Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Get serious about wind

In today's Burlington (Vt.) Free Press, in an article about the recommendation from the hearing officer that the Public Service Board deny Mathew Rubin and Dave Rapaport a "certificate of public good" for their proposal of 4 wind turbines in East Haven  . . .
At the Conservation Law Foundation in Montpelier, Vermont Director Chris Kilian was highly critical of Janson's recommendation, saying it was discouraging "since we have to build thousands of windmills if we are serious about global warming and decommissioning nuclear plants."
Yes, indeed: thousands. The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant has a capacity of 510 MW and annual output around 85% of that (due to down times). The wind turbines proposed in East Haven have a rating of 1.5 MW each but are likely to average only 25% of that (due to variable winds). So it would take 1,156 of them to equal the output of Vermont Yankee.

When Vermont Yankee is not shut down for refueling or any of its many problems, i.e, 85% of the time, its output is a steady 100% of capacity. In contrast, because of the cubic relation of power output to wind speed, wind turbines would be producing at much less than their average rate about two-thirds of the time. That means that even more are needed. Government agency analyses from New York, Ireland, Britain, and Germany have all determined that wind power's effective capacity, or its ability to replace other sources is only about a third of its average capacity.

So it would take 3,468 1.5-MW wind turbines to provide the energy currently generated by Vermont Yankee. That's not just "a few carefully selected ridge lines" but would require the industrialization of well over a hundred. It would require stringing turbines along the entire spine of the Green Mountains like a barbed wire fence separating east from west.

Many people already consider the state to be under siege by the less than 200 MW currently proposed at 6 sites.

With so much overbuilding and redundancy, most of it would have to be shut down when the wind is strong or it would overload the system -- thus further diminishing its effective capacity.

This is not to voice support for Vermont Yankee, whose decommissioning I support. I have to clarify that, because it is an assumption wind promoters generally cling to rather than face the inadequacy, much less the madness, of their alternative. Ditto for coal and any other obviously greater evil they would raise to avoid scrutiny of their own depredations.

Three and half thousand giant wind turbines would still require back-up stations both to balance their variable power and to generate energy when the wind is weak. Each turbine, 330-430 feet high, sweeping a vertical air space of 1-1.5 acres, requires at least 50 acres of clear land around it. (That means it would require more than 270 square miles of wind plant to equal the output of Vermont Yankee.) Wide strong roads are required for access. New high-capacity transmission lines and substations would be built. Most of the turbines must be lit by flashing strobes day and night. The blades turn, ensuring their dominance of the landscape. Noise generated by the blades, gears, motors, and generators are intrusive as well, its low-frequency aspect a threat to health and well-being. Wildlife habitat is fragmented and forest diminished. Birds and bats are particularly threatened.

And we would still need the same amount of generating power from other plants (which would be run less efficiently, i.e., with more emissions) to keep the system running when the wind isn't perfect. With this pathetic outlook, and considering as well the fact that electricity is only a fraction of our energy use, wind looks about as far from a "serious" solution to global warming or decommissioning nuclear plants as one could get.

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