We Checked President Trump’s Dubious Claims on the Perils of Wind Power

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WASHINGTON — It’s no secret that President Trump really, really dislikes wind power. He’s been vocal on the subject for years, ever since a battle with Scottish officials over a plan to build what he called a “really ugly wind farm” within sight of his golf resort in Aberdeen.

More recently, in rallies and speeches, Mr. Trump has stepped up his attacks on wind turbines, suggesting that their noise can cause cancer (there’s absolutely no evidence of this) and predicting power failures when the wind stops blowing (also not true).

Here’s a closer look at a few of his recent comments.

You might get cancer. (You won’t.)

During a sometimes rambling digression about wind turbines at the National Republican Congressional Committee’s annual spring dinner in Washington on Tuesday, Mr. Trump said: “They say the noise causes cancer.”

The suggestion that turbine noises cause cancer is completely unfounded. “The American Cancer Society is unaware of any credible evidence linking the noise from windmills to cancer,” a spokeswoman for the group said in an email.

Separately, some researchers have been investigating claims that noise from wind turbines might cause other health problems like nausea, headaches or sleeplessness. So far, experts haven’t found strong evidence of links to those conditions, although that debate is likely to persist.

When compared to the research around coal power, an energy source that Mr. Trump has long championed, the difference is stark.

There is ample evidence linking the particulate pollution from coal plants to heart disease, respiratory problems, and lung cancer. When Mr. Trump moved to relax restrictions on coal plant pollution last year, his own Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the change could lead to as many as 1,400 additional premature deaths each year by 2030.

Property values will plummet. (Unlikely.)

At the same dinner, Mr. Trump made this claim: “If you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations, your house just went down 75 percent in value.”

There have been a few smaller studies suggesting that wind-farm development may have depressed property values in some areas. But the balance of evidence suggests that this is uncommon. Much larger studies, including an analysis of more than 50,000 home sales across nine states conducted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2013, have found no evidence that home values are generally affected by nearby wind projects.

In any case, Mr. Trump’s golf course in Scotland does not appear to have suffered financially after the construction of the wind farm nearby.

The lights will go out if the wind drops. (They won’t.)

At a rally in Ohio last month, Mr. Trump suggested that wind power was too unreliable to be useful. “Let’s put up some windmills,” he said. “When the wind doesn’t blow, just turn off the television darling, please. There’s no wind. Please turn off the television quickly!”

It’s true that wind turbines generate electricity only when the wind is blowing. But that doesn’t mean the power in your home will suddenly go out when the wind dies down.

Across the United States, regional grid operators typically rely on a diverse array of power sources throughout the day so that the lights stay on. During sunny hours, they can draw electricity from solar panels. When it’s windy, they can make use of power from wind farms. If power from those renewable sources starts to drop, operators can use power from natural gas turbines or hydroelectric dams to fill in the gaps.

So far, America’s grid operators have been very good at this balancing act, even as coal has declined and renewables have surged in popularity. Last year, wind power accounted for nearly one-fifth of the electricity generated in the Texas grid, and people were still able to watch TV there. When power failures around the country do occur, it’s almost always because of severe weather knocking out transmission lines, not because wind turbines stopped spinning.

However, it’s also fair to say that if wind and solar power continue to expand — the two sources produced 8.2 percent of the nation’s electricity last year and are growing rapidly — grid operators could face new challenges in juggling those intermittent sources.

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Possible solutions for that might include adding batteries or other energy storage to balance supply and demand, or improving weather forecasts so that operators can better predict the output of wind farms. Or building more transmission lines to get access to wind power from distant regions, on the principle that the wind is usually blowing somewhere in the country.

Experts have concluded that it’s technically possible for the United States to manage a lot more wind and solar power than it uses today.

For instance, a 2016 modeling study published in Nature Climate Change found that, using existing technology, the country could get 55 percent of its electricity from wind and solar if it built a network of high-voltage transmission lines. That study analyzed reams of historical weather data and concluded that the lights would stay on even with daily and seasonal fluctuations in the wind.

To be sure, there are plenty of legitimate debates about what the power grid of the future should look like and how big a role renewable energy ought to play in that mix. But the fact that the wind can come and go is hardly a slam-dunk argument against using wind power.

For more news on climate and the environment, follow @NYTClimate on Twitter.

Puerto Rico is betting clean energy can help it emerge from the darkness

It’s Tuesday, March 26, and Puerto Rico is betting that clean energy can help it emerge from the darkness.

A year and a half after Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc in Puerto Rico, killing thousands of people and leaving many on the island without power for months, the U.S. territory passed a bill on Monday that would require it to be powered by 100-percent renewable energy by 2050.

Governor Ricardo Rosselló, who cheered the vote on Twitter, is expected to sign the bill soon. Several companies and organizations are already working to install solar panels and batteries in hospitals, community centers and other sites crucial for disaster response.

This is a huge step for Puerto Rico, as the island’s power grid was already weak before Maria hit — with power plants decades older than the U.S average. About half of the island’s electricity also comes from imported oil, making power more expensive for Puerto Ricans than for people living on the mainland.

Puerto Rico’s new renewable goal follows similar efforts by Hawaii, California, and most recently, New Mexico. “After Hurricane Maria, a new consensus was really built in Puerto Rico,” Javier Rua-Jovet, director of public policy in Puerto Rico for San Francisco-based solar installer Sunrun, told Fast Company. “Everybody knew that a different system had to be built.”

Smog clouds

The Smog

Need-to-know basis

You may need to sit down for this. Over the past year, carbon dioxide emissions around the world grew at their highest rate in five years, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency. The grim findings show that fossil fuels satisfied nearly 70 percent of the world’s growing electricity demand.

Scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrapped up a comprehensive analysis that found two pesticides continue to harm the existence of more than 1,200 endangered species and plants. But according to a New York Times investigation, David Bernhardt, President Trump’s nominee to lead the Interior Department, has blocked the public release of the report and began implementing new protocols that would make it harder to attribute such risks to pesticide use.

Republicans in the U.S. Senate are pushing for a vote on the Green New Deal this week as part of an ongoing effort to turn the resolution into a campaign issue for Democrats as the 2020 elections approach. Democrats say that the GOP is underestimating the importance of climate change to a growing number of Americans.

Rachel Ramirez

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FPL To Replace Aging Gas Power Plants With World's Largest Battery

Florida Power & Light Company is going to build the world’s largest energy storage system to replace two natural gas power plants.

At 409MW the Manatee Energy Storage Center will be four times larger than the existing record holding battery system, the Hornsdale Power Reserve in Australia.

The battery will be charged up from an existing solar plant.

“This is a monumental milestone in realizing the full benefits of solar power and yet another example of how FPL is working hard to position Florida as the global gold standard for clean energy,” said Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL. “Replacing a large, aging fossil fuel plant with a mega battery that’s adjacent to a large solar plant is another world-first accomplishment.”

Smoking industrial chimney stack and a solar panel. Photocredit: Getty

Getty

Like many other utilities in the U.S. and around the world, FPL is charged with the task of replacing fossil-fuelled power stations as they reach the end of their productive lives. Previously, a round of replacements saw natural gas superseding FPL’s oil-fired plants. Now gas is finding non-nuclear, low-carbon options are muscling in. Florida’s last coal power plant is expected to close later this year.

According to FPL, the plan will also save ratepayers $100 million.

Solar power is, obviously, variable depending on the time of day and what the weather is doing. Pairing the huge battery with solar means the energy from the plant can be counted on more predictably. FPL says it will discharge the batteries at times of peak demand. Ordinarily, that would be when the dial was turned up at selected, responsive gas power plants.

FPL has taken to solar power in recent years. Earlier this year it has set itself the target to install 30 million solar panels by 2030. In 2017 it began work on a 1.5GW solar rollout spread across seven years with progress on track thus far.

“It seems like just yesterday that FPL kicked off its massive solar expansion in 2016 by opening a solar power plant in Parrish,” Stephen Jonsson, chairman of the board of County Commissioners in Manatee County. “Fast forward a few years, and our hometown solar power plant is on the verge of powering the world’s largest solar-powered battery system.”

A series of smaller energy storage systems are also planned by FPL across the state as it continues to add more variable solar power capacity to the network.

Batteries are key to clean energy — and they just got much cheaper

Batteries are critical for our clean energy future. Luckily, their cost has dropped so low, we might be much closer to this future than we previously thought.

In a little less than a year, the cost of lithium-ion batteries has fallen by 35 percent, according to a new Bloomberg New Energy Finance report. Cheaper batteries mean we can store more solar and wind power even when the sun isn’t shining or wind isn’t blowing. This is a major boost to renewables, helping them compete with fossil fuel-generated power, even without subsidies in some places, according to the report. Massive solar-plus-storage projects are already being built in places like Florida and California to replace natural gas, and many more are on the way.

The new battery prices are “staggering improvements,” according to Elena Giannakopoulou, who leads the energy economics group at Bloomberg NEF. Previous estimates anticipated this breakthrough moment for batteries to arrive in late 2020, not early 2019.

According to the report, the cost of wind and solar generation is also down sharply — by between 10 to 24 percent since just last year, depending on the technology. These numbers are based on real projects under construction in 46 countries around the world.

The lower battery prices have big implications for electric cars, too. There’s a key cost threshold of about $100 per kilowatt hour, the point at which electric vehicles would be cheap enough to quickly supplant gasoline. At this rate, we’ll reach that in less than five years.

Now that cheap batteries are finally here, we’re well on our way to electric modes of transportation and always-on renewable energy — and not a moment too soon.

What’s driving the plunge? Giannakopoulou cites “technology innovation, economies of scale, stiff price competition and manufacturing experience.” Other storage methods, like pumped hydro, still account for the vast majority of energy storage capacity, but lithium-ion batteries are much more flexible and don’t require specific locations or environmental conditions to work. Like everything in the built environment, lithium-ion batteries also require mining and manufacturing. There’s still a chance that some new exotic battery technology will quickly supplant lithium-ion, but its ubiquity and — now — cheapness will be hard to beat.

Electric vehicles will become cheaper to own and operate than gas ones. In places like California, Texas, and Germany, electricity prices have occasionally dropped below zero — a sign that the grid wasn’t yet ready to handle the glut of renewable energy produced there. Now, more of that cheap power will be stored and passed on to consumers. This could be the moment when renewable energy starts to shut down fossil fuel for good.

Get Ready For 1.5¢ Renewable Electricity, Steven Chu Says, Which Could Unleash Hydrogen Economy

Steven Chu, former U.S. Secretary of Energy, 1997 Nobel Prize winner in physics, and the new president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)

Former Energy Sec. Steven Chu told a roomful of scientists in Chicago they should think now what they could do with renewable electricity that costs only 1.5¢ per kilowatt hour.

And, he suggested, those thoughts should include hydrogen.

“The cost of renewable energy at the best sites is 2¢ per kilowatt hour. And that is going to widen,” Chu said at the University of Chicago in March. “I’m an advisor to Royal Dutch Shell. They think within a couple decades the very best sites will go to 1.5¢ per kilowatt hour cost of electricity.

“Okay what do you want to think about, knowing that this will likely happen? Which is a good way to position yourself as a graduate student and a post-doc and a researcher. What research do I want to do, anticipating this will happen? Don’t wait for it to happen.”

Chu won the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics, led the Energy Dept. for the first Obama term, and recently became president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His lunchtime lecture at Chicago’s Knapp Center for Biological Discovery was so popular that the auditorium’s 125 seats were full, and students and scientists crowded in the aisles, peering around walls, or listening from behind them. More were turned away.

Chu told the ones who got in that when electricity falls below 4¢/kWh it can produce hydrogen that competes with hydrogen from natural gas. Hydrogen can be used as a fuel or as a long-term energy-storage medium.

“Hydrogen is pretty good,” Chu said, “because you can store it in underground caverns and things like that, and the overhead compared to a battery is very compelling.”

But hydrogen produced from natural gas has a big carbon footprint—8.62 tons of carbon dioxide for each ton of produced hydrogen, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Hydrogen from electrolysis can be much cleaner, if the electricity is from renewables.

“So it may be that we’ll move to a partial hydrogen economy based on renewable energy,” Chu said in an appearance hosted by the Energy Policy Institute of Chicago (for whom I sometimes host podcasts) and the Institute for Molecular Engineering.

But there are obstacles other than cost to efficient production of hydrogen through electrolysis, including the tendency of bubbles of hydrogen to interfere with electrolysis itself. Chu believes science is close to overcoming that problem.

“These are some of the things I think people should think about,” he said, “because we’re already in a fundamental energy transition.”

This is the first in a series of four stories about Steven Chu’s views of climate change and its potential solutions. Read more tomorrow…

3 Top Renewable Energy Stocks to Watch

The world needs to invest a breathtaking $10 trillion in the coming years to replace the current carbon-based energy systems with renewables in the largest energy markets. While it’s a daunting task, it also represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for investors to make money from this transition. 

Several companies have made it their entire focus to move the world toward a cleaner future. Three that these Motley Fool contributors think investors should keep an eye on are Pattern Energy (NASDAQ:PEGI), SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR), and Enphase Energy (NASDAQ:ENPH). Here’s why there’s a bright future ahead for these renewable energy stocks. 

A hand holding a lightbulb with icons of the energy industry, such as an oil pump, solar panel, and wind turbine, around it.

Image source: Getty Images.

Now it’s time to execute

Matthew DiLallo (Pattern Energy): Renewable yieldco Pattern Energy has encountered a few headwinds over the past year that it’s working hard to address. One of them is that the company stretched its finances to make acquisitions while at the same time growing its dividend. That left it with little breathing room as interest rates started to rise, impacting its ability to raise outside capital to fund growth. Because of that, the company has had to press pause on dividend growth and sell some assets to shore up its financial situation.

While Pattern Energy is heading in the right direction, it still has a long road ahead of it. Last year, for example, it paid out 99% of its cash flow to support its 7.7%-yielding dividend, which is well above its 80% target. The company, however, believes it can grow into a more comfortable dividend payout ratio within two years by expanding its cash flow per share at a 10% compound annual rate over that time frame. Driving that view is the company’s estimation that it can tap into a range of financing options to fund the acquisitions necessary to increase cash flow per share without negatively impacting its balance sheet nor diluting investors with additional stock sales.

It’s an ambitious plan that looks achievable on paper. However, it will be harder to put into practice since the company doesn’t have much room for error. That’s why investors should keep a close eye on Pattern Energy’s progress, especially over the next few months as it battles through some other headwinds even as it hopes to make another acquisition. If the company can get past this rough patch and deliver on its expected cash flow growth, it will be in a much stronger position to generate double-digit total annual returns in the future.

Stemming the losses

Jason Hall (SunPower): The past few years haven’t been kind to SunPower or its investors. The high-efficiency solar panel maker, simply put, has lost a lot of money and burned through a lot of cash as it has struggled to find a profitable strategy. 

SPWR Operating Income (TTM) Chart

SPWR Operating Income (TTM) data by YCharts.

And all those losses have weighed heavily on SunPower’s stock price, which has lost nearly 80% of its value over the past three years. In short, the company has struggled to compete against lower-efficiency panels that commercial and residential customers can buy at lower per-watt costs, and SunPower has spent a lot of money to bridge that gap in recent years, with little success so far. 

The company recently announced a new strategy, which will focus on leveraging more partnerships for its manufacturing operations, as well as a new panel, its A-Series, which is larger and expected to be one of the most efficient it has made. The A-Series panel will be a larger form factor than other models, which should mean more power output and potentially lower installation costs. Furthermore, a bigger form factor for both the panel and the cells it is comprised of should also — on paper, at least — mean a more competitive cost on a per-watt basis. 

There’s no arguing that SunPower has been a technology leader in solar; there’s also no arguing that it simply hasn’t been able to compete with its commodity-priced peers in recent years or find an effective strategy so far. But if the two recent moves it’s made pan out, that could change, and the big sell-off in its stock could turn out to be an opportunity. That makes it worth watching right now.  

The hottest stock in solar energy

Travis Hoium (Enphase Energy): Two years ago, Enphase Energy was on the brink of collapse as it lost market share in the module-level power electronics business and bled cash. But the company’s fortunes have turned and it now looks well positioned for long-term growth in the residential solar market. 

ENPH Chart

ENPH data by YCharts.

One of Enphase’s first transformational moves was acquiring SunPower’s microinverter business in exchange for becoming the company’s solar microinverter supplier. The deal added $60 million to $70 million of new business that came with a hefty 33%-to-35% margin, according to management. From there, the company added more partners, including Panasonic‘s recently released AC Series solar modules.

Financially, Enphase Energy’s business is improving quickly. You can see the improvement in free cash flow in the chart above, and the company recently paid off $39.5 million in a term loan that not only reduced debt, but freed up operations that had liens on them. 

Module-level power electronics, which can safely turn off a solar panel without going to the roof, are becoming a requirement worldwide, which grows Enphase’s potential market. And high-end solar manufacturers think the microinverter solution is better than power optimizers with a string inverter, the other option available to installers. Enphase Energy is the clear leader in microinverters, and if manufacturers continue to see the value in its products, the company could continue to be a big winner in solar energy long term. 

 

1,500-year-old garbage dumps reveal city’s surprising collapse

Some 1,500 years ago, the city of Elusa was thriving on the southern edge of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) empire, in what is now Israel’s Negev desert. The city of up to 20,000 residents featured a theater and public baths, churches and craft workshops, and innovative water management systems that enabled Elusa’s citizens to cultivate their most famous export: Gaza wine, a prized white vintage that was shipped across the Mediterranean to ports as far as France.Within two centuries, however, the Byzantine city of Elusa (also known as Haluza) had collapsed, leaving behind ancient buildings picked apart by later generations or simply buried beneath shifting sand dunes. View Images

'Coal is on the way out': study finds fossil fuel now pricier than solar or wind

Around 75% of coal production is more expensive than renewables, with industry out-competed on cost by 2025

‘We’ve seen we are at the ‘coal crossover’ point in many parts of the country.’




‘We’ve seen we are at the ‘coal crossover’ point in many parts of the country.’
Photograph: Alamy

Around three-quarters of US coal production is now more expensive than solar and wind energy in providing electricity to American households, according to a new study.

“Even without major policy shift we will continue to see coal retire pretty rapidly,” said Mike O’Boyle, the co-author of the report for Energy Innovation, a renewables analysis firm. “Our analysis shows that we can move a lot faster to replace coal with wind and solar. The fact that so much coal could be retired right now shows we are off the pace.”

The study’s authors used public financial filings and data from the Energy Information Agency (EIA) to work out the cost of energy from coal plants compared with wind and solar options within a 35-mile radius. They found that 211 gigawatts of current US coal capacity, 74% of the coal fleet, is providing electricity that’s more expensive than wind or solar.

By 2025 the picture becomes even clearer, with nearly the entire US coal system out-competed on cost by wind and solar, even when factoring in the construction of new wind turbines and solar panels.

“We’ve seen we are at the ‘coal crossover’ point in many parts of the country but this is actually more widespread than previously thought,” O’Boyle said. “There is a huge potential for wind and solar to replace coal, while saving people money.”

Coal plants have suffered due to rising maintenance costs, including requirements to install pollution controls. Meanwhile, the cost of solar and wind has plummeted as the technology has improved. Cheap and abundant natural gas, as well as the growth of renewables, has hit coal demand, with the EIA reporting in January that half of all US coalmines have shut down over the past decade.

“Coal is on its way out,” said Curtis Morgan, the chief executive of Vistra Energy, a major Texas-based coal plant owner. “More and more plants are being retired.”

Data released last week highlighted the rise of renewables, with electricity generation from clean sources doubling since 2008. The bulk of renewable energy comes from hydro and wind, with solar playing a more minor, albeit growing, role.

Renewables now account for around 17% of US electricity generation, with coal’s share declining. However, the power of coal’s incumbency, bolstered by a sympathetic Trump administration, means it isn’t on track to be eliminated in the US as it is in the UK and Germany.

Fossil fuels continue to receive staunch institutional support, too. A recent report released by a coalition of environmental groups found that 33 global banks have provided $1.9tn in finance to coal, oil and gas companies since the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

In sobering figures released last week, the EIA predicted that US carbon dioxide emissions from energy will remain similar to current levels until 2050, with coal consumption dropping but then leveling off beyond 2020.

Such a scenario, disputed by other experts who argue the transition to renewables will be more rapid, would be compatible with disastrous climate change, causing vast areas of the US coastline to be inundated, the spread of deadly heatwaves, growth of destructive wildfires and food and water insecurity.

The Trump administration has largely ignored scientists’ warnings over these dangers, instead pushing ahead with an “energy dominance” mantra whereby enormous tracts of federal land and waters are opened up for oil and gas drilling.

The Energy Innovation report, which suggests the “smooth shut down” of ageing coal plants, comes as states and territories start to rally to California and Hawaii’s lead in committing to 100% renewable energy.

Lawmakers in New Mexico recently decided to follow suit, with Puerto Rico poised to vote on the issue this week as states and territories attempt to address climate change in lieu of the federal government.

“It would be better if we had a federal cohesive policy because not all states will take the initiative,” said O’Boyle. “In order to get an affordable, clean energy system we need both federal and state actors involved.”

Turning off the lights and promoting clean energy could save money — and lives

Turning off light switches and unplugging appliances could be all it takes to save almost 500 lives and prevent some 127,000 asthma cases annually, according to a new study on what can be saved, besides money, with increased energy efficiency.

Many of those health improvements are based on a projected 12% increase in summertime energy efficiency clustered around states like Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Those states had populations near power plants now using coal, the new research, published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology, found.

A report estimates that 475 lives could be saved and 127,600 asthmas cases avoided by increased energy efficiency.

The research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison determined the national public-health benefits could come with better-used energy. It said 475 lives could be saved and 127,600 asthmas cases could be avoided by increased energy efficiency, which leads to fewer power plant emissions and cleaner air.

That equates to an estimated $4 billion annually saved on medical expenses, missed work and other costs connected to those respiratory-related illnesses, according to the study, using Environmental Protection Agency data on the economic and health costs of pollution.

The study said that, even though power-plant emissions have dropped since the 1970 Clean Air Act, many Americans still have to breathe poor quality air that’s below EPA standards.

“We know energy efficiency already offers cost savings,” said David Abel, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. “But capturing the non-energy benefits makes it even clearer it’s a win-win opportunity.”

Don’t Miss: Climate change will wreck economic growth, major government report says

Indeed, increased efficiency might be on the horizon, one federal agency estimates.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects energy intensity, the amount of electricity used from a household or unit of commercial floor space, could be on a slight decline in 2050 as newer, more efficient equipment and appliances replace older, power-gulping models.

LED light bulbs can save a household between $70 and $90 a year, according to the Consumer Federation of America.

The same changes will apply to light bulbs as traditional incandescent bulbs are replaced by more advanced versions, like light emitting diode (LED) bulbs. Meanwhile, 30 states and the District of Columbia adopted energy efficiency policies as of July 2017, the EIA noted.

But a full panoply of government policies on energy efficiency isn’t a given. President Donald Trump’s administration has rolled back rules from the previous administration that it believes are hindering businesses, or confusing them. For example, administration officials last month ended talks with California regulators about vehicle mileage standards.

Regardless of what government officials decide to do or not do, consumers can make their own decisions about energy usage. LED light bulbs can save a household between $70 and $90 a year, according to the Consumer Federation of America.

Another way to conserve electricity: Look for appliances and electronics with the ENERGY STAR label. A washing machine with the government-backed symbol, for example, uses one-third less water and one-quarter less energy than standard models, the consumer advocacy group said.

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