THE CAPE WIND TYRANNY
THIS CONFLICTED CONSULTANT CALLS FOR ANOTHER BIG DIG
Sue Tierney has had what many would call a distinguished career. She has served in cabinet level and sub cabinet level posts under Republican governor Bill Weld in Massachusetts and under president Bill Clinton. Her usual government job description involves environmental and planning matters, for which her PhD in planning makes her well qualified. As Massachusetts Secretary of the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs she actually made some enlightened policy moves such as relaxing the standards for soil contaminants in areas where already so-called brown soil could be granted relief from strict environmental standards to allow for its industrial re-development.
However, the real and more consistent Sue Tierney is a starry eyed environmentalist who has accumulated an impressive, even imposing resume which she brandishes as if it were a magic wand or perhaps a club. And, as she morphed from government official to high level private consultant she picked up a few government contracts for herself along the way and membership on a few boards of directors, some of them directly involved in renewable energy. However, as we see in one recent massachusetts consulting contract, Tierney does not clearly identify herself as an energy industry insider or even as the energy industry expert representative in a consulting process. No...she is Tierney the Magnificent, Tierney the Smart, Tierney the Correct, Mighty Tierney....She who must be accepted as right. Right?
The most recent appearance by Sue Tierney, an unelected but apparently ad hoc policy maker is in a report entitled Strategic Options for Investment in Transmission in Support of Offshore Wind Development in Massachusetts. The Summary Report with Expanded Technical Information is dated january 8, 2010. This report fills sixty-two pages plus a title page and a table of contents. It appears to have been neglected by media and only came to this writer by accident. The actual author of the report is none other than Susan F. Tierney, Ph.D. with help from two named assistants, all employed by the Analysis Group, Inc. It was prepared for the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust. Tierney is listed as a managing principle in the Analysis Group, Inc.
Page one of the report says in part, "This Technical report provides recommendations to the state for a menu of high-level options that could be pursued to facilitate transmission to link offshore wind resources with the onshore electric grid." In fact the report deals only with shallow water offshore wind development to the grid. It claims that wind development in deep water is five-to-ten years away, quoting the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a unit within the U. S. Department of Energy Managed by the private non-profit Battelle Corporation as its source for this wisdom. Therefore, as of this writing this means that deepwater wind is only four-to-nine years away.
Over the past five years this writer has followed NREL's comments about deepwater wind power technology and it seems that every time NREL offers a time frame for this energy generation technology it is different from the previous forecast. One might supect that their partners in various research projects, such as GE, have more to do with their expert and self-serving opinion than do actual conditions within the industry striving to make it a reality.
The Tierney Report, as it will be identified in this post, offers six different illustrations for offshore wind power development and associated transmission infrastructure. All six are for shallow water development in Massachusetts waters. Figures 26 a, b, c, and d on page 49 are for development totalling from one to six wind farms. Figures 27a and 27b on page 50, however, show the real gold rush. Figure 27b shows a roughly 400 mile long transmission cable gathering power from eleven windfarms and making landfall at five different points on the Massachusetts coast. It also shows what appear to be eight hubs or electric facilities/stations where multiple wind energy streams are gathered together to be passed along the transmission line into the grid.
To simplify, this report shows a massive, roughly four hundred mile long, electric transmission line along the Massachusetts coast serving vast wind power development and bringing electricity to shore at various points. Cape Wind is not shown anywhere in the report although there are occasional references to its location and costs. In fact, no wind project is shown in Nantucket Sound, just a lovely, unspoiled expanse of sea.
What emerges from this report is a suggestion, a scheme, a plan, for what is called the Massachusetts Offshore Transmission Authority, (MOSTA). Two options are offered as ways of covering the enormous cost of shallow watrer offshore wind power transmission other than MOSTA. One is Investor-Owned Utility Approach (as printed in the report), whereby an investor or investor group would build and maintain the transmission trunk, presumably charging either the wind farm operators or the utility companies receiving power from them. The second is a Merchant Approach whereby developer/operators of individual wind farms would share in the cost of the project. Option one is simply silly: what investor owned utility with enough capital to undertake such a project would commit to it without guaranteed customers - wind farm operators willing and able to pay the costs plus profit or other utility companies willing to do the same while speculating on the success of offshore development plans? Option two makes no sense because developers of the first projects would not be willing to pay for building more than their share and the transmission trunk would never become operable. But, Tierney the Wise (Ph.D.) tells us these are realisitic options.
Now comes the real object of this exercise, option three, the "Public Authority Approach." Here is the true purpose of the so-called report: to plant the notion that exhaustive research into this matter concludes that a public authority with independent rate-setting authority should be formed to build a transmission system which will provide vast financial benefits to private wind power developers and utility companies. That three letter word, fee, raises its ugly head. The incredible costs of this scheme would simple be passed on to retail electric customers, buried in their charges on the largely unregulated delivery side of their monthly electric bills.
How much will all this cost? Who knows? The report lists in its tables various cost options but careful reading of them leaves anyone who can read such things unsure as to actual, final cost projections. It is safe to say that the estimated cost for what is proposed under MOSTA is at least three billion doallrs. But, the Big Dig was supposed to cost only four billion - it actually cost nearly fifteen. This reader's opinion is that Mosta would cost upwards of eight billion dollars in today's money. Nice going, Sue.
The report gives estimated costs per mile of various transmission technologies but stays away from quoting total costs. One wonders why...or does one.
Questions: How do we justify spending billions of dollars on a transmission project which will be rendered obsolete in a few years if deepwater offshore wind technology succeeds? How, then, will the Sue Tierneys of the world be able to justify the significantly higher costs of bring new energy from thrity or sixty miles offshore to wher it is used? Tierney the Smug offers no answer for either question. perhaps the Commonwealth will pay her firm more money to ponder these issues.
Actually, the Analysis Group so-called report is merely a dressed up term paper. It uses the same tired material that has appeared in many power point presentations and reports in the past by NREL and others. There is no new engineering or technical research original to the Analysis Group in it. This report is akin to assembling a collection of press clippings into a bound volume and calling it a doctoral thesis. And, it reaks of confilct. Nowhere does this report say that its author is a board member at the ISO new England, the grid operator. Tierney's included biography does list this membership, but the report does not deal with the troubling issue of whether Tierney is speaking as an ISO official when she offers MOSTA with its irrefutable costs to be passed on to consumers as a solution or whether she is simply a paid consultant for the Commonwealth.
Who knows? We all should, but obviously the Sue Tierney's of the world are above such considerations.
COPYRIGHT 2010 By Peter A. Kenney