The U.S. Department of Energy today awarded a $102 million conditional loan guarantee to Record Hill Wind to build a 50.6-megawatt wind power farm in Maine.
Record Hill Wind will also build an eight-mile transmission line between the farm and transmission equipment in a nearby town. A study by the U.S. Department of Energy found that building transmission lines to move the power once the turbine starts running is one of the major hurdles wind energy faces. It was one of the reasons wind energy production fell last year, according to a report by the Department of Energy.
“In the last 5 years, the cost of utility-scale wind had actually been going up because of those transmission costs,” Pike Research analyst Peter Asmus told VentureBeat. “But that looks like it’s reversing, my sense is that the market is leveling off, the costs are starting to decline.”
Maine previously hosted a fight between Vinalhaven Island residents and a wind power provider over noise pollution generated by the turbines. Wind power providers typically face “not-in-my-backyard” complaints from residents in rural areas. Residents argue sounds from the wind turbines are disruptive and that the turbines make for flickering lights because they block out the sun.
An independent study by the Maine Department of Environment Protection found the noise from the wind turbines on Vinalhaven registered somewhere between 46 and 47 decibels. The night-time noise pollution limit for areas in Maine is 45 decibels. A typical conversation registers in at around 60 decibels, while typical street traffic registers in at around 70 decibels.
A University of California Berkeley study funded by the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy showed property values were, at worst, unaffected when wind power farms were installed near each home. While there was a chance that individual homes would be impacted, home sale prices as a whole were not impacted by the placement of wind turbines in the area, according to the report.
A loan guarantee from the Department of Energy helps companies attract buyers and investors for new renewable energy projects. It means the government will foot part of the bill if the project does not take off or is unable to produce some kind of return for investors. It’s one of the ways the U.S. government is promoting renewable energy — though they are more important for less-certain projects.
“I think the loan guarantees are more critical for projects like concentrated solar projects than for large wind farms,” Asmus said. “If the loan guarantee program were to fade away — I think that’s possible — I think that would have a larger impact on other technologies than large wind.”
The loan guarantees are one of the financial engines powering many cleantech investments in Silicon Valley. The U.S. Department has invested more than $40 billion in clean technology projects like wind and solar power farms. Yale University Endowment also invested an undisclosed sum in the wind power project.