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United States

Solar scores in first free market awards

A shock wave is reverberating in the US wind industry over the apparent results of the first round of major post-deregulation research funding from the California Energy Commission (CEC). The awards proposed for the PIER program's first general solicitation totalled $18 million -- but only about $1 million of that went to wind, to a single research project proposed by a little known firm, the Wind Turbine Company of Washington state.

The CEC's much touted Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) program will disburse $68.1 million yearly to research, development and demonstration (RD&D) of energy projects over the next four years. Eleven of the 185 proposals received by the March deadline were wind related, according to CEC head Bill Keese. At the recent American Wind Energy Association Windpower '98 conference he had also said the CEC hoped to help boost installed wind capacity in California to 2000 MW within the next four years. The recommendations for PIER awards were announced May 22. The matter was then to be reviewed in late June by the full commission.

"Wind got screwed," is the comment of one long time industry member who requested anonymity and who was involved in a losing proposal. "I'm very disappointed that more wasn't funded. I couldn't believe it, especially compared with what Keese had said at the conference." Although this reaction was typical, few in the industry dared openly criticise the proposed funding for fear that in doing so they would harm their chances of being chosen for awards in a future PIER solicitation.

Major players favoured

Proposed awards were in three categories: renewables, environmentally preferred advanced generation, and environmental research. The PIER program, launched as part of California's restructuring effort, is to support RD&D in science and technology that would not get adequate finance under a competitive, regulated market. That is, it is to compensate for the research that utilities might have done before California's four year transition to a deregulated market started on April 1. Even so, the CEC's proposed awards seem oriented to the same major players and established corporations operating in the California market before deregulation.

Photovoltaics awards dominated the renewables category, getting more than half of the $6.6 million proposed for ten projects. The wind winner, the Wind Turbine Company, requested $950,000 for a "next turbine development project," amounting to 14% of the total for renewables. The wind turbine manufacturer, based in Bellevue near Seattle, has previously received money from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and is still developing its technology. In addition, a single geothermal proposal, with the Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as one of the co-applicants, got 21% of the cash in that category.

BIRD RESEARCH

Of the three proposals recommended for energy related environmental research, one seems to be wind related. The University of California at Santa Cruz is recommended to receive $675,000 for research on tracking the results of efforts to mitigate golden eagle deaths linked to energy. Even if the project title is general, the issue of eagle kills is considered wind's most serious environmental consequence in California.

The largest award in this entire round of PIER was in the environment category, for almost $2.9 million for a study on electro-technology and potable water. The applicant is part of Edison, the same group that includes the giant utility Southern California Edison. The third proposal recommended for an award, for $2.2 million, was a study by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) into the effects of global warming on California.

The final category of advanced generation -- more efficient use of natural resources and more benign technologies -- was dominated by fuel cells and gas turbines. Another wind proposal, a new wind resource model and atlas by Brower & Co, appeared to have passed the technical evaluation but was not recommended for an award. The applicant, based in Massachusetts, is headed by energy and environmental consultant Michael Brower.

A total of 117 proposals were disqualified on the basis of their technical scores. Five of them were explicitly wind related. The California State University in Sacramento requested $718,000 to study significant mitigation of raptor deaths in the Altamont Pass. Judd Howell & Associates also proposed a bird project, a wind turbine model validation to reduce the risk of bird mortality. EPRI's proposal, for $740,000, was for advancing next generation wind technology and expanding its use in California. The Rahus Institute unsuccessfully proposed a $382,000 project on a database and mapping tool for the California wind resource. And an applicant named the California Wind Electric Company suggested an $824,000 project on multi-megawatt wind technology.

Twenty-six proposals were disqualified on the basis of their eligibility, completeness or feasibility. Of the 26, six were obviously wind-related. Windlite Corp, headed by long-time industry member Bob Lynette, most recently of FloWind Corp, had suggested a $679,000 project on developing an advanced hybrid energy system for distributed generation. Windflower Corp, based near San Diego, proposed three projects that were also disqualified: a $996,000 project on using the Internet and Intranet to increase wind turbine efficiency and to reduce O&M costs. It suggested a $1.99 million project on producing three small wind turbines for boat, home, hotel or small factory application. And it requested $2.8 million for a project that would produce two new wind turbine technologies. The southern California company says its Windflower design, with six blades, is more efficient than other designs.

The two other wind related awards that were disqualified both involved blades. Bio Chemical Technology Aerospace suggested an $802,000 project on advanced composite blade design. And TPI Composites requested $250,000 to improve the manufacturing of blades for the Kenetech 56-100 turbine.

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