by George Smith MAINESTREAM column in Kennebec Journal
It’s not all about wind, but wind power is part of the solution. Today at the Augusta Civic Center, hundreds of Mainers convene for the Climate Solutions Expo and Summit, a free public event running from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with interesting exhibits and presentations about a host of issues, including renewable energy.
Anytime I mention wind power these days, opponents of this new energy source pummel me with accusation of bias because First Wind is one of many sponsors of my website and outdoor news blog. Of course, all the state’s major environmental groups are also sponsors, so you could, I guess, say I am biased toward a cleaner environment.
I’ve been interested in and advocating for renewable energy for 40 years, never understanding why Maine can’t be energy independent using wood, water, wind and the sun. If we’d gotten started on this 40 years ago, our state would be a powerhouse today, and our people prosperous.
But you don’t have to take my word for this. Come to the expo today and see and hear for yourself. And if you can’t do that, obtain a copy of “Small Change, Big Gains” by Thomas H. Stoner Jr. I wore out a highlighter reading and marking passages in Stoner’s 500-page book, subtitled “Reflections of an Energy Entrepreneur.”
The hefty tome not only scared the heck out of me about where we are driving our planet, but also gave me hope that there is still time to salvage planet Earth. The book presents a comprehensive solution to climate change, created by Project Butterfly, an entity organized by Stoner to address climate change problems.
Stoner proposes to affix a fee to carbon emissions, while moving all of us to renewable sources of energy with that money. This fellow knows about what he speaks, having spent his time and risen to the highest levels in the worlds of renewable energy and finance. I was encouraged to learn that in 2011, total global transactions in renewable energy and energy efficiency reached $53 billion, up 40 percent from 2010.
Here are a few highlights of Stoner’s thoughts about the three most prominent renewable energy resources with the greatest potential for generating electricity.
• Hydro: “In the United States … there are approximately 2,200 hydropower plants, 1,800 of which are smaller than 30 MW. … Most of the large resources have already been tapped. Nevertheless, there is a surprisingly large untapped potential in relatively small hydro plants (50 MW or less). … Generating power from existing dams could play a much more significant role in addressing our energy needs than is usually assumed.”
• Wind: “Ever since the year 2000, wind energy has been the renewable energy star. Diverse technology improvements … have driven down costs, and the market for wind energy has taken off as incentives have appeared again through mandated utility portfolio requirements over the last two decades. … Typical rotor diameters doubled to 90 meters, and turbine capacity quadrupled. … The biggest improvements in wind energy are expected to show up not in further reductions in the cost per kW but in the capacity factor of each unit. There is little doubt that high-quality wind sites could produce a very large share of future electricity needs at a generation cost competitive to today’s average costs.”
• Solar: “Solar energy is the most abundant and widely distributed of all of the renewable energy resources. … Unfortunately, the variability and other negative characteristics of solar energy have made it the most expensive of all the renewable resources to convert into useful energy services on a large scale. But technological innovation over the last several years is making huge progress in reducing costs. … The most widespread application of direct solar energy today is for heating water.”
And here is where Stoner finally hooked me. “According to the International Energy Agency 2012 ‘World Energy Outlook,’ global subsidies to fossil fuel suppliers amounted to $523 billion in 2011, up almost 30 percent from 2010. The level of subsidies to fossil fuel suppliers seems inconsistent with the articulation of most modern-day energy policies to promote asset diversification.
“Subsidies to fossil fuels in 2011 were six times greater than subsidies to renewable energy. … Small changes to the levels of these subsidies could have significant impacts on future adjustments to the global energy mix,” reports Stoner.
Gov. Paul LePage and the Legislature are tackling a lot of energy issues this session, from the governor’s attempt to shut down wind energy development to extension of tax credits for homeowners who install solar power equipment. They should all read Stoner’s book and get with the program.