Wind Power

Texas Breaks the Mold and the Record with Wind Power

(3BL Media/Justmeans) — Check out any old western movie and you’re bound to see tumbleweeds rolling across the open prairie. One thing we learned from those old films that beside cowboys and Indians, outlaws and sheriffs, two other things that Texas had, and still has a lot of, is open space and wind.

The open space gave rise to a booming cattle ranching industry long ago, though it has been suffering recently from a drought that has cost farmers and ranchers billions. The move to exploit the state’s abundant wind resource came more recently.

They did that through the construction of massive wind farms. We tend to associate renewable power with liberals and environmentalists, not something you’d expect to see a lot of in oil and gas-rich Texas. But it happened anyway. It didn’t just happen, of course. There were strong state government incentives that somehow survived administration changes that went from the liberal Ann Richards, to conservatives like George W. Bush and Rick Perry. It’s a model that few other states have followed, though many more could benefit from.

In fact, it’s the drought, which scientists agree is at least indirectly caused by climate change (since warmer temperatures increase the likelihood of drought), that, having brought those farmers and ranchers to the brink of disaster, has also led to their enthusiastic embrace of wind power. Many farmers now say it's the only way they've been able to hold onto their land.

“We rarely talked about the environment,” recalls Michael Osborne, co-founder of the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Alliance (TREIA) and developer of the state’s first wind farm in the early 1990s. “We talked about farmers and ranchers getting rich on windmills.”

The regular income generated by wind turbines keeps the lights on in ranchers’ homes, regardless of how their herds might be faring.  Annual land lease payments last year, which went mostly to farmers and ranchers were in excess of $60 million.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Association (EIA), Texas has six of the ten largest wind farms in the nation. The largest is the Roscoe Wind Farm, some 220 miles west of Dallas which also happens to be the largest in the world. It consists of 627 turbines, spread across 100,000 acres that produce 781.5 MW. That’s enough electricity to power 265,000 homes.

But Roscoe is one of many wind farms. Altogether, there are 11,592 wind turbines currently installed (likely more by the time you read this) in Texas with a combined capacity of 20,321 MW. In the year ending last October, wind power was responsible for 12.68% of the total electricity production in the state. That’s a new record.

Republicans Are Buying Solar, Too

(3BL Media/Justmeans) — If you think you know everything there is to know about red people and blue people, how they vote, what they buy, what they drive, and how they power their homes, you might be surprised at the results of a recent study—at least when it comes to that last item. PowerScout, a California-based solar company, uses satellite technology to help potential customers to assess how much sunshine they can expect to fall on their houses, to help assist them in their buying decision.

They decided to use that capability to find out if Republicans and Democrats vary widely in their use of rooftop solar panels. What they learned might surprise you.

First, a note about their methodology. They used publicly available records of donors to each of the political parties. From this, they compiled a list of 1.5 million homes across the top 20 solar states in the US. They then utilized the satellite imagery for all those addresses and fed it into something called a convolution neural network, a type of artificial intelligence system that mimics the human nervous system. The network had been trained in advance of this study to recognize the presence of solar panels in a photo of a rooftop. (Going through all those photos by hand, would have been rather time consuming.)

What they found was that overall the two parties were pretty close. A total 3.06% of Democratic donors and 2.24% of Republican donors had solar on their roofs.

They also broke down their data, state by state. In California, where solar has become mainstream, 7.24% of Republicans and 7.43% of Democrats had solar—nearly a tie. In Hawaii, Republicans actually outsolared Democrats, 9.58% to 8.50%. These are both states where solar is well-established. In other states, where solar is newly arrived, the numbers favor Democrats.

World Wind Growth Hits New Record Despite Obstacles

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - It seems that Bob Dylan was right; if not the answer, then at least one answer to the global warming conundrum is blowing in the wind. Wind power is booming. According to the just-released Global Wind Report: Annual Market Update from the Global Wind Energy Council, global wind power growth hit a new all-time in 2014. New installations around the globe, of 50GW, brings the WW total to 370 GW. That’s roughly 16 times the capacity of the massive hydro plant in Niagara Falls.

As for who to thank for this, China was the world leader, putting up 23 GW of new capacity. They were followed by Germany, a distant second at 5.2 GW, followed by the US at 4.85, Brazil at 2.5 GW, followed by the Canada and the UK at 1.87 GW and 1.74 GW respectively. Sweden and France both squeaked past the 1 GW mark, and perhaps surprisingly, Africa came close at 0.933 GW.

Africa’s strong growth is projected to exceed 1 GW next year with “room to spare,” led by South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana.

This rapid growth in the African economy, along with an accompanying increase in renewable power, has not come without hardship and dislocation as this story about a 310 MW wind farm, which is to be located on 40,000 acres near Lake Turkana in northern Kenya, shows. The wind is strong there, though it has not lately bought rain to inhabitants, who will likely not benefit at all from the project which will send its power via overhead wires to the capital city of Nairobi and not to the 82% of Kenyans who have no access to electricity today. Many Kenyans spend a substantial portion of their incomes just for lighting and to charge their cell phones at kiosks. This presented an opportunity to some entrepreneurial rural women who are selling small solar kits that provide lighting and cell phone chargers to villagers. Such are the stories of a world in transition.

Blow Me Over: The Tipping Point for Wind Has Come

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Among the many things to be thankful for this holiday season is the fact that renewable energy finally has a legitimate place at the energy dinner table. No longer the poor cousins, hoping for an invite, wind and solar are on the guest list and they’ve brought a dish to pass.

Texas Leads Nation in Wind Power For Reasons Both Natural and Manmade

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Texas does not necessarily come to mind as the first state you think of when it comes to alternative energy, or alternative anything else, for that matter. Yet, despite their long and proud history as an oil state, Texas leads the nation in wind power, one of the fastest-growing forms of alternative energy.

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