Volts:

A company called Direct Connect is currently in the development and permitting phase of a privately financed, $2.5 billion project called the SOO Green HVDC Link, a proposed 349-mile, 2.1-gigawatt (!), 525-kilovolt transmission line to run underground along existing railroad from Mason City, Iowa, to the Chicago, Illinois, area. It aims to go into operation in 2024.

Going underground will allow the line to minimize environmental and visual impact. It will be much more resilient than an overhead line against weather, temperature shifts, sabotage, or squirrels

Two side-by-side cables will run through tubes of Cross-Linked Polyethylene (XLPE) and will be self-contained, lightweight, and easy to handle. They won’t get hot, interfere with signaling equipment (unlike AC lines), or affect rail operations. There are fiber-optic sensors along the lines to monitor sound and heat for any problems. 

(Nemo Link, the world’s first 400 kilovolt line using XLPE, runs undersea between the UK and Belgium; it began operation in January 2019.)

Running alongside the railroad means SOO Green will have no need to claim land via eminent domain. Almost all of that railroad is owned by Canadian Pacific (one of seven large “class one” railroads in the US), so there are a tractable number of parties to deal with. 

A deal like this offers railroads a new passive revenue stream; royalty fees well exceed what they get from similarly buried fiber-optic lines, of which there are more than 100,000 miles along US railroads. And it’s also a chance for railroads to be part of a positive sustainability story. 

The project is privately funded, so there will be no need for any complicated cost-allocation formulas. The financiers (including Siemens, which very rarely puts direct capital in transmission projects) will make their money back from those who use the line — the suppliers that put power on it, the shippers that sell power across it, and the buyers that consume the power — through competitive bidding for capacity. SOO Green is holding an open solicitation right now to allocate its 2,100 megawatts among them.

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Across the heartland, rural communities have been struggling for decades and their economies have been hollowed out by the same forces affecting urban areas.
With a widened deployment of renewable energy, wind turbines and solar farms can be revenue engines that fund essential services, while keeping taxes low.

Toledo Blade:

Another wind farm, Michigan-based CMS Energy’s Northwest Ohio Wind project, consists of 42 turbines in southern Paulding County. It helps power all of GM’s Ohio and Indiana manufacturing facilities.

To Susan Munroe, a former Van Wert County Chamber of Commerce director now with the Chambers for Innovation & Clean Energy, there’s “no greater opportunity for economic development” than wind power.

Revenue generated by wind turbines have helped improve park districts, township roads, and senior citizen programs while keeping costs down. But, above all, it has brought stability to local schools in uncertain times:

■ At Paulding County’s Wayne Trace Local School District, a higher percentage of students have been graduating and more have scored in advanced and accelerated categories for achievement since revenue from wind farms began coming in, according to state test scores. Superintendent Ben Winans said there has been $4.5 million in turbine revenue since 2014, which has allowed the district to hire 18 additional staffers — mostly for special needs and intervention. Some $848,235 came in the last fiscal year. “We wouldn’t be able to do this without them,” Mr. Winans said of the giant turbines.

■ At Van Wert County’s Crestview Local Schools, wind turbines have generated an additional $880,000 a year, which has paid for new classrooms and other construction, as well as a school resource officer, and money for future contingencies. “It keeps you off the ballot. You can carry that money forward,” Superintendent Kathy Mollenkopf said. “We don’t have to go to our taxpayers for anything. That’s a good place to be.”

■ At Van Wert County’s Lincolnview Local Schools, turbines have generated $2 million since 2014, and — at a pace of $400,000 a year — are expected to bring $8 million in funding over 20 years. It has helped pay for new technology, a boiler, more parking, and a new roof. “Where we decide to put it is endless,” Mr. Snyder said, also stating that the additional money helped refinance bonds to save interest on the community center, which will also serve as a tornado shelter. The new center “would have been a very tough sell” to voters without revenue from wind turbines, he said.

“Our relationship with the wind energy companies has been sensational,” Rick Turner, superintendent of the Vantage Career Center, which serves 430 high school students from Paulding, Putnam, and Van Wert counties, said.

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“So what’s a Republican, like me, doing at a wind farm?” asks GOP Colorado Senate candidate Cory Gardner in the ad above.
Damn good question, given the hostility to renewable energy that leading GOP funders and interest groups have been showing in recent years, and the current political campaign.

NYTimes:

In Senate races in the general election, the analysis found, energy and the environment are the third-most mentioned issue in political advertisements, behind health care and jobs.

The explosion of energy and environmental ads also suggests the prominent role that the issues could play in the 2016 presidential race, especially as megadonors — such as Thomas F. Steyer, a California billionaire and environmental activist on the left, and Charles G. and David H. Koch, billionaire brothers on the right — take sides. Leaders of major environmental groups like the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters said they had collectively spent record amounts of money in this election cycle.

“Candidates are using energy and environment as a sledgehammer to win a race,” said Elizabeth Wilner, the senior vice president for politics at Kantar Media/CMAG.

Groups representing the energy industry and environmental advocacy have typically been the lead players in presenting policy positions in ads, but this year the candidates themselves and party political committees are also taking on that role.

“What’s important about what’s going on right now is the extent to which the Democrats feel confident playing offense on environmental and energy issues, and the extent to which polling shows that they are scoring when they do that,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster.

What pollsters know, and what candidates are finding out, is that climate and energy issues work to move voters.  In Mr. Gardner’s home state of Colorado, renewable energy is popular, and concerns about climate and environment are high – leading Democratic interest groups to seek to tie Mr. Gardner’s record of climate denial to his stands on other social issues where he seems to be out of step with his constituency.

The election results will tell us something about how well these kinds of attacks, and responses, have worked – but the swing in voter attitudes on climate change is unlikely to stop, especially given the possibility that 2014 could be the hottest year ever in the NASA surface temperature record, and if a developing El Nino warming event in the Pacific plays out in coming months, 2015 could be hotter still.