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Monthly Archives: Aug 2015

Quick Ivanpah Check-In

The first half of Ivanpah’s Year 2 went a lot better than the first half of the three-unit solar power-tower plant’s Year 1.



Some will claim this is all a result of the controversial plant using more natural gas to supplement sun power. But that might not be the case: Plant operator’s got permission in August last year to turn up the gas, but they actually ended up using less in the second half of the year. (Data on natural gas use is reported annually by the California Energy Commission, a few months after the end of the calendar year.)

Oregon Struggles to Hang on to WindFloat Pacific Offshore Wind Project

WindFloat demonstration off Portugal

It’ll be interesting to see what Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s newly announced “WindFloat Pacific Offshore Wind Advisory Committee” comes up with as the planned project struggles to find a buyer for the pricey energy it would produce.

Locking in a power purchase agreement is key to securing the additional $47 million the U.S. Department of Energy is ready to spend on the project, expected to cost well over $200 million at its planned five-turbine, 30-megawatt configuration. The project received $4 million in an earlier round of DOE funding.

As I reported in June, backers of the project failed to get a bill through the Oregon Legislature that would have required the state’s two big investor-owned utilities, Pacific Power and Portland General Electric, to buy WindFloat’s output. The utilities argued that the power would cost “3-4 times” what they pay for onshore wind and be a burden on ratepayers (this despite the fact that the utilities participate in solar programs that are even more expensive).

There really wasn’t much of a fight over the bill, not after Brown, new to office after the John Kitzhaber resignation, and Democratic legislators pushed through a contentious bill extending a low-carbon fuels program.

For now, the governor’s committee is at the very least a signal to the DOE not to be too quick to pull the plug on WindFloat Pacific, which would use floating turbines about 20 miles off the coast at Coos Bay. Principle Power, the company behind WindFloat’s semi-submersible technology, has suggested one option could be to downsize the project to make it less costly.

The DOE had wanted WindFloat Pacific and two other innovative offshore wind projects it was backing to get their power off-take agreements in place by the end of July. With all three failing to do so, the Oregon project most likely isn’t at immediate risk of DOE abandonment. Still, the DOE did partially fund another floating-turbine project, Maine Aqua Ventus, allowing for continued technology refinements. So if the Oregon project doesn’t find a way to sell its power, the DOE does have another option, although the Maine project, too, would have to show it can market its power.

Photo: WindFloat demonstration project off Portugal, courtesy Principle Power.

Electric Power Monthly Highlights

Notable in the latest EIA Electric Power Monthly, which takes us halfway through the year….

California’s solar dominance grows: In the first six months of 2014, California accounted for 52.2% of the utility-scale solar electricity (PV and thermal) generated in the United States. The state grabbed an even bigger share in the first half of this year, 56.4% (7,343 gigawatt-hours out of the U.S. total of 13,026)…. A little after noon last Thursday, by the way, solar generation in the Golden State reached a record 6,444 megawatts. Remember, too, that this doesn’t include a whole lot of rooftop solar, a subject I explored in some detail earlier this year.

Other solar leaders: Arizona follows California as the No. 2 solar state in the nation, with 1,762 GWh generated so far this year, but 2015 has seen a new state move into the No. 3 slot – North Carolina. With generation up 104.5% this year and 867 GWh generated through June, North Carolina has nudged aside Nevada (826 GWh). New Jersey (443 GWh), Massachusetts (357 GWh) and New Mexico (337 GWh) follow. These top seven states accounted for 91.5 percent of utility-scale solar generated in the U.S. in the first half of the year. A lurking state that could disrupt this leaderboard in the next year or so: Texas.

solar ytd

Coal continues to lose ground to natural gas: Generation from coal was off 8.5 percent this June compared to last June, and for the first half of the year was down 14.4 percent. Natural gas was up 22.4 percent in June, and YTD was up 19.2 percent.

coal vs nat gas chart2Wind energy’s year blows, bad: Despite increased capacity, wind generation this June was down 14.6% compared to June 2014, and YTD generation was down 5.8%. As the EIA explained recently, this was due to poor wind conditions in the West, generally, but was felt most acutely in the Pacific Northwest, where YTD generation was off 22.7% in Idaho, 26.7% in Oregon and 21.2% in Washington.

Wind’s poor year left its contribution to U.S. generation YTD at 4.7 percent, where it was two years ago. By contrast, utility-scale solar, while still small, continued to grow quickly, from 0.2 percent of U.S. generation YTD in 2013 to 0.7 percent this year.solar vs wind chart