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Why Wind Won't Work  

Author:  | Emissions, Grid, Technology

Between the: (1) uncertainty about what power sources wind energy would replace or avoid from minute to minute, (2) the operational inefficiencies inherent in switching conventional power sources off and on to accommodate wind’s continuously changing intensity, and (3) the emissions created in the construction and operation of the wind power facilities, actual measurement of emissions offsets due to wind installations is difficult to calculate accurately, and the results would vary from grid to grid. Moreover, consumers of electricity will be charged not only for the cost of the wind power itself but also for the cost of wind’s companion generation.

Given the possible scenarios, system-wide carbon emissions offsets are likely to be miniscule throughout most of the nation’s grids. The Electric Power Research Institute in California affirmed this circumstance, agreeing that it is technically incorrect to assume that wind energy will displace fossil generated power and decrease CO2 emissions on a kWh for kWh basis. Its report concludes that in a real operating situation, because large- scale storage of electricity is not possible, any CO2 saving will be small.

Consider an analogy between the internal combustion automobile and a hypothetical windmobile. The auto has a Capacity Factor of about 25%, limited by a combination of operator choice (people generally don’t drive them 24 hours a day each day of the year) and by the need for ongoing maintenance and continual refueling. However, when it is asked to work, it will do so with a high rate of reliability—99.9% of the time. This is its Capacity Value.

Contrast this with the windmobile, which one can never be sure if it will start or not. If that wouldn’t be annoying enough, most of the time its speed lurches between extremes, often stopping without warning. And if the windmobile became popular (due to substantial federal and state financial incentives), there would soon be an array of traffic accommodations created to enable it, such as requiring a host of new traffic controls and patterns, not to mention the borrowed cars, buses, taxis, and late appointments involved in going hither and yon. This activity corresponds to the way the grid is increasingly called upon to provide special means to integrate wind’s unreliable volatility.

A 1600MW coal plant produces a reliable, steady stream of 1600MW day and night throughout the year. It is also contained within a relatively small area and can be equipped with scrubbers to eliminate most noxious emissions, such as sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, and mercury. Contrast this with a wind plant consisting of 2650 turbines, each rated at 2.0MW stretched out for hundreds of miles, delivering a skittering annual average of 1600MW based upon a 30% Capacity Factor—but producing no Capacity Value.

Although the annual energy contribution of the two facilities would be equivalent on paper, the wind plant could never replace the coal plant in terms of its capacity. In fact, one should ask how many such wind facilities must be built to equal the Effective Capacity of that single coal plant. Or any conventional generating plant. And then one should ask about the thermal implications, as well as the environmental consequences, of such a vast enterprise.

The essence of “green” technology is that it strives to leave no trace. Wind is not a “leave no trace” technology. The premise behind the idea of whether we should have wind installations instead of conventional generation is badly skewed. Better to ask whether we should have phlogiston instead of oxygen in the air we breathe. Wind is a supernumerary producer of electricity enabled because the slap and tickle of wind propaganda flatters the gullible, exploits the well intentioned, and nurtures the craven. It is made possible because there’s no penalty for lying in the energy marketplace.

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This material is the work of the author(s) indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this material resides with the author(s). As part of its noncommercial effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Queries e-mail.

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