December 26, 2010
Connecticut, Opinions

Wind energy an impractical solution

By Robert Satterlee, Republican-American, 26 December 2010

I found the Dec. 18 article by Jay Lindsay of The Associated Press, “Wind seen as source of energy for region,” to be of interest. In the abstract, getting electricity from wind power sounds great. Getting 24 percent of our needs from a clean, renewable source is enticing. But when you do the numbers, the practicality of this option appears to be questionable and potentially costly to taxpayers.

The article stated 1 megawatt of electricity would supply 750 to 1,000 homes. Using the conservative number (750 homes), this would equate to roughly 15 kilowatts per day per home. This seems reasonable for a New England home that heats with oil, wood or gas. But what would happen over time as more homes are converted to all-electric? A full electric home will consume 40 to 50 kW per day. The 750 number now becomes maybe 150 to 200 homes. If demand triples because homeowners are converting away from fossil fuels, does the 24 percent mandate triple as well? If so, how many wind turbines would be needed?

How many wind turbines would be needed to deliver on the 24 percent mandate, or better yet how much land would need to be dedicated to the towers and distribution lines, referred to as “energy sprawl”? The General Electric study, referenced in the article, stated New England would need 12,000 additional megawatts of electricity to meet the government mandate. Let us do some math.

First, how much electricity can a wind turbine generate? An analysis looking at power density, published in the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association journal in 2007 and written by Jesse H. Ausubel, was confirmed by a 2009 study completed by the Nature Conservancy. It demonstrates wind farms will generate, on average, 4.8 kilowatts (0.0048 megawatts) per acre. Therefore, to generate the mandated 12,000 megawatts, we would need to dedicate 2.5 million acres to the towers and distribution corridors (12,000 megawatts divided by 0.0048 Megawatts per acre). Two and a half million acres equals about 3,600 square miles. As a point of reference, the entire state of Connecticut is about 13,500 square miles. If electrical demand should double, will the mandate require that two-thirds of Connecticut be covered with towers?

The above example is absurd. My point is this: Unrealistic mandates and poorly targeted subsidies of immature technologies will contribute to higher taxes and energy costs at a time when this state needs to reduce both. Similar but differing arguments can be made about electric vehicles, corn ethanol and solar generation – all fascinating technologies that are impractical in today’s world.

Our political leaders need to be searching for practical solutions that can be implemented short term while creating long-term energy policies that will encourage the entrepreneur to birth new technologies, and or to evolve current immature technologies into practical applications. Low-cost, efficient energy is a foundational element to a thriving, healthy, job-creating economy.

Robert Satterlee of Woodbury is a pharmaceutical consultant.

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