It isn’t often that a new renewable energy project can be called a bad thing for renewable energy, but such is the case in Ann Arbor, Mich., with the Pioneer High wind turbine scheme.
The plan afoot – just waiting for final approval by the city – is to install two wind turbines, one rated at 50 kilowatts, the other 11 kW, at a cost to U.S. taxpayers (not counting any tax credits down the road) of nearly a million bucks. It’s a project that has boondoggle written all over it. If you build it, Ann Arbor, damage to the renewable energy cause will come.
Ryan J. Stanton at AnnArbor.com has been covering the heck out of this story and one key fact he has uncovered is that the Pioneer High wind turbines will produce an insanely small amount of electricity. One of the partners in the project guaranteed the 11-kW turbine will yield around 17,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, while the 50-kW turbine will put out about 67,000. This adds up to 84,000 kWh per year, equal to the amount of electricity, Stanton points out, consumed by 10 average Michigan households.
It also works out to a combined capacity factor of about 15.7 percent. That’s abysmal for this kind of money; it’s half, at best, the capacity factor typically delivered by big wind turbines at utility-scale wind farms in good windy places.
If you’re wondering how in the world this project could be economically viable for anybody involved – and the partners are the city of Ann Arbor; Ann Arbor Public Schools; and Wind Products, the company that estimated the output – it’s all about the subsidy. The U.S. Department of Energy is ready to pony up $951,000 in taxpayer money for the $1.44 million project.
Is this the result of a thorough DOE look into how best to spend its precious funds in the era of fiscal cliffs and sequestration? Was it the result of a competitive process to determine the best spots in the country to deploy wind power technology in order to gain new understanding of its possible use?
I wish. I wish because often the DOE does do exactly that sort of thing in doling out funding. Much of its SunShot program, for instance, is competitively based, and pointed toward advancing knowledge, pushing technology forward, improving the way solar works and bringing down its cost.
This? It’s just pork. Pure greasy salty fatty pork.
It was included in the Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009, just one of what Taxpayers for Common Sense figured to be 8,500 Congressional earmarks worth $7.7 billion. This spending bill was a bipartisan money grab, but the Ann Arbor wind turbine item was the work of half-century-plus House veteran John Dingell, whose district stretches west from Detroit to include Ann Arbor. He brought home the bacon.
I get that the economy was tanking at the time and needed quick infusions of cash. But it’s four years later. The original earmark was to build big wind-turbine at a water treatment plant. Maybe that would have made some sense. Who knows?
Since the water treatment plant site fell through (apparently for reasons of “land accessibility”) the city has been casting about for a place to site the project. After all, who can say no to nearly a million bucks in free money?
So with a June 30, 2014, grant end date looming, project supporters appear to be rushing to get the Pioneer High School site approved. The city is cool with it because it would only spend $18,590 in staff time on the project, Stanton reported. And despite the tiny amount of energy the turbines will produce, with most of the cost of the project being paid for by U.S. taxpayers, the developer will apparently be able to price the energy cheaply enough such that the Ann Arbor schools save $2,000 a year on their electricity bill. That’s not much money, but the city and the school say the turbines will accomplish so much more.
“What this is really about is educating the community about renewable sources of energy,” Brian Steglitz, a senior utilities engineer for the city, told Stanton. “And to have a wind turbine in the city, which is sort of a monument to renewable energy, sort of speaks a little bit to the community’s goals and interests.”
Dude, we don’t need $1.44 million monuments to renewable energy, not ever, and especially not during a time of budgetary crisis! And you’re not going to convince people of the great potential of renewable energy by spending too much money on a really bad energy producer.
This is not computing for me – and it’s not computing for Joe Woods, either. Back in 2009, his company, North Coast Wind & Power, did a wind study for the county Ann Arbor is in, at a site about 15 or so miles west of the city. Lousy spot for wind power, he found, and there’s no indication that the Ann Arbor site is any better. Woods told Stanton that the Ann Arbor project reminds him of another one that was driven too much by subsidies and not enough by cold hard analysis – a pair of 10-kilowatt turbines in Lordstown, Ohio, that, according to the Youngstown newspaper, have been operating a 3 percent capacity factor.
An engineer from the National Renewable Energy Lab told the paper: “Micro-siting, where a small wind turbine is placed in an area where buildings or trees can block the wind, kills performance. It’s not uncommon, but you have to site the turbines where they have access to good wind.”
You hear that, Ann Arbor?
Amid all this stupidity, on the AnnArbor.com website, the comments of outrage have been piling up. Sure, ALL renewable energy projects run into some negative pushback, but this is different. This isn’t knee-jerk green equals bad. Instead, many citizens are moving toward the belief – with much evidence pointing the way – that public support for renewable energy is bad. What a damn shame.
Ann Arbor, kill the project. Send the money back to the Treasury.