on it. This is the same drilling rig Shell Oil boasts will explore the Arctic Ocean for oil, an effort so far that has been wracked with numerous safety and environmental violations. The strait where the Kulluk sits, run aground, is home to an endangered species of sea lion, over 250 bird species, and the Kodiak brown bear.

The more we do as a nation to move towards a cleaner power generation paradigm and the more we offset Big Oil, Hydro-frackers, and mountain whackers I see as a victory. A victory not just for us. But for our planet. For fish, for animals, for poor rural residents who are powerless against hydro-frackers and mountain whackers who degrade the landscape and poison ground and drinking water around them.

To be as balanced as I can, one critic of extending the wind generation tax incentive was Exelon Corp. Know who Exelon Corp is? Well they're the largest operator of nuclear power plants in the U.S. Seems as though Exelon doesn't like how wind is cheaper than most other energy options and although ALL energy sectors (ESPECIALLY nuclear) receive subsidies, they think for some reason that wind should stop getting a subsidy and being so darn competitive:

"At this juncture, wind power can and should stand on its own in competing with other clean energy alternatives," the company said in a statement.
Some utilities oppose the plan, noting that the strength of installations shows wind can survive without subsidy, according to Joseph Dominguez, a senior vice president of Exelon Corp. (EXC), the largest owner of U.S. nuclear power plants.
I'm sure Exelon considers "clean coal" as "clean" energy, or natural gas, or nuclear as "clean energy." But I'm fairly certain there are a few people in the world who would argue otherwise. No, what Exelon's gripe boils down to is that wind drives down energy prices for consumers, which is good for America, but that means Exelon won't make as much money because the energy market is too competitive for its liking.  
Though Exelon is also a major wind-farm operator, it opposed the tax credit for distorting energy markets and driving down margins at competitive power producers.
And in a Free Market System, dontcha know, when things get too competitive the Big Boys start complaining. Now, to be fair, Exelon is also involved in wind power generation, so they at least have the facade of being an objective critic. But by far their biggest holdings are in in nuclear power. They also own coal fired plants as well. They have a few horses in this race, but there's at least one horse they've thrown a lot of money into (hint: nuclear). I think this quote shines brightly the hypocritical (and ironic) position Exelon put itself in opposing the extension of the wind energy tax incentive:
It’s worth noting the irony of Exelon, a large nuclear plant operator, complaining about a production tax credit. Since 2005 new nuclear plants have been eligible for a production tax credit of $18 per megawatt-hour. This, of course, is on top of at least $185 billion in federal subsidies the nuclear industry has received since 1947.
So if Exelon wants to suggest that wind power should stop receiving subsidies or help from the government so that it "stands on its own", well then I'm of the mind to say, Why stop there? Let's let the Free Market play out then. Remove the subsidies from nuclear, from coal, from natural gas, and Big Oil. Let's see how this ends up. I'm guessing that Exelon might not think like I do. I'm guessing they want that sweet, sweet cake and the cookies too.

Anyhoo, here's one part of the Fiscal Cliff deal (extension of the wind energy tax incentive) that I think is very positive. And part of my New Year's intentions is to be more positive. To look for the positive news in the world and spread it. The market for negative news is pretty well saturated and we could all use positive news every now and then to inch the balance a little more towards positivity. May the wind be at our backs (and pushing those turbines)!


MTL (a.k.a. Ramblings Over Earth)

Originally posted to Ramblings Over Earth on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 03:47 PM PST.

Also republished by Blogging Aggies of dkos, DK GreenRoots, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Extension of the Production Tax Credit (16+ / 0-)

    was critical for the continued growth of the US wind industry, but it was only extended for 1 year, so we will be having this battle again soon.

    In order for the US to take full advantage of proposed offshore wind projects spanning from North Carolina to New England, we really need to extend the PTC for 5-10 years.

    The potential for these projects is tremendous - a UNC Chapel Hill study showed that NC's offshore wind could produce more power than is used by the entire state of NC.

    Filibuster reform now. No more Gentleman's agreements.

    by bear83 on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 04:42:25 PM PST

  •  A few comments. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    1. Generation capacity addition is one thing. But actual generation is another. Since a wind turbine will on average only operate at about 20-25% annually (more in the Spring and Fall when demand is low, much less in the Summer) the new wind turbines will generate far less actual electricity than the added gas plants.

    2. You may want to reread what Excelon said. It didn't argue that wind was too competitive. Just the opposite. If I challenged you to a race but stipulated that you had to give me a head start equal to half the distance to the finish line, would your protest when I won be that I was "too competitive"?

    3. I am missing the irony. Yes, there is a $18/Mwh tax credit available to NEW nuclear capacity but Exelon abandoned any plans to build more nuclear plants years ago when it (accurately) predicted natural gas prices would drop. Exelon has no stake where it would benefit from a nuclear production tax credit. Also, it is worth noting that the birth of the nuclear power industry was itself "another case where the government encouraged changes in our society". It was all Dwight Eisenhower's idea as part of his Atoms For Peace program. Utilities initially wanted nothing to do with nuclear power because of questions about liability, waste disposal, and economics (the "too cheap to meter" meme actually originated with a government official and at any rate was a reference to hydrogen fusion, which looked like it would be a lot easier to pull off in 1954). It wasn't until the government created sufficient incentives, not unlike production tax credits for wind turbines, that utilities started building them. Now they are the bad guys. I wonder how long it will be before wind also goes from a "government-encouraged change in our society" to an example of corporate greed.

    •  Switching terms and concepts (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Methinks They Lie, A Siegel

      Your pronoun had slippage.

      I suspect that corporate interests driven by profits alone, by any means, are the bad guys. After all, they explicitly pit themselves against the "consumer" and "regulatory framework," so it's not too far a stretch to regard them as inimical to the non-stock holding mass.

      In that regard, the wind producers owned by publicly traded corporations already are "the bad guys," as the diary notes that they're doing what they're doing solely for cheap money. When they become counter-competitive, they'll be bad guys in the public sphere as well.

      Wind needs incentives due to an institutional inertia and due to an anti-competitive environment at present. As early as 1976, the top 14 alternative energy companies had been purchased by the top three oil companies. That pattern did not slow. Thus, government had to act to move the corporate interest, as the market was not operating in an environment where consolidation had run amok.

      The post-2006 oil spike meant more companies, but, let's face it, they were no competition. All they can do is offer to install for major corporate entities that are behind utilities. As for nukes, they were done in most particularly by their 300% average cost overruns. The public mood had been against them for decades before they actually stopped being built. In fact, if we want to talk about nuclear and public mood, we need only look at Indian River.

      People complain about dirt, but I'd like to see them make some.

      by The Geogre on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 06:40:46 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Nukes were done in by high construction costs (4+ / 0-)

        Economics, not protests, public perception or politics was the reason that U.S. utilities stopped building nuclear plants.

        look for my eSci diary series Thursday evening.

        by FishOutofWater on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 07:36:16 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  To be more precise, (0+ / 0-)

          nuclear power was done in first by the oil embargoes of the 1970s that caused a recession (and drop in projections for new needed capacity) and high inflation. This caused the cancellation of about 50 nuclear plants that were on the drawing boards. The second kick in the head was Three Mile Island in 1979, which resulted in required retrofits to plants that were in the middle of construction.

      •  Well, (0+ / 0-)

        the basis of capitalism is one of people and companies leveraging their self-interest and in the process benefit all of society (Adam Smith's Invisible Hand and all that). I don't know many companies that aren't motivated by profit alone (Paul Newman's company, which gives away its profits being an exception...Paul Newman  was very pro-nuclear by the way).

        Wind needs subsidies because it is by nature an unreliable and diffuse energy source so it takes hundreds of turbines scattered across a wide area to produce as much power as a conventional plant. I hope you aren't trying to imply that energy firms purchasing renewable energy firms is a modern day version of the old 100 mpg carburator conspiracy theory. If so, I'll just back away slowly and cross the street now.  

        •  Not the forever lightbulb, no (0+ / 0-)

          However, there are too many instances of dead infants as soon as they arrive in the corporate nursery to think that there is no coordinated desire to keep the highest margin fuel in the fore and to similarly prevent a lower margin fuel. I'm sure you know the Ofshinsky story, where the company made a better battery. They wouldn't have sold to another energy company, of course, but they wanted to get their batteries into GM EV's, so they sold to GM, and then GM sold to Exxon. (The Lithium ion battery supplanted theirs anyway.)

          Joseph P. Romm isn't the only one to notice that research and development seemed to have moved nearly nowhere in non-marquee alternatives from 1976 - 2006. This is despite "energy independence" being a military objective and Darth Cheney saying that resource wars were the future. While universities continued to work on solar, and ADM had an interest in biomass, there was a surprising non-movement of everything.

          It's true, of course, that it is unlikely that we will find a fuel that works in a car as well as the fuel the car was designed to use, but all forms? Is it really that we were waiting for carbon fiber all this time? Is it really that everything waited for nanotubes and smart grids? Was it impossible to use a basket approach in all of these years and thereby have a diverse source of energy that would enable a utility to always have a supply ready?

          Capitalism is not built on maximum profit. It is built upon wage, profit, and investment existing beneath a national framework of commonweal. Smith believed that humans are good by their natures, and he believed that no one would let another starve for lack of money. The demand would always be met, he thought, most efficiently by investment without regulation, and he was proven wrong in his own lifetime.

          By the 1930's in the U.S., we had recognized that some things are "utilities," which means that they're in a different category. Everyone needs heat in the winter, refrigeration, etc., and so laissez-faire was not allowed. Enron shows what happens when it does occur: they took down power plants simultaneously for "maintenance" so that there would be a shortage of electricity that would drive up the price that they had bet on with their trading unit.

          This is too long and rambly. I chased the rabbit, perhaps.

          People complain about dirt, but I'd like to see them make some.

          by The Geogre on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 12:59:27 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Cont. (0+ / 0-)

          Just one thing that will demonstrate the hazards of consolidation in utilities.

          There are some electricity strategies that are, by their nature, decentralized. Others require massive capital investment and maintenance and thus are highly centralized. Solar thermal conversion seems to me to be one of the most interesting and efficient methods out there, but it would mean multiple small-park-sized plants rather than a single large plant. We've heard barely a peep about this technology.

          Biomass is ugly, but it is decentralized, and thus, though every hippie knows that french fry grease can power the diesel, it hasn't moved much. Boston has done a garbage to methane to fertilizer project, but that was governmental. When large corporations are the utilities, they can suppress -- even with simple inaction -- solutions that splinter the billing and supply.

          People complain about dirt, but I'd like to see them make some.

          by The Geogre on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 01:03:55 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  A few replies. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      A Siegel

      To each point in order:

      1. The diary is simply pointing out that the number of wind generation installations are beating out natural gas and coal installations for the first time in our history. That's all. If this trend keeps up, then sometime in the future capacity will match and exceed other dirty energy options.

      2. Your analogy of the race doesn't quite work because in the race we would BOTH receive a head start (all sectors of energy receive and have received subsidies). For example, as the diary states, the nuclear industry has received $185 billion in taxpayer subsidies so far.

      Lastly, regarding your comment number 3, you're basically saying Exelon isn't building any new nuclear power generation stations because they can't compete with natural gas? Okay. That's fine. Your point about the government encouraging nuclear through tax incentives is fine also. The government also used to encourage settlement and logging by giving away our land for free (1.8 billion acres worth) up until 1911. Then it decided maybe it should start to preserve some of it (the Weeks Act of 1911). The government has decided maybe it should incentivize clean energy generation. I think this is a good thing (and I hope you do too). What I don't like is when a corporation like Exelon who has nuclear skin (and coal) in the game complains about this incentivized effort when it receives it too. I guess I wasn't clear enough in my diary. Sorry about that.

      •  Replies to your replies. (0+ / 0-)

        1. My point is that calling out added generation capacity, especially wind capacity, is somewhere between irrelevant and misleading. At the end of the day the only number that matters is actual MWhs produced. There are definite reasons to believe any trends will NOT continue. Wind turbines are being built to meet state renewable energy mandates (typically 20% renewables by 2020). All sources of electricity generation have tradeoffs and there will be practical limits to just how much wind can be integrated to the grid without investing massively in infrastructure that will increase the cost of power further.

        2. The head starts wind and nuclear received can be calculated (the value of subsidies received divided by the amount of electricity produced). Nuclear has recieved a lot in subsidies over the years (mostly in the form of government R&D by the way, not so much tax breaks or things people usually think of as "subsidies" that affect utility balance sheets) but nuclear has also produced a boatload of power for the money spent. Wind, on the other hand, has produced proportionally far less for the amount of electricity for the subsidies received. Wind subsidies (production tax credits, renewable energy mandates, etc) are mostly direct subsidies.

        I can't speak for Exelon but their objection seems to be about the government picking specific winners and losers. If the goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear power has proven to be more efficient than wind, in an economic sense, insofar as the data shows that a dollar spent on nuclear subsidies will result in more avoided CO2 releases than a dollar spent on wind subsidies.

        •  Natural gas has brought CO2 emissions to 20 yr low (0+ / 0-)

          While I agree nuclear is the cleanest as far as carbon footprint goes, the US energy dept released a report last summer attributing the 20 yr low in CO2 emissions from energy production to natural gas usage.

          In the end, it seems, the marketplace has ended up solving (at least temporarily) the problem of rising CO2 emissions - not wind, not solar.

        •  Okay, I'll start here: (0+ / 0-)
          I can't speak for Exelon but their objection seems to be about the government picking specific winners and losers.
          This is a familiar talking point often voiced by the rightwing in this country (see Fox News and Solyndra for an example). Funny, and yes, hypocritical, for Exelon to bemoan the government picking "winners and losers" through tax incentives when Exelon benefits from that themselves (through its coal and natural gas operations). I've already addressed this point in my diary as well as my response to you above. I don't know what else to say on this point.


          If the goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear power has proven to be more efficient than wind, in an economic sense, insofar as the data shows that a dollar spent on nuclear subsidies will result in more avoided CO2 releases than a dollar spent on wind subsidies.
          Link? Anyway, I'd be all for nuclear energy if it weren't for that pesky problem of radiation, spent fuel, containment, disasters....other than that, it's "clean."

          Listen, you seem to have a preference for nuclear energy as voiced in your strong championing of it. That's fine. We all have our preferences. But let's not pretend that hypocrisy is not hypocrisy, and what Exelon did in trying to oppose the production credit was pure hypocrisy in an effort to shore up its own economic interests. It's not logical and should not be considered a serious argument.

      •  Wind in 2012 (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Methinks They Lie, Egalitare

        This year the amount of wind capacity added was close to/perhaps a bit more than 12 GW (12,000 MW) of capacity in the US. In terms of average delivered electricity, this will provide around 4 GW of minimal pollution electricity (a lot of the US has really awesome wind resources, so high average net outputs often happen).

        This will push the cumulative US capacity to around 60 GW, and the average net output to around 20 GW, The numbers in this site actually have a 30% net output for 2011, but this is somewhat forced downwards because of the high percentage of projects that come online at the very end of the year. In addition, some of the newer model turbines (also called Low Wind Speed Turbines) such as the GE 1.6 MW x 100 meter rotor diameter are very efficient with wind, and a lot of LWST were installed this year. And a lot of wind farms in really windy places like Kansas, Iowa, North Dakota and even the wind canyons of Tehachapi (Cal) were installed. Those tend to up the national average power output values.

        Anyway, wind now supplies about 4.2% of the electricity sold on the grid (total of ~ 470 GW or so). And despite having about 20 GW less installed capacity than China has, we produce about twice as much wind turbine sourced delivered electricity. Most of this is not due to wind resource, but that's another tale...  See also


    •  Couple things (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Methinks They Lie, Egalitare

      1.  THe capacity factor that you are using is simply off.  New wind farms are 40+% capacity factor and many are reaching 50+%.   Even a few years ago, the capacity planning factor was in the 1/3rd range, not 1/4th.

      2. Both wind and nuclear have preferred access to the grid. However, wind can price in lower than nuclear power in off-peak periods, with the PTC exacerbating the situation for nuclear operators.  Exelon has not been fully 'honest' in their PTC engagement, as this is a $s in their bank account issue due to their generation portfolio rather than a true question of overall market readiness / effectiveness. With their portfolio, Exelon likely would welcome a real carbon price -- in which case there is the good case to end the PTC.

      3.  Focusing on the history, good to lay out how critical government assistance was for creating the civilian nuclear program.

      Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

      by A Siegel on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 06:26:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I just wanted to say that riding my motorcycle (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Methinks They Lie

    this summer between PA and WV where I-70 does all those twists and turns the fracking crews had every hotel booked up in and around Washington, PA, my traditional stopping point on the way to and from DC to Chicago, unless I can make Colubmus, OH, that is. I don't claim to be versed in energy issues by any means and appreciate the education starting here. I do know, though that the mass of machines and men (mostly) converging on that area for fracking was amazing. I talked with a few and they were coming from all over the country. One dude showed me the unreal bike he'd just bought (for cash) based on his work that summer. I thought, with all the concern over environmental impacts and the efforts to expose water contamination and land degradation, why the rush. Then, I figured, because of the great concern and growing movement over negative impacts, right? Anyway, the other thing that would be hard to address is how happy these folks seemed to be working (probably again), which I guess is something else the industry depends on as a lobbying point, right? Thank you for the thoughtful diary and informative comments.

    I discover myself on the verge of a usual mistake. ― Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

    by dannyboy1 on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 10:46:08 AM PST

  •  R.F.O. re: oil & coal subsidies, Nuclear, not so m (0+ / 0-)


    Those who quote Santayana are condemned to repeat him. Me

    by Mark B on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 04:23:24 PM PST

  •  Obama was quoted thusly in Time's Person of the (2+ / 0-)

    Year issue:

    ...I haven't been arguing for more spending per se.  I think it makes sense for us to spend less on wars and more on research and development.  In sectors like energy, I've been arguing that it doesn't make sense for us to spend $4billion subsidizing an oil industry that's mature and very profitable.  We should be using that money to finance clean energy of the future...

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