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Ear to the Ground

Google Bets on California Wind Power

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Posted on May 25, 2011
Flickr / mikebaird

Wind turbines near Mount San Jacinto in Southern California.

Google is investing $55 million in the Alta Wind Energy Center, one of the largest wind farms in the world, a move expected to help California reclaim its status as a leader in the industry. The Mojave Desert project may serve as a model for a state that once produced 90 percent of the world’s wind power. That number is now less than 2 percent. The search giant has already invested more than $300 million in other wind power initiatives and continues to expand its footprint outside of Internet technology. It’s always welcome news to see an American corporation invest in domestic renewable energy production, though sad to see how far behind we’ve fallen. —KDG

Los Angeles Times

California’s woes have been a magnified version of the troubles facing the national wind industry, analysts said.

Last year, the market was “in distress,” said Denise Bode, chief executive of the American Wind Energy Assn., the trade group that organized the Anaheim conference. The amount of generation capacity installed was half the amount of the year before. The U.S. trailed China in 2009, even though it was a record year, and was eclipsed again in 2010.

Things are still looking “pathetic,” said Jonathan Kim, a power and utilities analyst with Royal Bank of Scotland. Attempts by inexperienced real estate developers and farm owners to launch wind projects have failed by the thousands, he said.

“Sales are low, everyone’s stock is depressed, and we’re seeing a lot of people struggling,” Kim said. “It’s just not a good time for the sector.”

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By rollzone, May 26, 2011 at 5:38 pm Link to this comment

hello again. always bothers me when people adamantly
oppose new technologies because it doesn’t immediately
perform to expectations, and there is always some
crookery going on beneath the surface. when given the
true development cycle, banks of storage capacitors,
combinations with other solar energies, heretofore unforeseeable advances - (people are working here on
free, zero impact energy)- given a chance: (longer than
13 episodes), this could be a good thing. stop raining
on solar energy.

Report this
John M's avatar

By John M, May 26, 2011 at 7:53 am Link to this comment

Google lines up for government handout right beside

One stimulus subsidy for wind was the “Investment
Tax Credit.” Unlike the “Production Tax Credit,” the
ITC enables GE and now Google to get its wind subsidy
just for building a windmill—even if it never
spins. Also, the “tax credit” is payable up front, in
cash from the Department of Energy. In other words,
it’s not really a tax credit, but it’s corporate
welfare—build a windmill, and the taxpayers cut
you a check.

White House economic and energy officials have
privately expressed concern that the wind subsidies
in the stimulus aren’t doing very much but enrich
some companies. The Wall Street Journal editorial
page got its hands on the memo, and today’s editorial
[behind a paywall, sadly] is an important read.

The memo, written by Larry Summers, Carol Browner,
and Ron Klain, discuss how stimulus subsidies are
going to projects that would have happened anyway,
and in which government ends up bearing most of the
risk (while, of course, the private companies get all
the profit).

We call this corporate welfare, and the stimulus was
full of it. The case study in the memo is a GE wind
farm in Oregon. The Journal editorial sums it up:

So here we have the government already paying for 65%
of a project that doesn’t even meet its normal cost-
benefit test, and then the White House has to referee
when one of the largest corporations in the world
(GE) importunes the Administration to move faster by
threatening to find a private financial substitute
like any other business. Remind us again why
taxpayers should pay for this kind of corporate

But the Summers memo answers that last question, the
editorial points out:

“Failing to make progress on renewables loan
guarantees could upset the Hill ([New Mexico] Sen.
[Jeff] Bingaman, Speaker Pelosi)” and changes could
“signal the failure of a Recovery Act program that
has been featured prominently by the Administration.”

One of my pet peeves is so called wind power. The
more I’ve looked in to it over time the worse it
looks. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great if you own one
or build them, the government is very eager to hand
you a handful of subsidies and pat you on the back in
public. But the problem I always had with them is
they don’t work. What do I mean they don’t work? Well
you always have to have a power plant running in the
background in case the wind slows down. So what’s the
point - just use the power plant you already have
running. You can’t just turn a coal or natural gas or
nuke plant on and off.  Well guess what - they did a
study and found out not only was I right but the
power companies pay to get their power on the grid
when it’s not needed so they can keep getting their
subsidies which are the only thing that makes them
profitable. So profitable in fact they can pay to get
their power used and still make money.

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By rollzone, May 25, 2011 at 5:18 pm Link to this comment

hello. innovations alike may or not be real,
but areas of California have regular wind gusts beyond
50MPH every day like clockwork, that last a couple of
hours. it is great Google is keeping the game against
the regular consortium alive.

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