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Franken is misinformed on wind, fuel  

Credit:  Written by Rolf Westgard, St. Paul, www.sctimes.com 13 August 2011 ~~

Minnesota’s well-intentioned Sen. Al Franken has succumbed to the energy hype offered by biofuels and wind farms. (“Plans address concerns of Minn. farmers,” Aug. 6.)

As to biofuels, there’s a major reason 30 years of subsidies have not made food for fuel competitive or useful. We attempt to replicate nature by trying to do what nature had the time and resources to do best. Oil comes from the very gradual cooking of biomass (ocean algae) into hydrocarbon fuel.

A University of Utah study showed that nature needed 100 tons of algae to make just 1 gallon of oil. But nature had millions of years’ worth of prolific algae to produce those trillions of barrels of oil beneath the ocean bottom. So trying to use just this year’s corn crop to make a sufficient quantity of a gasoline substitute doesn’t work very well.

Little output

Producing 12.6 billion ethanol gallons in 2011 will use 40 percent of a U.S. crop laden with artificial nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides, which run off into rivers. A University of Minnesota study led by Professor Sangwon Suh recently reported that in the United States, an average of 162 gallons of water are consumed to produce 1 gallon of ethanol from corn. Drier states with more irrigation use more water, with Kansas and Nebraska requiring 500 water gallons for 1 ethanol gal.

The James A. Baker Institute at Rice University has released its report, “Fundamentals of a Sustainable US Biofuels Policy.” On greenhouse gas emissions, the report says, “It is uncertain whether existing biofuels production provides any beneficial improvement over traditional gasoline after taking into account land-use changes and emissions of nitrous oxide. Legislation giving biofuels preferences on the basis of greenhouse gas benefits should be avoided.”

Cellulose ethanol

The presence of a billion of the world’s cars and light trucks at the dinner table does concern Franken. He responds that the future is in nonfood cellulosic ethanol. Congress mandated 100 million gallons of cellulose ethanol in 2010; we produced perhaps 6 million. The 2011 mandate is for 250 million gallons; we will again produce perhaps 6 million.

The senator notes a new Iowa production plant that will scoop up corn stover (the stalks and leaves) to make ethanol. Removing that stover exposes the soil to erosion and denies nutrients needed by the soil. At best, that cellulose plant will begin in 2013, producing a tiny fraction of 2013’s 1-billion-gallon mandate.

Wind farm projects

Franken also proposes more wind farm projects. About $5 billion of wind subsidies in 2010 supported growth to 30,000 megawatts of wind turbines nationwide. They produced a little more than 2 percent of our electric supply.

Texas has three times the wind capacity of any other state. The Electric Reliability council of Texas reports a wind capacity factor of 8.7 percent, meaning that more than 90 percent of the time the erratic turbines are not producing.

Wind turbines have to be backed up for when the wind is too low or too strong. A new study from Bentek Corp. shows increases in carbon dioxide emissions with the introduction of wind plants in Colorado and Texas. The Bentek study found that the constant cycling of backup fossil fuel plants increased fuel consumption and harmful emissions.

Migratory disruption

The newest wind travesty is a plan by the Fish & Wildlife Service to plant scores of bird- and bat-killing wind farms in the same corridor as the Mississippi and Central Flyways, two of the most important migratory bird routes in the Western Hemisphere. The turbine placements directly encroach on the migratory route of endangered whooping cranes and other birds. Each of these permits would allow a project to “take” an unspecified number of birds, taking being the FWS euphemism for killing or injuring.

Big payoff

In this period of massive deficits, the senator and his colleagues could look at how the renewables industry is pocketing subsidies that dwarf those garnered by the oil and gas sector.

The federal government provides a production tax credit of $0.022 for each kilowatt-hour of electricity produced by wind. That amounts to $6.44 per million BTU of energy produced. In 2010, however, the Energy Information Agency reported subsidies to oil and gas totaled $2.8 billion, or about $0.05 per million BTU of energy produced.

Biofuel and wind subsidies are each more than 100 times as great as those given to oil and gas on the basis of per-unit-of-energy produced. The laws of nature, economics and physics are often not well understood in Congress.

This is the opinion of Rolf Westgard, a St. Paul resident and professional member of Geological Society of America and American Nuclear Society.

Source:  Written by Rolf Westgard, St. Paul, www.sctimes.com 13 August 2011

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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