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Does wind energy payoff justify the cost?

It is heresy for an environmentalist to argue against a renewable energy project. But this environmentalist is also an engineer, and the engineering approach involves a cost-benefit analysis.

Apex Clean Energy plans to build an industrial wind facility, the Rocky Forge Wind Farm, on North Mountain in Botetourt County. The plan is to construct 25, 550-foot-tall wind turbines.

Each turbine is rated to produce 3 megawatts (MW) of power when spinning at optimum speed. The total facility is rated at 75 MW.

When I heard of this project, I found it curious because I did not realize that sufficient wind to produce energy is available in central Virginia.

Throughout the year in this area, winds are typically light and intermittent. As an engineer, I have worked with power companies and attended some of their conferences.

At the American Wind Society conference, I learned that the best winds for producing energy in the U.S. are from North Dakota to West Texas and off the eastern U.S. coast, not in the Appalachians. The U.S. Department of Energy website provides wind energy maps.

A local group wrote Apex and requested their wind data so the expected power output for this project could be calculated. Apex refused, stating the wind speeds they measured over a two-year period were proprietary information. This put me in the position to think that maybe they were hiding something.

I was able to acquire a study that PMJ, the company that owns the transmission lines in the region, had conducted. Their feasibility study shows they plan to connect to the Rocky Forge wind facility with a line having a capacity of 10.1 MW.

That means they have determined through either Apex’s information or their own, that the 75 MW wind farm would produce no more than 10.1MW or 13 percent of the rated capacity of the 25 turbines.

This is not too surprising because industrial wind facilities, at best, only produce 30 percent of their rated energy capacity.

Constructing this project, regardless of its output, earns Apex a 30 percent tax credit from the federal government – this is our tax money. I could discuss all the negative impacts to the environment, including destroying the beauty of our mountain ridges and the danger to Golden Eagles and endangered bats; but taking our tax money to build what will be a useless project is an abomination.

Power companies have the responsibility to provide all of us instantaneous electricity. When we turn on the lights we want the energy to be available.

There is no reasonable way, with today’s technology, to store AC power on a scale that would meet our country’s energy needs.

Therefore, power companies continue to operate the natural gas or coal-fired power plants even when the wind turbines are spinning so that they can immediately replace their power when the wind dies down.

Wind turbines do not reduce pollution or the carbon footprint.

Neas lives in Rockbridge county and is a professional engineer.