Offshore wind farms are being touted as a source of clean and cheap electricity for Hampton Roads. The advocates of wind power cite Denmark, a country of 5.5 million people, as an example of the benefits of wind power.
In the past 30 years, more than 6,000 wind turbines have been constructed, terrestrially and offshore, in Denmark, yet the Danish people have the highest electricity rates of any country in Europe. They pay four to five times as much per KWH as do Americans. Surprisingly, no coal-, oil- or gas-fired power plants have been shut down in Denmark since the arrival of wind power. Because of the intermittency and variability of the wind, conventional power plants must be kept running at essentially full capacity to meet demands.
Denmark’s energy sources are: imported coal (26 percent), oil (46 percent) and gas (13 percent) from its North Sea oil patch, wind power (13 percent) and biomass/waste (2 percent). Denmark uses more oil in its energy mix than does the U.S. Its greenhouse gas emissions have remained fairly constant for several years – thanks largely to its exorbitant tax on automobiles and gasoline.
The vast majority of Danish workers commute on foot, bicycle or public transportation. The sales tax on automobiles starts at 100 percent and increases to 180 percent with extras. These high car and fuel taxes keep the number of cars low, thus minimizing their contribution to total greenhouse gas emissions. Denmark is 21 percent short of its Kyoto-established goal for GHG emission reduction for 2012.
Wind power has many operational problems, which are compounded by the huge, 300-foot-high towers and turbines, whose rotor assembly weighs up to 35 tons. Problems requiring turbine shutdown include wind velocities greater than 50 mph; build-up of salt, bugs or ice on rotor blades; and lightning damage. A moderate-sized wind farm of 50 1.5 megawatt towers, at $7 million each, requires 3,500 to 4,000 acres with towers spaced about 1/4-mile apart – there is no history of their effective life.
In September 2009, two Danish wind-energy experts were in Washington, D.C., warning of the dangers of putting our electricity needs in the wind power basket, citing all the issues above.
Terrestrially generated wind power can make a significant contribution when applied to large numbers of small scale usages, such as individual homes, schools, office buildings, a small factory, or even a small town, when the fluctuating production can be stored. But it is fraught with major problems if most of the electricity generated is fed into a grid. Other than the above, the value of wind power is basically a supplemental source, having minimal impact on the base load supply.
A factor, seldom openly discussed, is the physical security of offshore wind farms. The installation of a proposed farm generating upwards of 100 megawatts, required to support a significant geographical area or industry, would be an open invitation to terrorists, rogue nations or other groups, foreign or domestic, imbued with evil design on our energy infrastructure. The cost of providing physical security for such a project would be astronomical.
It is time our politicians and others ceased making decisions based on single or minimal factor analysis such as, “technically it can be done” and “it provides jobs.”
Before Hampton Roads commits to an offshore wind program, all relevant factors need to be seriously evaluated and the goal clearly delineated with meaningful metrics.
Keith Hallam, a retired U.S. Navy captain, lives in Virginia Beach.