July 22, 2008

Pickens plans to pull one over u

Thomas Pickens has a plan to replace the electricity we currently generate from natural gas with wind-generated electricity, to free it up for fueling transport (via his Clean Energy Fuels Corporation). The fawning coverage of the "Pickensplan" and his own proposed giant wind energy facility in northern Texas (not on his own land, however -- "They're ugly", he says) has been pathetic, especially from environmentalists (read, Sierra Club) who should be a little more skeptical about someone who self-importantly boasts, "I know more about energy than anybody."

The following claim is made on the Pickensplan web site: "At 4,000 megawatts — the equivalent combined output of four large coal-fire plants — the production of the completed Pampa facility will double the wind energy output of the United States."

That's comparing Pampa's rated capacity (which would not be on line until some years in the future) to the actual output (about 25% of capacity) of existing wind plants at the end of 2007.

An accurate statement would begin: "Despite a rating of 4,000 megawatts, covering 400,000 acres, and costing taxpayers $6 billion -- not counting hundreds of miles of new high-voltage transmission lines and heavy-duty roads -- the completed Pampa facility will have an average rate of output of only 1,000 megawatts. And it will generate at or above that average rate only one-third of the time, answering to the wayward wind, not to the actual needs of the grid."

But the real flaw in the Pickensplan is the idea that wind would replace natural gas in the production of electricity. In fact, the addition of substantial wind energy plant would require the addition of a similar amount of natural gas plants, because those are the only ones that are flexible enough to start quickly and operate over a wide range of loads to balance the fluctuating and largely unpredictable infeed from wind turbines.

Of course, that would work out even better for Pickens' natural gas company.

[What would 20% of our electricity (the proportion currently generated from natural gas) from wind mean? Click here for earlier post about the Department of Energy/American Wind Energy Association paper saying it's "feasible".]

wind power, wind energy