Archive for December, 2009


December 5, 2009

If there’s one thing I’m glad we did in Gateway it’s the introduction I received on how to use fancy technology. Granted, Final Cut Pro and a Kodak handheld camera aren’t really the fanciest of equipment, but for someone like me whose experience with computers ends at two years of InDesign, knowing how to use audio and film properly have opened up a whole new world of media.

These projects also provided me testing grounds for future ventures. For example, I’ve learned to book equipment from the journalism school at least a week in advance. If you want to be extra smart, also book it for the week after. That way even if you don’t need the equipment it’ll be there for you if editing calls for changes. Also, backgrounds can be distracting so, when filming, pay attention to what’s behind your subject. (I learned this the hard way – the film I made for Gateway II features a back wall covered in Christmas decorations, providing a riot of red and green that distracts from the main subject).

Beyond bookings and backgrounds, however, the most important thing I’ve learned this term is don’t be afraid of new projects. Technology has a tendency to give me hives, but I’ve found the only way to combat my nerves is to full on tackle the project at hand. Going outside my media comfort zone (which prior to this term consisted of e-mailing a story to an editor), not only makes me a better, more talented journalist, but it provides me new venues in which to share the stories I find. True – I say this now with three cozy weeks without school gloriously stretching out ahead, but, still, Gateway projects proved to me that it can be both fun and educational to try something new on the computer.

“Parading for the Planet”

December 5, 2009

Protests aren’t uncommon in Eugene, Oregon, but rarely do they include polar bears. The first weekend of November hundreds of University of Oregon students and Eugene residents gathered together to protest for the planet. Organized by UO students, the PowerShift West parade marked the end of the three day long conference that attracted college students from various Western states. This film features their hard work and commitment to making the planet a cleaner place for the future. Enjoy the show.

Make Your Case

December 3, 2009

Harnessing the Winds of Change

Why the U.S Federal Government Must Take Action in the Offshore Wind Debate

Everyone needs electricity. Well, unless you’re Amish. Still, for the 99.3% of Americans who use energy more than horses, the power behind that socket has to come from somewhere. By 2030, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects the American demand for electricity to grow steadily, with a 24% increase just for electricity to power air conditioning. Such demands will only continue to deplete the electricity-producing sources America currently relies on including foreign oil and coal. As such, it is reasonable to conclude that every electricity-generating resource must be put to work if America wants to even attempt to meet future energy demands. For this reason, the U.S. federal government should more aggressively support the construction of offshore wind farms along America’s coasts.

The term “more aggressively” applies to two actions: funding and execution. The first, funding, requires the federal government to continue to provide money for the development of offshore wind technology. This is especially important because much of the technology necessary to build farms along American shorelines, such as floating turbines to combat the ocean depths of the West Coast, have yet to be produced. The second action, execution, refers to the need for the federal government to guarantee the construction of viable offshore farms.

Currently, both areas demand improvement. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), in 2008 renewable energy met 7% of the nation’s total energy demand, with wind power making up only 7% of that small figure. Such a number pales in comparison to the potential that has been proven to lie in American breezes. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), with the proper development, wind power “could provide 20% of this nation’s energy needs.”

It’s not that the federal government isn’t aware of this. In fact, the NREL is an offshoot of the DOE’s Wind Energy Technologies Program, an organization that published the 2008 report “20% Wind Energy by 2030: Increasing Wind Energy’s Contribution to U.S. Electricity Supply.” Between its glossy covers, the report sets the goal of “[increasing] U.S. wind manufacturing capacity.” Developing offshore wind will play a key role in meeting this objective.

Perhaps Alla Weinstein says it best in this simple statement: “We need all the energy we can get.” Weinstein works as CEO of the Seattle-based green energy company Principle Power, which develops deep ocean wind turbine technology. Although her career may be based around this debate, Weinstein’s comments shouldn’t ring any less true, especially considering how much power offshore wind has been proven capable of generating once developed. It’s enough energy that the coast of Maine is known in the green energy community as “The Saudi Arabia of Wind”. It’s enough energy that the vast majority of the outstanding and superb areas of the DOE’s wind resource map appear along our country’s coasts. And it’s enough energy that in 2008 with only seven offshore wind farms Denmark produced 25% of all its energy needs.

In the scheme of electricity generation, America lags behind not just Denmark but most of Europe in realizing the potential that comes with harnessing the ocean breeze. Last year more wind power was installed in European Union countries than any other electricity generating technology, including gas and coal. Right now, not only does America lack a spot on that green energy gameboard, we don’t even have a piece to play with. In order to make up for this lost time and begin making our stand in a new energy market, companies like Principle Power need the full backing of the U.S. government. Since October, the DOE has provided offshore wind research more than $38 million (find the two related press releases here: #1 and #2). However, this recent surge in funding is a deceptive sign of involvement. The Cape Wind project of Massachusetts, for example, reveals how lethargic the government has truly been in creating a working wind market.

As has often been the case with Cape Wind, which the Wall Street Journal describes as the “unwitting poster child for the hurdles facing alternative-energy projects in the U.S”, cost arguments often hinder progress. It’s no secret that developing offshore wind will take money. Even Parks of Principle Power admits the high price tag:

“Offshore wind is an emerging technology so it’s going to be more expensive,” she said. “Onshore wind has already gone through this ‘learning curve.’”

One project along the Oregon coast offers an example of this difference. Off Tillamook County, Principle Power plans to develop a 40-turbine farm, a project the Oregonian reports could total $450 million. (This figure is “close enough” to current projections, Tillamook People’s Utility District (PUD) General Manager Patrick Ashby said via e-mail.) Comparatively, the first phase of the Columbia River Gorge Biglow Canyon, a 76-turbine onshore farm, cost between $255 and $265 million to construct. Both projects plan to produce a similar amount of electricity.

Such price differences should not sway the U.S. government’s involvement in the development of offshore wind. Rather, they should inspire more aid. As the Wall Street Journal detailed in a December 2008 article, for “offshore wind to become a realistic part of the energy mix” the government must develop offshore and deepwater equipment”. Thus, only by providing funding to expand the offshore wind market in America can this area of green energy ever hope to grow, and in light of this country’s growing energy crisis there can be no question that more resources must be made available.

At the crest of the offshore wind energy wave surf companies like Principle Power, which continues to seek private donors for the development of its offshore products. These organizations, however, cannot be expected to break the trail alone. The U.S. government must make it a priority to fund research and, once that research bears fruit, to make sure it doesn’t rot on the vine as Cape Wind has for the past eight years. Unless the average citizen plans to start burning candles and lighting lanterns, all power resources, especially those that can prove as fruitful as offshore wind, must be developed. In the end, we as Americans cannot wait for the winds of change to blow our way.

Make Your Case – Links

December 3, 2009

1 –   “Annual Energy Outlook 2009 with Projections to 2030”

Accessed: December 1, 2009.

Published online by the Energy Information Association (EIA) in March 2009, a report of this nature appears annually and is compiled by the DOE (no specific authors are listed). Using scientific and statistical information as well as many lovely multi-colored graphs, this report summarizes the overarching trends in energy use of 2009. It also projects energy use for every year up to 2030. I used this information to provide context to my issue and explore how urgent developing green energy actually is.

Judging by its tone and syntax, this piece is intended for other scientists/researchers interested in energy consumption. It may also be useful for energy companies as they forecast future consumer demands. However, it is easy to access online if one is interested in green energy and so, in a sense, also addresses the citizen population at large. (Government/Institution/Academic Research)

2 –  “20% Wind Energy by 2030”

Accessed: October 2009

I have previously referred to this report from the DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Department. According to the DOE website, the report was funded to “[examine] the technical feasibility of using wind energy to generate 20% of the nation’s electricity demand by 2030.” That such a field is of interest to the DOE speaks to the topicality of my topic, and also provides scientific fact for me to build my argument from. As mentioned in my final essay, the information available here comes from the DOE-sponsored National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) with the lead editors all heads of either the DOE or the NREL.

In addition to these industry leaders, the report also identifies “more than 90 individuals and more than 50 organizations” that contributed. As such, like with my first link, this piece was written by scientists and researchers for others in their respective fields. Indeed, some of the involved institutions went on to use this source to fuel their own organization decisions, as was the case for the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) which has a website completely devoted to achieving the goal set forth in the “20% Wind Energy by 2030” report. However, by making the report available online and in downloadable PDF format, the DOE makes the information available to anyone, like myself, who is interested in the hard numbers behind the energy issue.(Government/Institution/Academic Research)

3 –  The Danish Wind Industry Association

Accessed: October 2009

The Danish Wind Industry Association (DWIA) website has been critical in my research because Denmark has long led the offshore wind industry. Although the DWIA is obviously in strong favor of wind energy (the association represents 99.9% of Danish wind turbine manufacturing), I have found the information extremely useful in terms of statistics and seeing whether or not offshore wind is truly worth the cost of development. No specific authors are mentioned on this website. Rather the information is presented as the collective opinion of the DWIA. Its simple-to-understand nature as well as the ready availability of the information (any Google search for the industry leader in Danish wind will lead to the DWIA homepage) lead me to believe that the facts presented here are intended for the general public.

A special note – the URL of the site intrigued me (namely the “talent factory” part of it). I found that the Talent Factory is, as described on its webpage, a “co-operation between 16 leading wind power companies that represent the broad span of technical challenges in the industry.” The Talent Factory is the party responsible for presenting the DWIA webpage translated in English. This fact may seem small but sheds light on the Talent Factory and DWIA’s shared goal to extend offshore wind power education to parties, governments, and companies beyond Denmark . (Institution with institution-funded research)

4 –  The European Wind Energy Association

Accessed: November 2009

The DWIA and many of the companies involved with the Talent Factory are also members of this organization: the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA). I include so many resources dealing with Europe because one of the main points in my essay is that the offshore wind farm has already proven to be a viable market in various foreign countries, many of which are members of the European Union and the EWEA.

In addition, the EWEA is the European counterpart to the AWEA. Both are responsible for all wind power related matters that occur in their specific regions. However, the two organizations are not connected beyond this, and the EWEA wields much more influence than the AWEA. For example, the EWEA oversees a number of wind associations and institutions around Europe, including the two mentioned earlier. In the United States, such coordination and leadership power tends to fall to the DOE. Knowing this information is important in appreciating the differences between the European and American approaches to offshore wind power. (Institution with institution-funded research)

5 –  DOE press releases:

September 15, 2009 press release

October 15, 2009 press release

Accessed: October/November 2009

These links go to two DOE press releases which announce respective rounds of funding that directly involve the offshore wind market. In both cases, this funding in some way involves Principle Power, a company I directly reference in my final essay.

The DOE is, obviously, a government body. However, being press releases, these two documents are worded to attract media attention and, in this way, be introduced to a larger audience. Thus, it is not surprising that U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu plays a prominent role in both. In fact, the format of both press releases is surprisingly similar: an introductory sentence, followed by a favorable quote from the Secretary about the importance of green energy, and ended with an easy-to-understand summary of the funding and “awarded” projects.

As is the case with most of the government/institutional sources I’ve listed, these documents have no listed authors but rather are written in such a way as to embody the very voice and opinions of the group they represent. One difference with these two links is that the press releases include a phone number for media personnel to contact. This drives home the fact that the information presented here is meant for an audience larger than just green energy scientists and government officials. (Government/Journalism – Public Relations)

6 Wall Street Journal “Environmental Capital” blog post

Accessed: November 2009

I originally presented this link as a source providing a “more negative” view on offshore wind turbines. After reading through the selected Wall Street Journal “Environmental Capital” blog post and its companions (visit these two additional ones here: #1 and #2), however, I came to the conclusion that this viewpoint wasn’t so much more negative as highly realistic.

Dealing with the business and financial side of things (not surprising knowing the origin of these pieces) the intended audience for this article is, most likely, a younger, up-and-coming set of businesspeople. I say this because this article appears online in the daily “Environmental Capital” blog, which advertises itself as covering “the business of the environment”. Only someone who was both technologically savvy and interested in a financial opinion on environment ventures would religiously follow such a resource.

The lead writer on the blog is Keith Johnson who is very prolific on environmental issues ranging from China’s green energy plans to “Green Ink”, a daily round-up of the most current environmental news. He is the go-to guy for all Wall Street Journal environmental coverage. This is important as it means that, in general, Mr. Johnson and his editor(s) are the voice of the Wall Street Journal‘s opinion on the environment.   (Journalism)

7 –  Interview with Alla Weinstein

Accessed: November 9th, 2009

As I mention in my final essay, Alla Weinstein is the CEO of Principle Power, a Northwest green energy company currently developing the first prototype of its WindFloat technology. This technology would allow turbines to float on top of the ocean and thus open up a whole new area of development for offshore wind farms, especially along the American West Coast. Principle Power has received funding from the DOE although Ms. Weinstein said the majority of the company’s money comes from private donors.

I learned such information in my interview with Ms. Weinstein. During our talk, it was obvious that Ms. Weinstein is no stranger to the media – she was very adept at shifting focus from specific information concerning Principle Power’s budget to more encouraging topics, such as the progress of the green energy market. Keeping this in mind, Ms. Weinstein’s information was still very helpful in learning more about the field. In addition, she provided estimates on how WindFloat technology budgets that orientated my research in terms of similar green energy project costs. (Institution)

8 –  Interview with Mary Jane Parks

Accessed: November 3rd, 2009

Like Ms. Weinstein, Mary Jane Parks works for Principle Power. She is the company’s senior vice president. I interviewed both Ms. Parks and Ms. Weinstein to provide a more dynamic view of Principle Power and the company’s role in the offshore wind business. Where Ms. Weinstein has made a career of green energy, Ms. Parks began working for the company only a couple of years ago. As such, Ms. Weinstein provided more information on the company’s technology development, while Ms. Parks elaborated on the benefits of Principle Power’s work. She, like Ms. Weinstein, tended to skirt questions involving finances.

One additional note – I was referred to speak with Ms. Parks by Patrick Ashby (more information below) and, due to many failed attempts trying to contact Ms. Weinstein, Ms. Parks was to be my only Principle Power viewpoint.

9 –  Interview with Patrick Ashby

Accessed: Multiple dates in October 2009

Another information-rich interview I conducted was with Patrick Ashby, the General Manager of the Tillamook County People’s Utility District (PUD). The PUD currently has a Memorandum of Agreement with Principle Power concerning a proposed 40-turbine farm off the Tillamook coast. Mr. Ashby oversaw the MOA and continues to work with Principle Power as that company develops the WindFloat technology the Tillamook project would use. It was Mr. Ashby who referred me to Ms. Parks.

Although he and the project he manages didn’t end up featuring as much in my final essay as they did in earlier assignments, Mr. Ashby’s interviews were very helpful in confirming the facts and financial information on the Tillamook project that Ms. Weinstein and Ms. Parks also shared. He also provided an opinion that is not directly connected to the offshore wind business seeing as Mr. Ashby’s position does not, to the best of my knowledge, hinge on the success of the development of Principle Power’s WindFloat. Unlike Ms. Parks, Mr. Ashby was not accountable to Ms. Weinstein or, for the most part, Principle Power officials. (Institution/Citizen)

10 –   Oregonian article “Company floats idea of Pacific Ocean wind power”

Accessed: October 2009

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this article was the match point for my entire project. Written for a regional (Northwest) audience, this piece goes over the basics of the Principle Power and Tillamook PUD agreement and how it would impact Tillamook County and, more broadly, the state of Oregon. In addition, this piece provides background on East Coast wind projects and floating turbine technology, including Principle Power’s WindFloat. Many of the main characters in this article, including Alla Weinstein and Garibaldi, Oregon, citizen Jeff Folkema, ended up finding their way into my research.

However, there is information the article leaves out that I found vital in my own research. For example, the piece does not provide a very extensive look at the proposed downsides of the Tillamook project. Little context is given about other projects outside America or how this sector of the green energy market has grown around the world. Also, competing technologies, such as those developed by the United Kingdom company Blue H, go unmentioned.

I can relate to the struggle the journalist Gail Hill must have had in trying to incorporate all the available offshore wind information. I too had trouble fitting all my research into a concise written piece. There are many topics, such as the expected impact of various wind turbine technologies on ocean life, that pages and pages of text could be devoted to. Ms. Hill no longer appears on the Oregonian staff although the paper still features an environmental section on its webpage and, at times, in its physical newspaper. (Journalism)