November 13, 2006

Questions about wind energy

National Audubon Society President John Flicker supports carefully sited wind power facilities, because

When you look at a wind turbine, you can find the bird carcasses and count them. With a coal-fired power plant, you can't count the carcasses, but it's going to kill a lot more birds. (Wind Energy Weekly, Nov. 10, 2006)
The question is not which is less evil -- that is a straw man argument. The question is whether one obviates the other. That is, if your concern is the negative effect of coal burning on the lives of birds, does the erection of wind turbines reduce that negative effect enough to justify the negative effects of their own giant blades and roads and clearcutting?

And is the negative effect on birds from wind energy really less? Would 2,000 2-megawatt wind turbines covering 150 square miles kill fewer birds than one equivalent-output 1,000-megawatt coal plant, particularly if that plant has scrubbers to clean up its emissions? I don't defend the use of coal here, because mining and waste are also serious problems, but presumably it is primarily emissions, and their effect on climate and the environment, that concern the Audubon Society.

Even recognizing the problems of mining and waste, the question remains whether wind energy has a significant effect on the use of coal or any other fuel. In other words, does it reduce the problem? Or does it only add its own problems without reducing any other?

All claims that wind industry reduces emissions by reducing fossil fuel use are based on a false assumption that every time the wind is up, other plants can shut down. But most can't. They have to be ready for the wind's dying at any moment, so they simply turn down their electricity production but keep burning fuel.

The plants that can instantaneously switch on and off will more likely be used more not less. Normally, they are used only during a few peak periods in each day, while slower-starting plants vary with the broad curve of each day's use and large inflexible coal and nuclear plants maintain the base supply that is always needed. So when the wind rises and falls during non-peak times, only the quick-responding generators can balance it, so they must replace some of the intermediate supply. Not only must the peak generators be used all day and night instead of just an hour or two, the intermediate generators must operate more often at levels that are not efficient, with the result of increasing their emissions.

In short, large coal and nuclear plants are unaffected, and the rest of the grid has to work harder -- which means burning more fuel less efficiently -- to balance the fluctuations of wind energy production that have so little correspondence with customer demand.

That is why actual reduction of other fuels or emissions because of giant wind turbines on the grid has not been shown.

That is why industrial wind does not represent a "lesser" evil but only an additional evil. It's business as usual for big energy.

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, wind turbines, environment, environmentalism, Vermont, animal rights