Wind Industry: Surviving Earthquakes and Congress

Jan. 11, 2013
One of renewable energy's big selling point is the minimal impact on the environment to produce energy and another one might be withstanding mother nature's strongest storms and major earthquakes.

In Alaska, the wind blows in the winter time. As reported in a recent article in the Alaska Dispatch, two wind farms came online last fall and have been producing energy at a rate above expectations. Good news and even better news, a 5.9 earthquake near Anchorage, Alaska, did not stop these two wind farms and its turbines from producing energy. The wind farms are designed to withstand earthquakes, but a large earthquake—say more than 8.0—could shut them down. 

I thought it was interesting that the buiding out of the nation's infrastructure has a trickle down effect. Not only are we looking at more energy sources, such as natural gas and solar, but updating and adding new power plants are the benefactor of the latest building specifications for natural disasters and more powerful weather patterns. The earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan in 2011 was a reminder of how old power plants are suseptible to Mother Nature and begs the question whether retrofitting these plants is practical? Last year, the Dept. of Energey granted two new permits for nuclear plant construction and will be built with modern, safety standards for greenfield projects. 

Regarding Alaska, the wind farms are part of the energy mix for the state.The state has been hurting due to the rising cost of heating oil and, in general, is looking to more energy alternatives. The big one is  natural gas--a big percentage for some cities in Alaska--and some hydro-power. Wind power is around 2 percent of the mix but could grow more with addition of offshore wind plants. 

In other recent wind power news, the fiscal cliff deal included an extension of the wind power credits for a year. Turbine manufacturers, Siemens Industry and Vestas, began cutting back production of turbines due to a congressional indecision during 2012. The tax credits are for one year and no long-term wind tax credit plan is on the horizon in Washington yet. 

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