January 9, 2005

Wind power works -- until it does

To the Editor of THE [Berkshire, Mass.] EAGLE:

Charles Komanoff's neat theory ("Wind power works," Jan. 7) that every kilowatt of wind energy generated means one less kilowatt of fossil fuel consumed is attractive. It would be even more so if he could show some evidence to support such an obviously simplistic model.

He dismisses Eleanor Tillinghast's charge that the unpredictable variability of wind power requires spinning reserve -- that is, a plant burning fuel but not generating electricity -- to be ready to balance it on the grid. He asserts that "windmills don't require extra spinning reserve so long as they're not a huge share of the regional grid."

With that established, Komanoff expects wind power to lead us to "an oil- and coal-free future." But if it becomes a "huge share" of the grid, he has admitted it will require spinning reserve. How exactly does he expect it to liberate us from fossil fuels without becoming a significant presence on the grid?

It may be that economists are privy to more sophisticated logic than I am able to perceive, but to this layman science editor it looks like a self-defeating argument: Wind power "works" only when its contribution is insignificant.

For this, self-described "environmental activists" are eager to sacrifice our land- and seascapes?