Archive for November, 2009

10 Lovely Links

November 11, 2009

Should the United States government specifically fund the construction of an offshore wind farm?

Green energy may be all the rage but what steps are Americans willing to take in order to develop the renewable resource of offshore wind power? Recent funding by the U.S. Department of Energy seems to suggest a push toward government support of America’s first offshore wind farm. However, decisive action has yet to be taken. My issue is whether or not that move needs to be made and, if so, who should make it.

1. Not only is this the journalistic article that started me down my particular research path, but it’s also a great resource for learning more about the plan for an Oregon wind farm. In addition, the illustrations that accompany the article serve as helpful visual aids that give a sense to readers how an offshore wind turbine works and where they may be built in Oregon.

For my final paper, I plan to use this article as resource in describing the Northwest’s involvement with offshore wind. It will also serve as a way to introduce many of the stakeholders I ended up interviewing including the Tillamook PUD and Principle Power. For my essay, I also plan on doing a bit of a summary on how Northwest news sources are currently following this topic. Since this article, how much focus has The Oregonian put on this topic? Why?

2. This link goes to the homepage of the Cape Wind project. Although the bulk of my research, including my interviews, has been a bit closer to home, this site provides information that helps forecast the future of American offshore wind farms. The Cape Wind project in particular has received much media attention being the American project furthest along in terms of planning.

This site is an institutional one seeing as proponents of the Cape Wind project manage it. As such, I will need to provide context on where any specific information I use comes from.

3. The European Patent Office (EPO) provides rich background information on how and why the wind turbine movement started. This will provide context to my essay on why this issue matters. Plus, the EPO includes European countries such as Denmark and the United Kingdom that have high levels of energy production from offshore wind farms. This will be helpful in detailing the  global picture of what other countries are currently doing about offshore wind. The EPO is not directly related to the business success of any green energy company, which makes this source more scientific than institutional.

4. The European green energy company Blue H built the first floating turbine prototype, a piece of technology key in developing wind energy off the Pacific Coast of the United States. Information from this site also widens the picture on how companies such as Principle Power, the main character in the Northwest branch of this story, fit in to the ocean wind dynamic. A question this site might help me answer is whether or not American wind farms, if kick-started by the federal government, will need to rely on non-American technology.

5. Principle Power has been one of the main characters in my story to date mainly because of the company’s Northwest involvement. This company’s website, though obviously presenting the best information available about Principle Power, also provides update press releases that give a sense of the current movement in offshore wind turbines. I’ve also conducted two interviews with Principle Power employees, including the CEO. In forming my essay, I plan on drawing on these interviews and, as such, will need the background information this source provides.

6. Unlike some of my other sources, the following three links connect to a journalistic source that provides a more negative view of offshore development. These entries on a Wall Street Journal blog by Keith Johnson address the concerns, especially financially, of building ocean wind farms. From these three, I get a sense of the most common cons listed when it comes to developing ocean wind as a renewable energy resource. Also, these posts are beneficial in providing an example of how another journalist blogs about the topic.

Blog Post #1

Blog Post #2

Blog Post #3

7. The Department of Energy (DOE) webpage features a number of resources I’ve already cited in my work and plan on doing again in my final essay. For example, the DOE site features two press releases that announce the most recent waves of funding provided for offshore wind farms. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, both rounds of funding directly benefited Principle Power. Beside this information, the DOE has a separate website of information that directly addresses the benefits and negatives of developing wind power.

8. During my most recent research I came upon a local energy management and renewable energy program taught at Lane Community College. Such programs are also being developed in community colleges in Tillamook County in preparation for the development of an offshore wind farm. Information such as this will add yet another side to my essay for two reasons. First, such programs demonstrate the job creation possible with offshore wind farms. Second, it is telling that multiple locations are putting time, money, and personnel into these programs although, as is the case in Tillamook, an actual green energy business has yet to be developed.

9. This article from January 2009 announces the conclusions of a study conducted by the United Kingdom’s Department of Energy and Climate Change to research how the impact of offshore wind turbines on marine life. I’ve also included the link to the actual study, which provides scientific research on yet another aspect of the debate swirling around offshore wind turbines. The first link, being a journalistic source, provides me with context on why this issue is important and how it might impact the status quo.

10. This last link is to another blog that follows this topic and is written by Chris Madison, an employee of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). The blog, which is called “Into the Wind,” is the official blog of the AWEA. This is important because it gives the content ties to a specific institution that, needless to say, is “pro-wind.” As such, the author tends to take a certain stance in reporting the most recent political and financial developments concerning American offshore wind farms. However, the blog is still very helpful as it provides current information on new moves in the industry and how they affect stakeholders.


A Conversation with a CEO

November 11, 2009

A few afternoons ago I had an unexpected phone message from Principle Power’s CEO Alla Weinstein who was kind enough to return my multiple phone calls. Turns out she was away in Europe. I asked her about the current status of the Principle Power prototype project in Portugal (now there’s a tongue-twister) as well as a few other wind turbine related questions. Here’s the summary of our conversation:

Q: What’s the status of the WindFloat prototype project currently going on in Portugal?

Ms. Weinstein: It’s going quite well. The project is defined and we’re hoping to complete it by 2011. As we progress with development, Principle Power will share the information with Oregon.

Q: What are the differences between the prototypes of Blue H and Principle Power?

Ms. Weinstein: Blue H’s design is based on a tension leg methodology that has a number of issues to resolve. First, it’s a fairly expensive technology and involves hiring divers. Second, it’s not suitable with areas of high tidal variation. Third, the mooring involves large metal pieces that are flooded and sunk. This leads to the question of how do you decommission the unit while Principle Power’s WindFloat has a very low impact on the ocean floor.

Ms. Weinstein also explained that Blue H’s prototype uses a two blade turbine that isn’t in standard production, unlike the commonly manufactured one Principle Power uses. In addition, she said the Blue H model never generated electricity and is still being worked on. Both models are designed to complete assembly in the harbor and to function in depths of 50 plus feet.

Q: What are Principle Power’s future plans for the Tillamook PUD project?

Ms. Weinstein: The permitting for the Tillamook project will take, on its own, a couple of years. We’re not losing anytime especially because [permitting] takes longer than anyone would think.

Weinstein also explained that Principle Power is continuing to raise funding for its various projects. The $750,000 Department of Energy (DOE) grant awarded to the company in September will, she said, apply to the prototype’s environmental research, while the project involving the University of Maine, which received $8 million from the DOE in October, involves a small test turbine of 100 kilowatts which is, Weinstein explained, “not big whatsoever.” That project along with the work in Portugal will serve, she said, to “validate the technology.”

Q: How much is the development and installation of a single WindFloat estimated to cost?

Ms. Weinstein: Our financial goal is $3,500 per installed kilowatt. However, that depends on so many factors. For example, one of the biggest issues we’re facing in Oregon is the Astoria Bridge over the Columbia River because the closest facilities capable of manufacturing the technology are in Portland but the end product would be too tall to get under the bridge. But then where do we manufacture the product on the coast? The closest shipyard big enough is in Seattle. Then what? Do we build in Seattle and drag it down? These are the sort of logistical problems we’re facing that end up being more complicated than the actual technology.

Q: So why is developing offshore wind worth the money?

Ms. Weinstein: How many offshore wind farms are there on the West Coast now? None. Why is that? People don’t want them but people need energy. People need clean energy. We need all the energy we can get so we can lower our dependency on fossil fuels.

One other thing: Before this interview I wasn’t aware that WindFloat technology also takes advantage of wave energy. The two legs in front of the WindFloat are so designed that a concept Ms. Weinstein called “oscillating water columns” powers a turbine and, thus, generates electricity along with the spinning of the wind turbine. Talk about killing two birds with one stone…

Blue H – A New Character

November 7, 2009

Seems Principle Power isn’t the first to think up the floating wind turbine idea. This company launched its prototype in 2007 (check out the video on the linked page to see how it was made), and it sounds like 25 more units are planned. If Blue H is able to do that, it’ll be the first floating wind farm in the world. Hmm…but will they do the same off American shores?

Let’s Talk Numbers – The Money Behind The Plan

November 5, 2009

Ahh word counts. This bit below was suppose to be included in my most recent assignment (a 500-word article with three interviews) but unfortunately I had to chop it. Still, I think the information is interesting and important.

Here’s a little background:

Patrick Ashby: the general manager of the Tillamook People’s Utility District who oversees the PUD’s project with Principle Power.

Principle Power: the Seattle-based green energy company that signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Tillamook PUD on November 18th, 2008. Their sole product is WindFloat, the prototype of which is currently under construction in Portugal and is described more in earlier posts.

Mary Jane Parks: the senior vice president for Principle Power.

Now here’s the information….

The price tag for the proposed Tillamook wind farm of 40 turbines is roughly $450 million, a number The Oregonian first reported in October 2008 and which Ashby said in a November 4, 2009, e-mail is “close enough” to projected budgets. Onshore wind farms tend to cost much less – 76 turbines at the Columbia River Gorge Biglow Canyon project totaled between $255 to $265 million. Parks of Principle Power, however, said higher costs result when developing a new area like offshore wind.

“This is an emerging technology and so, of course, the cost of development is higher,” she said. “Onshore wind has already gone through the initial fabrication and building costs.”

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) helped ease the financial burden of trailblazing with two recent waves of funding: the first arrived on September 15, 2009, with $750,000 awarded directly to Principle Power; the second came exactly a month later with an $8 million investment in the University of Maine DeepCWind industry consortium, to which Principle Power serves as a member. As far as the specific price of one WindFloat, Parks said Principle Power is currently unable to release the information.

The Winds of Change Seem to be A-Blowin’

November 4, 2009
Up You Go #4

Strap some scuba suits on these people and they're ready to start an offshore farm.

It’s not often a project you’re working on hits you smack-dab in the face but today that’s exactly what happened. While walking back from class what do I see rising up oh so very majestically in front of me? That’s right – a giant wind turbine. I’m not sure what this one was made out of – I’m thinking paper mache over steel – but still, what are the chances? I had to learn more and that’s when I found out about this upcoming, local event:

Although I don’t plan on going, I find it interesting how hot these topics are now. I mean, ten or even five years ago would I have seen a giant wind turbine on campus? Probably not and, although environment-conscious isn’t what I would call “new,” I feel as if there’s a new fire burning under people to change the way we power our world. Wherever that fire came from, it gives a whole new meaning to “global warming.”

How Wind Works

November 3, 2009

As I’ve been researching for my next assignment, I came across some helpful sites that nicely explain how a wind turbine works. The first one comes from the Discovery channel and shows the inner workings of a turbine. The second is a list of the most frequently asked questions concerning wind power, both on and off shore. It was compiled by the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA), self-described as “he leading renewable energy trade association in the UK.” Now, let’s learn about wind!