July 27, 2006

Wind power won't replace Vermont Yankee

The July 24 Times Argus (Montpelier & Barre, Vt.) reported on a campaign event in Putney for Bernie Sanders (running for U.S. Senate) and Peter Welch (running for U.S. House). Besides expressing his impatience with those calling for Bush et al.'s impeachment (not to mention conviction and ouster) (and which the Vermont Democrats had a chance to instigate but then backed off), Sanders spoke to the understandably strongly anti-nuclear crowd about the nearby plant:
Sanders said he had been opposed to the increased power production at the Vernon plant, and he was opposed to extending its federal operating license beyond 2012, when it is due to expire.

That statement drew the largest applause of the evening.

But Sanders said that if Vermont Yankee was shut down, Vermont had to find alternative sources of electricity -- and soon. Sanders said he was a strong supporter of wind energy ...
There's the rub. Vermont Yankee provides a third of the electricity used in Vermont. That's an average load of about 215 megawatts (forget about how much it is likely to have increased by 2012). By the productivity record of the Searsburg wind power facility (average output of 21% capacity), it would require 1,024 megawatts of wind power to produce that average load. That's over 500 turbines of the size currently proposed in Sheffield and Sutton (26 400-feet-high 2-megawatt machines over 3 ridges).

But unlike the steady supply from Vermont Yankee, the energy from wind would be intermittent and variable and would rarely coincide with actual demand. For planning purposes, most grid managers (as in a recent New York study) assume an effective capacity for wind of one-third its average output. That is, Vermont would actually need to plan to erect 3,072 megawatts of wind -- more than 1,500 Sheffield-size turbines -- to replace the energy we use from Vermont Yankee.

But that still wouldn't be enough. The assumption of effective capacity only applies when the penetration of wind is well within the excess capacity of the system, when the unpredictable load from wind can be adequately balanced. Once the system has to rely on wind to actually meet demand -- as in attempting to replace a base load provider of a third of Vermont's electricity needs -- wind power's effective capacity starts heading towards zero. This has been found independently by Irish and German government studies.

In other words, when wind capacity exceeds the capacity of other sources on the system to cover for it, its true value is revealed. If you could cover the hills with giant strobe-lit wind turbines, along with their roads, transformers, and high-voltage power lines, you would still be using the same sources as before to get your electricity. Only the lazy, insane, and greedy could support such a destructive boondoggle.

Closing down Vermont Yankee would benefit all of us, but industrial wind isn't what's going to make that possible.

wind power, wind energy, Vermont, environment, environmentalism