Friday, August 27, 2010

'Tis really an ill wind...

The sad truth about wind energy is (very) slowly emerging and undercutting the wind-farm rush.
They like everything big in Texas, and wind energy is no exception. Texas has more wind generation capacity than any other state, about 9,700 megawatts. (That's nearly as much installed wind capacity as India.) Texas residential ratepayers are now paying about $4 more per month on their electric bills in order to fund some 2,300 miles of new transmission lines to carry wind-generated electricity from rural areas to the state's urban centers.
It's time for those customers to ask for a refund. The reason: When it gets hot in Texas—and it's darn hot in the Lone Star State in the summer—the state's ratepayers can't count on that wind energy. On Aug. 4, at about 5 p.m., electricity demand in Texas hit a record: 63,594 megawatts. But according to the state's grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state's wind turbines provided only about 500 megawatts of power when demand was peaking and the value of electricity was at its highest.
Put another way, only about 5 percent of the state's installed wind capacity was available when Texans needed it most. Texans may brag about the size of their wind sector, but for all of that hot air, the wind business could only provide about 0.8 percent of the state's electricity needs when demand was peaking. [More]
But wait, I hear you saying, wind energy is really good for the environment because it has zero-emissions.

Ummm, not really.

Because wind blows intermittently, electric utilities must either keep their conventional power plants running all the time to make sure the lights don't go dark, or continually ramp up and down the output from conventional coal- or gas-fired generators (called "cycling"). But coal-fired and gas-fired generators are designed to run continuously, and if they don't, fuel consumption and emissions generally increase. A car analogy helps explain: An automobile that operates at a constant speed—say, 55 miles per hour—will have better fuel efficiency, and emit less pollution per mile traveled, than one that is stuck in stop-and-go traffic.
Recent research strongly suggests how this problem defeats the alleged carbon-reducing virtues of wind power. In April, Bentek Energy, a Colorado-based energy analytics firm, looked at power plant records in Colorado and Texas. (It was commissioned by the Independent Petroleum Association of the Mountain States.) Bentek concluded that despite huge investments, wind-generated electricity "has had minimal, if any, impact on carbon dioxide" emissions.
Bentek found that thanks to the cycling of Colorado's coal-fired plants in 2009, at least 94,000 more pounds of carbon dioxide were generated because of the repeated cycling. In Texas, Bentek estimated that the cycling of power plants due to increased use of wind energy resulted in a slight savings of carbon dioxide (about 600 tons) in 2008 and a slight increase (of about 1,000 tons) in 2009. [More]
But here's the unkindest cut of all: wind farms are not helpful for our national defense.

“I call it the train wreck of the 2000s,” said Gary Seifert, who has been studying the radar-wind energy clash at the Idaho National Laboratory, an Energy Department research facility. “The train wreck is the competing resources for two national needs: energy security and national security.”
In 2009, about 9,000 megawatts of proposed wind projects were abandoned or delayed because of radar concerns raised by the military and the Federal Aviation Administration, according to a member survey by the American Wind Energy Association. That is nearly as much as the amount of wind capacity that was actually built in the same year, the trade group says.
Collisions between the industry and the military have occurred in the Columbia River Gorge on the Oregon-Washington border and in the Great Lakes region. But the conflicts now appear to be most frequent in the Mojave, where the Air Force, Navy and Army control 20,000 square miles of airspace and associated land in California and Nevada that they use for bomb tests; low-altitude, high-speed air maneuvers; and radar testing and development.
When the developer Scott Debenham told local Navy and Air Force officials in June that he was working on plans to install a wind turbine at three industrial locations near the area overseen by the military, they expressed opposition to all of the projects, saying that even one additional turbine would interfere with critical testing of radar systems.
The military says that the thousands of existing turbines in the gusty Tehachapi Mountains, to the west of the R-2508 military complex in the Mojave Desert, have already limited its abilities to test airborne radar used for target detection in F/A-18s and other aircraft.
“We cannot test in certain directions because of the presence of wind turbines in the Tehachapi area,” said Tony Parisi, the complex’s sustainability officer. “Our concern is construction in other areas will further limit where we can do this kind of testing.” [More]
This problem will likely be susceptible to a technological solution, but maybe not for some time.

The largest issue of all IMHO will be the inevitable budget constraints needed to begin to manage the deficit. As dependent on subsidies as wind energy is, it could be the biodiesel of the next decade.

The boondoggle nature of wind energy industry attracting some er, atypical investors.
The Mafia in Italy, long known for its illegal dumping of toxic waste, is turning green by infiltrating the heavily government subsidized wind power industry. They are collecting taxpayer cash and laundering money from their drug and other rackets according to corporate security group Kroll.
According to Kroll's consulting group senior director Jason Wright:
"Renewable energy is completely dependent on subsidies, so it is clearly an area for corruption," Mr Wright said. "Wind farms are a profitable way to make money because of the subsidies, and they are also a great way of laundering it." He added that the wind energy industry was vulnerable because projects frequently hinged on the political patronage of local officials who grant licenses and access to public land. [More]

It appears that energy prices need to reach very high levels to make alternative sources even faintly viable, and wind is one of the worst examples of an unsustainable business model. Notwithstanding, according to farmers I talk to who have been approached for possible development, "Who cares?" As long as the monthly checks don't bounce, it's just another way of getting money from the government to a farmer, something we are pretty comfortable with.

There may be a growing chance the checks will bounce, however.  The best hope for this non-economic industry is a carbon tax.


Anonymous said...

for all those who think of wind energy as "free and clean" they should see all that has too happen before 1 turbine arrives and can go up....we will have 150 in a 10 mile radius of us...I can't believe amounts of cement,gravel,road damage,ect for the little power far as unsightly or noise,ect. that doesn't bother me but taking canada's best farm land with the most heat units and ruining it for ever doesn't seem too smart---and not enjoying paying for it either...on some rental houses the delivery charge and debt re-payment is far more than cost of electric power...what a farmer will give up for 10k a year--regards-kevin

Anonymous said...

Decentralized solar pv makes sense to me. No transmission lines to build. Backup power plants cycle on and off only once a day. Of course there's no rent check to farmers or large corporations making money purely from government subsidies. No wonder its not popular! Thanks for keeping up the blog - Mike.