The answer is blowin' in the wind: Offshore wind projects moving on up

Posted on June 25, 2014 by Jeff Thaler

After sifting first through 70 proposals and then six finalists from all over the United States, on May 7, 2014 the Department of Energy announced the selection of three offshore wind demonstration projects to receive up to $47 million each over the next four years to deploy grid-connected systems in federal and state waters by 2017. The projects – located off the coasts of New Jersey, Oregon and Virginia – prevailed over project proposals from Maine, Ohio and Texas.

The Energy Department estimates offshore wind could produce more than the combined generating capacity of all U.S. electric power plants if all of the resources in state and federal waters were developed. More than 70 percent of the nation’s electricity consumption occurs in the 28 coastal states -- where most Americans live. Offshore wind resources are conveniently located near these coastal populations. Wind turbines off coastlines generally use shorter transmission lines to connect to the power grid than many common sources of electricity. Moreover, offshore winds are typically stronger during the day, allowing for a more stable and efficient production of energy when consumer demand is at its peak.

At the present time, the only offshore wind project generating electricity and connected to the grid is off of Castine, Maine; I have been legal counsel for the permitting and other project requirements.  UMaine's VolturnUS project is a 65-foot-tall floating offshore wind turbine prototype launched last summer and connected to the transmission system on June 13, 2013, making it the first grid-connected offshore wind turbine in North America. The turbine is 1:8th the geometric scale of a 6-megawatt (MW), 423-foot rotor diameter design. It has been operating extremely well in all kinds of weather and sea conditions for almost a full year. For a photo of the turbine, see a previous ACOEL blog post,

The three projects selected are required to deploy offshore wind installations in U.S. waters, connected to the grid, by 2017:

·  Fishermen’s Energy proposes five 5-megawatt direct-drive wind turbines approximately three miles off the coast of Atlantic City, New Jersey. The project would be built in relatively shallow waters, with the foundations installed into the seabed, similar to the proposed Cape Wind (Massachusetts) and Deepwater (Rhode Island) projects.

·  Principle Power will install five 6-megawatt direct-drive wind turbines approximately 18 miles off the coast of Coos Bay, Oregon, using a semi-submersible floating foundation to be installed in water more than 1,000 feet deep.  More than 60 percent of U.S. offshore wind resources are found in deep waters, including the entirety of the West Coast and much of the East Coast, especially New England.

·  Dominion Virginia Power will install two 6-megawatt direct-drive wind turbines 26 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach, using a foundation to be installed  in relatively shallow waters into the seabed, like Fishermen’s.

The DOE also announced that the proposals from the University of Maine and from the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation “offered additional innovative approaches that, with additional engineering and design, will further enhance the properties of American offshore wind technology options. This includes concrete semi-submersible foundations as well as monopile foundations designed to reduce ice loading.” The Department has indicated that these two projects were selected to be alternates, and each will receive $3 million over the next year to, as with the three selected projects, bring their engineering and design work from the current 50% level to 100% completion. You can learn more at the Wind Program’s Offshore Wind Web page.

CSK Tribes to Acquire Kerr Dam in Montana

Posted on May 5, 2014 by Irma S. Russell

Last month, after 30 years of negotiations between the parties, an arbitration decision set the price to be paid by the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes (CSK) to PPL Montana to acquire the Kerr Dam.  The tribes expect the dam -- the first major hydroelectric facility owned by a tribal entity -- will serve as a driver for economic development for tribal members, residents of the Flathead Reservation, and the surrounding area.  The dam will operate under the same licensing requirements applicable to PPL Montana and will sell energy generated by the dam on the open market.  The dam has the generating capacity of 194 megawatts, standing at 205 feet high and 541 feet long.

After considering arguments by the tribes and PPL Montana, a panel of the American Arbitration Association set $18,289,798 as the price to be paid by the CSK to acquire the dam.  This price includes $16.5 million for the existing plant and $1.7 million for required environmental mitigation and was the original price agreed to by the parties in a negotiated deal in 1985.  The tribes had argued to the panel that $14.7 million would be a fair price while PPL Montana maintained the tribes should pay close to $50 million for the dam. 

The arbitration decision is a culmination of a long history of the construction and operation of the dam.  Negotiation for purchase has been going on since 1984 when the 50-year lease terminated.  Understanding the debates surrounding the dam requires some explanation.  In 1934 a subsidiary of the Montana Power Company began construction on the Kerr Dam on tribal lands on the Flathead River despite opposition from members of the Flathead Indian Reservation.  In 1938 the construction was completed and named after the then CEO of Montana Power Co., Frank Kerr.  The construction financing for the project included a 50-year term lease that provided for lease payments to the tribes for the dam, which is located on tribal lands and uses tribal resources.  

The arbitration decision indicated that the purchase can occur after September 5, 2015.  Energy Keepers, a federally chartered corporation owned by the tribes is expected to tender the purchase money early in September 2015.  The CSK Tribes hopes to develop the dam as a self-sustaining energy source for the tribes as well as a revenue source.  The Tribal Council is expected to choose a new name for the dam after the transfer.  

In 2011 the tribes competed for and received a federal grant, which was available for energy projects. The grant money funded a feasibility study to assess energy efficiency improvement projects and to implement energy conservation measures in existing tribal facilities.  The grant funding also supported the development of an organizational structure to acquire the dam. 

Not all tribal members supported acquisition of the dam.  The arbitration process ran from February 3 to March 3, and some tribal members have objected that lack of notice means that public comment should be allowed at this time.  Additionally, some tribal members have noted in the media the need for caution in going forward.  For example, some have emphasized that, after the purchase, the dam will no longer be a taxable asset and tax support for schools in the area will be lost or will need to be funded from other sources.  Preparation for the transition to tribal ownership has begun, and the tribes are working with current employees at the dam who are tribal members and searching for engineers and information technology employees.

Does the Wisdom of An Idea Depend on Its Source? Senate Republicans Propose Merging EPA and DOE

Posted on May 10, 2011 by Seth Jaffe

E&E Daily reported today that Senate Republicans are preparing legislation to combine EPA and the Department of Energy. The list of Senators identified as supporting the proposal is a virtual who’s who of conservatives, including Jim DeMint, a favorite of the Tea Party. Accordingly to Richard Burr (R. N.C.), the measure would reduce waste by eliminating duplicative programs in EPA and DOE.

Why is this even a story? Perhaps because Democratic Governor Deval Patrick did the same thing in Massachusetts in 2007, forming what has been considered a very successful Executive Office of Energy and Environment. Perhaps because newly elected Democratic Governor Dannell Malloy recently did the same thing, creating the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in Connecticut (and naming my friend and law school classmate Dan Esty to be first Commissioner of the combined agency).

So, is this a progressive idea to ensure that energy development, which is a very big part of our economy, is considered together with environmental protection, or is this a regressive idea, intended to eliminate spending? 

Perhaps, just perhaps, it’s simply a good idea.

Politics would determine whether the combined agency leadership would pursue an aggressive environmental protection and clean energy agenda or whether it would instead avoid new regulatory programs in order to facilitate an aggressive program of developing traditional energy resources. Either way, it makes sense to house these two functions under one roof.

For those of us who follow politics as the blood sport it’s become, it will be interesting to see if this idea gets any traction and, if so, where Congressional Democrats line up. Are they going to try to tar this as a simple-minded conservative idea? If so, will the President’s friend Governor Patrick be caught in a Mitt Romney-like dance, trying to argue that it was a good idea for Massachusetts but would not be a good idea nationally? 

Serious kudos to the first liberal Democrat who unambiguously supports this proposal.