Kurt Staudter claims knowledge from a quarter-century of working in the electric industry, but one big fact seems to have passed him by (“Not in My Back Yard, but OK in Yours,” While We Were Sleeping, June 27). It’s been decades since the U.S. has burned any significant amount of oil for electricity. While 9/11 may have been about oil, particularly that in Saudi Arabia, the U.S. seems to have invaded and remained in Afghanistan to gain uncontested access to central Asian gas fields. Wind energy has nothing to do with oil, which is used for transport and heating, but it depends a great deal on natural gas.
As Staudter knows, the electric grid has to maintain a steady flow of power equal to demand second by second. Since wind is highly variable, it needs to be balanced by generators that can ramp quickly up or down as needed to maintain steady power. Such generators are fueled by natural gas. So wind energy, rather than moving us away from the causes of 9/11, contributes instead to the “reasons” for continuing U.S. aggression in central Asia that makes another 9/11 more, not less, likely.
Staudter must also know that operating a generating plant with frequent rapid ons and offs wastes fuel and wears down the machinery faster. Several analyses have found that combined-cycle gas turbines alone – which are more efficient and possible without the balancing needs of wind – would have no more, or would have even less, emissions than open-cycle gas turbines required to work with wind.
Finally, Staudter says wind is cheap. If that’s his “trump card,” then we should all welcome fracking, tar sands, and mountaintop-removal coal. But in fact, turning wind into electricity is not cheap. It is a diffuse source of energy, so it requires a massive sprawling infrastructure to collect any meaningful amount – in addition to the balancing generators to make it useful to the grid. The simple fact is that wind energy requires subsidies covering two-thirds of the cost (thank you, ratepayers and taxpayers) to make any profit.
At best, wind turbines represent wishful thinking. But the industrialization of wild and rural places at such great public and ecological cost makes them much worse: a symbol of waste, folly, and profiteering. In other words, business as usual.
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