Wind Energy Stagnation in Massachusetts and a Path Forward15 Jan

From 2001 until present time, wind turbine installation in Massachusetts (MA) has proceeded at a glacial pace. This fact raises serious issues for public and private policy analysts in MA. For example:

  • During this 10 year period, only 38 MW of wind turbines has been installed with a potential of 1000 MW. (See Additional Wind Potential Tables in this link). At that rate, 1000 MW of installed wind power will be reached in about 250 years.
  • Assuming maximum wind power is available, the resulting energy production is 3 kWh/person/day compared with retail consumption of 20 kWh/person/day in MA. This wind energy generation would be only 15 percent of the requirements of more than 2,600,000 retail electric energy customers in MA. (Please see backup calculations below)
  • Installed wind power of 1000 MW would occupy nearly 51,000 acres. In contrast, a gas fired power plant would be confined within 30 acres. 
  •  Two gas fired power plants would generate over 1000 MW at 60 acres, nearly the same as 1000 MW of wind turbines occupying 51,000 acres
  •  Capital cost of on shore wind turbines is approximately $2400/kW. Compare with capital costs of combustion turbines ranging from $700/kW to $900/kW.

A Path Forward 

Given these wind energy results from the past ten years, does it make sense to continue with Renewable Energy Credits (REC), Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and a host of tax incentives in MA? Where is the business case for wind energy in MA? Although wind energy generation in MA is not promising, it is possible for MA-based industries and universities to import electricity from other states. For example, Harvard University concluded an arrangement with First Wind in Maine to become the largest institutional buyer of wind energy from a renewable source in New England. First Wind will supply more than 10 percent of Harvard’s electricity. Implicit in this arrangement is the fact that Maine has nearly 10 times more available land area (556,000 acres) for wind, as well as 10 times greater potential wind capacity (11,251 MW) than Massachusetts. Encouraging technical advancements in wind turbine design  may increase the viability of wind energy technologies so that they can be competitive with their fossil fuel counterparts and not require government subsidies.

Backup Calculations:

MA On Shore Electricity Production from Wind

On shore wind = 1000MW > 1000MW [(1kWh/d)/40W]/2,647,529p ~ 9 kWh/day*persons

Capacity factor ~ 0.33  > on shore wind electricity production = 0.33 x 9 kWh/d*p = 3 kWh/d*p

MA Retail Electric Consumption

MA electric consumers (residential) = 2,647,529;    618 kWh/month, average

(618 kWh/mo*p) (12 mo/365d) ~  20 kWh/d*p

The use of the conversion factor, 1 kilowatt hour/day/40 watts (1kWh/d/40W), stems from a fellow physicist, David JC MacKay, who wrote, Sustainable Energy — without the hot air (2009). This conversion factor is intuitively reasonable because it is expressed in kWh, which most folks recognize from their electric bills. For example, the average retail electric bill in MA is 618 kWh/month.

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About Dr. Everson

Prior to forming this SBIR consultant practice, Dr. Jeffrey Everson was director of business development for QinetiQ North America’s Technology Solutions Group (previously Foster-Miller, Inc.).

Dr. Everson has won and been the principal investigator for several SBIR programs, including a Phase I program for NASA, a Phase I project for the U.S. Air Force, and Phase I and II contracts from the U.S. Department of Transportation. For the Phase II program, he received a Tibbetts Award for exemplifying the best in SBIR achievement.

Previously Dr. Everson held senior scientist positions at Battelle Memorial Institute, The Analytic Sciences Corporation (TASC), Honeywell Electro Optics Systems Division, and Itek Optical Systems Division.

He holds a PhD in physics from Boston College and a MS/BS in physics from Northeastern University.


For more information about how JHEverson Consulting can help your company with its SBIR and STTR proposals, please contact Jeff Everson.

JHEverson Consulting is based in the Boston area but consults for clients throughout North America. It also is supported by affiliated consultants.