Recently I read a letter complimenting elected officials for supporting Senate Bill 252 (which has now passed) with great interest.
I was not surprised to see that the letter was written by someone in the wind industry – a special interest group.
I would to provide my view as an electric utility engineer who has worked in grid reliability and has great concerns about future blackouts.
There are three independent electrical grids in the United States.
They are the WECC, which is the line serving Colorado and West; Eastern Interconnect which is basically east of Colorado; and ERCOT, which comprises most of Texas. These grids exist for utilities to provide reliability and to sell power to each other.
The principles of a connected electrical grid are that the power generated equals the power used on a continuous, instantaneous basis. One measurement of this is the 60-cycle frequency that we have heard of our whole lives. If the generation is too low, the frequency drops. If the generation is too high, the frequency increases. This 60-cycle frequency must be maintained with a very tight tolerance.
In February of 2008, the Texas grid experienced an “unexpected drop in wind power” with wind representing approximately 10 percent of the online generation. This means that wind turbines were generating a large quantity of power and then stopped producing.
This drop in output was combined with an increase of power consumption in the state. While a crisis was avoided, emergency actions to prevent blackouts were required – in part because of the unpredictability of wind power. It is argued by wind power enthusiasts that conventional generation can go offline, but they go offline due to mechanical failures.
Wind turbines go offline due to mechanical failures and from the lack of moving air. Could this have been a blackout event if the wind power was 20 percent of the generation portfolio at the time? It would have been a certainty.
Wind generation is not a solution to all generation needs and neither is solar. The warmest days of the summer frequently have little to no wind and therefore, utilities must have other generation resources available to meet the electricity demand.
Therefore, ratepayers are paying for conventional generation resources anyhow. Wind turbines do not offset other generation construction, merely the fuel to operate conventional generation. However, since a highly efficient coal or gas-fired steam generator can only change output at the rate of about 1 wind turbine per minute, they are usually not used to follow the intermittent output of large wind farms.
These generators are also very slow to start and take a full day to start up from being cold. The only generators capable of following the on-off cycles of wind farms are gas turbine generators which are basically a jet engine with an electrical generator connected.
These are cheap to construct, but less efficient to operate. They are not generally designed to operate very many hours per year. They have historically been considered suitable for emergency use and about 800 hours per year during the afternoon or evening hours when demand is high.
In addition, I am concerned with the impact on electric bills, including my own. I am now going to pay for the same generation three times. I am paying federal subsidies for the wind project developer, paying for the output in my electric rates and paying for the backup generation that is running at an idle speed to pick up the load when the wind turbines stop.
Proponents state that they want to increase jobs in Colorado with this initiative, but there is no requirement that the turbines be purchased from Vestas.
Juan Carlos University published a study showing that such initiatives in Spain killed 2.2 jobs for every new job created by renewable energy. Those were lost by the higher cost of power and lower reliability from wind and solar power. Essentially, SB252 may move even more jobs to another state.
In summary, I have a serious concern that our elected officials have made another decision on a subject for which they do not understand the damaging effects of their vote.
Renewable resources such as wind and solar are easily incorporated into the generation mixture but must be done in moderation rather than excess. I can only speculate why some of the larger utilities do not object to such a high renewable standard but also understand that higher operating costs are a pass-through for them.
As a member of an electric cooperative, I am concerned about how the pass-through will affect my electric bill as well as how it will affect my neighbors. The Legislature may say that there is a cap on costs, but costs must be paid by someone and it will always be the ratepayer.
Dennis Astley of Pueblo West is an engineer for a utility company.
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