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Is wind power a costly sham? August 30, 2011

Posted by Tantumblogo in Basics, Dallas Diocese, disaster, foolishness, scandals, Society.
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The National Review has an article describing the inefficacy of wind power in Texas.  Wind power is strongly favored by those claiming an attachment to the environment – ostensibly clean energy with no major environmental drawbacks (funny – the environmental movement started with a focus on preserving scenic locations, like Yellowstone.  Now, environmentalists don’t have any problem having huge wind farms disfiguring landscapes coast to coast).  But, unlike traditional forms of power generation, wind power, like solar, is often unavailable when you need it most.  In fact, despite a “nameplate rating” of over 10 gigawatts of installed wind power capacity in Texas, the effective capacity of the all the wind farms in Texas is actually only 880 megawatts – or only 8.7% of nameplate capacity.  That effective capacity has been true ever since the first wind farms were installed over 20 years ago:

Wednesday brought yet another unspeakably hot day to Texas and, alas, it was yet another day when wind energy failed the state’s consumers.

Indeed, as record heat and drought continue to hammer the Lone Star State, the inanity of the state’s multi-billion-dollar spending spree on wind energy becomes ever more apparent. On Wednesday afternoon, ERCOT, the state’s grid operator, declared a power emergency as some of the state’s generation units began to falter under the soaring demand for electricity. Electricity demand hit 66,552 megawatts, about 1,700 megawatts shy of the record set on August 3.

As I wrote in these pages earlier this month, Texas has 10,135 megawatts of installed wind-generation capacity, which is nearly three times as much as any other state. And yet, on Wednesday, all of the state’s wind turbines mustered just 880 megawatts of power when electricity was needed the most. Put another way, even though wind turbines account for about 10 percent of Texas’s 103,000 megawatts of summer electricity-generation capacity, wind energy was able to provide just 1.3 percent of the juice the state needed on Wednesday afternoon to keep the lights on and the air conditioners humming.

None of this should be surprising. For years, ERCOT has counted just 8.7 percent of the state’s installed wind-generation capacity as “dependable capacity at peak.” What happened on Wednesday? Just 880 megawatts out of 10,135 megawatts of wind capacity — 8.68 percent — was actually moving electrons when consumers needed those electrons the most.

Apologists for the wind industry point to a single day in February, when, during a record cold snap, the state’s wind turbines were able to produce electricity when the grid was being stressed. Fine. On one day, wind generators produced more than expected. But the wind industry’s lobbyists want consumers to ignore this sun-bleached truth: Texas has far more super-hot days than it does frigid ones. Indeed, here in Austin, where I live, we’ve already had 70 days this summer with temperatures over 100 degrees, and there’s still no relief in sight. And on nearly every one of those hot days, ERCOT’s wind capacity has been AWOL. Each afternoon, as the temperature — and electricity demand — soars, the wind dies down:

And yet — and yet — the state is spending billions on projects that focus on wind energy rather than on conventional generation capacity. As Kate Galbraith of the Texas Tribune reported recently, the Texas Public Utility Commission is preparing the state’s ratepayers for higher prices. Consumers will soon be paying for new transmission lines that are being built solely so that the subsidy-dependent wind-energy profiteers can move electricity from their distant wind projects to consumers in urban areas.

Galbraith reports that “the cost of building thousands of miles of transmission lines to carry wind power across Texas is now estimated at $6.79 billion, a 38 percent increase from the initial projection three years ago.” What will that mean for the state’s ratepayers? Higher electricity bills. Before the end of the year, the companies building the transmission lines are expected to begin applying for “rate recovery.” The result, writes Galbraith, will be charges that “could amount to $4 to $5 per month on Texas electric bills, for years.”

Imagine what the state’s grid might look like if Texas, which produces about 30 percent of America’s gas, had spent its money on natural-gas-fired electricity instead of wind. The latest data from the Energy Information Administration shows that wind-generated electricity costs about 50 percent more than that produced by natural-gas-fired generators. Thus, not only would Texas consumers be saving money on their electric bills, the state government would be earning more royalties from gas produced and consumed in the state.

Further, consider what might be happening had the state kept the $6.79 billion it’s now spending on wind-energy transmission lines and instead allocated it to new natural-gas-fired generators. The latest data from the Energy Information Administration show that building a megawatt of new wind capacity costs $2.43 million — that’s up by 21 percent over the year-earlier costs — while a new megawatt of gas-fired capacity costs a bit less than $1 million, a drop of 3 percent from year-earlier estimates.

Under that scenario, Texas could have built 6,900 megawatts of new gas-fired capacity for what the state is now spending on wind-related transmission lines alone. Even if we assume the new gas-fired units were operating at just 50 percent of their design capacity, those generators would still be capable of providing far more reliable juice to the grid than what is being derived from the state’s wind turbines during times of peak demand.

Another report showed that over $25 billion has been spent installing wind farms and transmission lines for them in toto over the last couple of decades.  That $25 billion has generated less than 1 gigawatt of reliable energy.  Whether that figure is accurate or not may be debatable, but less debatable is that a similar investment into nuclear would have yielded 5 gigawatts of virtually uninterruptable energy, or 25 gigawatts of rapid response (easy on, easy off) natural gas (which, by the way, this state possesses enormous quantities of, thanks to the Barnett and other shales and hydraulic fracture techniques).   On the downside of gas powerplants, while they are cheap to build, they do have to burn gas that, while at near record low prices, still adds up to quite a bit of expense over the operating life of the plant. 

Fundamentally, both wind and solar are not easily scalable, and are simply unreliable.  Both have high environmental costs of their own, from destroyed scenic vistas to thousands of bird deaths for wind, to the mining and production of huge amounts of toxic and hard to dispose of heavy metals for solar.  There is probably some merit for both in limited circumstances.  But I don’t feel that either merit large governmental support, or artificial “mandates” that require a certain percentage of a region’s power production to consist of “renewable” energy.  The latter is simply another exercise in invasive government, and plays to the global warming cooling climate change hysterics.

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