Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Tale of Two Megawatts

A few Sundays ago, the Waterloo Courier featured a front page article about the proposed 750 megawatt coal burning power plant. It mentioned the $851,000 in tax dollars it was expected to bring to Waterloo city hall, plus some for the County, and some for Dunkerton schools. Numerous residents of the area have expressed serious concerns about the troublesome health issues caused by such a plant.

On the same weekend, the Daily Times Herald in Carroll, Iowa ran a front page story about a power company which has proposed to generate electricity using a local resource—wind. The 215 megawatt wind turbine project is expected to add $1 million in tax revenues to Carroll and Crawford counties, plus $367,000 in annual royalty payments to land owners where the wind turbines will be located.

So, here we have two communities, both interested in quality of life, economic development, jobs, and revenue to local governments. Each community is considering a proposal for additional electric power generation. With these commonalities as the starting point, each community can make choices that will lead to vastly different futures.

In the case of a 215 megawatt wind turbine farm near Carroll, land owners will not be displaced, they will be receiving a reasonable rent, and there will be significant jobs and tax revenues to the local community. ISU economist, David Swenson, has documented that each $1 million direct sales of wind energy generates much more economic activity than $1 million of coal burning power plants.

Not to mention multiple other benefits: no two-mile long coal trains coming and going through neighborhoods, no coal dust, no coal burning, no air pollution, no globe-warming gases, no increased in asthma cases, no mercury in our lakes, no coal mining, no mountain top removal in Kentucky. In other words, fresh-air economic development, without headaches and worries.

Now, contrast that with a situation where you allow a coal burning power plant. It is amazing how much powerlessness a power plant can bring to an area! You have disgruntled land owners and neighbors, use of eminent domain to force people away from their homes, and laws that have been weakened to prevent local people to participate in the decision process. And then, 10 years later you have chronic respiratory illnesses and polluted lakes all around. Honestly, can these be called “economic development”?

Same megawatts, but completely different histories, politics, local and global health effects.


But what do you do when it is not windy? (Well, then you have a “no-wind” situation.) It turns out that many locations in Iowa are indeed windy enough to meet a significant portion of a frugal energy demand. A recent study by the Iowa Policy Project documented how numerous public schools in Iowa are meeting nearly all their annual energy needs from the wind turbines they purchased and installed in their schoolyards. The payback period has been very short, even in a not very windy place like Eldora, Iowa.

A diverse set of energy sources (wind, direct solar, solar thermal, biomass, and even occasional use of coal if available) can meet most of our electrical and heating needs, even during no-wind situations, if we stop being such energy slobs.

It does matter how those megawatts are generated. And here in Iowa we have choices. We actually can choose our future energy-wise.

Dr. Kamyar Enshayan is a mechanical engineer and works at University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Energy and Environmental Education. He can be reached at 273-7575 or kamyar.enshayan@uni.edu

9 Comments:

At 3:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please, please: this has to appear in the W-CF Courier as an op-ed!!!

 
At 8:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kamyar

This is wonderful and I really hope that you have sent it to the papers around the area

Gail

 
At 11:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Coal plant has same megawatts as the wind plant? Look at your own numbers. Not even close. What's more, the public expense for wind is way higher. So, fewer megawatts for more money? Not real bright, folks.

 
At 11:51 AM, Blogger Clean Air Waterloo said...

No one is saying that 215MW of wind equals 750MW of coal. The point is that equal wattages of wind vs. coal have vastly different impacts.

Both projects are privately financed. Electrical rates are regulated by the state. The public is bearing no direct additional cost. Why do you say that the public expense is higher for wind than coal? Are you taking into account the costs associated with global warming, environmental contamination and poor air and water quality?

 
At 1:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Clean Air,

You said it in your article, and I quote: "Same megawatts." And look at the rest you said: 750 mW at a cost of $851,000, compared to nearly $1.4 million for 215 mW. So wind delivers one-third the kW for nearly twice the price.

To say both projects are "privately financed" misses the point. Obviously the investment in coal generation returns more kW.

And while electrical rates are regulated, the public *still* has to pay the cost of power generation. Regulators make sure of that, it's part of their job.

People who do their homework know that the US, and Iowa's agriculture especially, absorbs more CO2 than it emits, so that's not an issue. Assuming you can prove an essential trace gas, 97 percent of which comes from uncontrollable natural sources anyway, is directly responsible for observed warming. Which is an unproven assumption. Water vapor has a far greater impact.

Your claims about pollution are speculative and emotional. Here in Iowa we're more level-headed.

 
At 1:54 PM, Blogger Clean Air Waterloo said...

1. The $851,000 and $1.4 million figures refer to tax revenues, as the article clearly states. Wind comes out ahead. The cost of the Waterloo coal plant has been estimated at $1.3 BILLION.

3. For rational people, the global warming debate is over. Now is the time for action.

4. Your assumption that the people who oppose this plant are not locals is wrong.

 
At 3:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If this plant meets all local state and federal requirements for emissions,aren't you going after the tail instead of the dog. Our goverment that we elected pasted these requirements. Why dont you work on the law instead of a company that will bring jobs and many tax dollars to Waterloo and which I believe we can us.

 
At 3:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If this plant meets all local state and federal requirements for emissions,aren't you going after the tail instead of the dog. Our goverment that we elected pasted these requirements. Why dont you work on the law instead of a company that will bring jobs and many tax dollars to Waterloo and which I believe we can us.

 
At 3:12 PM, Blogger Clean Air Waterloo said...

Luckily in this country we can protest any way we want to.

 

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