Oil Sands Workers Ready For Renewables Shift
During his six-year tenure working in Alberta’s oil sands, Lliam Hildebrand found that one topic in particular – renewable energy, of all things – always made its way into conversation.
Unemployment in the oil sector was growing, and many environmentally conscious tradespeople struggled to justify their working in a carbon-intensive industry that contributes to climate change and its effects.
Realizing that his co-workers shared the same concerns, Hildebrand conceived Iron & Earth, a national initiative to re-train tradespeople working in the fossil fuel industry to transition into the renewables sector.[adright zone=’190′]
“The formation of Iron & Earth came about over many lunchroom conversations in the oil sands,” Hildebrand recounts. “My co-workers and I wanted to see renewable energy technologies incorporated more significantly into our work scope, so we decided to do something about it.”
According to Hildebrand, the organization directly benefits oil sands workers by connecting them with information, training opportunities and stakeholders in the renewable energy sector.
“We also provide a platform for workers to advocate for renewable energy jobs,” he adds.
In addition to expanding tradespeople’s current scope of work, the initiative also aims to retrain those who were laid off following the global drop in oil prices, which, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, led to the loss of more than 100,000 jobs overall in 2015.
Currently, Iron & Earth boasts more than 450 members from various trades, including boilermakers, like Hildebrand; electricians; ironworkers; pipe fitters; laborers; and more.
Although the initiative’s first focus was directed to the solar industry – aiming to retrain 1,000 out-of-work oil sands workers to install solar panels in Alberta – its members see potential for work in other areas, including wind power.
“Solar PV is isolated to electricians for training, but technologies like wind, biofuels, biomass and geothermal utilize a broader range of industrial trades utilized in the oil sands,” says Hildebrand.
“This work will help the wind industry by putting a face to the workers benefiting from the industry and building broader support for renewable energy development,” he says. “And, the province of Alberta will benefit by having a renewable energy workforce ready to meet the demands of an emerging industry.”
This past November, Iron & Earth publicly introduced its plan to put words into action. Titled the Workers’ Climate Plan, the report “describes how Canada can become a leader in renewable energy, and a net exporter of renewable energy products, services and technology, by harnessing the industrial trade skills of current energy sector workers.”
Notably, many of these workers in the building trades either already have the basic skills necessary for renewables work or have transferable skills that would enable a smooth transition.
According to the plan, “The compatibility or near compatibility of existing skills with renewables is extensive: Electricians are needed to develop and install solar panels; welders are needed to build wind turbines; drillers and drilling engineers are needed to locate and maintain geothermal wells; and so on.”
The Workers’ Climate Plan includes analysis of more than 1,000 survey responses detailing tradespeople’s experiences working in the energy sector, opinions on the shift to renewables, and concerns about the economy and climate change.
Citing comments from several trade technicians, the report highlights the general consensus that workers would welcome a shift to clean, alternative energy – on both a personal and a professional level.
“I care deeply about the environment and feel that the future needs to be renewable energy. I also fundamentally believe in a just transition for oil sands workers,” comments one trade worker.
“Canada needs to pivot away from all electricity generation with a high-carbon footprint to green electricity. As an electrician, I am prepared to be trained and work within the clean energy sector,” says Daniel Lee, construction electrician.
Looking at the numbers, the survey found that 63% of respondents said they could transition to renewables projects “directly with some training,” and 16% said they could transition without any additional training at all.
What’s more, 59% of energy sector workers reported they were even willing to take a pay cut to transition to renewable energy.
To make this a reality, Iron & Earth is calling on the government to provide funding for the necessary training programs and to promote job opportunities that support a low-carbon economy.
“We have had a lot of positive meetings with the government of Alberta and the government of Canada, and we are working to secure grants for preliminary demonstration projects and training programs,” Hildebrand says. “Many unions in Canada are very supportive of renewable energy, and we are hopeful that Canada’s building trades will develop a strong position in favor of these emerging technologies.”
All that being said, the oil sands have been a key industry for the Canadian economy for years, and Iron & Earth members realize that many will rely on these jobs in the future.
As such, the initiative says its goal is not to shut down the oil sands but to “see they are managed more sustainably, while developing our renewable energy resources more ambitiously.”
In an effort to extend into the wind industry, Iron & Earth signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with wind energy company Beothuk Energy Inc. (BEI) in July 2016 to facilitate the apprenticeships and retraining necessary for oil and gas workers to transition into the offshore wind sector.
According to a company release, BEI proposed six offshore wind farms in Atlantic Canada with a combined 4,000+ MW of installed capacity. Under the MOU, the company plans to create approximately 10 jobs for each megawatt produced.
The group aims to keep growing in numbers and across provinces, having already expanded outside of Alberta to include a Newfoundland chapter. With a strong wind energy potential – one of the strongest in any jurisdiction in North America – Newfoundland and Labrador is particularly well-suited to benefit from this shift away from fossil fuels and to the renewables market.
Hildebrand is optimistic about the future of Iron & Earth, noting that the group’s trade skills can help the world meet climate targets and approach net-zero by 2050. – Lauren Tyler
Mich. Utility Launches Renewables Program
Detroit-based utility DTE Energy has announced MIGreenPower, a new program that will allow customers to buy power from Michigan wind and solar farms starting in April.
“Until now, customers who wanted to use more renewable energy were limited to installing their own solar panels or other renewable equipment at their homes or businesses – which requires a significant initial investment,” explains Irene Dimitry, vice president of business planning and development at DTE Energy. “We also know that customers who rent apartments or live in condos may be unable to make any alterations to the exterior structure of the homes they live in. MIGreenPower is designed to address customer demand for a more flexible and affordable alternative.”
Energy for the program will be sourced from local DTE projects, including the Pinnebog Wind Project in Huron County and three solar arrays located in Detroit and Lapeer. By subscribing to MIGreenPower, customers can elect to increase the amount of renewable energy they use in 5% increments, up to 100%.
Participation in the program is voluntary and open to all of DTE’s 2.2 million full-service business and residential electric customers. According to the utility, customers who want to participate in MIGreenPower will see a slight increase in their monthly bills depending on the level of renewable energy they select.
The utility notes Selfridge Air National Guard Base, located in southeast Michigan, has already expressed interest in being one of the program’s early adopters.
“We are looking carefully at this program,” comments Brigadier General John Slocum, the base commander. “We think it can provide us with a means to meet our sustainability goals efficiently and economically. We are excited to know that DTE is bringing this type of opportunity to its customers in Michigan.”
Move Over, Hydro: Wind Is No. 1
Here’s to another solid quarter for U.S. wind power: According to the American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) freshly released fourth-quarter report, the sector just had its second-strongest quarter ever for newly installed capacity.
In addition, wind has now surpassed hydropower dams to become the largest source of renewable electric capacity in the U.S., AWEA has announced.
Stakeholders from General Motors (GM) and the U.S. wind energy industry met to mark the milestones and release AWEA’s “Fourth Quarter 2016 U.S. Wind Industry Market Report” at GM’s Arlington, Texas, assembly plant – which will soon be 100% powered by wind.[adleft zone=’190′]
“American wind power is now the No. 1 source of renewable capacity, thanks to more than 100,000 wind workers across all 50 states,” says Tom Kiernan, AWEA’s CEO. “Growing this made-in-the-U.S.A. clean energy resource helps rural communities pay for new roads, bridges and schools, while bringing back manufacturing jobs to the Rust Belt. With our two-thirds cost reduction over the last seven years, household brands like General Motors, Walmart and more are buying low-cost wind energy to cut costs and power their businesses. American wind power is on track to double our output over the next five years and supply 10 percent of U.S. electricity by 2020.”
At the close of 2016, the American wind fleet totaled 82,183 MW, which is enough to power 24 million average American homes. Specifically, there are now more than 52,000 individual wind turbines in 41 states, plus Guam and Puerto Rico.
GM’s Arlington plant, which produces over 1,000 SUVs a day, is currently 50% powered by wind energy. However, starting in 2018, it will be GM’s first plant to have all of its electricity needs met with wind energy. The company purchases energy from two Texas wind farms, RES’ Cactus Flats in Concho County and EDPR’s Los Mirasoles Wind Farm in Edinburg.
To that end, notes AWEA, non-utility purchasers – such as GM, Microsoft and the U.S. Department of Defense – represented 39% of wind purchased through long-term contracts in 2016 for a total of 1,574 MW. Notably, more than half of that capacity is located in Texas.
On the jobs front, according to the report, the wind industry now employs 25,000 Americans at more than 500 factories in 43 states (including 40 wind manufacturing facilities in Texas alone). In 2016, at least seven companies across the U.S. expanded existing manufacturing facilities to meet growing orders, and GRI Renewable Industries opened a new tower facility in Amarillo, Texas. Citing a recent U.S. Department of Energy report, AWEA says a total of more than 100,000 American workers now manufacture, construct and maintain the U.S. wind turbine fleet.
As for new growth in the fourth quarter of 2016, 6,478 MW of wind was installed – representing the second-strongest quarter on record, says AWEA.
For the year, wind developers added 8,203 MW of wind power capacity, representing more than $13.8 billion in new investment. With 99% of wind projects located in rural areas, much of this investment is flowing to communities that need it most, the association notes.
Specifically, rural and Rust Belt America are among the greatest beneficiaries of wind development. Wind projects in these areas often become the largest contributors to the property tax base – in turn, helping to improve schools, roads and other public services. Of the $13.8 billion invested by the U.S. wind industry last year, $10.5 billion was invested in low-income counties, according to the report.
AWEA points out that wind is also a new drought-resistant cash crop for farmers and ranchers who host turbines on their land. Nationwide, wind projects provide private landowners with more than $245 million in land lease payments annually. In particular, Texas landowners receive more than $60 million of that.
“Wind power isn’t a red or blue industry; it’s red, white and blue,” says Kiernan. “Low-cost, homegrown wind energy is something we can all agree on. States like Texas and Iowa are leading the way in terms of wind turbines and wind jobs.”
According to AWEA, Texas is the undisputed leader in wind energy: It has approximately three times more wind generating capacity than any other state and hosts nearly a quarter of American wind jobs.
Texas, continuing to expand its wind industry, became the first state to pass 20,000 MW of wind capacity last year (which is roughly one-fourth of national capacity).
And more wind is on the way in Texas: Even with the 1,790 MW installed in the fourth quarter of 2016, there is still 5,401 MW under construction and another 1,288 MW in advanced development.
“With more wind energy production and more wind workers than any other state, if you want to know how wind works for America, just ask a Texan,” quips Kiernan.
The report says a key part of the success story in Texas has been a strong backbone of transmission infrastructure, including the Competitive Renewable Energy Zone transmission lines. Looking ahead, transmission projects, such as Pattern Development’s proposed Southern Cross Transmission Project, will allow the state to benefit by exporting its abundant wind energy to customers in the Southeast.
AWEA notes that wind growth is now spreading up from Texas into the Plains states and across the Midwest; in fact, 89% of newly completed capacity in 2016 was found in these states.
Notably, the U.S. offshore wind industry also launched in the fourth quarter of 2016 when the 30 MW Block Island Wind Farm, located off the coast of Rhode Island, was commissioned. Gulf Island Fabrication in Louisiana manufactured the foundations for the project – reflecting a broader opportunity for oil and gas suppliers to earn additional business in offshore wind, AWEA points out.
Now that the generating capacity of U.S. wind turbines stands at over 82,000 MW – greater than the 80,000 MW of hydropower generating capacity – wind is now the fourth-largest source of U.S. generating capacity (behind gas, coal and nuclear), the report concludes.
Con Edison Unveils New Rebranding
Consolidated Edison Inc. has established a new holding company, Con Edison Clean Energy Businesses Inc., which brings together Con Edison Solutions, Con Edison Development and Con Edison Energy.
Through the three main subsidiaries, the business develops, owns and operates renewable and energy infrastructure assets and provides energy-related products and services to wholesale and retail customers.
Along with its subsidiaries, the new holding company is headquartered in Valhalla, N.Y.
For all three companies, Mark Noyes serves as president and CEO. In addition, James J. Dixon has been appointed senior vice president and chief operating officer of the three businesses. Joseph Oates will serve as chairman of the board of Con Edison Clean Energy Businesses.
“The energy industry is one of the most dynamic and complex components of our national economy,” says Oates. “Success in the energy sector requires extraordinary insight and expertise. With their talent and experience, Mark Noyes and Jim Dixon will lead our team of skilled professionals so that our clean energy businesses achieve their fullest potential.”
Put It In The Books: GE Posts Record Year
It was a very good year: In 2016, GE Renewable Energy secured a record 7 GW of onshore wind orders, representing a 19% increase from 2015.
The company previously announced that its onshore wind business booked over $3 billion of orders in the fourth quarter alone; this was due, in part, to a strong market in the U.S. – especially for GE’s 2 MW platform, the company says.
In total, GE Renewable Energy secured agreements in 19 countries last year. For first-time orders, the company also booked deals in Greece and Saudi Arabia.
“We are thrilled with the customer response to investments the onshore wind team made in developing new products and solutions, especially in the U.S., where our new platform is contributing ~75 percent of our orders in 2016,” comments Jérôme Pécresse, president and CEO of GE Renewable Energy.
GE’s onshore wind installed base now stands at nearly 57 GW of global capacity.
URI Undertakes Unique Study On Block Island
The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has contracted the University of Rhode Island (URI) to document the effects of Deepwater Wind’s Block Island Wind Farm on recreation and tourism in Rhode Island.
The two-year project is expected to yield the first-available empirical data on the effects of a U.S. offshore wind farm on coastal recreation and tourism; a suite of indicators that can be used to assess the potential effects of future offshore wind energy projects throughout the U.S.; and a recommended subset of indicators that can be used to monitor the effects of the wind farm on Rhode Island’s recreation and tourism activities going forward.
These three products will help BOEM plan for the installation and management of future offshore wind energy projects in federal waters.
URI is supporting the project through the work of the Coastal Resources Center, which is dedicated to advancing coastal management worldwide; Rhode Island Sea Grant, one of 33 programs in the National Sea Grant college network working to enhance long-term economic development and responsible use of coastal and marine resources; the Department of Marine Affairs, which is part of URI’s College of Environment and Life Sciences; and the Harrington School of Communication and Media, which is within URI’s College of Arts & Sciences.
“This project will build upon BOEM’s completed and ongoing studies seeking to characterize the effects of offshore wind on recreation and tourism activities,” explains Amy Stillings, a BOEM industry economist from the Office of Renewable Energy Programs.
Rhode Island Sea Grant says an advisory committee – made up of local industry and community representatives, regulators, and social scientists – will ensure that the indicators are both rigorous and realistic and respond to the needs and issues of communities and stakeholders.
The 30 MW Block Island Wind Farm, the U.S.’ first operational offshore wind project, came online in December 2016 and is now delivering power to the grid.
Russian Nuclear Corp. Wants In On Wind Power
With a goal of developing wind power in Russia, ROSATOM, the country’s national nuclear corporation, has approved a partnership between daughter company OTEK and Dutch wind company Lagerwey.
The partners plan to establish a joint venture this year on the implementation of wind power in Russia. Last year, VETRO SGC, a subsidiary of OTEK, won a bid for 610 MW of wind projects. According to ROSATOM, the new partnership will facilitate the transfer of critical technologies required to establish the production of wind turbines in Russia – with a localization requirement of no less than 65%.
“Here we speak of the formation of [an] entirely new industry in Russia,” says Kirill Komarov, deputy director general of ROSATOM. He says the corporation has a goal of not only building wind projects, but also developing a “regulatory system, personnel training system, production localization, certification [and] R&D system” for wind power.
“The basis of the future energy balance is based on low-carbon technologies like nuclear power and renewables combined,” Komarov continues. “The decision to diversify our market proposal in low-carbon energy is a reasonable follow-up to the overall business development of ROSATOM. Moreover, it corresponds to the government 2017-2025 strategy aimed at shifting to the sustainable ‘green’ development model.”
The firm says it has evaluated the capacity of the domestic wind energy market: By 2024, wind power generation capacity could amount to up to 3.6 GWh, with an annual turnover of approximately $1.6 billion. ROSATOM plans to build 610 MW of wind farms from 2018-2020, while localizing the production of components.