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Wind farm not worth the risk

Tom Vinson’s and Bruce Burcat’s arguments (“A wind-win situation,” April 21) asking Gov. Martin O’Malley to veto House Bill 1168, which places a temporary moratorium on the construction of wind turbines in Somerset County, suffers from the misleading arguments often used by promoters of renewable power. First, wind speed on the Chesapeake Bay’s Eastern Shore is just adequate for commercial exploitation. The builders constantly refer to 150 megawatts of generation capacity, but this is the maximum or “nameplate” capacity, which is available only when the wind is strong. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s wind maps, the 25 turbines proposed for Somerset County will operate at about 30 percent of the maximum, or 45 MW.

The time that the Patuxent Naval Air Station’s staff will demand that the turbines be turned off will reduce it further. Over the course of a year, these turbines will produce only about 0.6 percent of Maryland’s electricity requirements.

This insignificant contribution does not justify even the remote risk that some future development at the station will make turning off the turbines too problematic to tolerate and the station might then be relocated.

Next, Messrs. Vinson and Burcat make two misleading generalities about the national contribution of wind to clean electricity generation. First, they state that the 61,000 MW of nameplate wind capacity now installed in the U.S. is equivalent to the nameplate capacity of 14 nuclear plants. This would true only if wind power were as reliable as nuclear, but it is not. The output of almost any wind turbine can be relied on only 30-to-40 percent of the time, but exactly when is unpredictable. Nuclear reactors, however, work 90 percent of the time, and most of their outages are planned in advance. Unplanned (“forced”) outages occur only about 2 percent of the time, or about 30 times less often than they occur with wind.

Finally, the authors make an overstated claim about wind’s contribution to new generating capacity. The only reason that new wind installations comprise 30 percent of all new generating capacity is because very little new generating capacity has been built recently in the U.S.

Governor O’Malley should sign the bill.

Norman Meadow, Baltimore