When wind turbine blades reach the end of their usefulness, most are sawed into transportable pieces and hauled to landfills, where they never break down. Because of the resources and energy that go into producing these blades, this type of disposal is inefficient and wasteful. Recently, several innovative companies have begun brainstorming better ways to repurpose this green technology after it goes offline.
According to Scientific American, wind turbines are built to last an industry standard of 30 years. As installed wind energy capacity continues to increase globally, it is becoming increasingly important to think about the next phase in a wind turbine's lifecycle: the end. Some existing turbines have already been taken out of service and decommissioned at the end of their lifecycle, or during "repowering," a process where companies replace smaller turbines with bigger ones capable of producing more energy.
While roughly 85 percent of turbine component materials — including steel, copper wide, electronics and gearing — can be recycled or reused, old blades are harder to salvage, Scientific American reported. Since blades are comprised of fiberglass, a lightweight and durable composite material ideal for withstanding storms, separating the plastic and glass fibers for recycling is difficult, the article found. The process also requires powerful diamond-encrusted industrial saws and a lot of effort. Due to this, tens of thousands of aging blades are being removed and have nowhere to go but landfills, according to Bloomberg Green.
The article estimated that 8,000 blades will be decommissioned each year until 2024, and Europe will see about 3,800 coming down each year through at least 2022.
To combat what Grist called the impending "wind turbine blade waste crisis," scientists around the world are focused on finding ways to recycle, upcycle and redesign blades for the future.
Washington-based Global Fiberglass Solutions (GFS) believes itself to be the first U.S.-based company to commercially recycle fiberglass wind turbine blades, a 2019 Plastics Recycling Update report noted. According to a GFS press release, the company grinds up discarded blades, which are then used for decking materials, pallets and piping, NPR reported.
Wind energy giant G.E. similarly announced a wind turbine blade recycling program in the U.S., where the majority of old blades from onshore turbines would be shredded and used to replace raw materials in cement manufacturing, Utility Dive reported late last year.
The process should make wind turbines fully recyclable while also reducing carbon dioxide emissions from cement production by a net 27 percent, Utility Dive found. Because concrete is the most widely used human-made material in existence, the production of cement, one of its composite materials, accounts for approximately eight percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, reported BBC in 2018. Veolia, the company that will process GE's old blades for recycling, hopes to use this co-processing technology to create a greener cement, Bob Cappadona, executive vice president for Veolia North America's environmental solutions and services, told Utility Dive.
"Last summer we completed a trial using a GE blade, and we were very happy with the results. This fall we have processed more than 100 blades so far, and our customers have been very pleased with the product," said Cappadona.
Upcycling might be a stronger solution for the planet because old blades' strength and durability aren't wasted by shredding them. In Ireland, an experimental blades-to-bridges program run by Re-Wind is reimagining decommissioned blades into bicycle and pedestrian bridges, transmission towers and other civil engineering structures, the Union of Concerned Scientists reported. The blade pieces are strong enough to replace steel girders in construction because the technology is built to withstand intense pressure and wind speeds, Grist added.
Re-Wind is brainstorming other novel uses for the scrap blades, from serving as artificial reefs to highway noise barriers. The company is also considering cutting up the durable material to create affordable housing that can withstand extreme weather, Grist reported.
"If you are talking about a sustainable, renewable fuel source, it's not appropriate to then pollute the environment with materials that are decommissioned," Re-Wind team lead Larry Bank told Grist.
A final innovation hopes to add a third option to the recycle-or-discard dilemma surrounding wind turbines. Scientists at National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are changing turbine material in hopes of making them cheaper and recyclable. Last November, Scientific American reported on the new turbine blades, which use a thermoplastic resin instead of epoxy thermoset resin to set the fiberglass into shape. Critically, the new material can be reclaimed at the end of a blade's life by melting and reusing it in new blades.
While years of additional testing may be required, Daniel Laird, the director of NREL's wind technology center, was hopeful. He told Scientific American, "I think that a lot of progress is going to be made on the recyclability of blades in the next year or two."
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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) estimated that a median average of 234,012 birds were killed by land-based wind turbines a year as of 2017. While that number is far fewer than the 599 million killed by glass buildings and the 2.4 billion killed by cats, it is not nothing. Further, the American Bird Conservancy warns it could climb to five million a year if wind power increases to provide 35 percent of U.S. electricity.
Now, at least one wind energy company is trying to compensate for the damage it might cause. Avangrid Renewables is working with federal wildlife officials and the Oregon Zoo to breed endangered California condors to replace any that might be killed by its turbines, The Associated Press reported Monday.
"We see this as a win for condors," Amy Parsons, Avangrid's operations wildlife compliance manager, told The Guardian.
Specifically, Avangrid seeks to offset any damage done by its Manzana wind power project, a 126-turbine wind farm in the Tehachapi mountains northeast of Los Angeles. The turbines have 252-foot diameter blades, which might pose a threat to the birds that have a 9.5 foot wingspan.
The farm has been open since 2012, and since that time there are no records of any condors being killed there. However, the company estimates that as many as two adult condors with two chicks or eggs each may be killed by the turbines in the next 30 years, according to The Associated Press.
To offset this, the company will provide more than $500,000 in funding to breed six condors over three years at the Oregon Zoo's Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation.
"We're prepared to start this condor mitigation effort as early as this spring," Oregon Zoo condor recovery lead Kelly Flaminio told The Associated Press. "Our zoo already nurtures the second-largest breeding population of condors in the nation."
Once raised, the condors will then be released into the wild. California condors were nearly driven to extinction by the 1980s because of hunting, habitat loss and poisoning from lead bullets left in the animals they scavenged from, as EcoWatch reported previously. A breeding program has helped their populations to recover, however, and there are now more than 300 in the wild and 500 worldwide.
If no condors are killed by Avangrid's turbines, then the wild population will simply increase by six, Flaminio told The Associated Press. However, some conservationists argue that the company's plans do not go far enough.
The plan "should provide funding to raise a minimum of 30 condors to 1.5 years of age when they are released into the wild." the Center for Biological Diversity wrote in comments to the FWS.
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Many homeowners can benefit from installing solar panels, harnessing the sun's energy to help reduce or even eliminate their dependence on traditional utilities. Although solar panels can be expensive, solar loans make residential systems more accessible to homeowners.
Indeed, if you live in an area that gets consistent year-round exposure to the sun, solar panels can be an effective way to lower your home's energy costs while minimizing your environmental footprint. The biggest obstacle to solar adoption is the initial cost of solar panels.
All in, solar panel installation costs typically range from $10,000 to $35,000. In this article, we'll explain how solar loans can make that initial investment much easier to handle.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on for and is not intended to provide accounting, legal or tax advice.
Solar Loan Basics
So, how do solar loans work, exactly? Well, they're similar to home improvement loans, or any other type of purchase loan: They enable you to buy a residential solar system and pay it off over time.
There are plenty of solar loan options to choose from. For example, to finance solar panels, you can typically choose from any of the following:
- An unsecured personal loan
- A home equity loan or line of credit
- In-house financing through your solar installation company
For the most part, the terms and conditions of solar loans mimic those of any other standard loan. Specifically:
- Getting a lower interest rate means having a lower overall cost to borrow.
- A shorter loan term generally means higher monthly loan payments but a lower overall cost to borrow.
- Loans are available in a wide array of interest rates, term lengths, loan amounts, credit requirements, etc.
An important thing to note is that homeowners who finance their solar energy systems with a loan are still eligible for the federal solar tax credit. This gives you a credit worth 26% of your total solar installation costs.
How to Choose the Right Solar Loan
As you seek the best solar loan for your situation, there are a number of factors to keep in mind. These include:
- Monthly payment amount: If you end up choosing a shorter loan term (i.e., a loan that you must pay off in a shorter amount of time), your monthly payments will probably be higher. The overall cost of the loan will be lower, but it's nevertheless important to consider the impact on your household budget.
- Down payment amount: Depending on the loan you choose, you may or may not be required to put down a payment on the solar panels. Generally, larger down payments will mean lower interest rates and a more affordable loan overall.
- Fees: Some solar lenders may charge prepayment penalties or monthly fees in addition to your monthly principal and interest payments. Always make sure you get fee information upfront, so as to ensure there are no surprises on your loan statement.
Secured Vs. Unsecured Solar Loans
Another important factor to consider is whether you'll get a secured solar loan or an unsecured solar loan. Here's what homeowners should know about these two options:
- Secured loans are usually connected to some piece of collateral, such as a piece of equity in your house; this provides the lender with some protection. If you fail to make your payments, the lender can claim their piece of collateral. Because the lender has some insurance, secured loans usually offer lower interest rates and more favorable terms overall.
- Unsecured loans do not have any collateral or security provisions for the lender. They represent a greater risk on the lender's part, and thus usually come with higher interest rates and less favorable terms.
Ultimately, the decision about which type of loan to seek comes down to this question: Do you have enough equity in your home to take out a secured loan? If so, and if you are willing to use some of that home equity to pay for solar panels, then a secured loan may be the smarter choice overall.
How to Get Low Interest Rates for Solar Loans
In addition to choosing the right type of loan, there are other steps you can take to keep your interest rates manageable when you finance a solar panel system:
- Shop around: It's usually best not to go with the very first lender you find. Spend some time shopping around and comparing rates. Most lenders will give you a free quote that's good for a number of days while you compare offers from other companies.
- Have someone co-sign: Having a co-signer on your solar loan — especially one with excellent credit — creates extra assurances for the lender and will usually result in more favorable rates.
- Improve your credit score: There are several ways to improve your credit score to get a lower interest rate on a solar loan. For example, you can pay down old debts and credit card balances, be on time with monthly bill payments, and ensure you don't open any new credit cards as you apply for your solar loan.
Also be aware that there are things you can do to pay less over time other than getting a lower interest rate. Examples include choosing a shorter repayment period, looking for discounts like paperless or auto-pay discounts, avoiding loans with high fees and, if applicable, making a more substantial down payment.
Local Solar Loan Programs
Homeowners who are interested in going solar should also know about Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loan programs. According to the Department of Energy, PACE programs "allow a property owner to finance the up-front cost of energy or other eligible improvements on a property and then pay the costs back over time through a voluntary assessment." What makes these programs unique is that the assessment is tied to the property itself, not to the individual.
PACE financing legislation exists in some form in 36 states plus Washington D.C. A handful of states have separate loan programs for homeowners interested in solar. Here are some current programs worth knowing about:
|State||Solar Loan Program||
|Connecticut||Energy Conservation Loan Program||$25,000||0% to 7%||12 years|
|Louisiana||Home Energy Loan Program (HELP)||$6,000||2%||5 years|
|Michigan||Michigan Saves Home Energy Financing||$50,000||4.44% to 7.90%||15 years|
|North Carolina||State-regulated municipal loan options||Varies||Up to 8%||20 years|
Energy Conservation for Ohioans
3% APR reduction
on bank loans
Additionally, certain municipalities and local utility companies may offer low-interest solar loans. We recommend researching your specific area before turning to banks or credit institutions.
Where to Get a Solar Loan
If your state doesn't have its own solar energy loan program or you're not eligible for enrollment, there are plenty of other places to get solar loans. Some of the best places to check include:
- Credit unions
- Lending institutions
- In-house financing through your solar installer (which will come from a third-party solar lender)
Again, it's crucial to shop around and compare rates before deciding on which solar lender is the best fit for your needs. To get started with a free quote and find solar loan information from a top solar company in your area, you can fill out the form below.
Frequently Asked Questions: Solar Loans
Are solar loans worth it?
There are various factors to consider as you decide whether getting a solar loan is worth it. Solar loans help you increase the value of your property, lower utility bills, minimize your impact on the environment and potentially claim some tax incentives. Then again, financing does decrease your overall savings, and extends the break-even point for your residential solar system.
Do banks do solar loans?
Some banks do offer solar loans, though often with interest rates that exceed what you'd pay elsewhere. It may be worth checking with your local bank, but always remember to shop around and compare.
What is the best way to finance solar?
If you have sufficient home equity, a secured solar loan is often the most cost-effective approach. If you don't have sufficient home equity, an unsecured solar loan can work just fine.
What type of loan is a solar panel loan?
Solar panel loans are generally considered to be a type of personal loan, similar to a home improvement loan.
Can you buy a solar battery with a solar loan?
Most often the answer is yes, but make sure you double-check the terms of your loan.
For nearly 100 years, the Empire State Building has stood as a testament to the industriousness and economic power of the United States. Now, it can also be considered a beacon for the future of sustainable energy. Empire State Realty Trust (ESRT) signed a deal in early February to convert the Empire State Building, along with all of its other real estate holdings, to 100% renewable energy.
ESTR is working with Green Mountain Energy to purchase renewable power equivalent to its entire real estate portfolio for the next three years, according to a press release. This newfound commitment emerged after success in a 10-year partnership with Green Mountain Energy to supply the Empire State Building with renewable energy. In 2011, the building went under massive renovations to bring it up to the latest standards in green energy and technology. This retrofit created a 40% reduction in energy use and emissions for the skyscraper. Now, ESTR is ready to bring that change to the rest of its properties in New York, Connecticut, and surrounding areas.
Commercial buildings are a leading consumer of non-renewable energy, accounting for 35% of total electricity use in the U.S. and 16% of all carbon dioxide emissions in the country. Unfortunately, only 2% of the nation's renewable energy goes to commercial buildings, as compared to 7% in residential and 22% in industrial sectors. Without leaders in the commercial space switching to renewables, this trend is likely to continue.
However, ESTR is trying to change the course of renewables in the commercial sector. By switching their entire portfolio to wind energy purchased from Green Mountain Energy, they estimate a reduction of nearly 450 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions from their properties. They will also become the biggest investor in renewable energy in the real estate industry with this partnership.
ESTR is Investing in the Economic and Environmental Future
ESTR's properties throughout the Northeast will not be directly powered by wind energy from Green Mountain Energy. Instead, Green Mountain will ensure that an equivalent amount of energy used by the Empire State Building and other holdings will be produced throughout the U.S. This not only reduces the nation's environmental footprint but provides access to sustainable energy to areas that could otherwise not afford such an investment.
This is a major step forward in New York City's commitment to divesting fossil fuels. In 2018, the city decided to file lawsuits against several major fossil fuel companies directly contributing to the climate crisis. They also decided to divest the city's pension funds from fossil fuel companies and reserve owners. To celebrate, the Empire State Building glowed green from its peak to show support for the mayor's decision.
However, ESTR knows it's not just the sustainable choice to switch to green energy -- it's also the most economical. Cyndy Reynolds, commercial sales director for Green Mountain Energy, explains that the deal was made based on a competitive rate structure just as much as it was for environmental factors: "When you have someone like ESRT who you know is going to look at every facet, whether it's cost or reliability, and they decide to move forward … it's not just a PR play at that point...It truly does check the boxes of all the business metrics they have."
Green Mountain Energy focuses on wind energy production, which is not only the most prevalent form of renewable energy in the U.S. but also the cheapest. Studies by financial advisory firm Lazard confirm that wind energy is more affordable to manufacture than almost all kinds of non-renewable energy, even excluding government subsidies. They report that wind can cost as little as $9 per 1,000 kilowatt-hours; whereas natural gas power typically costs $23 per kilowatt-hour when tax incentives and subsidies are equalized. Plus, research suggests that there will be an additional 50% decrease in wind energy costs in the next 10 years.
Anthony Malkin, ESTR's chief executive, believes that the best approach to converting the country to renewables is through market action rather than government action. "We're trying to move the market with capital, rather than through a policy mandate," he said.
Through ESRT's actions, they are proving that the switch to renewables is not only for good press, but also good for business. To learn more about the Empire State Realty Trust commitment to sustainability, click here.
Denmark approved plans on Thursday to construct an artificial island in the North Sea and use it as clean energy hub.
When built, the island will supply both clean power to homes and green hydrogen for use in shipping, aviation, industry and heavy transport.
The decision came as the EU unveiled plans to transform the bloc's electricity supply. The bloc aims to rely mostly on renewable energy within a decade while increasing offshore wind energy capacity roughly 25-fold by mid-century.
Tapping Into 'Enormous Potential' of Wind Power
The planned island, which will be located 80 kilometers off Denmark's west coast, will initially be 120,000 square meters in size, bigger than 18 standard football fields.
"The energy hub in the North Sea will be the largest construction project in Danish history," Climate Minister Dan Joergensen told a press briefing.
"It will make a big contribution to the realization of the enormous potential for European offshore wind,'' he continued.
Authorities hope to have the hub operable by 2033. The first phase of the project is expected to cost around 210 billion Danish crowns ($33.87 billion).
Big Step for Global Green Transition
The surrounding wind turbines will have a capacity of at least 3 gigawatts, ramping up to 10 gigawatts over time.
"This is truly a great moment for Denmark and for the global green transition," continued Jorgensen.
The energy island is an important part of country's legally binding target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 70% of the 1990 levels by 2030.
"Only by inspiring others and developing new green solutions they also want to use, can we really do something to combat climate change,'' Joergensen added.
Decades of Wind Power
The Nordic country, with its favorable wind speeds, was a pioneer in both onshore and offshore wind, building the world's first offshore wind farm almost 30 years ago.
Bloomberg Green reports Denmark gets 40% of its electricity from wind power. The nation is also home to the world's largest wind turbine producer, Vesta Wind Systems and the world's top developer of offshore wind, Orsted AS.
In December, the government decided to halt the search for oil and gas in the Danish part of the North Sea.
No date has yet been set to begin construction of the island, which will be controlled by the Danish government.
The state also has plans for a second energy island in the Baltic Sea.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
By Jenna McGuire
The United States has the resources and technology to shift away from fossil fuels and build an energy system entirely run on renewables, according to a new report released Thursday by Environment America Research & Policy Center and the Frontier Group.
The study, We Have the Power: Reaching America's Potential for Clean, Renewable Energy, finds that not only does the U.S currently have more than enough wind and solar resources to meet all of its energy needs, but renewable technologies are becoming more advanced, while costs are plummeting
The research concluded that U.S. solar energy resources have the potential to meet America's 2020 electricity demand more than 77 times over, and U.S. onshore and offshore wind resources could meet demand 11 times over.
"This report shows that between the sunshine and the wind, we have the potential to run our society on clean energy, today and in the future," said Susan Rakov, chair of Environment America Research & Policy Center's (EARPC) Clean Energy program
The analysis identifies four key strategies that are crucial to transforming the nation's energy system—building out out renewable energy, modernizing the grid, reducing and managing energy use, and replacing direct uses of fossil fuels with electricity to take advantage of clean technologies.
“We Have the Power” proposes four key strategies to transition our country’s energy system to 100 percent renewable… https://t.co/7WVL63MCbx— Environment America (@Environment America)1622744940.0
"How quickly America shifts toward wind and solar will be decided by how and when we lean into fully erecting the four pillars outlined in this report," said Emma Searson, 100% Renewable campaign director at EARPC. "Given the remarkable technological advances and progress we've made so far, we should feel confident in our ability to build each and every one of them."
Coal, oil, and gas are responsible for 80% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, hundreds of thousands of annual U.S deaths from air pollution, and widespread environmental destruction, according to the report.
The analysis highlights that a transition to emission-free energy would help alleviate some of America's most urgent environmental and public health challenges and help slow the acceleration of the climate crisis.
The report calls on state and federal lawmakers to make bold commitments to a 100% clean and renewable energy future and ensure those goals are accomplished through the backing of financial and regulatory policies.
"Time is of the essence," reads the report. "Policymakers must do all they can to accelerate a shift away from fossil fuels to an energy system in which the vast majority of our energy comes from renewable sources like the wind and sun."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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Published on Monday in Nature Communications, the study found that phosphorus, a mineral found in dust, is a key nutrient for an extensive glacier algae bloom on Greenland's ice sheet, known as the "dark zone." As the algae grow, the ice becomes darker, decreasing its ability to reflect sunlight and causing the ice to melt faster and sea levels to rise.
"It's important to understand the controls on algal growth because of their role in ice sheet darkening," Dr. Jenine McCutcheon, who led the study published in Nature Communications, told the University of Leeds. "Although algal blooms can cover up to 78 percent of the bare ice surfaces in the Dark Zone, their abundance and size can vary greatly over time," Dr. McCutcheon added.
Since 2000, the dark zone's melting season has "progressively started earlier and lasted longer," according to the University of Leeds. Glacier algal blooms are responsible for up to 13 percent of surface melting in this region, the study noted.
But until recently little was known about how these algal blooms developed.
Researchers found that phosphorus can cause the photosynthesis rate of the ice algae to improve significantly, McCutcheon said, according to the University of Leeds.
Although researchers examined dust sourced from local rock, they warned that dust can be transported thousands of miles by the wind.
"As dryland areas in northerly latitudes become even drier under climate change, we can expect to see more dust transported and deposited on the Greenland Ice Sheet, further fueling algal blooms," Associate Professor Dr. Jim McQuaid, who co-authored the study, noted.
"The findings of this study will improve how we predict where algal blooms will happen in the future, and help us gain a better understanding of their role in ice sheet albedo reduction and enhanced melting," Dr. McCutcheon added.
Researchers are also asking how these algal blooms will grow and darken in a warming climate.
"In 2019 our glaciers and ice sheets [are] already being darkened by dust, soot, and ash from our industrial world, which provides the perfect home for algae to flourish," Alexandre Anesio, a professor in Arctic biogeochemistry from Aarhus University, who was not affiliated with the University of Leeds study, told The Guardian. "As the organisms reproduce, they melt even more snow, which in turn allows them to proliferate again. So it's like a cycle. A very bad one."
Darkening ice is not just occurring on Greenland's ice sheets, according to The Guardian. It's happening globally, Professor Liane Benning of the German Research Center for Geosciences noted, also impacting the Alpine and Himalayan glaciers.
In Western Canada, wildfires fueled by climate change are also leaving ash on glaciers, staining the ice, creating habitats for algae and "accelerating the warming process in a feedback loop," Reuters reported.
"To be honest, I'm massively worried," Anesio told The Guardian. As the planet warms, researchers are rushing to find answers on glacial melting and its impact on biodiversity.
"I just hope that we are not crossing that tipping point because I don't think humans can adapt to the rates of changing climates at the moment," Anesio added.
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By Tara Lohan
A key part of the United States' clean energy transition has started to take shape, but you may need to squint to see it. About 2,000 wind turbines could be built far offshore, in federal waters off the Atlantic Coast, in the next 10 years. And more are expected.
East Coast states from Maine to North Carolina are working to procure nearly 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2035 — a huge leap from the five turbines currently generating 30 megawatts in Rhode Island waters. If a regulatory backlog of projects awaiting approval from the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is finally unstuck — as experts hope will happen this year — the buildout of offshore wind will arrive during a crucial decade for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Spinning turbine blades on the watery horizon may be a welcome sight in the fight against climate change, but they still come with potential threats to marine wildlife. Many environmental groups believe the challenges aren't insurmountable if scientific study can help inform regulatory action and if we can learn — and adapt our practices — as we go.
"We believe that offshore wind can absolutely be developed in an environmentally responsible manner," says Francine Kershaw, a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "But that has to be incorporated throughout the whole process — from site assessment through development, construction and operations."
Threats to Birds
One of the gravest threats facing birds is climate change, according to Audubon, which found that rising temperatures threaten nearly two-thirds of North America's bird species. That's why the impending development of offshore wind is a good thing, says Shilo Felton, a field manager in the organization's Clean Energy Initiative, but it also comes with dangers to birds that need to be better studied and mitigated.
The most obvious risk comes from birds colliding with spinning turbine blades. But offshore wind developments can also displace birds from foraging or roost sites, as well as migratory pathways.
Along the Atlantic Coast four imperiled species are of top concern to conservationists: the endangered piping plover, red knot, roseate tern and black-capped petrel, which is being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
"Those four species are of utmost importance to make sure that we understand the impacts," says Felton. "But beyond that there are many species that are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act that could potentially see more impacts from offshore wind."
Northern gannets, for example, are at risk not just for collision but habitat displacement.
A northern gannet flying along Cape May, N.J. Ann Marie Morrison / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
"There's some evidence that they just won't use areas where turbines are, but that also excludes them from key foraging areas," says Felton. Researchers are still studying what this may mean for the birds. But a study published in December 2020 conducted at Bass Rock, Scotland — home to the world's largest northern gannet colony — found that wind developments could reduce their growth rate, though not enough to cause a population decline.
Other birds, such as great cormorants and European shags, are attracted to wind developments and use the infrastructure to rest while opening up new foraging areas farther from shore.
"There's plenty of potential for a bird to use a wind farm and still to avoid the turbines themselves," says Felton.
Birds like pelicans, however, are less versatile in their movements and are at particular risk of collision because of their flight pattern, she says.
But how disruptive or dangerous offshore turbines will be along the East Coast isn't yet known.
Federal and state agencies, along with nongovernmental organizations, says Felton, have done good research to try to better understand those potential impacts. "But these are all theoretical, because we don't have a lot of offshore wind yet in the United States."
Threats to Ocean Life
Birds aren't the only wildlife of concern. More development in ocean waters could affect a litany of marine species, some of which are already facing other pressures from overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction and climate change.
Scientists have found that marine mammals like whales and dolphins could be disturbed by the jarring sounds of construction, especially if pile driving is used to hammer the steel turbine platform into the seafloor.
The noises, though short-lived, could impede communication between animals, divert them from migration routes or cause them to seek less suitable areas for feeding or breeding. Research from Europe found that harbor porpoises, seals and dolphins may avoid development areas during construction. In most, but not all cases, the animals were believed to have returned to the area following construction.
The biggest concern for conservation groups in the United States is the critically endangered North American right whale. There are fewer than 400 remaining, and the species' habitat overlaps with a number of planned wind development areas along the East Coast.
"Offshore wind is in no way the cause of the challenges the whales face, but it's going to be another pressure point," says John Rogers, senior energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Researchers aren't sure how right whales will respond to the noise from pile driving.
"But we are concerned, based on what we know about how whales react to other noise sources, that they may avoid [wind development] areas," says Kershaw.
And if that displacement causes them to miss out on important food resources, it could be dangerous for a species already on the brink.
There are a few other potential threats, too.
Ships associated with the development — more plentiful during construction — also pose a danger. In the past few years cargo ships, fishing boats and other vessels have caused half of all deaths of North Atlantic right whales.
A juvenile right whale breaches against the backdrop of a ship near the St. Johns River entrance. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission / NOAA Research Permit #775-1600-10
And after construction, the noise from the spinning turbines will be present in the water at low decibels. "We don't quite know how the great whales will react to those sounds," says Jeremy Firestone, the director of the Center for Research in Wind at the University of Delaware.
Other marine mammals may also perceive the noise, but at low decibels it's unlikely to be an impediment, research has found.
And it's possible that wind development could help some ocean life. Turbine foundations can attract fish and invertebrates for whom hard substrates create habitat complexity — known as the "reef effect," according to researchers from the University of Rhode Island's Discovery of Sound in the Sea program. Exclusion of commercial fishing nearby may also help shelter fish and protect marine mammals from entanglements in fishing gear.
Ensuring Safe Development
Despite the potential dangers, researchers have gathered a few best practices to help diminish and possibly eliminate some risks.
When it comes to ship strikes, the easiest thing is to slow boats down, mandating a speed of 10 knots in wind development areas, and using visual and acoustic monitoring for whales.
Adjusting operations to reduce boat trips between the shore and the wind development will also help. A new series of service operating vessels can allow maintenance staff to spent multiple days onsite, says Kershaw, cutting down on boat traffic.
For construction noise concerns, developers can avoid pile driving during times of the year when whales are present. And, depending on the marine environment, developers could use "quiet foundations" that don't require pile driving. These include gravity-based or suction caisson platforms.
Floating turbines are also used in deep water, where they're effectively anchored in place — although that poses its own potential danger. "We have concerns that marine debris could potentially become entangled around the mooring cables of the floating arrays and pose a secondarily entanglement risk to some species," says Felton, who thinks more research should be conducted before those become operational in U.S. waters — a process that's already underway in Maine, where a demonstration project is being built.
If loud noises are unavoidable during construction, noise-reducing technologies such as bubble curtains can help dampen the sound. And scheduling adjacent projects to conduct similar work at the same time could limit the duration of disturbances.
The foundation installation of the off shore wind farm Sandbank using a bubble curtain. Vattenfall / Ulrich Wirrwa / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Once turbines become operational, reducing the amount of light on wind platforms or using flashing lights could help deter some seabirds, NRDC researchers reported. And scientists are exploring using ultrasonic noises and ultraviolet lighting to keep bats away. "Feathering," or shutting down the turbine blades during key migration times, could also help prevent fatalities.
"We need to make sure that offshore wind is the best steward it can be of the marine ecosystem, because we want and expect it to be a significant part of the clean energy picture in some parts of the country," says Rogers. "We also have to recognize that we're going to learn by doing, and that some of these things we're going to figure out best once we have more turbines in the water."
That's why environmental groups say it's important to establish baseline information on species before projects begin, and then require developers to conduct monitoring during construction and for years after projects are operational.
Employing an "adaptive management framework" will ensure that developers can adjust their management practices as they go when new information becomes available, and that those best practices are incorporated into the requirements for future projects.
Putting Research Into Action
Advancing these conversations at the federal level during the Trump administration, though, has been slow going.
"We didn't really have any productive discussions with the administration in the last four years," says Kershaw.
And when it comes to birds, Felton says the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's recently completed "draft cumulative environmental impact statement" covering offshore wind developments had a lot of good environmental research, but little focus on birds.
"Part of that comes from the current administration's interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act," she says.
President Trump has been hostile to both wind energy and birds, and finished gutting the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in his administration's the final days, removing penalties for companies whose operations kill migratory birds.
There's hope that the Biden administration will take a different approach. But where the federal government has been lacking lately, Kershaw says, they've seen states step up.
New York, for example, has established an Environmental Technical Working Group composed of stakeholders to advise on environmentally responsible development of offshore wind.
The group is led by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, but it isn't limited to the Empire State. It's regional in focus and includes representatives from wind developers with leases between Massachusetts and North Carolina; state agencies from Massachusetts to Virginia; federal agencies; and science-based environmental NGOs.
New York's latest solicitation for clean energy projects includes up to 2,500 megawatts of offshore wind and requires developers to contribute at least $10,000 per megawatt for regional monitoring of fisheries and other wildlife.
Environmental groups have also worked directly with developers, including an agreement with Vineyard Wind — an 800-megawatt project off the Massachusetts coast that could be the first utility-scale wind development in federal waters — to help protect North Atlantic right whales.
The agreement includes no pile driving from Jan. 1 to April 30, ceasing activities at other times when whales are visually or acoustically identified in the area, speed restrictions on vessels, and the use of noise reduction technology, such as a bubble curtain during pile driving.
"The developers signed the agreement with us, and then they incorporated, most, if not all of those measures into the federal permitting documents," says Kershaw. "The developers really did a lot of bottom up work to make sure that they were being very protective of right whales."
Environmental groups are in talks with other developers on agreements too, but Felton wants to see best practices being mandated at the federal level.
"It's the sort of a role that should be being played by the federal government, and without that it makes the permitting and regulation process less stable and less transparent," she says." And that in turn slows down the build out of projects, which is also bad for birds because it doesn't help us address and mitigate for climate change."
Kershaw agrees there's a lot more work to be done, especially at the federal level, but thinks we're moving in the right direction.
"I think the work that's been done so far in the United States has really laid the groundwork for advancing this in the right way and in a way that's protective of species and the environment," she says. "At the same time, it's important that offshore wind does advance quickly. We really need it to help us combat the worst effects of climate change."
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.
High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.
Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.
California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.
As reported by AccuWeather:
In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.
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Three wildfires raging in South Dakota have shuttered Mount Rushmore and forced hundreds to flee their homes.
The largest blaze is the Schroeder Fire, first reported at 9:22 a.m. Monday one mile west of Rapid City, according to a Facebook update. It has since spread to 1,900 acres and forced up to 500 people to flee their homes, the Rapid City Journal reported Monday evening. Authorities attributed the fire to human causes, but its spread to environmental factors.
"We are at record-dry conditions along with high winds playing a major factor in this fight," South Dakota Wildland Fire Division Director Jay Esperance said in the Facebook update.
Today's Schroeder Fire Pictures https://t.co/I4eMcpp8MU— penncofire (@penncofire)1617080041.0
As of the most recent update, there were 250 firefighters battling the flames. The fire has destroyed at least one home and two pole barns, the Pennington County Sheriff's Office confirmed on Facebook. No injuries have been reported, The Associated Press said.
Meanwhile, Mount Rushmore National Memorial was forced to close because of two other fires, the Keystone Fire and 244 Fire, CNN reported. The 244 fire is located 1.5 miles southwest of Keystone. It spread to around 75 acres as of Monday afternoon, according to the interagency website Great Plains Fire Information. The Keystone Fire has successfully been reduced from 30 to 15 acres as of 7 p.m. Monday, the website said.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said that the fires were not directly threatening Mount Rushmore, The New York Times reported. However, strong winds made the situation unstable.
"I do want to remind everybody that this is an incredibly fluid situation," CNN quoted Noem at a press conference. "That these winds are a major factor and that as they shift and change and we get those gusts, that's when the can jump and we're going to have to stay pretty mobile."
Parts of South Dakota are under a red flag warning for ideal fire conditions until 8 p.m. Tuesday, The New York Times reported. However, wind speeds are predicted to decrease on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Rapid City Journal reported.
"Humidity is going to be low so... we're going to stay dry, but the winds will be diminishing gradually so that's definitely good news," Matthew Bunkers, a National Weather Service Rapid City meteorologist, told the Rapid City Journal.
Wildfires are expected to become more frequent in South Dakota's Black Hills due to the climate crisis as temperatures rise and humidity declines, according to a study published in Ecology Evolution. South Dakota State Fire Meteorologist Darren Clabo told KOTA TV that this would have a profound impact on the state's landscape.
"I think the long-term effects of all these fires are there's going to be some places that have fundamental ecological shifts," Clabo said. "Which basically means that the ecosystems that are there currently aren't going to exist in those areas anymore, our climates shifted too far away from where those ecosystems can naturally exist and so I think we are going to start seeing some very large broad landscape-level changes out there."
By Kenny Stancil
Despite the difficulties associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, the world added a record amount of new renewable energy capacity in 2020, according to data released Monday by the International Renewable Energy Agency.
IRENA's annual Renewable Capacity Statistics 2021 shows that global renewable energy capacity grew by more than 260 gigawatts (GW) last year, beating the previous record set in 2019 by nearly 50%. Last year marked the second consecutive year in which clean energy's share of all new generating capacity increased substantially, with renewables accounting for over 80% of all new electricity capacity added in 2020.
Total fossil fuel additions, by contrast, fell by more than 6% last year—from 64 GW worth of new electricity capacity in 2019 to 60 GW in 2020.
"These numbers tell a remarkable story of resilience and hope. Despite the challenges and the uncertainty of 2020, renewable energy emerged as a source of undeniable optimism for a better, more equitable, resilient, clean, and just future," IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera said in a statement.
"The great reset," as La Camera called the coronavirus-driven economic slowdown, "offered a moment of reflection and chance to align our trajectory with the path to inclusive prosperity, and there are signs we are grasping it."
The growth of renewables in 2020 tells a remarkable story of resilience & hope. Despite the uncertainties,… https://t.co/PXycDqano8— Francesco La Camera (@Francesco La Camera)1617616331.0
Referring to 2020 as "the start of the decade of renewables," La Camera noted that "costs are falling, clean tech markets are growing, and never before have the benefits of the energy transition been so clear."
Though hydropower—responsible for more than 43% of the world's total renewable energy generation capacity—still constitutes the largest global source of clean energy, other sources are catching up; solar and wind contributed 127 GW and 111 GW of new installations, respectively, together accounting for 91% of the growth in renewables in 2020.
🟢JUST RELEASED Renewable Capacity Statistics 2021 report by @IRENA shows how #renewableenergy performed in 2020 - t… https://t.co/VPwW1snMcL— IRENA (@IRENA)1617612361.0
While La Camera described the widespread adoption of renewable energy sources as an "unstoppable" trend, he also emphasized that "there is a huge amount to be done."
Notwithstanding recent momentum in favor of clean energy, La Camera said that in order to limit global temperature rise to 1.5ºC, "significant planned energy investments must be redirected to support the transition if we are to achieve 2050 goals" of net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as outlined last month in IRENA's World Energy Transition Outlook.
La Camera's words of caution about the inadequate pace of the global energy transformation echoes a recent warning by Fatih Bitrol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, who said last week that even though the world's biggest economies have pledged to achieve net zero GHG emissions by mid-century, few have implemented the policies necessary to realize that objective.
Regarding the worldwide expansion of renewable energy capacity in 2020, La Camera stressed that "in this critical decade of action, the international community must look to this trend as a source of inspiration to go further."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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Hurricane Ida entered the Gulf of Mexico late Friday, as people in the United States' southern state of Louisiana evacuated high-risk areas and stocked up on essentials.
The hurricane is expected to intensify as it reaches the northern Gulf Coast.
"The time to act is NOW. Hurricane Ida is now forecast to make landfall as a category 4 hurricane," the US National Weather Service tweeted, after the country's National Hurricane Center (NHC) branded the storm "extremely dangerous."
The hurricane made landfall in western Cuba late Friday as a Category 1 storm, with maximum sustained winds hitting 80 miles (130 kilometers) per hour.
More than 10,000 people were evacuated and electricity cut off as a precaution as Ida struck the province of Pinar del Rio. Thousands were evacuated in the capital city of Havana.
Eyes on Gulf Coast
As the storm strengthens to an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane, winds are expected to pick up speed — close to 140 miles (225 kilometers) per hour — before making landfall along the Gulf Coast late Sunday.
"This will be a life-altering storm for those who aren't prepared," National Weather Service meteorologist Benjamin Schott said during a Friday news conference with Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards.
The governor urged residents to be prepared: "By nightfall tomorrow night, you need to be where you intend to be to ride out the storm."
US President Joe Biden approved a federal emergency declaration for the state.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was going to send nearly 150 medical personnel and about 50 ambulances to the Gulf Coast to assist hospitals.
Climate Change and Its Repercussions
A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that the world is on track to surpass the warming limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) within 15 years.
The report explicitly laid out that human emissions were the cause of the rise in temperature, which has already sparked environmental catastrophes around the world.
The authors of the report said we can expect to see more extreme weather and climate events, such as heatwaves, flooding and droughts, than we are already observing.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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Hurricane Larry formed early Thursday, NOLA.com reported. It currently has maximum sustained winds of 80 miles per hour, according to an 11 a.m. Atlantic Standard Time (AST) update from the National Hurricane Center (NHC), making it a Category 1 storm for now.
"Steady to rapid strengthening is forecast during the next couple of days, and Larry is expected to become a major hurricane by Friday night," NHC wrote.
Further, the NHC predicted that it could reach wind speeds of 130 miles per hour by Sunday night, making it a Category 4 storm, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.
Larry first became a hurricane around 5 a.m. AST, according to the NHC. At the time, it had winds of up to 75 miles per hour. Within six hours, it had gotten "larger and a bit stronger," NHC said.
Hurricane #Larry Advisory 8: Larry is Larger and a Bit Stronger. Steady to Rapid Intensification Likely in the Comi… https://t.co/MErb5lWNRh— National Hurricane Center (@National Hurricane Center)1630593724.0
As of the most recent update, the storm is located about 660 miles west from the southernmost Cape Verde Islands. There are currently no coastal watches or warnings in effect, and NOLA.com reported that it does not immediately threaten any land.
However, the South Florida Sun Sentinel said that the forecast showed its path moving west and then northwest towards the Caribbean Sea through Sunday. Hurricane forecast maps can only predict a storm's movement five days out, but NHC said the storm could become one of the longest-running tropical systems on record.
At the same time, forecasters are tracking two low pressure areas, Orlando.com reported. One has a 20 percent chance of development over the next five days and is moving towards the Yucatán Peninsula. The other formed about 300 miles east-southeast of the southernmost Cabo Verde Islands. It has a 30 percent chance of development over the next two days.
11 AM EDT, Sep 2nd -- A Special Tropical Weather Outlook has been issued to introduce a new system ESE of the Cabo… https://t.co/rJbRDsAjzx— National Hurricane Center (@National Hurricane Center)1630595953.0
The 2021 hurricane season was forecast to be more active than usual. In early August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) put the chances of an above average season at 65 percent.
"A mix of competing oceanic and atmospheric conditions generally favor above-average activity for the remainder of the Atlantic hurricane season, including the potential return of La Nina in the months ahead," Matthew Rosencrans, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, said at the time.
It is not clear whether the climate crisis is making hurricanes more frequent, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. However, it does increase the chances that the storms that do form will be more dangerous, as they are wetter, more intense and slower moving.
This was the case with Hurricane Ida, CNN noted.
"We've always had hurricanes, we've always had heat waves, we've always had floods and droughts, but what climate change is doing is loading the weather dice against us," Nature Conservancy chief scientist and Texas Tech University professor Katharine Hayhoe told CNN. "It's sneaking in when we're not looking, changing the numbers as we're rolling and asking what is this, how could this happen? The answer to that is climate change."
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