In green technology news this week, the most generous solar feed-in tariff (FIT) worldwide—instituted by Japan last July 1 in an effort to replace the nation’s nuclear energy infrastructure with renewable generation—may be cut back as of April 1. Will the move discourage solar development plans?
Japan has been wending its way toward the adoption of renewable energy “in FITs and starts” since an 8.9 magnitude earthquake and a resulting tsunami hit the nation in March 2011, causing widespread deaths and damage, including meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex. Last July, the nation approved restarting two nuclear reactors, despite mass public opposition, at the same time it unveiled pricing for its landmark renewable energy feed-in tariff —designed to be the highest worldwide and to trigger a boom in Japanese renewable energy business. Now, according to The Japan Times, a committee of experts has recommended to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) that the price paid for solar power under the FIT should be cut by as much as 10 percent. The payment for wind energy would remain unchanged. Specifically, the committee recommended that the FIT should be cut to ¥37.8 ($0.40) per kWh for 20 years for applications after April 1. The current rate is ¥42 ($0.44). The cost of solar systems has dropped so drastically that the experts say incentives can be reduced without discouraging development plans. The recommendation would require government endorsement before becoming policy.
Nuclear power has long been a part of the United States' power grid. But new reports from utility experts and executives say that an increased amount of wind power—coupled with an increase in natural gas power plants—may one day mean an end to nuclear power as well as a steep drop in the number of coal-fired plants. The reports point to a massive amount of wind turbine replacements that were erected in 2012, with $25 billion worth of plants going into place as the industry pursued a tax credit that was set to expire at the end of 2012. The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects a rise in the total amount of power wind generators supply to the grid, as the amount increases from 3.4 percent supplied in 2012 to 4.2 percent in 2014.
Meanwhile, in terms of wind farms, as it turns out, size does matter. At the moment, the 504-megawatt (MW) Greater Gabbard Wind Farm located 14 miles off the coast of Suffolk, England in the North Sea is the largest offshore plant of its kind worldwide; followed by the 367-MW Walney Wind Farm, which is eight miles west of Walney Island off the coast of Cumbria, England, in the Irish Sea. But all of that is about to change. Or is it? Both projects have revealed their intention to expand, but Walney—engineered, constructed and operated by a consortium led by Fredericia, Denmark-based Dong Energy—seems to be on a slightly faster track, having already completed its second public consultation. Specifically, Dong, which owns 51 percent of the project —and has partnered with Scottish and Southern Energy (25.1 percent) and Consortium of PGGM and Dutch Ampère Equity Fund (24.8 percent)—has planned an Extension Project that would cover an area of up to 57 square miles, or twice the current 28 square miles covered by the Walney sites. It would generate up to 750 MW of electricity.
The U.S. government wants changes in the design of a proposed wind farm in Maryland to avoid injuries to the bald eagle— the “national bird” of the United States, featured iconically on the nation’s Seal. The wind power developer, Pioneer Green Energy, will construct 30 instead of the proposed 50 wind turbines on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, while it investigates the impact of the technology on eagles. That also reduces the wind farm’s output from 210 megawatts to 150 megawatts. The developer is trying to cooperate with environmentalists. “We’ve taken a huge hit on our economics to stay out of those windier areas, but it helps not only the bald eagles but other species of concern,” Adam Cohen, vice president and founder of Pioneer Green Energy, told The Daily Times of Salisbury, Maryland. The government regulator on the project is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which has the authority to restrict wind power facilities to avoid deaths of birds and bats.
Alternative energy installations have a number of factors weighing in against them. Besides cost and the difficulties of permitting, residents have not often been on the side of the projects, whether they are wind turbines (“they are ugly and give me and the birds headaches!”), geothermal projects (“they cause earthquakes!”) or hydroelectric installations (“they are ugly and kill fish!”). While fewer people have had objections to solar panels, there are always exceptions. Now, a residents’ group in California has set its sights on a new solar panel installation—claiming it will ruin the beauty of the area’s parking lots. (You can’t make this stuff up.) Thousand Oaks, a wealthy suburb in Ventura County, California, hopes to install solar panels in four parks in Thousand Oaks. The project, under the auspices of Conejo Recreation & Park District, is currently awaiting final approval. According to Tom Hare, park administrator for the district, “One of our goals is to offset the reliance on fossil fuels and to be more of a ‘green’ district and set a good example in the community,” Hare told the newspaper. “Another benefit is saved money. We spend $250,000 a year for electricity.” But the plan isn’t sitting well with everyone.”
In New York, worries about the possible dangers of hydraulic fracking have put a hold on plans, until an environmental review is completed. Instead, a Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment study claims it is “technically and economically feasible to convert New York's all-purpose energy infrastructure to one powered by wind, water and sunlight (WWS).” The study further claims the option would lead to a “sustainable, inexpensive and reliable energy supply that creates local jobs and saves the state billions of dollars in pollution-related costs.” Mark Z. Jacobson, an institute senior fellow, said that WWS conversion costs for building renewable energy power plants “would be more than made up for over time by the elimination of fuel costs. The overall switch would reduce New York's end-use power demand by about 37 percent and stabilize energy prices, since fuel costs would be zero, according to the study.”
Finally, they may call it “La La Land,” but the folks in Los Angeles know how to get things done. In 2012, for the fifth consecutive year, Los Angeles remained in first place as the U.S. city with the biggest concentration of Energy Star-rated commercial structures—with 528 buildings that qualify to date. Among the other frontrunners this past year (in descending order from numbers two through ten), were the cities of Washington, DC (462), Chicago (353), New York (325), Atlanta (304), San Francisco (291), Houston (241), Dallas-Ft. Worth (214), Phoenix (202), and Boston (188).