This responds to a recent letter from an industrial wind investor, Joe McDaniel. (“Investment in wind turbines is a wise idea,” Dec. 20 Times-News.)
There is no storage of bulk electrical energy. It has been the Holy Grail of intermittent technologies for over 100 years. The media often publishes the birth announcements of such technology, but one never sees their obituaries.
Mount Storm’s pumped water storage is very small scale and has only limited application for the grid. The capital costs of many power supply units are often daunting, especially for nuclear and hydro.
Once built, however, their ongoing costs are relatively small. This is true in spades for wind energy. A 100MW wind plant might cost as much as $400 million in today’s dollars but once built may last 10 or 15 years, without a lot of operating expenses.
However, wind plants provide virtually no capacity to the grid, as does every conventional generator. Spending $400 million for energy and no capacity is, energy-wise, incredibly stupid; only the gullible would support the idea – or those who would make immediate investment profits from it.
Let me quote here from energy expert Tom Hewson of Energy Ventures in Northern Virginia, who is commenting about concerns for a 43MW coal plant proposed for Jamestown, N.Y.:
Jamestown’s proposed cleaner-burning coal plant would provide 43MW of capacity towards Jamestown’s BPU’s reserve margin requirements for the power pool. Purchasing wind off the grid would supply zero MW of capacity. Moreover, if Jamestown did build new wind projects to meet its reserve capacity requirement, this would result in roughly 400MW of wind projects costing as much as $1.2 billion.
Those who tout this technology because they are well meaning have only the most pretentious knowledge about how electricity is produced and transmitted, the centerpiece of which is the notion of providing capacity, a measure of a power source’s reliability.
All conventional industrial power sources have capacity values of 99.9 percent; wind energy has a capacity value of virtually zero, particularly at any given 15 minute interval. And why tout renewables, knowing that the only widely successful renewable, hydro, is the most destructive power source of all, responsible for degrading millions of acres of invaluable watersheds?
The PJM presently uses renewables, including hydro, for less than 2 percent of its generation, making them supernumeraries, easily replaced by conventional power that does not emit much or any carbon while also supplying capacity.
Small battery storage systems for individual homes and businesses have been available for years. The up front costs of these typically preclude their use for most people – but even if they are deployed, they can only hold so much energy, not enough to maintain most households off the grid for any considerable time.
But here’s the real challenge for Joe McDaniel’s take on wind technology: Where is the responsible – or even logical – environmental ethic in dynamiting, clear cutting and fragmenting scores of miles of some of the rarest, most environmentally sensitive, and picturesque mountain habitat in Maryland to install, for example, 200 skyscraper-sized machines in order to produce less than 100MW of hit-or-miss energy in a region that annually generates nearly 140,000 MW of electricity, with no assurance these wind projects will abate carbon emissions and with certainty they will not supplant any conventional generators, including especially coal?
Wind energy’s continuously fidgeting fluctuations, unbidden as they are on the grid, make it unclear what conventional fuels wind can replace and what fuels must follow and balance them. Wind energy will not tread lightly upon the earth and it’s meager benefits, if any, are overwhelmed by it’s considerable environmental liabilities.
One can be concerned about how our fossil fuel combustion practices may help accelerate the process of climate change and injure public health without agreeing that the intrusive and ineffectual nature of wind energy technology is even a partial solution to the problem.
For me, the harsh reality is that massive wind turbines are much more functional (and lucrative) as corporate tax avoidance generators than they are as environmentally friendly producers of energy, symbolic not of a more enlightened energy future but rather of our continuing attraction to the forces of ignorance and greed.
4 January 2008
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