December 9, 2006

How the scam works

Driven by a concern for reducing carbon emissions, many governments around the world have signed on to the Kyoto Accord or otherwise established similar goals (such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the northeastern United States).

Since the goal is overall reduction, one mechanism for achieving it is a "cap & trade" market, which has been successful is reducing other pollutants. Desired limits are established, and credits are earned by facilities that reduce their emissions proportionally to below that limit. Those credits may then be sold to entities that are unable (or don't want) to achieve the limit. Their extra emissions are allowed as they are equal to extra reductions by others.

Wind energy is promoted as a means of reducing emissions, but in fact wind energy facilities are being built to generate credits to allow continuing emissions, to avoid actual reductions.

The problem is that wind power generators are assigned credits even though no emissions are reduced. As an emissions-free energy source, their value would be in reducing emissions from other sources in the grid they are part of. Then those other facilities would earn credits for fewer emissions.

The wind turbines don't reduce emissions themselves, because they did not emit carbon dioxide or anything else in the first place. So if they are newly built, then it should be the entities that are able to reduce their emissions because of the use of wind energy that earn the credits.

If wind turbines were in fact responsible for such reductions, then they do deserve credit in some form, and that is an issue only for facilities not owned by the utilities hoping to benefit.

Wind energy advocates assert that since every kilowatt-hour of wind-generated electricity means one kilowatt-hour not generated by other sources (which include non-CO₂ hydro and nuclear), you might as well skip the middleman and give the wind companies the credits directly and provide a helpful incentive for investment.

Thus, if a grid's generation balance is 50% coal and 14% natural gas, for every kilowatt-hour generated the wind company would get credit equivalent to the carbon emissions of half a kilowatt-hour from coal and a seventh of a kilowatt-hour from natural gas.

It would earn those credits even if the burning of coal or natural gas is not in fact reduced. And it can sell its credits to the coal and natural gas plants so that they don't have to reduce their emissions.

The wind company will say, however, that by definition -- theirs -- the emissions from coal and natural gas plants are reduced by wind energy on the grid. Yet this has never been shown to in fact be the case.

That is not surprising. Since the grid must continuously maintain the balance between energy supply and demand, highly fluctuating and intermittent wind energy (its average production is one-fourth to one-third of its rated capacity, and it generates at or above that average rate only a third of the time) adds to the challenges of that task.

Because the wind does not always blow sufficiently -- let alone on demand -- no other sources can be removed. Even when the wind is blowing well it may drop at any time, so other sources have to be kept burning to be ready to kick into generation mode. The result is little, if any, reduction of fuel use by or emissions from other sources.

Wind energy promoters also ignore the fact that -- even if wind power worked as they believe it does -- only quick-responding peak suppliers, such as no-emission hydro and low-emission natural gas plants, would be affected. Base load supplied by coal would not be affected at all.

In short, if the goal is to reduce carbon emissions, the method should be to reward results, not promises. If wind works, prove it. As it is, building wind "farms" is like printing money.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism