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This post was co-written by Bruce Nilles, Senior Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign.

As we continue to retire aging dirty coal plant after aging dirty coal plant nationwide (we just hit 112 coal plants secured to retire) , we are also pushing hard to replace them with clean energy, and as little natural as possible. That's why we were excited this week to see two very large clean energy announcements from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

First, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the completion of the final environmental impact statement for a massive Wyoming wind farm. The Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project would be comprised of up to 1,000 wind turbines across private and federal land in southeastern Wyoming, and generate up to 2,500 MW of clean energy.

This is a great move for a state where coal mining is devastating a beautiful and critical area - the Powder River Basin. More wind power in Wyoming could mean less coal mining and fewer coal trains and coal plants in the west. It is also a smart move for a state that sees itself as an energy powerhouse, and wants to keep this role in a future that will have little to no coal in it.

For example, these 2,500 megawatts of wind power could replace the two filthy coal plants in Nevada, including the one that got highlighted this week as a major polluter next to the Paiute Indian reservation outside of Las Vegas.

It's also approximately the same amount of power coming from one of the dirtiest coal plants in the west - the Colstrip plant in Montana. Colstrip's pollution dirties the region's air - including the beautiful vistas of Yellowstone National Park. The kicker is that this plant is co-owned by Puget Sound Energy, the power company that provides electricity to Western Washington State, including progressive companies like REI and Microsoft. (Full disclosure: we have an ongoing campaign to get Puget Sound Energy out of the dirty coal business and put its customers' money into clean energy that does not contribute to global warming).

We look forward to reviewing the final environmental impact statement for these two large wind projects in Wyoming, and working with BLM to ensure that there are adequate conservation measures for two struggling bird species, the Golden Eagle and the Greater Sage Grouse.

The second great piece of new was Secretary Salazar's announcement that the Interior Department finalized the environmental review for wind projects offshore from Rhode Island and Massachusetts:

The environmental assessment for the Rhode Island/Massachusetts Wind Energy Area will be used by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to inform future leasing decisions as part of the Administration's "Smart from the Start" offshore wind energy initiative. The Wind Energy Area (WEA) comprises approximately 164,750 acres within the area of mutual interest identified by the two states.
Offshore wind in this area has the potential to create jobs and provide clean energy for Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York, as projects in this area could tie into all of those states.  

We are pushing hard to ensure offshore wind projects move forward and that they are sited and designed in a way to protect endangered species, such as the extremely rare North Atlantic Right Whale. The release of this environmental review is an important next step by the Obama Administration to help retire the remaining coal plants in New England and Mid-Atlantic regions, end the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining, and power the region with clean energy for decades to come.  

The next step to realize the many benefits of offshore wind and catch up with the European and Asian countries that are already installing offshore wind projects, is for New York Governor Cuomo and Connecticut Governor Malloy to support contracts for offshore wind projects as their colleagues in Rhode Island and Massachusetts have done.

As the Eastern Seaboard settles in for another weekend of record-breaking temperatures, with hundreds of thousands of homes without power from last week's epic storm, it is increasingly clear that we need to accelerate the transition from energy sources that cause global warming to energy sources that don't sacrifice our future.  This change won't happen anytime soon in Congress. It will happen, and is happening, state-by-state and city by city.  Please join us in this struggle for our future.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Arithmetic Suggests These Will Be Large Turbines (5+ / 0-)

    on the scale of the 2.5 megawatt generator just east of Cleveland right near the lake shore freeway.

    "Massive" doesn't begin to describe the wind turbine that Lincoln Electric completed Monday, 278 feet above its headquarters in Euclid and just a few hundred yards from the Shoreway.

    Commuters heading home to eastern suburbs couldn't miss the machine, which some said looked as if its blades would sweep the highway itself.

    It's the largest wind turbine in Ohio and one of the largest in North America. It was manufactured in Germany by Kenersys Gmbh, a small but growing company that wants to build a factory in the United States.

    The water tower which is in the foreground gives an idea of the size of it:
    Image Hosted by

    Great, we need so many more of these.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 11:24:38 AM PDT

  •  Diary needs to get MW and MWh straight. (5+ / 0-)

    I am in the utility business and have stuck my personal neck way out for industrial scale wind development where I live, so I need to point out some errors that often get renewable advocates in trouble. And also so we all understand the daunting task we face in replacing fossil fuels with rerewables.

    The diary refers to the size of the wind projects and the existing coal plants in terms of MW (megawatts). That is the capacity of the plants, but it is not a description of how much energy they actually produce. That is measured in megawatt hours (MWh).

    Similarly, when you pay your electric bill, you are paying for how many kilowatt hours you used in a month. "Kilowatt" is not a measure of energy and neither is megawatt.

    Why is this so important for people to understand? Because most renewable sources (wind, solar) are intermittent. They do not generate all the time, and when they are generating, they are very often not generating at their full capacity.

    So depending on location, a commercial scale wind project might be expected to generate on average at 30-40% capacity, whereas a baseload fossil fuel plant like coal or natural gas would be expected to generate at over 90% capacity.

    1000 MW coal plant X 8760 hours in a year X 90% = 7,884,000 MWh of energy

    1000 MW wind farm X 8760 hours in a year X 40% capacity = 3,504,000 MWh of energy.

    A lot of wind projects operate at closer to 30%.

    As we transition to renewables, we need to find solutions to the intermittent nature of most renewable sources. At this point we unfortunately don't have anything that fills in the fluctuations well except natural gas. We also need to understand that a 1000 MW wind farm generates a fraction of the energy of a 1000 MW fossil fuel plant.

    In order to not come off as negative, let me reiterate that ,my job has been to (successfully) move a small utility off of fossil fuels and nuclear to renewable and cleaner energy sources.

    "So, am I right or what?"

    by itzik shpitzik on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 11:50:10 AM PDT

    •  Thanks. It's good to get expert input. Please keep (4+ / 0-)

      it coming.

      You can't make this stuff up.

      by David54 on Fri Jul 06, 2012 at 12:09:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  A couple of errors (0+ / 0-)

      You've misread it. It isn't 1000 MW, it's 1000 turbines at 2.5 MW each, or 2500 MW. And I've done some work on wind projects in that area and I would guess that they will be closer to 40% than 30%.

      However, they are comparing it, at different times, to Colstrip which is 2000 MW (~85% capacity factor) and two plants in Nevada, one of which is 500 MW and I don't see the name of the other one.

      So, who knows what the math should look like?

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