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Wind Power Gaining in the Heart of Coal Country

by marco Tue Oct 3rd, 2006 at 09:17:40 PM EST

One of my Google News Alerts is set to pick up articles containing the word "cooperative".*

This morning that news alert included an article from the Billings Gazette (that would be Billings, Montana) about how

75 percent of respondents [in northeastern Wyoming] were willing to pay extra for wind-generated electricity or other clean power sources.

What makes this point noteworthy is that according to the Powder River Energy Group who conducted the survey,

we're in the Powder River Basin where all the coal mining is [located]


The rest of this short article how Powder River Energy is giving its customers "the option of paying 50 cents more per 100-kilowatt-hour block to buy renewable energy - most of it from wind farms in North Dakota.":

Those types of programs not only purchase the wind power already on the market, they also demonstrate that the market for renewable energy is growing, said Quayle Hodek, president and chief executive officer of Boulder, Colo.-based Renewable Choice Energy.

"They're helping generate more new wind power with their purchases," Hodek said. "That's good for Wyoming, because Wyoming has a great wind resource, and there are plans for new development."

Of course, not all is rosy yet:

Some 7,000 people work in the coal mining industry in Powder River Energy's territory, and the mines themselves account for 38 percent of the cooperative's electrical load. Schaar said none of the mines has signed up for the renewable energy option.

Nevertheless, that the people living in that region -- where, evidently, coal mining is a major economic engine (though this should be verified) -- should privately be willing to pay more for wind than for cheaper, fossil fuel energy seems to me to be a hopeful sign for the viability of green energy in the U.S. ... even in Cheney country.

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* Regarding "cooperative":

Parenthetical to the diary, but an interesting thing I've observed since creating this news alert is that there seem to be quite a few cooperatives operating already in the U.S., and many of those -- like the Powder River Energy Group -- in the energy sector.

Furthermore, there are surprisingly (to me) many articles about cooperatives in developing countries -- India, for example, but Latin America as well, among other places -- and these cooperative businesses appear from those articles to be quite significant in size and in how much they are relied on by the areas they serve.

So this article in the Billings Gazette was a nice dovetailing of my hopes for clean energy as well as my current interest (infatuation?) with the potential of cooperatives.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Tue Oct 3rd, 2006 at 09:22:13 PM EST
Oh, yes.  The rural areas of the US are to this day served almost exclusively by rural electric cooperatives.  There are also some successful telephone and other cooperatives, but the REC's in particular have proven the viability of the cooperative model.

The Rural Electrification Administration, now called the Rural Utilities Service, was and is one of the most successful of the New Deal programs, bringing electricity to rural America.  It is not likely that the REA would have worked at all, absent the coops.  Most investor owned utilities have never been interested in building distribution networks outside urban areas.

Disclaimer:  I'm far from objective on this topic.  I've been a coop customer and member essentially my entire life, and an employee for most of my adult life.  Cooperatives have been very good to me and mine.

We all bleed the same color.

by budr on Tue Oct 3rd, 2006 at 11:13:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The LLP/LLC "Open" Corporate is IMHO an optimal mechanism for Cooperatives, allowing them to finance themselves simply by selling production forward to "Capital Partner" investors at today's price (or maybe a discount).

In this way they build upon the "Cooperative Advantage" which is that you don't have to pay a return to "rentiers" ie people who make money purely from money, and all things being equal, can therefore undercut either "For Profits" or anyone who borrows at commercial rates.

We had a case in the UK where the local waste disposal commercial companies were pleading to the local authority letting a contract that the "Social Enterprise" who got it had an "unfair advantage".

(to be fair, the authority did favour them, but not on price or quality of service, merely on experience where the anti argument is essentially Catch 22: if you've never had a contract then you are inexperienced and not fit to get one so can never gain experience!)

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Wed Oct 4th, 2006 at 03:36:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Another factor is that there is a strong libertarian streak in the American west, and if somebody wants to put up a windmill farm then he or she has a lot of legal protection. It's harder on the "liberal" coasts because of government regulations. The same sort of regulations, incidently, that strongly encourage road construction.
by asdf on Tue Oct 3rd, 2006 at 11:57:37 PM EST
It's harder on the "liberal" coasts because of government regulations.

By coincidence, poemless posted an article in this morning's breakfast that makes exactly the same point:

Texas is more hospitable than Mass. to wind farms

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Wed Oct 4th, 2006 at 12:13:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Texas looks better with windmills, not so sure about offshore Mass.  (I'd still support a windfarm within sight of my house).
by HiD on Wed Oct 4th, 2006 at 04:35:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by asdf on Wed Oct 4th, 2006 at 09:06:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
if it meant getting off oil, my Co-op could put a windmill in my ocean viewplane at that distance.  No problem.  Luckily no need.  we have plenty of onshore areas they are ignoring first.  a-holes.
by HiD on Wed Oct 4th, 2006 at 06:49:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In addition NIMBY issues are a smaller problem in Texas when it comes to windmills. The lands they are being placed on are farms, ranches, and semi-arid lands within view of very few people. Massachusetts is a very crowded state, any windmill that goes up will be in view of a lot of people.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Oct 4th, 2006 at 02:01:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not government regulations, but resistance for latte liberal locals.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Oct 4th, 2006 at 09:34:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Windmills aren't a "liberal product" either, not sure why the author included the "Cheney country" quip. Wind is pretty competitive on price as it is. If money can be made with them, people will be interested. Politics have little to do with that until people go looking for subsidies and market protection.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Oct 4th, 2006 at 04:34:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
not sure why the author included the "Cheney country" quip

Dick Cheney was raised and educated in Wyoming, and was a representative in the House from Wyoming from 1978 to 1989.  He also has had a house there since 1993 and I believe is currently a registered voter in Wyoming.

According to Wikipedia:

As a Wyoming representative, he was also known for his vigorous advocacy of the state's petroleum and coal businesses. The federal building in Casper, a regional center of the oil and coal business, was named the "Dick Cheney Federal Building."

If money can be made with them, people will be interested. Politics have little to do with that until people go looking for subsidies and market protection.

You may be right.  I assumed that many people in that region might have a strong bias against any energy source that threatened the local coal industry: for example, I would be surprised if Cheney had been favorable to wind energy development while he was representing Wyoming in the House.  I was not aware that wind energy was already so developed -- and accepted -- there.  (My liberal Northeast prejudices at work!)

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Wed Oct 4th, 2006 at 06:26:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Your northeastern bias is probably just off a bit. The viewpoint out here leans towards Libertarianism.

If you own land with coal, open a coal mine. If you own land with wind, build a windmill. If you can find customers for machine guns, sell them. If you are Wiccan, your coven is welcome. If you're gay, have a parade. If you're a crazy right-wing evangelical fundamentalist Christian, write a letter to the newspaper.

Basically the idea is that if you leave me alone, I'll leave you alone.

by asdf on Wed Oct 4th, 2006 at 10:59:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you're gay, have a parade.

Hmmm.  I want to believe that, but the Matthew Shepard incident sticks pretty hard in my memory.

Was that just a rare exception that got sensationalized?


Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Thu Oct 5th, 2006 at 01:17:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Meant to add, regarding what sort of energy you decided to use/support, as in this Powder River Basin situation, your explanation does make sense.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Thu Oct 5th, 2006 at 01:21:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is bigotry of all sorts in all places. Some particularly nasty incidents get more publicity than others. And the Libertarian view in the American West generally aligns itself with the conservative view, and the conservative view is not very supportive of gays. As usual, it's complicated.

A point of interest is that the Libertarians are pretty disgusted with Bush. Partly because he ran on a platform of "no nation building"--and abandoned it, and partly becuase they support a small government approach--which he has not followed.

by asdf on Thu Oct 5th, 2006 at 08:58:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Is the offer for renewable energy made at a set price, which is currently higher than the (presumably coal-based) price, or is it a set surcharge to that price?

In the first case, customers get a guaranteed fixed price, and will not be penalised when electricity prices go up for various reasons (price of coal, carbon tax, etc...)

In the second case, they'll always pay more than others and it's the utility that will benefit from the fact that wind generation prices do not icnrease, at their expense.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 4th, 2006 at 04:49:04 AM EST
Thanks for raising this point.  I am trying to find the answer to it, but so far have only found this, from Powder River Basin Resource Council's newsletter, Breaks (PDF, p. 6):

The question facing the Renewable Energy Committee is how we might reinforce and accelerate the shift to wind and other renewable energy sources.  Basin Electric has responded favorably to government incentives (like the PTC) and prefers them to legislated mandates. By contrast, some investor-owned utilities with a large renewable base welcome mandates.

13 states have passed renewable energy portfolio standards (RPS) that require progressively higher portions of each utility's energy mix to be renewable.  As a result, at least one study indicates these states have experienced more rapid development of renewable energy. The interstate nature of the power industry, however, favors a federal RPS. The Senate version of the national energy bill represents an attempt, but faces stiff opposition.

Another type of program, green power pricing, generally relies on industry initiatives. Green pricing reduces utility risk in developing renewable energy, while challenging environmentally conscious consumers to "put their money where their mouth is." Ratepayers typically buy renewable energy "certificates", committing to a certain block of "green" electricity (2,000 kwh per year, for example)
at a 5 to 15% premium on that portion of their bill.
By this fall, Basin Electric hopes to enable its member consumers to purchase these "green tags" via the corporate website.

From the language, my guess is that premium is on the variable conventional energy price, i.e. not a "guaranteed fixed price".  But I think they are justifying this as a way to fund investments to reinforce and accelerate the shift to wind and other renewable energy sources and that reduces utility risk in developing renewable energy.

I will keep looking for more specifics.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Wed Oct 4th, 2006 at 05:49:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here's some more info from "Going Green" in the Casper Star-Tribune:

[Doreen] Schaar [vice president of external relations for Powder River Energy Corp., which serves northeast Wyoming] said customers are taking advantage of PRECorp's new green tag program, which gives them the option of paying 50 cents more per 100-kilowatt-hour block for renewable energy. The average homeowner on PRECorp's system would pay about $5 extra per month to convert his total electrical usage from conventional fossil fuels to renewable energy, according to Schaar.

So I think it's a "set surcharge to" the standard price.  In which case, yes, the "green" consumers will

always pay more than others and it's the utility that will benefit from the fact that wind generation prices do not icnrease, at their expense.

But if I am understanding the program correctly, those green consumers -- presumably being members of the Powder River Energy cooperative -- would be willing to pay that premium with trust that their cooperative will do the right thing with the extra money to reinforce and accelerate the shift ultimately to wind and other renewable energy sources.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Wed Oct 4th, 2006 at 06:02:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was thinking, it doesn't surprise me much that folks in the heart of Coal Country would be willing to pony up extra bux for wind power.  They may have seen at first hand the devastation wrought by coal extraction.... turning central Appalachia into a sort of giant-scale Nauru for example.  Whereas nimbies all over can wallow in "cheap" fossil power and still cherish their scenic views and whatnot, while remaining safely a thousand miles or more from the "national sacrifice zones" where the real price is being paid.

Am more and more convinced that delocalisation has a tremendous undermining effect on social ethics.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Oct 5th, 2006 at 09:25:51 PM EST


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