CAPE VINCENT – The attraction of wind power is based on some myths.
That’s what D. Daniel Boone, an ecologist and natural resources policy analyst from Bowie, Md., told members of the Wind Power Ethics Group and the public at a presentation Friday evening.
While global warming is used as a reason for supporting wind turbine development, Mr. Boone said, “I’m convinced they’re not the best way of dealing with this issue.”
Mr. Boone said onshore wind power development won’t solve air pollution problems, won’t reduce the current rates of burning or mining coal and won’t reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil.
He credited the Clear Air Act for the current and future progress of cleaning air over the eastern U.S.
The act requires use of a cap-and-trade program, in which power plants – among others – are allowed a certain amount of nitrogen oxide and sulfuric oxide emissions. If they do not use all of their allowance, the producers are allowed to trade or sell the remainder.
“But meanwhile, the ceiling is getting lower,” Mr. Boone said.
According to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, emissions of nitrogen oxide, a key substance in smog, decreased in the mid-Atlantic states between 1995 and 2003. But at the same time, electricity output increased 15 percent. The mid-Atlantic states are Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
When wind power is introduced into a region’s grid, the allowance for pollutants isn’t immediately decreased. Ideally, wind-generated electricity would replace power from plants that emit gases.
But those plants still have their allowances, which may be used by burning cheaper, less efficient coal, or sold to other plants.
So as emissions in the eastern U.S. decrease, “wind turbines are not going to have anything to do with it,” Mr. Boone said.
On coal burning, Mr. Boone said the demand for electricity will push further growth in the coal industry even if wind energy resources are used. New York used 9,417 tons of coal to produce electricity in 2006.
The National Renewable Energy Lab estimated that in 2050, wind power generation would produce 10 percent of electricity in the U.S., while coal would produce more than 50 percent, about the same proportion it produces now. But overall demand would more than double.
As demand increases and the allowed emissions decrease, new technology will be needed to make coal plants cleaner. Or they need to be replaced with cleaner alternatives.
“I think there’s downsides to everything,” Mr. Boone said. “But as far as emissions are concerned, nuclear would have way less.”
On foreign oil use, Mr. Boone cited a Rocky Mountain Institute study that said only 3 percent of oil use in the United States goes to electricity production. And of that, five-sixths comes from useless byproducts of the refining process.
So oil is not a competitor for wind energy.
Wind energy, especially onshore in the eastern U.S., does not produce close to its rated capacity. The turbines produce the most during winter nights and the least during summer afternoons, when demand is highest.
“It’s out of whack seasonally and during the day,” Mr. Boone said.
But offshore wind turbines would more closely mirror demand.
“The future is offshore,” he said. “But there needs to be environmental studies first.”
By Nancy Madsen
Times Staff Writer
28 June 2008
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