Archive for the 'environment' Category

Farming the Wind

Driving back and forth to eastern Washington, the Vantage wind farms are a striking landmark. Dozens of wind turbines march across the hills, capturing wind energy to sell to Puget Sound Electric and other utilities.

Wind Turbines

I realize these towers are huge, much bigger than our human sense of perspective registers. But how big? The blades are each 125′ long, and are connected to turbine towers that stand 280′ off the ground. From the base of the tower to the tip of the blades is a distance of 400′.

I also wondered how much power do they really generate? Turns out it’s quite a bit. Just one turbine can generate 1.5 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 300-400 homes.

The Kittitas county wind projects alone are huge: the Wild Horse Wind & Solar Facility contains 149 turbines and can generate 273 megawatts of electricity, and the new Vantage Wind Energy Project adds another 60 turbines for an additional 90 megawatts.

Interestingly enough, the turbines start turning with wind speeds as low as 5-6 mph but shut down when winds exceed 50 mph to avoid damage.

For more information, see Puget Sound Electric’s wind energy pages.

Posted on Tuesday, June 1st, 2010 by Jeri
Under: environment | Comments Off

Climate Change: Carbon Offsets

Let’s make some assumptions to get to the point of this article.

Assumption 1: Global climate change exists; there is an overall trend toward melting polar ice, thawing permafrost, warming seas and overall slowly rising global average temperatures, in spite of variable seasonable cold weather.

Assumption 2: One of the primary causes of global climate change is the production of greenhouse gases by human activity on the planet, most notably carbon emissions.

Assumption 3: Since humans contributed mightily to this climate change trend, humans can work to change and/or reverse it.

That said, let’s talk about carbon offsets. A carbon offset is a financial instrument that targets a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

There are two markets for carbon offsets. In the larger scale compliance market, corporations, governments, or other entities buy carbon offsets in order to comply with caps on the total amount of carbon dioxide they are allowed to emit. In 2006, about $5.5 billion in carbon offsets were purchased in the compliance market, representing about 1.6 billion metric tons of CO2e emissions.

In the smaller scale voluntary market, individuals or companies purchase carbon offsets to offset their own greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, electricity use and other sources.

For example, an individual can purchase carbon offsets to compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions created by personal air travel, personal auto use or personal electricity consumption. Some eco-conscious companies even offer carbon offsets as an up-sell during the sales process so that customers can mitigate the emissions related to their product or service purchase. In 2008, about $705 million of carbon offsets were purchased in the voluntary market, representing about 123.4 million metric tons of CO2e reductions.

These offset funds are then used to financially support projects that reduce the emission of greenhouse gases in the short- or long-term. The most common project type is research or build out of renewable, green energy infrastructure, e.g. wind farms, biomass energy or hydroelectric dams. Other project types can include energy efficiency projects, the destruction of industrial pollutants, mitigation of landfill methane, and implementation of forestry projects.

I am not a fan of carbon offsets.

In both large and small scale, offset users are not directly reducing their carbon emissions. They are not using less, functioning more cleanly or complying with standards. They’re simply investing compensatory funds in a good cause to atone for a profligate operation or lifestyle.

At a corporate level, rather than meeting government standards for greenhouse gas emissions – and the USA’s are rather lax – they’re missing the target, and then buying themselves back under the cap with offsets, not unlike obtaining a papal absolution. Critics also claim that Industrial companies profit from doing very little to reduce their carbon footprint, or from gaining carbon credits on the basis of questionable efficiency gains from which they have already benefited substantially.

At a personal level, rather than buying offsets for the SUV they drive, or the 2,500 square foot house they heat with oil-generated electric heat, wouldn’t it make more sense to take mass transit, live in a smaller home and heat with solar and natural gas? Emit less carbon overall – benefit the planet directly – and live guilt-free rather than in perpetual propitation mode.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I’m actually not a particularly strident eco-freak. I do believe, though, we should all live as cleanly and wisely as possible in our little corner of the planet, so we pass it on in a state we can be proud of to future generations.

This post is for Blog Action Day 2009.

Posted on Thursday, October 15th, 2009 by Jeri
Under: environment | 6 Comments »