Three years ago, Horizon Wind Energy’s Mr. Davidson might have been able to “get away with” the half-truths and false claims made in his letter that you published on March 13, 2008. However, much has been learned about wind energy and the facts do not support his claims. For example:
1. Wind turbines are not a reliable source of electricity. While they are huge machines, they produce very little electricity and that electricity is intermittent, volatile, and unreliable. Their output is entirely dependent on wind speed and wind turbine output varies widely from minute to minute. They start producing at about 6 miles per hour (mph), reach rated capacity about 31 mph and cut out about 56 mph).
Mr. Davidson is misleading when he attempts to compare the dramatic minute to minute changes in output from wind turbines to changes in electricity demand on the New York grid. Because wind turbine output in so intermittent, other generating units – i.e., those that ARE reliable and dispatchable – must be kept immediately available and operating at less than full capacity so that grid managers can keep the grid in balance.
Experience demonstrates that electricity from wind turbines can’t be counted on when electricity is most needed; i.e., on hot weekday late afternoons in July and August when electricity demand reaches peak levels. During the time of peak demand, wind turbines tend to produce little or no electricity because there is little or no wind. Instead, they are most likely to produce electricity at night in colder months when wind tends to be strongest but electricity demand tends to be at lower levels.
2. The claims of large economic benefits from “wind farms” made by NYSERDA and the PSC do not stand up under scrutiny. For example, the reference to an investment of $1.9 billion cited by Mr. Davidson is particularly misleading. In fact, the overwhelming share (75-90%) of the capital cost of a “wind farm” is accounted for by the turbines, towers, blades, and other materials (e.g., electric cable, electronics, rebar, cement) that are produced elsewhere, often in other countries. These expenditures provide no benefit in the area where a “wind farm” is built. Once the “wind farm” begins producing, the money paid by customers for the electricity also flows outside the area and, perhaps, out of the country when the “wind farm” is owned by a foreign company.
3. “Wind farms” do not produce large local economic benefits claimed by wind energy advocates. Most jobs during construction, particularly the higher paying jobs, are filled by people skilled in assembling towers, turbines, electric cable, and electronics who are brought in from other areas on a temporary basis – often no more than 6 months. These people may spend some money locally (e.g., restaurants, hotels) while in the area but most of their pay checks as well as their income taxes flow to their home towns, states or countries. Among the few jobs filled by local people may be jobs such as transit mix and other truck drivers, operating engineers, and laborers. Additional business for restaurants and hotels is short lived. Very few supplies and materials are purchased locally. Very few permanent jobs are created. Even technicians who maintain and repair turbines are frequently brought in temporarily.
4. Because electricity from wind energy is expensive, any actual in-state economic benefits are almost certainly overwhelmed by the higher costs of electricity that are passed along to electric customers. As indicated above, money paid for the electricity flows to the “wind farm” owner, which may be a foreign company. Higher electric bills mean that local residents have less money to spend locally for food, clothing, housing, health care, education, and other necessities.
A few landowners may enjoy higher income from lease payments, but their relatively small gain is often at the expense of neighbors who are forced to bear the adverse impacts on environmental, ecological, scenic and property values. There is no assurance that the income received by landowners will be spent or invested locally.
5. Wind industry and other wind energy advocates consistently understate the true cost of electricity from wind. They try to ignore the fact that “wind farm” owners – including those that are foreign owned like Horizon – receive huge tax benefits and subsidies that shift tax burden and costs from “wind farm” owners to ordinary taxpayers. Wind industry officials have admitted that approximately 2/3rds of the economic value of a “wind farm” is derived from just two federal tax breaks (i.e., production tax credits and accelerated depreciation).
6. States with large amounts of wind generation, such as Texas and California, have found that they cannot count on “wind farms” to produce electricity when needed. California learned during the summer of 2006 that, on average, only about 5% of wind capacity could be counted on during peak demand periods and that the output was even less at times during that period. As the Wall Street Journal has reported, Texas grid operators were recently forced to cut the flow of electricity to some customers when wind speeds dropped in west Texas and actual output from the “wind farms” dropped to 300 megawatts (MW) from the 1700 MW expected. Wholesale market prices for electricity jumped dramatically because of the “missing” output from wind turbines.
7. Because wind turbines are unreliable and can’t be counted on to produce electricity when needed, areas experiencing growth in peak electricity demand or needing to replace older generating plants will have to build reliable generating units that can be counted on when needed. Reliable generating units that can be counted on when needed to supply electricity demand will be needed whether or not wind turbines are built. Electric customers should not have to pay twice; once for wind turbines and again for reliable generating units.
Unfortunately, actual experience and facts do not support Mr. Davidson’s claims or the assertions made by such organizations as NYSERDA. There are substantial reasons to question the objectivity of NYSERDA on matters affecting wind energy.
Experience is also demonstrating that it would be foolhardy for the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) to assume that the NY grid can accommodate 10 percent of generating capacity from unreliable wind turbines ” … without changing the way the grid performs.” Such a large share would severely tax New York’s reserve margins at the time of peak demand.
Glenn R. Schleede, former western New Yorker, now living at
18220 Turnberry Drive
Round Hill, VA 20141-2574
March 17, 2008