MINOT—Wind power is making our energy grid less reliable.
That’s not a political statement. It’s a factual statement. Thanks to policies ranging from heavy federal subsidies for wind power production to state mandates for renewable energy, we have seen a boom in wind power development.
“In the past decade, there have been more than 400 wind turbines placed on the western side of the state with an additional 550 proposed to be constructed by 2018,” Dickinson Press reporter Kalsey Stults reported last month.
But this may be both a blessing and a curse.
If this surge in wind power were driven by market demand, it would be an entirely positive turn of events.
If wind power were the equivalent of traditional, baseline energy like coal or nuclear power, we could all stand back in admiration of progress driven by human ingenuity and innovation.
But these things aren’t true.
Wind power is built to capitalize on heavy federal subsidies and to take advantage of state mandates for renewable energy.
Wind power is intermittent. When the wind isn’t blowing, those giant turbines now dotting our landscape do not produce electricity.
“Government has picked wind as the winner,” an energy industry insider told me recently, warning that if the burgeoning development of wind power continues, “there’s going to be grid reliability issues.”
Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk sounded a similar warning this week during a hearing over yet another proposed wind power development.
“As we bring in more wind and as companies continue to retire coal and potentially nuclear (power plants), the reliability of the power grid, I think, is threatened,” he said.
While wind power may enjoy most favored status in political circles, the laws of economics and physics will always trump the laws of politics.
Unlike our production of coal power or nuclear power, we cannot control when wind turbines spin any more than we can control when the wind blows.
But wind power producers get a legally mandated priority position when it comes to selling their energy. This creates significant market distortions. When the wind is blowing, the market is flooded with wind power, and always-on baseline energy producers sometimes are forced to sell their energy at a loss.
Yet when the wind isn’t blowing—something that often happens at peak times of energy consumption, like when it’s really hot or really cold—those baseline operators are expected to supply all of the power the public needs.
According to data from the Midwest Independent System Operator on July 19 at 1:30 p.m., as temperatures across our region soared, the power grid was getting 53.4 percent of its energy from coal and just over 5 percent from wind.
This variability in wind power’s availability puts baseline operators in a perilous economic position, the realities of which are no longer theoretical.
This month, Great River Energy announced it would be shuttering its Stanton Station plant next May. The company has been operating the plant intermittently, producing energy only when profitable. But with a wind energy glut creating too much volatility, the plant was no longer viable.
Some see Stanton Station as the first domino to fall in what is becoming an increasingly intractable marketplace for baseline power operators.
I’m assured by industry types that the state’s other coal-fired power plants are safe for now. But how long will that be the case as we continue to unbalance the energy grid with heavily subsidized, utterly unpredictable and yet legally preferred wind energy?
We should be wary of putting too many eggs in one basket.
I have no real preference when it comes to where we get our power. If we stop using coal because there is a better way to get energy, then I’m all for it.
But wind isn’t a better way to get baseline power.
Our politicians need to get that message before we further diminish the reliability of our power grid.
Port, founder of sayanythingblog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator.
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