With our state budget facing significant challenges and our global ecosystems being increasingly challenged by higher greenhouse gas levels, it is vitally important that we spend our limited first electric grid dollars in a way which best solves our urgent combined clean energy and environmental cleanup needs. This is not to say we will not need to later spend to develop all low-polluting renewable energy systems in order to resolve climate change, but it makes the most sense to initially get as far down the solution path with the least expensive and lowest polluting option to the point where electric grid balance and stability requires us to simultaneously shift our development to the other renewable energy source options as well. It makes common sense to diversify and limit our future clean energy mix to little more than 20 to 30% from any one renewable energy source option. It also makes sense to develop the one that yields the most energy and least environmental impact first.
Let’s look at the math for each of our renewable energy options using a brief hypothetical look at comparative costs, according to my current understanding using a single large scale 2.5 Megawatt (MW) wind turbine as a comparative benchmark:
Large Scale Commercial or Community-Owned Wind:
A 2.5 MW large scale wind turbine producing an average of (2.5 MW x 33% capacity =) 0.825 MW-Hr and costs an average of about $6.0M to build (infrastructure included) and is often projected to last at least 25 years without major component replacement. I would estimate operation and maintenance costs over that 25 year life cycle to be about $1.0M, including staffing costs. The 33% capacity factor used in this calculation often exceed 35%, but the low, conservative number is used here to illustrate the virtue of large scale wind. The developers required decommissioning reserve fund costs (which would likely never occur due to our growing need for clean/green electricity) might be about $150,000/turbine. The work would be fast and simple compared to dismantling a traditional fuel (uranium or fossil fuel) plant. The source “fuel” inflation rate would forever be ZERO.
The long-term environmental damage costs after construction completion would be mostly limited only to avian and bat population damages and the embodied energy required within continued O&M (Operation and Maintenance) needs. The initial construction footprint of the average 2.5 MW turbine is typically about 1 acre for the turbine pad area and another 2 to 4 acres for the required service road and infrastructure components, depending on specific site conditions. A significant portion of the roadway and power distribution acres typically already exist since the developers look for those site condition options in order to reduce costs. There are no continuing pollution or carbon costs. The fact that few long-term jobs are provided after project completion is not a negative, but a positive in terms of holding down future electric costs.
Ballpark Estimated 25-year Economic Costs: $7.00M (hard and soft costs) + $0 fuel costs
Ballpark Estimated 25-year True Societal Environmental Costs: 3 to 5 disrupted acres, minimal wildlife damage and system supply pollution, no fuel supply damages
Small Scale Privately or Community-Owned Wind (Net Metered):
An equal amount of power output (0.825 MW-Hr) using small scale (assume 10 KW units) wind turbines would require a massive amount of small turbines, towers and guy wires and an equal amount of politically-charged and approved local permits. Many town plans already restrict tower heights to where it is nearly impossible to place small turbines the recommended 45 feet above the bonnets of trees that often grow to 80 foot high mature heights (125’ tower heights are often required for a practical yield from a good wind site). A 10 KW small scale turbine would typically be located in lower wind speed areas than large scale turbines and therefore often have capacity factors of less than 10%. Given those optimistic figures, it would take (0.825 MW-Hr x 10 KW x 10% =) 825 10KW wind turbines to equal one 2.5 MW turbine! If the installed cost of a 10 KW wind turbine is about $40K, with an optimistic estimated $10K in O&M costs over 25 years, the total cost to produce 0.825 MW-Hr for 25 years would be (825 turbines x $50K =) $41.25M. A 10 KW turbine is a fairly large small wind device. The use of smaller units currently more commonly applied in residential use would yield even comparative higher costs and environmental impacts.
The long-term environmental damage costs after construction completion would be mostly limited only to avian and bat population damages and the embodied energy required within continued O&M needs. It is said that small turbines kill more birds and bats than large turbines due to greater RPM speeds, but I question that logic. Given the required guy wiring and erection area, each turbine would require 1 acre of land, plus occasional service access (Call it, 1/2 acre). That means creating the same power which a single 2.5 MW turbine would require (825 x 1.5 acres =) 1,238 acres of environmental damage versus 3 to 5 acres for the one large turbine.
Ballpark Estimated 25-year Economic Costs: $41.25M (hard and soft costs) + $0 fuel costs
Ballpark Estimated 25-year True Societal Environmental Costs: 825 to 1,238 disrupted acres, minimal wildlife damage and system supply pollution, no fuel supply damages
Large Scale Commercial or Community-Owned Photovoltaic Solar:
An equal amount of power output (0.825 MW-Hr) using PV solar (assume 216 Watt panels) would require a massive amount of (assume 40″ x 65″ fixed panels @ 45 degrees above horizon) panels and a single project permit approval. A typical 216 watt PV solar panel in an ideal skydome condition (seldom achieved) can often yield 3.5 times its panel rating each day. That means a 216 watt panel will yield ((216 W x 3.5) / 24 hours/day =) 31.5 Watt-Hrs, or .0000315 MW-Hr. In order to match the hourly output of a single 2.5 MW wind turbine, Vermonters would have to install 26,190 solar PV panels (@ 216 W each). If the current installed cost of large scale PV solar (with less expensive per panel rack systems) is assumed to be, optimistically, around $3.25/Watt, with an estimated $2K (per 10 KW) in total O&M costs (hired labor included) over 25 years, the total cost to produce 0.825 MW-Hr for 25 years would be ((26,190 panels x 216 W/panel x $3.25/W) + ($2K x 825 KW/10 KW) O&M cost =) $18.55M.
Given the 17.5 degree winter solstice sun angle here in Vermont, the spacing between fixed PV panel rows would require approximately (46″ / tan 17.5 deg =) 145.9″, or 12.2 feet between PV panel rows. The flat land area required for each PV panel would be ((46″ + 145.9″) long x 40′ wide =) 7,676 Sq In, or 53.3 SF per panel. To equal the output of a single 2.5 MW turbine with solar panels we would therefore need (26,190 panels x 53.3 SF =) 1,395,953 SF, or (43,560 SF = 1 acre =) 32.1 (assumed flat with 100% open skydome) acres versus the 3 to 5 acre figure for the large turbine. If the surrounding skydome is not 100% open due to tree blockage, assume approximately 5.6 acres would need to be cleared on each side of the solar array would also have to be cleared. Building shadows and other solar obstructions would be less apt to occur in large scale solar array applications because they would be clustered together in planned open areas or on top of large structures with open skydomes. Wildlife damage would be limited to the comparatively small toxic emissions used in manufacturing the solar components and assembly.
Ballpark Estimated 25-year Economic Costs: $18.55M (hard and soft costs) + $0 fuel costs
Ballpark Estimated 25-year True Societal Environmental Costs: 32 to 44+ disrupted acres, minimal wildlife damage and system supply pollution, no fuel supply damages
Small Scale Privately or Community-Owned Photovoltaic Solar (Net Metered):
An equal amount of power output (0.825 MW-Hr) using PV solar (assume 216 Watt panels) would require a massive amount of (assume 40″ x 65″ fixed panels @ 45 degrees above horizon) panels and a huge amount of local permits, again, complete with related local approval hurtles. A typical 216 watt PV solar panel in an ideal skydome condition (seldom achieved) can often yield 3.5 times its panel rating each day. That means a 216 watt panel will yield ((216 W x 3.5) / 24 hours/day =) 31.5 Watt-Hrs, or .0000315 MW-Hr. In order to match the hourly output of a single 2.5 MW wind turbine, Vermonters would have to install 26,190 solar PV panels (@ 216 W each). If the current installed cost of PV solar is assumed to be, optimistically, around $4.00/Watt, with an estimated $2K (per 10 KW) in total O&M costs (hired labor included) over 25 years, the total cost to produce 0.825 MW-Hr for 25 years would be ((26,190 panels x 216 W/panel x $4.00/W) + ($2K x 825 KW/10 KW) O&M cost =) $22.79M.
Given the 17.5 degree winter solstice sun angle here in Vermont, the spacing between fixed PV panel rows would require approximately (46″ / tan 17.5 deg =) 145.9″, or 12.2 feet between PV panel rows. The flat land area required for each PV panel would be ((46″ + 145.9″) long x 40′ wide =) 7,676 Sq In, or 53.3 SF per panel. To equal the output of a single 2.5 MW turbine with solar panels we would therefore need (26,190 panels x 53.3 SF =) 1,395,953 SF, or (43,560 SF = 1 acre =) 32.1 (assumed flat with 100% open skydome) acres. In small scale solar, the likelihood of all 26,190 panels being clustered in one array is tiny, therefore reality would require many, many more skydome clearance acres to be cleared. Building shadows and other solar obstructions would also impair electric production in densely populated areas. A factor of at least 3 should reasonably be applied to the number of required cleared acres with small scale solar versus large scale solar.
Ballpark Estimated 25-year Economic Costs: $22.79M (hard and soft costs) + $0 fuel costs
Ballpark Estimated 25-year True Societal Environmental Costs: 96 to 132+ disrupted acres, minimal wildlife damage and system supply pollution, no fuel supply damages
Large Scale Commercial or Community-Owned Hydro
(specifically, Hydro Quebec and the Deerfield-Connecticut River Valley Dams):
I have no knowledge related to the production and enviro costs of Hydro Quebec electricity, but it makes sense to me that things are less expensive if you make it yourself versus buying it from another party. It has been long rumored that Hydro Quebec lobbyists have been hanging around the Vermont Statehouse for some time discouragingVermontfrom making their own renewable energy based power so they can later sell us theirs at a higher price. If we continue to operate on sleeping pills, like when we gave away the Deerfield-Connecticut River Valley hydro dams to TransCanada, or allow S.30 to become a reality, Vermont will be boxed in to buying expensive HQ power, especially when the reality of our future need for a mammoth amount of clean, green electricity for our transportation sector starts to sink in. In addition, it is only logical that asCanada’s own demands and clean/green power ethics issues grow, they will keep their home-grown power for themselves andVermontcontract agreement costs will start to soar, if available at all. The other question Vermonters need to ask themselves is just how “green” is electricity from massive flooded areas inQuebec? Ethically, we should adopt the policy that us Vermonters should be willing to produce all of the electricity we consume ourselves and accept all of the true societal costs and impacts that go with it. I find it unethical and childish that the Vermont NIMBY’s and S.30 sponsors want their electricity to be produced elsewhere and out of sight and mind.
In general, it is my understanding that hydro power generally has the best payback rate of all renewable options under favorable conditions, with large scale wind being the second best option. This is due to the fact that the capacity factor percentage of use is the highest and the density of water is 16 times that of air and able to produce high levels of mechanical “work”. The problem with considering large scale hydro as a future additional energy source for, and within,Vermontis the natural capacity of the state has already largely been fully developed. Our only option would be to buy back our existing capacity from TransCanada, a company not on good terms with theU.S.due to the Keystone XL pipeline insanity.
Ballpark Estimated 25-year Economic Costs: N/A for further in-state development. More expensive & non-guaranteed supply out-of-state power purchases
Ballpark Estimated 25-year True Societal Environmental Costs: Minor for existing plants, large for new plants. Existing impacts controlled by out-of-state owners
Small Scale Privately or Community-Owned Micro Hydro (Net Metered):
Small scale hydro inVermontis still largely an untapped resource inVermontand should be a larger part of the total clean/green energy mix where the energy capacity is large enough to justify the system costs and environmental impacts. This is a very site-specific energy source which, given streams with year-round sufficient flow rates and operational head heights, can have very quick investment paybacks due to the high capacity factor of 24/7/364 running water. These systems are sometimes prone to high service O&M costs, but can be a good option for residential or small business power generation with only minor environmental impact. Vermont ANR permitting is required and can be difficult to comply with in certain situations. Because of all of the restrictions to its use and limited availability, this renewable energy option is a great choice, but will not be a major contributor to our statewide clean energy mix.
Ballpark Estimated 25-year Economic Costs: N/A. Total available quantities likely unable to match the 0.825 MW-Hr benchmark
Ballpark Estimated 25-year True Societal Environmental Costs: Minimal land disruption, very minimal wildlife damage and system supply pollution, no fuel supply damages
Large Scale Commercial or Community-Owned Tidal (I call it “Lunar”) Hydro:
Another largely untapped renewable energy source which will be an important future piece of our clean energy equation is what I call “lunar power”, or tidal power. This, of course, cannot be part ofVermont’s clean energy production portfolio since we have no ocean access, but hopefully it will soon be part of the New England NEPOOL electric mix of the future. If implemented on a large scale in the future, costs could be very attractive, but forVermontthey will be tempered by the added cost of new transmission lines from the east coast. There are obviously no promises as to the future availability and cost of this energy source toVermont, but it will likely be a small part of our statewide clean, green energy mix in the future. The environmental impact, reliability and safety factors of this form of energy are still under investigation. Like hydro power,Vermontwould have no control over the cost, availability and environmental impacts of this energy option.
Ballpark Estimated 25-year Economic Costs: N/A for in-state development. $0 fuel costs. More expensive(?) & non-guaranteed supply out-of-state power purchases
Ballpark Estimated 25-year True Societal Environmental Costs: Likely minor impacts but yet to be determined. Existing impacts will be controlled by out-of-state owners
Efficiency and Conservation:
All of Vermont-based anti-wind power groups know they cannot gain public appeal without offering a clean, green alternative to wind power. One of the games they play is to say we don’t need wind because we have efficiency and solar, which are both better than wind. First, no one disagrees with the virtues of efficiency, conservation and solar as a required part of our future combined energy/enviro solution, but the fact seems to escape their logic that you cannot run your refrigerator with “efficiency” and solar is gigantically more costly and environmentally damaging than large scale wind (see figures above). Yes, efficiency, conservation, and even human population control, are all items which should be at the top of our energy/enviro priority list. The problem is, our climate change issues have gotten so urgent that we need to execute a whole collection of “top priorities” all at once in order to address the entire problem with a workable solution. That means, despite the cost of efficiency, conservation and population control being our lowest cost problem solutions, we also need to simultaneously produce as much clean, green power as possible with the fewest initial dollars and the smallest overall environmental impacts. Ethically, we need to make it ourselves and live with the consequences which come from it. That means we need to urgently build the large scale wind power capacity portion of our future energy demand mix without any moratorium, delays or biases born from those who do not see the forest for the trees in terms of our combined energy/enviro future.
Ballpark Estimated 25-year Economic Costs: Lowest cost option, but does not produce energy
Ballpark Estimated 25-year True Societal Environmental Costs: No wildlife damage and minimal system supply pollution, no fuel supply damages
Large Scale Commercially-Owned Nuclear Electric Plant (specifically, Vermont Yankee):
If you do the hypothetical math exercise (don’t try this at home!) of determining the cost of babysitting one spent fuel rod for 240,000 years until inert and safe at $1/year with an annual inflation increase rate of only 1% results in a total cost which approaches infinity dollars for the purposes of human understanding. This makes the construction and continued use of the Vermont Yankee plant, on strictly an economic basis, one of the most insane thingsVermont has ever done! In addition, we all know the cost and inflation rates are and will be much higher in reality. Vermont Yankee uses up about one spent fuel rod every two days in order to momentarily run everyone’s toaster.Vermont uses about 700 MW of electricity on the average and about 1,000 MW at peak. Only about 38% of that comes from Vermont Yankee, soVermont gets (38% x 700 =) 266 MW on the average from that plant. This amount can easily be replaced in the future with a well planned renewable energy and storage mix, but we need to get started immediately! We already have a good start on that project. We soon will have about 175 MW of renewable-sourced energy on-line.
Add to the security and safety costs of all those spent fuel rod casks sitting along the Connecticut River shore, the costs of the Vermont Yankee plant construction, renovations, repairs, permitting, O&M demands, limited-supply fuel, monitoring and testing, deliveries, decommissioning and countless other intangible costs and it is easy to see that this is not a sane energy choice. Add to that all of the environmental and geo-political risks. The decommissioning fund for the plant is now severely inadequate and, I predict, the final clean up figure will exceed $1.2B (with a B) with Vermonters left to make up the difference once Entergy heads for the exits. If that wasn’t troubling enough, the scenario still exists that if 9/11 United Flight 93 would have turned right and aimed for the spent rod pool building we likely would have lost habitability of the entire easternU.S.andQuebecseaboard and part of the Atlantic coast for a couple hundred thousand years…
Pile on the massive environmental impacts of uranium fuel mining, refining, processing, trucking, accident and terrorist protection, high-concrete content nuclear plants, water demand and evaporation GHG impacts, river water temperature changes and toxin discharge, dry cask storage safety concerns, massive subsidies, large staff requirements and no real-world spent fuel rod disposal method and it is easy to see that “to cheap to meter” was a 1950’s myth.
Ballpark Estimated 25-year Economic Costs: An amount too large for the human to comprehend
Ballpark Estimated 25-year True Societal Environmental Costs: Potentially beyond planetary limits
Large or Small Scale Commercially or Community-Owned Fossil Fuel-Fired Electric Plant:
As far as comparing large scale wind to fossil fuel fired electric production plants, the stupidity of using fossil fuel in terms of overall true societal costs should be self evident to any sane and intelligent person. Despite heavy bouts of denial, Most Americans now understand the reality of peak oil and human impact on climate change. As we slide on the downward side of the peak oil supply curve it is easy to see that we are now into ever-inflating fossil fuel costs, military supply struggles and an increasing frequency of supply disruptions. Add to the fuel cost, the real but often ignored, high cost of government subsidies, future carbon taxes, resource extraction, refining, delivery, manufacturing and electric production plant constructions and permitting, large staffs, plant O&M and decommissioning.
On top of that, the true societal cost of using fossil fuel should also include the intangible but real costs of severe storms, droughts, floods, food crop damage, health and other problems brought on by quickly accelerating climate change. Some would even include the cost of two Gulf region wars as part of the cost of maintaining American supply access to fossil fuel supplies. Even today, most American energy accounting balance sheets are not yet sophisticated enough to include these true societal costs as part of the real cost of fossil fuel. This is a massive mistake in our combined energy and environmental solution planning logic. We need to look at the real cost of electricity as being beyond just cost/KW-Hr retail rate listed on our electric bills.
Although electricity is not produced by burning gasoline, a 1998 study by the InternationalCenterfor Technology Assessment illustrates my point similar to all fossil fuel electric production. The study estimated the true societal cost of gasoline as $15.14 / gallon… 15 years ago!… before Iraq, Afghanistan, Katrina, BP in the Gulf, Fukushima, Irene, Sandy and many other related true societal costs we all pay, but wrongly disconnect from what we think we pay per gallon or per KW-Hr (also see the video:http://science.time.com/2011/06/28/the-real-price-of-gasoline).
Some defenders of the present Vermont electric usage mix say that we only use oil and natural gas for a little over 1% of that total, but in reality, a significant portion of the approximate 18% of the energy we purchase from the New England NEPOOL grid is also generated by those polluting fossil fuels. This means we need to replace and/or work with the rest of New England to increase the amount of renewable energy used in order forVermontto meet its goal of 90% renewable by 2050.
With inflating costs, upcoming supply shortages, very heavy environmental impacts and a need to return to 300 PPM of atmospheric CO2 (presently at 395 PPM and growing at 2.7 PPM/year) as soon as possible, the use of fossil fuel in the Vermont overall energy mix no longer makes sense (see http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/03/08/1691411/bombshell-recent-warming-is-amazing-and-atypical-and-poised-to-destroy-stable-climate-that-made-civilization-possible). Also see the attached “True Cost Chart.pdf”, a chart that graphically illustrates the folly of the continued use of fossil fuels in terms of economic and environmental costs. On the chart, green is good, red is bad. This includes the discontinued use of fossil fuel for our transportation (35.5%), industrial (15.7%), commercial (19.4%) and residential (29.3%) sectors.
Ballpark Estimated 25-year Economic Costs: Second highest, only to nuclear, in true overall costs
Ballpark Estimated 25-year True Societal Environmental Costs: Already beyond planetary limits
It is clear from the above listed costs that the best overall first choice for new energy production with the least environmental penalty is the use of LARGE SCALE COMMERCIAL OR COMMUNITY-OWNED WIND POWER.
In addition to the avoided future environmental costs, the advancement of renewable energy “fuel” of all types has the long-term inflation-resistant advantage of costing $0/unit in 2013 and in the year 3013! The consequence of that to our long range economy cannot be under estimated.
It is often suggested by wind power opponents that solar is a better option than large scale wind because it is less expensive and has less environmental impact than wind. Although solar has to be a vital part of a sane future energy mix for Vermont, it is clearly not a better first choice over large scale wind power in a cash-strapped society with an unstable economy where our first investment dollars in green electricity need to provide the most clean power for the fewest dollars and in the fastest erection method possible.
It is also argued that renewable energy sources are not a good option versus fossil fuel or nuclear power because they are intermittent and therefore cannot be used as base load power. This is utter nonsense. Electric energy storage is not rocket science and has been used with reasonable conversion factors (often 30%) for over a century in systems such as water towers, reservoirs, large capacity batteries, hydrogen production through electrolysis, flywheels and other devices. The advancing technologies in this area are currently advancing on a daily basis and will be 100% ready for use by the time our total energy mix utilizes so much renewable energy that intermittency could be a problem. Currently, the variability of end-user demand is something which is handled routinely all of the time by the NEPOOL grid managers and is a greater overall variable than the fluctuation in renewable energy production. The advantage of building a logical balance of all renewable energy sources is that they (wind, sun, rain) seldom tend to generate power at the same time.
This underscores the insanity of the creation of additional obstacles to its development through the passage of senate bill S.30.
Please kill the bill for the sake of a sane future.