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Pump storage … the industrial wind side show’s latest prop

A November 7 article in the State Journal (West Virginia) is titled “Wind Power and Pumped Hydro Storage: A Natural Pair.”  What may seem very promising on the surface requires a bit of understanding, so before I comment, I’d like to provide this video of the Bath County Virginia pump storage facility for your review.

Impressive, don’t you think?  On-demand electricity from water power.  Ready to take care of the peak demand times as an “on call” resource to supplement fossil or nuclear stations.

(Full disclosure – I worked for a company which manufactures the major components for hydroelectric dams, including major pump storage systems.  I’m a huge fan of pump storage when used in the right application … supporting true electricity generators.)

Anyway, one thing the video mentioned that might have caught your ear was the fact that the water falling some 1,000 feet to generate electricity must be moved back up 1,000 feet to “reload” the upper reservoir.  The turbines which generated electricity as the water fell are reversed, now requiring electricity to turn the turbines into pumps.  This electricity must obviously come from something other than the pump storage facility.  The wind?

The article would like you to believe that.  The article quotes Mr. Matthew Shapiro of Gridflex, the Idaho company which is considering building a pump storage facility near the Mt. Storm wind facility in West Virginia, as saying, “So with that model (which pairs wind and pumped storage) we can compete directly against (natural gas combined cycle) as a product – and then also have all of the environmental benefits of it being wind versus a gas project.”  Really???  No natural gas support?  Just pump storage and wind turbines?

Nonsense!  This suggestion is beyond ludicrous and horribly misleading.  I can only assume Mr. Shapiro was misquoted in the article or I misunderstood his statement.  Would he have us believe that the combination of an industrial wind facility and a pump storage facility would only feed electricity into the grid and not require use of any of the electricity generated by natural gas or other fossil fuel?  Just curious, but what mysterious force comes into play when no wind blows … by what miracle does the water drift back uphill?

Pump storage facilities have worked for years in tandem with large coal and nuclear generating stations.  Large coal and nuclear station production is not easily modified to meet peak demand.  Pump storage has proven an effective partner over many years assisting these reliable generators to meet customer’s needs.

Maybe Mr. Shapiro really meant to say that pump storage and natural gas generators can assist industrial wind’s pitiful and unreliable performance.  But then you must ask why … why do we bother?  Why do we keep pretending that, with just a few more taxpayer dollars, a little more time, a few more regulations inhibiting competition and a few more quotas demanding its use, the inefficient, unreliable and heavily subsidized industrial wind profit centers have a place in our energy future?  Why do we continue to spend fortunes we don’t have on a product which gives back so little?

If Mr. Shapiro would like to build a pump storage facility to augment the existing grid, all power to him.  Mr. Shapiro did mention that “one incentive for a utility is that pumped storage counts toward the state’s requirement that utilities must get 10 percent of their electricity from alternative and renewable energy sources by 2015.”  But couldn’t he do that without wrapping the wind albatross around his neck?  Maybe he needs the poor performing contraptions to justify his entry?  I don’t know.

To me, any suggestion that that combining wind and pump storage will reduce fossil fuel usage is simply silly.  Pump storage has a proven role in the network of real, on-demand electricity generation supporting coal and nuclear.  Coming on line at peak demand is a means of helping fossil plants run more efficiently, so it seems to me that pump storage is already doing it’s part to reduce emissions.

Industrial wind, on the other hand, has proven to be a parasite, requiring prop after prop to keep it on life support.  And after all the thousands of turbines filling our landscape and emptying our bank accounts, there is no proof that one coal plant has been shut down as a direct result of industrial wind.

And sadly, rather than fund the research and development of serious future energy sources to replace fossil fuels, our leaders instead divert our valuable financial resources to the developer’s pockets.

I am a fan of pump storage in its role to support tried and true energy generators.  But I’m afraid all Mr. Shapiro is planning to bring to Mt. Storm is a crutch.

For a better understanding of industrial wind I suggest you take the time to read these two earlier posts:  A Conversation with Jon Boone – Toward a Better Understanding of Industrial Wind Technology and A Conversation with Jon Boone – Industrial Wind and the Environment

We also ask that you review the many links and other commentary provided here.