There is much left unsaid in the front-page story about wind turbines in Michigan (“More farmers seeing wind as cash crop,” Page 1, Dec. 11). Some people who have had these turbines erected on their properties hope to have annual revenues of many thousands of dollars.
The article does not state how much their investment was. I doubt if those turbines were a gift. There is no information on costs, maintenance, expected service life and return on investment for wind turbines. Apart from all that, the enthusiasts promoting wind and solar power generation tend to disregard an inconvenient difficulty: Wind and sunshine are not 100 percent reliable.
What this implies is that no matter what percentage of wind and solar power is on line in a given power grid, the conventional plants must remain operative to fill the gaps when the non-emitting power sources are insufficient. The sun does not shine 24 hours per day everywhere and the wind sometimes dies down. Indeed if the wind blew forcefully non-stop in a given area, who would want to live there?
A utility is given a legal monopoly in the region it serves on condition that it provides reliable service. Thus conventional power plants in an electric grid must be kept on standby if other power is dependent on the sun and wind.
Excluding hydroelectric, there are four types of power plants: nuclear and those fired by fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas. Of these four types, only gas-fired can be shut down and restarted quickly. The coal- and oil-fired power plants on standby will continue to emit greenhouse gases. While on standby they are in effect doing nothing but costing money.
Other than converting all existing power plants to nuclear, which will never happen, it is difficult to envision any large scale implementation of non-emitting power sources in the U.S.
James R. Schaefer
18 December 2007
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