Mr. O’Connor’s recent letter regarding industrial wind energy is interesting in that it continues down the mythical road the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) likes us to follow when considering the efficacy of wind energy development. It uses as its theoretical underpinning the false premise that somehow wind energy displaces conventional fossil fuel electrical production, thereby reducing CO2 production. But the truth is, it cannot. Why? Because of wind energy’s inherent and insurmountable intermittency and unreliability. The only way to cure those problems with wind energy is to tie them to fossil fuel plants. In fact, it is most accurate to refer to wind energy as “fossil/wind” because that is the only form in which wind energy exists in the Midwest.
Assume our purpose in building wind turbines is to eliminate the Monroe MI coal plant at 3,000 Megawatts, one of the world’s largest. Exelon Wind’s policy right now is to build no more than two turbines per square mile. Michigan turbines may have a capacity factor of around 30%. [EIA records indicate the fleet average in MI in 2010 was only 25% so I am being generous.] If we build two Vestas V-100 1.8 Mw turbines per square mile at 30% CF, we would need to cover 2,778 square miles with them to replace the Monroe plant.
But could we then decommission that plant? No. We have too many windless days. So if we tore down the Monroe plant and the wind stopped blowing as it always does, especially in July and August when demand is highest, we would then have to build 3,000Mw of gas turbines to replace it.
Nuclear won’t work because it cannot cycle up and down to meet the variable output of wind and is already a non-CO2 emitter whose fuel costs are relatively quite low.
And since gas is 60% cleaner than coal in the first place and we will have to build the gas plants to backup large installations of wind anyway, why bother with the wind at all, particularly when you would have to cover 2,777 square miles with turbines?
And consider the cost: at least $16.6 billion, not including new transmission lines like the “Thumb Loop” at nearly one half billion dollars, gas backup costs or increased O&M costs associated with cycling fossil plants.
In the final analysis wind is a parasitic, redundant and unreliable power source that can only exist in combination with fossil fuel generation. To generate meaningful quantities of wind energy would require us to carpet most of the state with turbines as well as build an equally large number of gas plants.
Without the gas fired backup or some as of yet to be discovered means to store electricity cheaply, wind energy is a pointless transfer of wealth to large conventional utilities like FPL and Duke and foreign multinationals like Iberdrola of Spain and Vestas of Denmark.
And rather than freeing us from dependence on fossil fuels, it actually binds us to them in perpetuity at about a 3:1 ratio of fossil/wind. Therefore, when we finally have a truly clean, sustainable and economical replacement for conventional fossil fuel-fired electrical generation, we will of necessity obsolesce all the wind energy build out as well. The fossil/wind combination is simply a double dead-end technology.
And what is our return on all this taxpayer money? Massive landscape destruction, higher utility rates, no meaningful job creation and likely job losses as a result of higher input costs to industry, and virtually no change in Mr. O’Connor’s CO2 bogey man. But what would you expect when energy policy is being driven by lobbyists like AWEA instead of science and economics?
Director, Interstate Informed Citizen’s Coalition, Inc.
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