U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has just approved the $2 billion Cape Wind project, which will place 130 turbines off the coast of Cape Cod. The project will receive large taxpayer subsidies and use the money to buy its 130 turbines from Siemens of Germany. The project has a nameplate capacity of 468 megawatts (MW), but U.S. wind farms overall averaged output at 24 percent of nameplate capacity in 2008 and 2009.
In testimony before the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board, the developer said that in summer, when winds are weakest, Cape Wind will produce an average of 100MW. A medium-sized coal plant like Xcel Energy’s Allen S. King Generating Plant at Bayport, Minn., produces at five times that output throughout the year. This suggests rate increases for power customers to pay for this costly program.
U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., blasted the project and provided his own estimates: “This will be the most expensive and most heavily subsidized offshore wind farm in the country at over $2.5 billion, with power costs to the region that will be at least double,” he said. In a recent offshore wind contract negotiated between National Grid and a Rhode Island wind developer, the rates for power run two to three times higher than electricity generated at other power plants. Regulators recently rejected a similar deal as too expensive for ratepayers.
Since wind turns itself on and off, the electric grid manager needs a backup natural gas peaker plant which can be turned on quickly when the wind fails. In Texas, which has three times the wind power of any other state, customers can be interrupted when there is a major drop in wind energy.
Also in Texas, T. Boone Pickens’ giant wind farm plan for the Midwest has come a cropper, and Pickens is looking for places to put the turbines he has on order from General Electric. Goodhue County, Minn., is currently in his sights. I suggest holding onto our wallets if he comes to the Twin Cities.
Rolf Westgard, Geological Society of America, University volunteer faculty
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