Myths of Wind Energy
Governor Patrick has set a goal for 2,000 megawatts of wind generation capacity to power 800,000 homes by the year 2020. The reasons generally given are that it would reduce cost, reduce our dependence on fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and create green jobs. There is mounting evidence from around the world that these claims, promoted by the wind industry, are based on assumptions that cannot be substantiated by studies using production data from wind installations here and abroad.
The Department of Energy (DOE) is promoting renewable energy based on modeling studies that the country’s power grid systems can accommodate wind penetrations of up to 20% wind energy, before running into operational problems, and without any substantial increase in cost. In reality, power grids appear to run into difficulty at around 5%, and the cost increase is huge.
Power 800,000 Homes
The claim that wind can power 800,000 homes is a myth. By themselves, wind turbines are not a source of power. Unlike conventional power sources that can provide relatively constant power from which homes can draw energy as needed, the power available from wind turbines is intermittent, variable, and fluctuates from second to second with the 3rd power of wind speed.
Let’s look at a familiar source of power, the car battery. In the winter the car battery can release a huge amount of energy to start the car on the coldest day. At other times it produces a trickle of energy to power the radio. All the energy that comes from the battery is generated by the car’s alternator. The alternator intermittently generates electric energy when the car engine is running. That energy is used to keep the battery fully charged so we can use the stored energy to start the car at will.
It should be quite clear that the car alternator is not a power source. The energy it produces needs to first be stored in the battery before it can meet the electrical power needs of the car.
A wind turbine is like an alternator. It produces energy intermittently, and just as an alternator cannot power a car, a wind turbine cannot power a home.
One of the persistent myths is that wind will lower the cost of electricity. Wind is an unreliable energy source, but proponents are quick to tell us that the power grid is designed to handle the variability of wind. They assume the resources that handle the variability of demand will handle the variability of wind. What is missing from the explanation is the fact that as fluctuating wind energy is added, an additional amount of quick-acting resources must be scheduled for backup to maintain grid balance. Quick-acting power plants used for grid balance run on natural gas. Coal and nuclear take days to start up and shut down and are not suitable for wind turbine backup.
The newer natural gas turbines called Combined Cycle Gas Turbines (CCGT) are about 60% efficient. This is about twice as efficient as the older Open Cycle Gas Turbines (OCGT). But when CCGTs are used to balance the fluctuating wind energy, they are forced to run as OCGTs cutting efficiency in half.
To assess how wind turbines affect the cost we first must realize that the amount of conventional power needed to service demand remains the same with or without the addition of wind energy, making the cost of wind energy an add-on cost. This should be obvious since the grid needs to operate when there is no wind. In addition, operating CCGTs at half efficiency increases fuel consumption, further adding to the cost attributable to wind energy.
Here in New England we are not as dependent on coal as other parts of the country. For grids dominated by coal, a good portion if not all the coal capacity will have to be replaced by natural gas. This will further exacerbate energy costs. As president Obama admitted, replacing coal will make electric rates skyrocket in those regions.
Here is another story that shows that a 21 MW wind farm will cost ratepayers an extra 521 million dollars.
National Grid signed an agreement to pay 20.7 cents per kilowatt hour for half of Cape Wind’s production. This rate is about four times the 5 cents per kilowatt hour that is now the going rate and the contract adds a 3.5% per year escalation clause. National Grid says that this purchase of half the energy produced by Cape Wind’s 420 MW wind turbines will increase their customer’s rates by 2% per month (or about $1.59/month).
There are now a number of studies using actual operating data from power grids, with significant penetration of wind energy, that show that the need to back up wind turbine energy with fossil fuel generators wastes as much fuel as wind claims to save.
What these studies show is that the volatile nature of wind results in backup plants having to constantly ramp their power output up and down to maintain the needed balance for reliable power operation. Much like the mileage difference we get between highway, and stop and go traffic. A good portion of the fuel used by backup power plants is lost as waste heat unless they are completely shut down. The need to continuously fluctuate output further increases the fuel wasted as heat.
Bentek found the same is true in Colorado and Texas.
From the Irish power system a study by Fred Udo yields this conclusion: “Therefore, the introduction of wind energy without buffer storage leads to increased fossil fuel use and CO2 emissions and is a non-sustainable practice.”
All the recent evidence shows that wind industry claims of fossil fuel savings are based on the false assumption that every kilowatt-hour (KWh) generated by wind saves one KWh‘s worth of fossil fuel.
As Alex Pavlak explains, wind turbines are system components which, when connected to the grid, other system components (fossil fuel power plants,) are impacted negatively.
The need for grid balance with fossil fuel generators, cancels any potential fuel savings from the use of free wind to generate electricity.
It should be obvious that with little to no fuel savings from the use of wind on the grid, pollution (CO2) reduction is not possible. When we take into account the pollution emitted during the construction, transportation, site preparation, and continued maintenance associated with wind turbines, and the new power lines to connect them, the level of pollution is increased.
These studies as described in detail by Willem Post, document this unexpected phenomenon.
The claim that the addition of wind energy will displace tons of emissions is a myth that can only be supported if one ignores the negative effect wind farms impose on the rest of the system. Here in New England, where coal plants are a small segment of our generation capacity, we can expect better results than other parts of the country. However, the substantial increase in energy cost is not worth it. We would be better off to ignore wind and concentrate on reducing demand and increasing efficiency.
The governor’s goal is premature. The current practice of using the grid to balance volatile wind energy increases the cost, and fails to curb pollution. One missing piece is bulk energy storage. Bill Gates of Microsoft fame recognizes this flaw, and is funding a project that might be useful. Another proposal is to use wind to make hydrogen known as the Hydrogen Economy.
Until a true economical replacement for fossil fuel is developed, the governor’s goal is counterproductive. At this stage the role wind energy will play in the future, if any, is pure speculation. State mandates like the Green Communities Act that calls for 25% from renewable sources by 2030, and the governor’s goal of 20% from wind by 2020 will only serve to more than double the cost of energy. A study from Spain shows that for every job created by wind, the state loses 2.2 jobs from the high cost of energy.
Passing laws like The Wind Energy Siting Reform Act (WESRA) to expedite wind turbine siting, by avoiding local community control, is totally unjustified. Planting some 600 giant wind turbines around Cape Cod and the Berkshire mountains will destroy the quality of life in the surrounding neighborhoods for nothing in return. Should someone develop a competitive source of energy that does not use wind, we will be stuck with these giant wind turbines in our mountains and seashore, sitting idle and rusting forever.
Ron Reimer says, “Citizen watchdogs like myself, who dig a little deeper to learn the whole story, come off in the media as deluded malcontents or NIMBYs, though we back up our warnings with statistics, case studies, laws of physics, comparative research and personal testimonies of real people who suffer from proximity to turbines.”
We need to ask the governor just how much more his goal of 2,000 MW of wind will increase the state’s electric rates.
We need to tell the governor and our legislators to stop.
The pain they are causing in places like Falmouth is not worth it!