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Wind power: some observations from the front lines  

Credit:  By John Terry, The Highlands Voice, June 2012 wvhighlands.org ~~

In response to Dr. Wayne Spiggle’s request for membership input regarding industrial wind:

My wife and I are located north of Elkins and have a unique understanding of industrial wind power that most people do not. From our windows we see six AES Laurel Mountain GE 1.6 MW wind turbines. We can see ten from various locations on our property. I will not speak here about forest fragmentation, flying wildlife kills, noise, property value or any of the familiar complaints against wind energy. The subject of this letter is “wind” and how little of it there is in West Virginia. For those who hold on to a hope that somehow wind turbines will, in some way, replace mountain top removal this will be an unpleasant read and I apologize in advance for the bad news.

First a little background: There are five wind farms operating in West Virginia and two nearby in Maryland. With the exception of Beech Ridge, each is operating within sight of each other. The four in West Virginia are: Mountaineer with 44 turbines, NedPower/Mount Storm with 132 turbines, Beech Ridge with 65 turbines, AES Laurel Mountain with 61 turbines and Pinnacle with 23 turbines. In Maryland, Roth Rock has 20 turbines and Criterion has 23. The last four wind farms have gone on line since winter 2010.

Industrial wind energy is weather dependent. The striking variability of our landscape consisting of mountains, hills and river valleys is one of the reasons why wind energy is unsuited to this state. If you look at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Wind Energy Map http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov/wind_maps.asp , you’ll notice that there are precious few locations in West Virginia that approach a marginal rating for wind generation. Those are located on the state’s very highest ridges. Conversely, the NREL map shows that much of the state falls in or below the 4.5 m/s wind speed range at the bottom of the wind resource scale.

This lack of wind should be evident to all of us who’ve spent much time here. Think fog for a moment and how still the air is. West Virginia is one of the foggiest places in the United States with over 200 cloudy days each year thanks to our mountain terrain and abundant tree cover. http://www.weatherwise.org/Archives/Back%20Issues/2011/March-April%202011/west-virginia-full.html NOAA’s National Weather Service has been recording wind speed data for over 50 years. Of the 276 US cities on NOAA’s list, only 8 have a lower average annual wind speed than Elkins, WV, home to the AES Laurel Mountain wind farm. http://lwf.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/online/ccd/avgwind.html

We know that wind varies by season and that historically we would expect the months of May through October to produce less wind energy than November through April would.

What goes unseen is an incredible variation in productivity making no season very good for wind turbines. There’s really nothing predictable about them. In a string of turbines, everyone will be turning at a slightly different speed which varies minute by minute. Even on good days, turbines 1, 3, 5 and 9 may be turning while 2, 4, 6 and 8 stand idle; only to slowly begin to turn as others quit. Writing this and overlooking the wind farm, I can tell you that, at this time in May, the turbines outside my window have not generated any appreciable amount of electricity for the past five days.

Traditionally we think of electrical generation in terms of a power station’s output. We hear those same kinds of numbers about wind too, but the maximum potential production of a wind farm or the number of homes that might be powered have nothing to do with the reality of how these machines will perform in real world conditions.

In a response to a letter of mine in the Cumberland Times-News May 19, 2011, Raif Sigrist, President and CEO, of the German turbine manufacturer, Nordex USA Inc. said, in effect, that the economics of the wind industry take into account that the wind does not blow at a consistent speed, but that wind energy is, “bountiful, freely available and competitively priced.” He then went on to say that a Nordex turbine “achieves availability greater than 97 percent” of the time. Meaning that the turbines are ready even if the wind doesn’t cooperate. http://times-news.com/letters2x1372148106/Future-of-U-S-wind-power-is-promising

I can’t tell you how many watts come from how many revolutions of a wind turbine’s blades, but I’m quite sure that when they’re stationary, the number is zero. I’m pretty sure too that less electricity is generated when the blades turn slowly rather than quickly.

Recently, a small number of observers have begun to accumulate data on turbine operation in West Virginia. It’s hit or miss at best. I’ve chosen a single turbine to watch which appears to be no more or less efficient as any of the others. I try to time blade rotation for ten revolutions at lease five times (every two hours) on days when I’m home and it isn’t too foggy.

Without going into too much detail, let me tell you that my subject turbine never turns faster than17.857 rpm or slower than 10.052 rpm. In the 756 observations made since October, 2011, this turbine has only reached the top quarter of its speed potential 157 times or 21%. On the other hand, this wind turbine has turned in the bottom quarter of it’s speed potential 202 times 27%, and it was not turning at all for 257 observations or 34% of the time.

Other observers have been recording one siting a day of as many turbines as they can see since the wind farm began operation in July 2011 (about 42 turbines out of 61). From this data we know that 32% of the turbines were not in operation at the times when observations were made.

These observations may not be perfect. Turbine operation is random and individual turbines will begin spinning for several minutes then quit for no apparent reason. We are not able to see what happens after dark, but it is usually the case that what wind there is dies down after sunset, so it’s doubtful if the turbines spring to life after dark.

To be sure, there’s a lot about wind farm operation we don’t know. There’s every reason to believe that the new wind farm I watch is no better or worse than regions other six operations. We do know that West Virginia’s wind farms are operated by intelligent managers who work for very large, successful corporations. West Virginia’s lack of suitable wind must not be the only reason for their apparent poor results.

The question in your minds should be why are large corporations eager to invest here in West Virginia in a losing enterprise. I hope that another writer will take up where I’ve left off and explain the tens of millions of dollars of gifts these corporations have received from our government for building wind farms on mountains where there’s simply not enough wind.

Source:  By John Terry, The Highlands Voice, June 2012 wvhighlands.org

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

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