A recent article from the Institute for Energy Research slams the wind industry again for claims the wind industry has not made and problems that don’t exist. The criticisms show the Institute does not understand how wind farms and utilities can work together which is sad commentary for an energy institute. And as critics before, the organization ignores all the positive workings and beneficial spinoffs from the industry, such as the regular and substantial lease payments to rural communities.
Let’s start with the idea of free wind power, which the Institute dismisses. Actually, the industry does not claim that power from wind is free, only that the fuel to drive a wind turbine is indeed free. Natural gas in the ground is free too, but once someone pipes it out, it becomes a commodity with a price. Bloomberg.com/energy at this writing, says natural gas sells for $3.16/million BTUs, and that figure is up from about $2.50 a year ago.
While we are on the topic, you can be sure the price of natural gas will rise as more utilities and companies tap it to replace more expensive fuel. A figure of $7.00/million BTUs, not far away, would be music to a gas company’s ears. And when that happens, I can tell you with absolute certainty that the cost of wind as a fuel will remain exactly zero.
Another error in the article refers to wind as intermittent. No. Windshield wipers are intermittent, going quickly from on to off. Wind is variable. It blows strong and then less strong, and in a predictable manner. Keith Parker at Global Weather Corp., reports that the company can predict wind speeds up to 168 hours in advance, sufficient to let utilities plan their purchases of wind generated power.
Here’s an old chestnut wind critics love to pull out of the fire: Wind power needs full conventional generators to back up the grid when the wind is not cooperating. The flaw here is a lack of perspective. Back up a bit and look at the big picture. Power generators sell to utility companies that put power on the grid. Wind farms are just one source.
Wind farms complement conventional generators. In fact, one reason for the grid is to let many different power plants serve many customers, even when conventional generators are out of service. In this arrangement, all plants back up all others because none runs all the time. One high cost that utilities grapple with comes from keeping fast-acting or spinning reserves constantly available for sudden increases in demand, such as when a large conventional plant goes off-line. Utilities are adept at dealing with variability because customer demand changes throughout the day. Wind’s variability adds little to a wide system variability that already exists.
That’s not all. Utilities and wind-power generators agree on long term power purchase agreements (I’ve heard 10 to 15 years) which locks in the price the utility will pay for the wind power. That stabilizes the cost consumers pay despite the volatility to fossil fuels. Try and get a 10 year PPA for natural gas.
The Institute’s criticism goes further and uses California as an example of how bad things can get in an energy market. The wind industry did not make California a negative role model. The state’s predicament comes from short sighted leaders making bad decisions. I’d suggest Iowa or Texas as examples of how the wind industry and government can do things right.
On this next point, the Institute and I will agree: Your electric costs are going up, but not for the reasons the Institute would have you believe. The cost of power will rise because new combined-cycle gas fired plants with efficiencies reaching 60% will replace aging nuclear and coal plants, and because the transmission infrastructure, most of it built in the 1950s, is just maintenance intensive and inefficient low voltage. One estimate says about 8% of the power generated in the U.S. is wasted in transmission – gone to heat the wires. Newer lines carrying higher voltage will conserve some of that power, but those necessary improvements will not come cheap.
Lastly, the most unfair criticism the uniformed make is that what we know now about generating power from the wind is all that we will ever know. You can almost hear them wishing: things will not change because we have no capacity whatsoever to learn or invent or improve.
Shame on them. That thinking is dishonest and deceitful. With a little investigation or by reading the WindWatch section of Windpower Engineering & Development, the institute will find many developments from creative engineering teams ready to make wind power more competitive with the current price of natural gas.
So count on this: wind power supplementing that generated by natural gas will become dominant power sources over the next few decades. That will happen because those two sources provide the least cost and cleanest power available. Wind power will improve living conditions for the entire world, even for wind critics.
Filed Under: News
Sharad Mehta says
All the people who are against Wind should look at the real cost of fossil fuels – mainly Oil – Money that we are paying to -OPEC – who use the petro dollars to funds every organization that is against civility. When OPEC raises the price of a barrell over $200 – all the wind critics wil be happy that US Govt was pro active in creating alternative sources of energy. .Thank You Mr.Dvorak for sepearting fact from fiction.
When all the money the wind industry gets from governments is stopped. I wonder how many firms will still exist? Bees are affected by magnetic fields fast disappearing from The Uk, US, Netherlands and I wonder how many more will also disappear. When they go so do we. Wind power is costly and inefficient and what happens when they are no longer in use. Left to rust and for hosts to pay huge costs for removal as the wind industry does not take responsibility. They have cost the UK millions and Scotland so much . Why do hosts have ‘gag’ clauses in contracts about saying anything negative for fear of litigation. They should no be called farms (insult to farmers) but industrial complexes after all they are industrial turbines. One other thing when the wind does not blow or blows too hard they cannot operate hence the need for backup. How much deceit is there in the industry when they single out one person and denigrate that person to the utmost and when opponents are called road kill instead of proving that wind turbines are viable. Why are there so many people against wind turbines and very little said against other forms of renewables? There are over 600 associations of wind complex victims from over 71 countries it seems there is something definitely wrong with turbines.
Sriganesh Ananthanarayanan says
Very good article! I believe this is the IER article you have mentioned http://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/2012/10/10/ier-responds-to-interior-departments-decision-on-wind-permits/
The windwatch section is definitely one I follow keenly.
Keep up the good work Mr. Dvorak