Over the course of the last year, there has been a change to the landscape along Hwy 21 southeast of Red Deer as a windswept ridgeline has become home to a new type of farm in the region – a windmill farm.
Within a year or so, another larger one will sprout on the windy prairie east of Stettler.
Armed with tremendous amounts of taxpayers’ cash, utility giants are looking to wind power to bolster their bottom line, and our governments routinely trot out press releases positively glowing with praise directed at the miraculous benefits of wind power.
Well, in the interests of balance, here are some of the things that don’t always make the news about wind power.
The New Brunswick government forked out a cool couple of hundred million dollars (virtually all of which conveniently came via the “offshore taxation” miracle of equalization) to build a massive wind farm designed to take advantage of cold, North Atlantic breezes. For the past several weeks, and during a high energy demand period, this particular installation hasn’t been able to generate enough electricity to charge a cellphone, as those cool Atlantic breezes have been so laden with moisture that they have coated the turbine blades with ice and thus rendered them immobile.
Similarly, for the third year in a row, Great Britain’s giant wind farms have also been rendered powerless during a severe cold snap that left millions of Britons shivering in the dark. While demand for electricity soared, winds in the northern British Isles plummeted in lockstep with the temperatures. At the same time, British utilities were unable to cope with demands as the U.K. has recklessly shuttered coal plants that could have generated needed electricity, in the vain hope that wind power could step in to fill the gap left by the now dormant steam turbines.
Some of you might have noticed that the proposed wind farm east of Stettler will be financed partly by the taxpayers of California as part of that state’s “green” energy plan. There are a couple of kinks in this. One is that California is broke and getting broker by the minute.
It’s also worth noting the scope of the subsidies paid for wind power in the United States. Currently, wind power producers receive a kickback of $4 for the equivalent of a million BTUs of electrical energy. Some of you will have already noticed that’s roughly the current price of natural gas. Do the math on that.
Because you need a conventional power plant to back up your wind power, and it has to be twice the capacity of your wind farm (the vaunted Danish wind capacity only exists because the Danes use Norwegian hydro as backup) in order to scale up or down rapidly to counter the fluctuations of wind, a natural gas plant would have to tap three million BTUs of natural gas to supply a million BTUs of wind power.
You have to sell the first million to pay for your wind subsidy, one million has to be burning full time as backup, and the third has to be available to ramp up if the wind dies faster than the grid can accommodate.
While it’s unlikely that Alberta windfarms will see similar results, the Altamont Pass windfarm in California is responsible for the deaths of 1,000 birds of prey annually. You might want to ask your local Greenpeace rep why this hasn’t caused them nearly as much concern as the deaths of 1,000 ducks in Northern Alberta at a different kind of energy facility.
I’m not against wind energy. What I object to is throwing massive quantities of taxpayer dollars at an energy source that is exceedingly costly and wholly unreliable as a utility.
We can wish wind power were less costly, more reliable and more “green” all we want, but wishing won’t make it so.
Bill Greenwood is a Red Deer freelance writer.
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