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With turbines going up, time for wind moratorium

Wind power plants have now been constructed on the highest ridgeline in Maryland, Backbone Mountain. Other wind power plants are being developed and will join existing plants here and in nearby states throughout the Appalachian Mountains. These plants cover miles and miles of the tallest, most scenic mountain ridges in the Appalachians. Soon, it will be nearly impossible to look out from a high mountain overlook without seeing miles of towering wind turbines. Why are we doing this?

Many environmentally-minded individuals feel that the sacrifice is worthwhile, as wind energy is clean (no greenhouse gases) and renewable compared to fossil fuels. However, wind energy comes at a very high price. Hopes and dollars are being wasted on this technology, because wind energy plants cannot generate power on-demand or on a human-defined schedule. The reason is that wind speed varies over time. Small variations in wind speed lead to significant variations in electric power production.

When developers tell the public that their wind power plant will provide electricity for so many homes and businesses, one needs to know whether they are talking about nameplate capacity or average capacity. Even under optimum wind speeds, wind energy plants seldom produce at 100%. Every wind turbine has a range of wind speeds, typically 30 to 55 mph, at which it will produce at its rated, or maximum, capacity. These wind speeds occur erratically and are unpredictable.

In the best locations, the ratio of the actual output of a wind power plant over a period of time and its output if it had operated at full nameplate capacity the entire time should be 30-40%. However, the actual capacity factor is often 15-30%. These plants produce little or no power 60% of the time! Wind plants need to be backed up by conventional power plants (coal, natural gas, oil, or nuclear) to prevent blackouts. During periods of high electrical demand, the probability of power blackouts increases as the fraction of electric power produced from wind increases.

As consumers, we want electricity to be available on demand 24/7. Wind power is not dependable. Unless it is backed up by other energy sources, blackouts will occur. Fossil fuels are often consumed to backup wind energy. Wind is simply a fuel saver for conventional power plants, but because of the high cost of the wind generators it is a losing proposition economically.

Tax incentives and subsidies have been critical in the growth of the wind generation industry. Little wind energy would be installed today without these generous government subsidies, in other words—your tax dollars! Wind is inherently an uneconomic electric energy source. It is not a viable energy program, but essentially a tax play. Why would rational consumers pay taxes to promote more expensive and unreliable electric power?

The money being paid out for leases and utility taxes on wind energy plants is coming out of your wallet or purse. Are the scenic beauty, natural environment, and people’s health and happiness in western Maryland and elsewhere worth the sacrifice? It is time for a moratorium on building more wind “farms.”

J. Edward Gates