62 Comments
Feb 17Liked by Isaac Orr, Mitch Rolling

Great piece. Aside from the economics, a renewable-heavy grid faces significant challenges maintaining a 60hz frequency, something that also can cause blackouts or massive equipment damage if it gets out of line. I can’t find it this morning, but there’s a good piece about how Denmark has to run its nat gas fleet flat-out and dump power in the wholesale market when its actual demand is theoretically met by wind for this reason.

Expand full comment
author

Very cool I'll poke around for it!

Expand full comment

America needs a lot of heat and thermal batteries are cheap and easily dispatched…so that doesn’t even account for more batteries to store electricity. All of this is easy to solve with the bigger issue being tree branches that can render a nuclear power plant into a $20 billion paper weight…oops. ;)

Expand full comment

Keep doing drugs Funny guy

Expand full comment

I added over and under frequency protection to my home standby. If the grid gets out of whack by more than .5hZ I am going to generator.

Expand full comment
Feb 17Liked by Isaac Orr, Mitch Rolling

Let’s not forget ethanol subsidies while we focus on tax credits and the great state of Iowa. Beyond the PTC’s there were/are ITC’s or Investment Tax Credits, and tax equity that Private Equity and developers with a dream they want to share with us, and who oddly have no money of their own to build the dream, use to “make” a proposed wind project work. If one considers the parfait of financing that goes into an energy generating project, wind and solar are just the worst tasting parfait mix of risk financing anyone has ever come up with, until one puts the full faith and credit of the American taxpayer behind it. Personal experience in the financing and construction of large utility scale wind projects to the detriment of gas, hydro, biomass generating projects in a large portfolio, it was frustrating to watch those projects go wanting for major maintenance and other operational requirements, whilst wind got a kiss on the top of its head every morning, especially after the wind blew like stink all night and then died in the morning. Exactly, prices went negative over night and then recovered during the day, but the 24 hour cycle tended to put non wind generation in negative results over the fullness of time. Sadly, the arcane nature of the rules that govern generation, transmission and distribution of electricity in the lower 48, are meant to absolutely confuse and obfuscate the rather simple process of generating a kilowatt and selling it at a profit. No doubt if you asked Senator Grassley (a nice enough old fellow at age 90, now the oldest sitting senator in the US Senate….) how grid actually works his answer would come with a grin as he walked to the switch on the wall in his senate offices and flipped it to the “up or on” position. “What’s not to like there young fella? Corn dog with corn syrup binder for a snack?” And of course wind in Iowa helped make it happen. This grift continues until the majority in MISO are so tragically affected in the winter or hot summer months when the circuits are all open, that they are dying in the extreme cold or heat. If it is so, as California goes, so goes the rest the country, then grand times are ahead for the consumers of regulated utilities supplied electricity for all. As a New Englander, we can’t throw stones, our leadership determined years ago that despite the fact we are nearly wholly dependent on natural gas supply to run the NEISO grid, building new pipelines to supply said gas, is out of the question. Our turn at blackouts is coming. But never fear! Johnny “live shot” Kerry has plenty of stand by propane generation at the Forbes family retreat on Naushon Island, in case things get sticky at his estate on Martha’s Vineyard, it’s a quick 3 mile evacuation route across Vineyard Sound. But of course we can rely on the good will of our French speaking neighbors to the north and Hydro Quebec to supply what we don’t have on hand at low and fair prices. Besides “Live Shot” Kerry is fluent in the French language so he can translate and negotiate on our behalf.

No one pays until the bill comes due, then the least able are asked to pay.

Expand full comment
author

One aspect of the subsidies I have very little knowledge of is how the tax credits are marketed to other financial institutions that have the "tax appetite" to utilize the credits. I think this is less pressing now that the subsidies were made "direct pay" in the IRA. Do you know how these credits are bought and sold?

Expand full comment

Yes, to the degree that the rules still apply, (they were used on a 300mw wind project in Oklahoma, happy to give specifics offline) the various financial institutions that had need of a tax shield gave a rough estimate of the losses they needed and then would invest in the project, based on their estimates being close to correct for their specific firm’s need of tax shield. It made running a construction project a bit harder, as in additon to construction debt flipping to project debt there was this additional variable. The firms involved were difficult, unpleasant and intrusive at best for a relatively small bit of the financial parfait. Not sure who marketed the tax equity side, they just showed up on day and we had to deal with them, almost literally speaking. Great article by the way! You are really hitting the buttons!!!

Expand full comment

Ethanol…brought to you by the Bush/Cheney 2005 Energy Policy Act. WTF??

Expand full comment

Well the grift isn’t limited to region, political party, or technology. Give them an earmark or tax break and it goes a long long long way. Like continuing resolutions. Don’t want to pass a legitimate federal budget? Kick the can down the road with a CR. Easy Peasy your favorite projects continue to be funded and the government stays open for business. At some point the money printing presses run out of ink and paper

Expand full comment

The cure for high commodity prices is…high commodity prices. Bush/Cheney incompetence helped make fracking economical. On the energy supply side America is doing much better than anyone would have predicted in 2008/09. Natural gas cheap AF!!

Expand full comment

Every modern environmental catastrophe is the result of a government policy.

Expand full comment

Trump is a billionaire because of the EPA…sorry but if we didn’t get acid rain and coal and diesel pollution under control NYC would be a ghost town.

Expand full comment
Feb 17Liked by Isaac Orr, Mitch Rolling

It’s a good point that we should no longer thing about wind as a new industry that needs support to get started. Didn’t realize the PTC has been in place for over 30 years!!

One thing I’ve been meaning to look into - why was wind PTC and solar ITC?

Expand full comment
author

Right! Now the PTC is simply needed to keep the industry going, despite the "maturing" of the market. If something needs perpetual subsidies to stick around, it's value needs to be questioned.

Expand full comment
author

I think solar has always had the option of a PTC but most of the time they elect the ITC. I'm guessing it is a function of lower capacity factors for solar than wind. We'll see how things change if more negative prices start occurring during peak solar hours though.

Expand full comment
Feb 17Liked by Isaac Orr, Mitch Rolling

https://www.solarpowerworldonline.com/2022/10/the-basics-of-itc-vs-ptc-for-the-solar-industry/

Didn’t realize that the IRA extends the PTC to solar now. Oy vey

Expand full comment
Feb 17Liked by Isaac Orr, Mitch Rolling

Oh yes,,, the IRA gave us that jewel of a solar PTC too.... total price distortions.

Expand full comment
author

We're turning into Europe where companies seek subsidies instead of providing actual value to consumers. It's a bad path to be on.

Expand full comment

We are energy dominant…the truth hurts.

Expand full comment
Feb 17Liked by Isaac Orr, Mitch Rolling

“The cheapest electricity source we have” 🙄

Expand full comment
Feb 17Liked by Isaac Orr, Mitch Rolling

The Feds just approved some offshore wind leases off the Oregon Coast. These are in deep water, so they’ll float and depend on anchors to keep them in place. It’ll need to be a very stout anchor, as 70 mph winds and 30 foot seas are quite common in the winter. I expect these things will wash up on the beaches like dead whales.

Suppose these get built, they won’t of course, but if they do they will deliver thousands of MW of intermittent unreliable power to very rural tiny beach towns towns. There is no local load, the load centers are hundreds of miles away, and the path out for transmission lines is through a very rugged mountain range. Figure $4 million per mile for 100 mountain miles, then $2 million per mile on the flat land, one line for each location. Not sure even the greedy buggers at Siemens would touch this…unless the subsidies increased.

Expand full comment
author

This is great info, Lee! We might be working on some west coast offshore wind projects in the coming months. It would be great to connect and pick your brain on some of the scoping if you're open to that!

Expand full comment
Feb 17Liked by Isaac Orr

Sure. Would love to talk to you. I have a couple of draconian NDAs but I can talk about anything in the public domain. Robert Bryce has my contact info.. or if there is a good way to get it to you let me know.

Expand full comment

Don’t forget impacts of new transmission on possible wildfires, https://forestpolicypub.com/2023/08/15/when-mitigation-and-adaptation-collide-wildfire-ignitions-and-57-more-transmission-lines-by-2030/

And wildfires affecting transmission lines. Wildfires can be a problem at least in SW Oregon.https://forestpolicypub.com/2023/08/16/transmission-line-build-out-across-the-west-impacts-to-wildfire-and-from-wildfire/

Expand full comment

My company has been involved in transmission lines in the west for 20 years. My opinion is the worst of the wildfires started from deferred maintenance, particularly in CA. The priority set by the regulators was building upgrades to connect wind and solar. The existing lines got neglected. I think the Oregon fires a couple of years ago were arson. They all started along highways. A 500kV line through a forest is a potential risk, but new construction with good maintenance and tree trimming doesn’t usually cause fires.

Here are the biggest impediments to new T-lines in order of difficulty 1. Federal Government Agencies. 2. Indian tribes, 3. Environmentalists , 4. Landowners, 5. Railroads, 6. Local government. The new Oregon lines will never be built. Too expensive.

We are building about 1700 miles of new 230kV and above transmission per year. Most of it is short distance urban. Apparently we need 30,000 miles by 2030 to make nut zero happen. No way. Too expensive and no labor. It takes 7 years to train a high voltage lineman. There is a severe shortage. A Journeyman lineman can make $250k per year. Let see. Can’t get the parts, skyrocketing costs, can’t get permits, can’t get approval, can’t cross the ancient burial ground, can’t disturb any salamanders, no skilled labor, can’t go near any railroad tracks. Otherwise pretty easy stuff.

Expand full comment

Line men are heroes like any other first responders.

Expand full comment

Thanks for this on-the-ground view. My concern is not right away for the 30K miles of new, but what will happen if they are not maintained for a variety of reasons (can’t afford it, other priorities..)

Expand full comment
Feb 17Liked by Isaac Orr, Mitch Rolling

I don’t understand some aspects of negative prices. In an electricity market, the quantity supplied of electricity must equal the quantity demanded at all times.

If for example, 1000 MWh of electricity were demanded, with wind producing 400 MWh and nuclear producing 600 MWh, then the quantity suppled of electricity would equal the quantity demanded of electricity. If wind all of a sudden produced 600 MWh of electricity, then the total electricity supplied would be 1200 MWh, with the quantity demanded being only 1000 MWh of electricity. The quantity supplied would not equal the quantity demanded, and the grid would crash.

So the grid operator appears to have three choices. They can

1. try to find some entity that wants to consume more electricity

2. sell the surplus electricity into another market

3. curtail electricity production

I am skeptical that demand can somehow be increased instantaneously. In my mind that leaves only the latter two choices as reasonable options.

So in the case where Nuclear wants to run at steady state, and wind over produces, what happens to the over supply of electricity? Does wind get paid to not produce? How is the quantity supplied balanced with the quantity demanded?

Expand full comment
Feb 17Liked by Isaac Orr, Mitch Rolling

I can't remember where I read it yesterday (I read too many Sunstacks to keep all straight) about paying wind generators to shut down. I find that dispicable. We pay them to develop a field, we pay them to run it and then we pay them to turn it off... PT Barnum must be having a good laugh at our stupidity. 🤪

Expand full comment
author

Great work if you can get it I guess.

Expand full comment

Actually shutting down is expensive. It means you put your unit through the thermal stress of cooling down and heating back up. It's usually written into your maintenance contract how many start cycles you get, if you exceed them there is a penalty. It also shortens your overhaul - major maintenance window. So shutting down is not free.

Expand full comment
Feb 17Liked by Isaac Orr, Mitch Rolling

John, you have put your finger on the dilemma the grid operators have been facing for several years now. #2 and #3 are the solutions. When there is too much solar and wind the grid operator tries to get the neighbors to take it, if that fails they curtail production. The negative pricing occurs due to older power purchase contracts with wind and solar that have a take or pay clause. It is often cheaper to sell at a negative price than to pay the curtailment penalties. Those contracts only last 30 years or so. This isn’t going away. Until there are enough batteries to store the over production (never) this will continue and likely get worse. The other issue is grid congestion, which also can cause curtailments. Grid operators need to do chaos theory in their heads to adequately manage todays grid. Thank Enron for this mess. Skilling is still locked up. Good.

Expand full comment
author

Great answer here. Grid congestion is a big one that we highlight in Death of a Wind Farm.

Expand full comment

I believe the problem is much deeper than what you think. I once got a glimpse into the quagmire of controlling the grid, as a brother-in-law was an engineer-in-charge.

In the deregulated grid, power is actioned off in time increments, of one hour segments if memory serves me. The distributer of power buys what they think they will need at the best price offered by the power producers. If the distributer needs more power because demand is up, they look to see who is offering more power, now at at a bid-ask-price, in order to keep the grid at 120 volts and 60 Hertz to the end user. Remembering, demand is an unpredictable free-market thing that fluctuates when you flip a light switch.

The apple cart is turned over when politician interfere and mandate that renewables must be purchase first, nullifying the contract price for electricity and leaving base load power producers with unsold electricity. Mostly that is controlled by venting steam from the thermal plants and closing gates at hydro dams.

Yes, the only thing reliable about renewables is that you must pay them. As Warren Buffet says, only subsidize make wind worth building. That's the price we pay for being fearful of plant food.

Expand full comment

Sending a politician to do a technologist's job predictably delivers a terrible outcome.

Expand full comment

Invoking Thomas Sowell, "It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.”

Expand full comment
author

This is a great question that I need to look further into. Thanks for prompting it!

Expand full comment

Read about the Curtailment payments in the UK - paying wind developers to shut down. It gets worse - Bloomberg just did an expose on the industry and found that wind developers were fraudulently overstating their projected wind numbers for payments. Pretty scandalous! no doubt US will be happy to adopt the same practices.

Expand full comment

Wow that was a wild bar fight that broke out on LinkedIn over this article. I would say you found a tender spot with the green supporters. They sure got excited.

Expand full comment
author

It was fun!

Expand full comment
Feb 17Liked by Isaac Orr, Mitch Rolling

Excellent report.

Expand full comment
author

Thanks, Al!

Expand full comment
Feb 17Liked by Isaac Orr

It will take putting some politicians and bureaucrats out to pasture before we can remove their idiotic policies.

Expand full comment
author

I'm hoping we can make progress at a state level to correct what ails the grid at the federal level. Ground up changes in how we think about this stuff.

Expand full comment

Isaac, you really are a Bad Boy! Powerful argument against high-handed regulation.

Expand full comment
author

Mitch is just as bad! 😉

Expand full comment

I think you are missing that there is no incentive to add solar to the grid. So the risk of failure is because we are relying on the same coal/ oil/ gas/ geo/ nuclear mix with large ports/ access to the grid. Electrical operators have no incentive to add small solar "plants" as it bypasses their friends who often give to their political aims.

It is more political than is stated within.

Expand full comment
author

Hi Richard,

Solar also gets generous subsidies but we want to focus on wind for this piece.

Expand full comment

Agreed - my point is that the grid is not optimally managed - the subsidies are less of an issue than the political "bacteria" that mitigate their true calling.

Expand full comment
author

People have ignored the warnings because they have not yet felt the consequences of their actions. That day is coming.

Expand full comment

I hope so - like much in society, good forces are subjugated my money and the power of the corporate and political influencers. Don't get me started about EVs

Expand full comment

EVs are natural gas vehicles…and at current prices natural gas can be transformed into diesel and kerosene. The Age of Oil is over and it has been awhile.

Expand full comment
Feb 17Liked by Mitch Rolling

I'd like to see how much Grassley got paid off in campaign contributions and other perks to keep pushing this tax credit.

Expand full comment

Grassley has mashed taters for brains…someone is getting that money but it ain’t Grassley.

Expand full comment
Feb 17·edited Feb 17Liked by Isaac Orr

Isaac, great article, showing just how much political manipulation is straining the electrical grid. Demand for electricity is a free market while supply is a basket case of opportunistic manipulating regulators. Something will break.

We truly are committing economic suicide over a fight to starve trees of carbon dioxide.

Expand full comment
author

Thanks for reading, Garret

Expand full comment
Feb 17Liked by Isaac Orr, Mitch Rolling

Thank you for doing the heavy lifting. Reading is easy.

Expand full comment

While I have your attention, is there a way send you a private message?

Expand full comment

I am sure. You two are good together.

Expand full comment

I am surprised there is not more negative pricing with California. Everyone is now familiar with their infamous duck curve. The belly of the curve is now crossing zero during the shoulder months. That energy has to go somewhere and it's flowing into SPP, often at negative prices. Of course nothing new, California has been leaning on its neighbors to balance its energy for decades

Expand full comment

If there is a way to waste a resource, California will find it.

Expand full comment