Thursday, July 28, 2005

"footprint vs. industrialized area"

A stubborn dialogue has been in progress in Grist magazine's comments section. Here is the latest entry.
The brochures from the industry point out that each turbine's footprint is only a little 250-square-foot concrete pad. That's like saying a 747's footprint is only a few square feet (where its tires touch the ground).

The fact is they require a lot of space around them, thus turning huge areas of rural and wild landscape into industrial "parks."

The National Geographic figure is apparently based on the nuclear plant having an 85% capacity factor and the wind plant having a 33% c.f. (again, based only on the industry brochures and not on actual experience). Even with that c.f., but using the actual average space required per megawatt in actual wind facilities (as recognized by FPL Energy -- the largest wind plant operator in the country -- and the EPA) -- 50 acres -- the wind plant equal to the 0.5-sq.mi. 1000-MW nuclear plant would be 200 square miles.

But real-world capacity factors would require a larger wind plant, perhaps 2.5 times more if we go by actual electricity used according to the EIA (as already described).

And because wind-generated power is highly variable, and output falls off cubically as the wind drops below the optimal 25-30 mph, the output -- whatever the c.f. -- would be equal to or more than its annual average only a third of the time. Another third of the time, its output would be zero or near enough.

You'd still need that nuclear (or coal) plant to provide reliable electricity.

I don't like fossil and nuclear fuel any more than you do, but wind power isn't going to make them go away. It won't even significantly reduce their use.

You are the one touting pie in the sky -- and consequently the pointless destruction of the last rural and wild landscapes in the country.
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Monday, July 25, 2005

WisPIRG hasn't really thought it through

Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WisPIRG) has released a paper arguing for building more wind power facilities. Like most advocates, they point out how awful coal and nuclear fuels (with which I completely agree) yet fail to show that wind power can actually reduce their use. It is like pointing to a person shot in the head to justify stabbing someone. "Not as bad" is still bad, especially if the "worse" is still going to be around as much as ever.

How bad is industrial wind power? At about 50 acres per megawatt capacity (see www.aweo.org/windarea.html for a table of facilities around the world), it simply takes up huge amounts of space, filling every vista with alien behemoths like a giant barbed-wire fence.

WisPIRG points out, "A single [coal] mine can strip up to ten square miles, disrupting individual animals and in some cases entire species." Ten square miles is 6,400 acres. Wisconsin's Forward Wind Energy Center will occupy 32,000 acres, or 50 square miles. Yet the entire facility's capacity will be only 200 MW. And because of the variability of the wind, its actual output will average at the most (developer's claim) 67 MW but more likely (U.S. average, Energy Information Agency (EIA)) only 26 MW of usable power.

As horrible as a ten-square-mile coal mine is, I dare say we get a hell of a lot of electricity out of it. Which cannot be said for industrial wind.

Here are some more numbers. According to WisPIRG's paper, Wisconsin uses 68 TW-h of electricity each year, projected to rise to 85 TW-h in 2013. Seventy-two percent comes from coal and 22% from nuclear. What would it take to replace 20% of that with wind?

The developers claim (and advocates such as WisPIRG swallow, despite evidence that it is highly inflated) that annual production from a wind turbine is 33% of its rated capacity. The EIA says that wind produced less than 5 TW-h of the electricity used in the U.S. in 2002, representing the output of, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) 4,480 MW of installed capacity (average between capacity at ends of 2001 and 2002). That's an annual output of only 13% of capacity.

[Technical note: A electrical generator produces power, measured in watts, which is used over time, specified, for example, in your electricity bill as kilowatt-hours (KW-h), which is a thousand watts used for one hour. A 10-million-watt (MW) generator producing full tilt without break for a year produces 10 MW × 24 hours × 365 days = 87,600 MW-h, or 87.6 GW-h. But no power plant, especially one dependent on highly variable wind, produces at its full capacity full time. The ratio of its actual annual output to its theoretical maximum output is called its capacity factor. As noted above, the wind industry insists that 0.33 is to be expected for wind turbines, but real data shows it to be below 0.13.]

Back to replacing 20% of Wisconsin's electricity with wind. Twenty percent of 68 TW-h is 13.6 TW-h. Divided by 8,760 (24 hours × 365 days), that's an average output of 1,553 MW. That would require at the least (developer's claim) 4,658 MW but more likely (EIA data) 11,942 MW of wind capacity. Even by the developer's wishful thinking that would require industrializing 364 square miles, but more likely 933 square miles -- of formerly wild or rural land.

That 20% will be only 16% in 2013, so ever more would have to be built. (No wonder the industry is lobbying so hard for renewables mandates. And no wonder people are becoming increasingly alarmed by the increasing encroachment of the giant machines.)

And the truly sad thing is that the wind is variable and often not there at all, and the output of a wind turbine falls off in cubic relation as the wind speed drops below the ideal 25-30 mph. Only one-third of the time would the turbines produce at their annual average rate or better. Most of the time, Wisconsin will still need those coal and nuclear plants as much as ever.

Large-scale wind is clearly not an environmentally sound option.

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Sunday, July 24, 2005

If only the wind blew as much

An ironic leader appeared in the Tillsonburg (Ont.) News on July 18:

"Progress on Erie Shores Wind Farm is moving ahead at a speed faster than the wind with the hot, still weather that has been blanketing southern Ontario lately."

That neatly sums up the whole industry.

And the day before (July 17), the Boston Globe reported that noise and distraction from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers' 100-KW training turbine in Dorchester (Mass.) have not proved to be a problem. Why? Because the blades have barely moved since the machine was connected.

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"Going [Nowhere] With The Wind"

To the editor, Tom Paine:

In "Going With The Wind" (July 21), George Sterzinger [executive director of the Renewable Energy Policy Project] writes, "Every kWh of wind avoids on average 1.3 pounds of CO2 emissions from natural gas generation and is therefore at least a step towards a prudent climate stabilization policy."

There are a number of unmentioned considerations in this example that mitigate wind power as "prudent."

According to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, natural gas is the source of only about 21% of our CO2 emissions and only about 25% of that fraction is from generating electricity. Replacing that 5% of emissions would indeed be slightly significant. According to the Energy Information Agency the electricity used from natural gas in 2002 was 691 TWh. The electricity from wind power was about 5 TWh, with an installed capacity of about 4,480 MW in 2002. The amount of wind power, therefore, to theoretically displace the 5% of CO2 emissions from natural gas burned for electricity would be almost 620,000 MW, requiring more than 48,000 square miles of newly industrialized landscape.

Even then, however, perhaps a third of the time, as in Searsburg, Vermont, the wind turbines would not be producing any electricity at all; in any case, because of the cubic relationship between wind speed and production, two-thirds of the time they would be producing at far less than their average rate -- so other sources, i.e., just as many fossil and nuclear plants, would still have to be operating as before. And because they would have to be run less efficiently to respond to the variability of the wind, their emissions might even increase.

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Friday, July 22, 2005

"Wind power needs support"

Frank Steinberg of PowerWorks writes in yesterday's Tracy (Calif.) Press:
Thank you for writing a positive editorial about the wind turbines in the Altamont Pass. It is nice to know that not all newspaper editorial staffs are politically correct and like to bash capitalism. ...

... We are just trying to do our best by generating environmentally friendly wind power and make a living in an industry that we can be proud of. We have no other agenda.

Since I have worked in the wind-power industry for the past 20 years, I know that most of the wind-power companies in the Altamont Pass have worked very closely with biologists and environmentalists over the past 20 years to mitigate bird fatalities.

What is never said is that the many things that these so-called experts have suggested to reduce bird fatalities have NOT worked.

These mitigation programs have cost these companies millions of dollars, and we have gotten little to show for it.

Why would we now believe that larger turbines would be the solution to reducing bird deaths? To replace 180 of our smaller turbines with 12 large turbines would cost our company $28 million. That is a very large capital investment for a small company like ours.

This burden cannot be put solely on our shoulders. They should get a government-funded study to implement their measures to reduce bird deaths.

The California Senate just passed an energy bill that calls for 20 percent of California’s energy to be produced by renewable energy. Where is the support of our lawmakers? Congressman Pombo is doing an excellent job in revising the Endangered Species Act, but even he is under attack from all sorts of environmentalist groups.

Yesterday, I contacted Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews’ office and asked if she would be interested in sponsoring a bill that would exempt companies from state sales tax for installing renewable energy equipment (Idaho currently has such a law).

Lawmakers need to put there money were their mouths are. If the lawmakers can approve $61 billion for education, they can approve a few million for renewable energy. Without tax incentives and support for the wind-power industry by lawmakers I don’t believe we can achieve 20 percent renewables by 2010.
Interesting that this defender of capitalism is blatantly asking for a government handout. Also that he is clearly questions the claim that larger modern turbines are more bird safe, that the only way for his company to succeed is to "revise" the Endangered Species Act. He's right that lawmakers should think more thoroughly about the implications of their mandates, but geez, what a self-centered little whiner! Maybe wind power isn't the great renewable source some people -- especially those in the business -- think it is. It's certainly amusing to hear that this self-described "environmentally friendly" energy source can't make money if it's forced to actually be environmentally friendly.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Wind farm louder than rollercoaster?

The Sentinel Reporter of Stoke on Trent (U.K.) reported last Thursday (July 14) on the appeal by Alton Towers amusement park against noise restrictions imposed on it after a suit by Farley couple Stephen and Suzanne Roper.

The Roper's noise consultant, Mike Stigwood, testified that the noise level at the Roper's house was an average 10-15 dB higher when the park was open than when it was closed, and that it was "very unpleasant." "If it was like that day after day for the rest of my life," Stigwood said, "I wouldn't live with it. I'd move."

The park's barrister, Jonathan Caplan, questioned if Stigwood could be sure that the extra noise was from the park, suggesting that other noises, such as road traffic and wind farm machinery, completely masked those from the park.

Granted, Caplan was exaggerating those sources of noise (he even suggested that birdsong helped to hide the park's noise), but nonetheless it clearly illustrates that wind power facilities are considered to be significant sources of intrusive noise.

Note that the 10-dB increase that is described as making the Roper's home unlivable is a typical limit in rural areas. Subjectively, it represents a doubling of noise level. But in Oregon, wind developers successfully changed the law because they could not meet that already lenient standard.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Umbra Fisk at Grist triumphantly parrots industry sales material

After Umbra Fisk at Grist Magazine had written in January about the wonders of industrial wind power, a reader wrote to ask about actual evidence of its positive impact. Yesterday, she replied "triumphantly."

With utter disregard for her claim of triumph, the reader has replied in the comments section:
The metaphor about unreliable babysitters is not quite accurate. Wind is indeed a "flaky" power source, in that only the wind determines when it contributes power. But as a "nondispatchable" source, it does not wait to be asked. This babysitter occasionally shows up at your door whether you need her or not. [And you still can't go out, because there's no way to know when she'll just leave again.] There are reports from western Denmark that 84% of the wind-generated power was in fact not able to be used and had to be dumped.

The metaphor also makes a wrong turn about reliability with age. The wind turbine cannot become more reliable, because it still generates power only when the wind blows. (And below the ideal speed of 25-30 mph the amount of power generated falls off exponentially -- so that about two-thirds of the time wind turbines produce much less than their already low average of around 25% capacity.) Like an abused mate, it is the grid operators who must go to great lengths to better predict the whims of the wind so they have some idea when and how much the turbines will be adding power.

It is also problematic that Umbra turns to the industry lobby group AWEA for her answers about wind's real contribution. For example, she says that the U.S.'s 6,740 MW of installed wind power capacity "is expected" to generate almost 18 billion kilowatt-hours in 2005. The basis for that estimate is only the theoretical 30% capacity factor that the AWEA insists on despite the actual record being significantly lower.

According to the Energy Information Agency, in 2002, wind and solar together generated only 0.17% of the electricity used in the U.S., less than 5 TW-h. Almost all of that is wind, so from the average installed capacity between the end of 2001 and the end of 2002 (according to the AWEA) of 4,480 MW that represents an output of only 12.7% of capacity.

The people of Lamar, Colorado, insist that the winds are not puny. Nobody has suggested otherwise. Nor are the turbines. It is the usable power produced by them that is puny. The apt metaphor is Aesop's trembling mountain that gives birth to a mouse. At the AWEA's imagined 30% capacity factor, the 12,000-acre 162-MW Lamar facility would produce the equivalent of 3% of Colorado's electricity use. Realistically, however, it may provide less than half of that. And it would produce at that low average rate or better only a third of the time, times that would only rarely correspond to actual need.
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Sunday, July 17, 2005

The land of the free and equal

A question to the "Etiquette at Work" column, published in today's Boston Globe, asks:
My husband just came home from a business dinner attended by approximately 20 people. The occasion involved people from two companies dining with a speaker who'll be addressing both companies tomorrow. Here's the issue: Does a suit jacket always stay on, or can it come off during dinner? My husband had never seen this done before, but the principal owners in his company took off their jackets during the meal and others followed suit. Is this a new custom?
And an article in the New York Times about Costco as the anti-Walmart (by paying a decent wage and providing decent health insurance) quoted Deutsche Bank analyst Bill Dreher: "It's better to be an employee or a customer than a shareholder."

These people seem to have forgotten something basic here: We, the people. We are not here to serve business or government -- they exist to serve us. What kind of society is being created when an individual is nervous about leaving his jacket on through dinner when his boss takes off his? What kind of society is possible when profits to shareholders are more valued than providing a respectable livelihood for one's employees, sharing with them some of the fruit of their own labors?

The great are great only because we are on our knees. -- Max Stirner

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Saturday, July 16, 2005

Coal lobby supports wind power

It is often assumed that industrial wind power is a threat to the coal and nuclear industries and that any criticism of giant wind turbines effectively supports coal and nuclear power. Criticism is often dismissed with accusations that they are paid for by coal and nuclear lobbies. But how could an industry that even its most ardent advocates project could produce only 5% of the U.S.'s electricity be a threat to the industries that will still provide as much as ever?

In fact, the nuclear lobby is riding high on the obsessive focus on carbon emissions, presenting itself as carbon free while ignoring its many other problems that remain. And the coal lobby couldn't be happier that so many people believe wind energy will clean up the air by replacing coal-generated energy. They know that wind power won't replace anything, but as long as people keep thinking it will, the focus is not on actually cleaning up the power sources we use, such as coal.

A key lobbying firm for coal plants fighting emission controls has been Bracewell & Giuliani. Their man Frank Maisano ("Director of Strategic Communications") has recently been active in Highland County, Va., on behalf of a proposed project of up to 22 2-MW turbines (each of them 400 feet tall) on the Allegheny Ridge on the border with West Virginia. He issued a press release Thursday praising its approval by the county board of supervisors.

It seems it is the wind industry and its supporters, not those who oppose industrializing wild and rural places, who are in bed with coal.

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Friday, July 15, 2005

A Word In Your Ear

A Word In Your Ear: How & Why To Read James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, by Eric Rosenbloom, is now available in print from BookSurge Publishing for $12.99.

Here is the back cover copy:
Whether you are new to the Wake or a long familiar friend, this humane essay will guide, refresh, and delight. It has been described as "smart and readable," "an excellent Wake Primer," "everything such an introduction should be," "the best intro to the Wake I've seen," "a stunning performance and of exemplary clarity," "intelligent, courteous and serene." [See www.kirbymountain.com/WIE/reviews.html.]

Part I introduces the unique language techniques that Joyce used to create Finnegans Wake and describes some of the major themes and characters. The influence and presence of Giordano Bruno, Giambattista Vico, and Egyptian mythology are described, and the importance of Dublin and Irish geography and history is emphasized with a concise overview of each.

Part II examines several short excerpts in depth and provides general descriptions and some insights to several others. The selection gives the reader a broad sampling of essential passages from throughout the book and different examples of how to read and interpret them.

Included as appendices are a whimsically short version of Finnegans Wake, thoughts about the narrator, structural insights from the order in which Joyce wrote the book, and an essay on the presence of Irish saint and goddess Brighid as elucidated by the late Clarence Sterling.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

"Cut global warming by becoming vegetarian"

From a referral by Jorn Borger's Robot Wisdom (the original "weblog"), here is a summary of an article in this month's Physics World:
Global warming could be controlled if we all became vegetarians and stopped eating meat. That's the view of British physicist Alan Calvert, who thinks that giving up pork chops, lamb cutlets and chicken burgers would do more for the environment than burning less oil and gas.

Writing in this month's Physics World, Calvert calculates that the animals we eat emit 21% of all the carbon dioxide that can be attributed to human activity. We could therefore slash man-made emissions of carbon dioxide simply by abolishing all livestock.

Moreover, there would be no adverse effects to health and it would be an experiment that we could abandon at any stage. "Worldwide reduction of meat production in the pursuit of the targets set in the Kyoto treaty seems to carry fewer political unknowns than cutting our consumption of fossil fuels," he says.
This summary leaves a lot of questions, of course, but without a subscription they will have to go unanswered for now. For example, I think carbon is meant, not carbon dioxide, because the significant greenhouse gas that "livestock" emit is methane, CH4, which in fact is much more effective in contributing to the greenhouse effect than CO2 is.

The summary also mentions only the animals themselves. But there is also a tremendous amount of carbon emissions from the energy used to grow and harvest food for them. It requires 40 times more energy to produce a calorie of beef than a calorie of soy. Only 10% of the plant protein they eat is in the animals' flesh when it is eaten by humans, so it is a rather wasteful expenditure of energy.

Another issue is the destruction of rain forest (an area about the size of Connecticut every year) to create grazing land for beef. Trees, of course, are a crucial carbon sink. After deforesting much of the northern hemisphere, we should be restoring forests, not ravaging the southern hemisphere as well.

The environmental impact doesn't stop at carbon emissions. It takes 200 times more water to produce a pound of beef than a pound of wheat. Feedlots and slaughterhouses are responsible for more water pollution than all other industrial and household sources combined. Eighty percent of the corn and 95% of the oats grown in the U.S. go to feeding animals that will be slaughtered for food. Eighty-seven percent of U.S. agricultural land is devoted to the animal-flesh industry.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Experience a lie

The western Massachusetts "Center for Ecological Technology" is organizing tours of the Searsburg wind facility (11 small 550-KW turbines, each about three-fifths the size of today's 1.5-MW turbines). The tour appears to be ultimately sponsored by the aggressively pro-industry Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.

THe reason for comment is the advertisement to "Experience a wind farm that produces 14 million kilowatt-hours [14,000 MW-h] of renewable energy annually."

There was one 12-month period when Searsburg produced that much energy, but it was from July 1998 to June 1999 (14,256 MW-h). There has never been a January-December year that saw that much.

According to owner Green Mountain Power's annual reports the output was 13,605 in 1999, 12,246 in 2000, 12,135 in 2001, 11,458 in 2002, 10,828 in 2003, and 11,023 in 2004.

The average annual output of the last three years was 11,103 MW-h, representing less than 21% of capacity. The tour hype overstates the amount by more than a quarter.

In fact, 14,000 MW-h works out to what the industry always claims to be the output of a wind facility: one-third of capacity. It's pure shamelessness that they continue to sell Searsburg's theoretical output even after seven years of operation have shown it to be so much less. ANd Searsburg's low output is not unusual. Self-reports (meaning the true figures are undoubtedly lower) to the U.S. Energy Information Agency show an average output of less than 27% capacity.

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Sunday, July 03, 2005

Wind farm production is trade secret

Over at the Cape Cod Times, Clean Power Now's Charles Kleekamp says that one of the owners of Denmark's Nysted offshore wind power facility, Energi E2, told him that the plant had a 12-month capacity factor of 46.5%, though he doesn't say which 12 months (one assumes they're consecutive!). That is an astonishing figure (Denmark's average is below 20% of capacity), so reader Neil Good of Mashpee wrote Energi E2 to confirm the data. Erik Kjaer Soerensen, the Project Development General Manager for E2 Wind Energy, replied,

"I am afraid the requested information is of a commercial nature and therefore confidential."

Not exactly an inspiring response. Controlling information, of course, is another way of lying.

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Saturday, July 02, 2005

Park Slope Food Co-op falls for wind spiel

Down in Brooklyn, a correspondent tells me that the Park Slope Food Co-op has decided to pay an additional charge on their electricity bill so they can say they are wind powered. Here is an article in response.

((((( )))))

Community Energy is a for-profit company. As pointed out in a recent Bar Association seminar, two-thirds of the value of a wind power facility is covered by federal tax breaks and subsidies (primarily a production tax credit and accelerated depreciation). Another 10% may be covered by state subsidies (such as property tax exemptions). Further, where renewable portfolio standards exist, they have a captive market for their unpredictable and variable output. Where a market for renewable obligation certificates, or green credits, exists, they can sell the output twice. The credits are much more lucrative than selling the actual power.

In addition to these highly profitable schemes, the companies then ask consumers to pay more for the conscientious choice of using wind power. In fact, it's the same electricity as before, the same electricity their less conscientious neighbor is getting. It is just one more subsidy for an industry already riding high on handouts.

Well, more profit is more incentive to build more wind turbines, which are clean and green, right? And though they are large, it's obviously worth it, isn't it?

Actually, the opposite is more obvious. Wind turbines don't produce significant electricity unless the wind is blowing steadily above 25 mph or so. The average output in the U.S. is less than 27% of their nominal capacity. And because production falls off sharply as the wind slows, two-thirds of the time their production is well below their average. The fact that a facility's output can surge to full capacity or drop to zero at the whim of the wind makes it practically useless to the grid, which must dispatch generation by the second to match fluctuating demand. That means that if they are forced to accommodate wind power, the grid needs equal back-up sources that can respond quickly to the fluctuating wind-generated input. These would typically be fossil-fuel powered, and the frequent ramping up and down is very inefficient, thus increasing emissions and costs.

The bottom line is that large-scale wind power does not move us away from fossil fuels. It does not reduce acid rain, improve air quality, or slow global warming. Denmark, which claims 20% of their electricity is generated by the wind, still reports rising greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, almost all of their wind energy has to be exported because it is generated when it is not needed.

And the negative impact of large-scale wind power is large. The effect of the moving blades and the noises and vibrations they create is a serious problem for people and wildlife. The industry says that the blades move slowly. In rpm terms that is true, but they are so long (spanning more than the wings of a jumbo jet, as GE boasts, cutting through over an acre of air) that they are moving at around 170 mph at the tips. Studies of bird and bat casualties at existing sites are rare and unreliable because the companies control access as well as the release of the data.

The turbines can not be close to each other (because they slow the wind up to 3 miles away), so the typical wind power facility requires around 50 acres of clear space for every megawatt of installed capacity. With actual generation only a fourth of capacity, that's 200 acres for every megawatt of average output. Each turbine requires a large cement and steel foundation. The roads to access the site must be wide and straight and strong. Each facility needs at least one transmission substation and, of course, new high voltage lines to the grid. The effect of such industrial installations on forested mountain ridges, where each turbine represents the loss of around 8 acres of interior forest habitat, is obviously very destructive.

On the Scottish island of Lewis, some 340 giant turbines will disturb ancient peat beds, releasing more carbon than the developers claim they will save over 25 years, and completely surround protected bird sanctuaries. But considering the money to be made in green credits, the Council for the Western Isles easily overcame such arguments as well as overwhelming local opposition and approved the projects.

The destruction of wild places, the massive industrialization of rural landscapes, and the exploitation of economically desperate communities -- for no real benefit to anybody except the developers, manufacturers, and a few recipients of trickle-down pay-offs -- is what support of wind power is really helping to achieve.

The modern wind industry in the U.S. was created by Enron, whose innovative schemes for milking profits out of a deregulated electricity system are legendary (and often criminal). Today's brokers, such as Community Energy (or NewWind Energy, as they also present themselves), are Enron's heirs in every way.

See www.aweo.org for more information.

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