I am an expert in renewable and alternative energy, having thoroughly studied and taught about all forms of such power production for the past three years. While I don’t question the motivation of Lorain County commissioners who want to take advantage of federal monies (our taxpayer dollars) to put wind turbines in place in Lake Erie, I have real concerns about any such project. While “renewable energy” has its place in power production, wind energy, in particular, is very problematic for a number of reasons.
First, it’s important to realize that placing wind turbines in Lake Erie is not a simple project. Many issues come to mind with such placement. One is that underwater power lines must be laid to deliver the power production to land. Will the closest land placement be near the transmission or distribution grids? If there is more than one turbine, multiple cables or connections will be needed to get the power to where it can be used, increasing the capital cost of the project compared to if the same turbines were placed on land. Second, even if each turbine is the largest model currently available, unless there are literally dozens of them constructed, they won’t produce the equivalent power output of even a medium-sized gas fired power plant.
Third, maintenance of a large number of wind turbines offshore presents a much costlier and difficult scenario than the same power output from more conventional power plants. Imagine the difficulty of having to replace a 100-foot-long turbine blade out in the deeper waters of lake. Fourth, large numbers of wind turbines offshore in Lake Erie will present a new set of obstacles for boaters, especially at night time.
Fifth, and most importantly, there will be many days when the wind is blowing so hard that the turbines will have to be “braked” off, in order that they not spin out of control. Similarly, there will be some days when the wind doesn’t reach a high enough level to cause the blades to spin at all.
A long-term study from the United Kingdom shows that the actual power production from wind turbine farms is far lower than the total potential capacity of the project, usually in the range of 20 percent to 35 percent. Another study by the U.S. Department of Energy shows improvements as wind turbine technology improves, but capacity factors of 60 percent have yet to be achieved. For every kilowatt hour a wind turbine is shut down, some alternative source will be needed to fill in for it, essentially doubling the capacity needs of such projects.
Sixth, bird kills from striking spinning turbine blades have been catastrophic in other areas of the U.S. Lake Erie lies on the flight path for migratory birds and there will likely be thousands of animals killed by spinning turbine blades, including some protected species.
Finally, the cost per installed kilowatt is significantly higher for wind projects than for more standard types of power plants. Where a gas-fired plant of 600 megawatts, which is a medium-sized facility, costs in the range of about $1,000 to $1,500 per installed kilowatt, wind turbines typically cost more than double this amount.
When looking at the actual capacity factor, too, the cost for wind power will be four to eight times that of gas- or coal-fired plants. In order to make a profit, wind turbine generated power will have to be priced well above more traditional production facilities.
For these reasons and others, I am of the opinion that wind projects are not yet ready for prime time. The Lorain County commissioners need to do some homework before spending taxpayer “gifts” from the federal government.
Joel Keller, who lives in North Ridgeville, is the principal/partner of NEO-ARC LLC, which operates a recycling center in Warren, Ohio. He also has taught courses in renewable and alternative energy at Lorain County Community College, Cuyahoga Community College, and Baldwin Wallace University.
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