Showing posts sorted by relevance for query wind energy. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query wind energy. Sort by date Show all posts

October 11, 2008

Wind energy myths on the grid

Michael Goggin has written a paper for the trade group American Wind Industry Association titled "20% Wind Energy by 2030: Wind, Backup Power, and Emissions". It is an attempt to claim -- in the face of conflicting evidence and reason -- that wind energy, even at substantial "penetration", does not require extra "backup" capacity and substantially reduces carbon emissions from other fuels.
The "no reduction in emissions" myth

Wind opponents sometimes argue that wind energy doesn't actually reduce the fuel use or harmful emissions of other power plants. On its face, this claim does not make sense: utility system operators must precisely balance the total supply of electricity with the total demand for electricity at all times, so the electricity produced by a wind plant must be matched by an equivalent decrease in electricity production at another plant.
The unstated part of that equation is that a decrease in electricity production does not necessarily mean an equivalent decrease in fuel use or emissions. In other words, a thermal plant simply diverts its steam past the turbines, but it doesn't stop creating steam. That is because it may take several hours to reheat. Plants that can switch on faster must use more fuel to do so (like stop-and-go city driving versus steady highway driving). Plants that can modulate their electricity production do so by operating at a lower efficiency, i.e., with more emissions.
• In 2007, wind energy in the U.S. reduced CO2 emissions by over 28 million tons, equivalent to taking almost 5 million cars off the road. On average, each Megawatt- hour (MWh) of wind energy -- the amount produced by two typical modern wind turbines in an average hour -- reduces CO2 emissions by 1,200 pounds.
There is no citation for this claim, because it based only on the above assumption that reduction of electricity production is the same as reduction of fuel use is the same as reduction of emissions. It is not based on actual data.
• The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) 20% Wind Energy by 2030 Technical Report calculated that obtaining 20% of our electricity from wind energy by 2030 would [emphasis added] cut cumulative CO2 emissions by over 7.6 billion tons.

• The DOE report found CO2 emissions would [emphasis added] be reduced by over 825 million tons in the year 2030 alone, an amount equal to 25% of all electric sector carbon dioxide emissions in that year -- the equivalent of taking 140 million cars off the road.

• The DOE study also found that wind energy would [emphasis added] cut the amount of natural gas used for electricity generation by 50% in 2030.

• A study by the grid operator in Texas found similar results, concluding that adding 3,000 megawatts (MW) of wind energy to the state's grid would [emphasis added] reduce CO2 emissions by about 5.5 million tons per year, sulfur dioxide emissions by about 4,000 tons per year, and nitrogen oxide emissions by about 2,000 tons per year.

• In regions where a large share of electricity comes from coal power, the emissions savings of wind energy can be [emphasis added] even larger. A DOE analysis found that Indiana could [emphasis added] reduce CO2 emissions by 3.1 million tons per year by adding 1,000 MW of wind power.

• The 30 MW Kaheawa wind plant in Hawaii directly offsets power from oil-burning power plants, reducing oil imports by almost 10 million gallons per year.
The company web site cited for this statement actually says: "Kaheawa Wind will [emphasis added] eliminate the use of over 236,000 barrels of oil or 69,000 tons of coal annually." (236,000 barrels = 9,912,000 gallons.) So again, offsetting the electricity production (which is rarely all oil or all coal based) is not the same as reducing fuel use or emissions, and thus it is not actual data cited but conjecture based on incorrect assumptions. In short, these are made-up numbers that have a shaky relationship with reality.
The "backup power" myth

Sometimes wind opponents claim that because wind energy output varies with the wind speed, wind plants require an equivalent amount of "backup power" provided by fossil fuel plants, negating the environmental and fuel savings benefits of wind energy. Understanding why this myth is false requires some explanation of how the electric utility system operates.

Overview of Power Grid Operations

System operators always maintain significant "operating reserves," typically equal to 5-7% or more of total generation. These reserves are used to deal with the rapid and unpredictable changes in electricity demand that occur as people turn appliances on and off, as well as the very large changes in electricity supply that can occur in a fraction of a second if a large power plant suffers an unexpected outage. Instead of backing up each power plant with a second power plant in case the first plant suddenly fails, grid operators pool reserves for the whole system to allow them to respond to a variety of potential unexpected events.
That is exactly why wind energy facilities can not claim to be replacing other sources. Because wind energy production is intermittent and highly variable -- and typically a small percentage of total generation -- the facilities are like "negative demand" to the grid, balanced by the operating reserves.
System operators use two main types of generation reserves: "spinning reserves," (regulation reserves plus contingency spinning reserves) which can be activated quickly to respond to abrupt changes in electricity supply and demand, and "non-spinning reserves," (including supplemental reserves) which are used to respond to slower changes. Spinning reserves are typically operating power plants that are held below their maximum output level so that they can rapidly increase or decrease their output as needed. Hydroelectric plants are typically the first choice of system operators for spinning reserves, because their output can be changed rapidly without any fuel use. When hydroelectric plants are not available, natural gas plants can also be used to provide spinning reserves because they can quickly increase and decrease their generation with only a slight loss of efficiency. Studies show that using natural gas plants or even coal plants as spinning reserves increases emissions and fuel use by only 0.5% to 1.5% above what it would be if the plants were generating power normally.

Non-spinning reserves are inactive power plants that can start up within a short period of time (typically 10-30 minutes) if needed. Hydroelectric plants are frequently the top choice for this type of reserve as well because of their speedy response capabilities, followed by natural gas plants. The vast majority of the time non-spinning reserves that are made available are not actually used, as they only operate if there is a large and unexpected change in electricity supply or demand. As a result, the emissions and fuel use of non-spinning reserves are very low, given that they only rarely run, the fact that hydroelectric plants (which have zero emissions and fuel use) often serve as non-spinning reserves, and the very modest efficiency penalty that applies when reserve natural gas plants actually operate.
There are two important things to note here. First, no-carbon hydro and low-carbon gas are the sources most likely to be used to balance the fluctuating feed from wind turbines. Yet, the industry always compares the equivalent carbon from coal, oil, or automobiles, when any carbon savings would actually be minimal. Second, since wind must be balanced as "negative demand", those other plants would have to be used more. In the case of gas, that means more carbon emissions, not less.
Accommodating Wind Energy

Fortunately, the same tools that utility system operators use every day to deal with variations in electricity supply and demand can readily be used to accommodate the variability of wind energy. In contrast to the rapid power fluctuations that occur when a large power plant suddenly experiences an outage or when millions of people turn on their air conditioners on a hot day, changes in the total energy output from wind turbines spread over a reasonably large area tend to occur very slowly.

While occasionally the wind may suddenly slow down at one location and cause the output from a single turbine to decrease, regions with high penetrations of wind energy tend to have hundreds or even thousands of turbines spread over hundreds of miles. As a result, it typically takes many minutes or even hours for the total wind energy output of a region to change significantly. This makes it relatively easy for utility system operators to accommodate these changes without relying on reserves. This task can be made even easier with the use of wind energy forecasting, which allows system operators to predict changes in wind output hours or even days in advance with a high degree of accuracy.

Moreover, changes in aggregate wind generation often cancel out opposite changes in electricity demand, so the increase in total variability caused by adding wind to the system is often very low. As a result, it is usually possible to add a significant amount of wind energy without causing a significant increase in the use of reserves, and even when large amounts of wind are added, the increase in the use of reserves is typically very small.

The conclusion that large amounts of wind energy can be added to the grid with only minimal increases in the use of reserves is supported by the experience of grid operators in European countries with large amounts of wind energy, as well as the results of a number of wind integration studies in the U.S.
Actually, the experience in Europe is the opposite of this claim. As wind "penetration" increases, the ability of existing reserves to balance it quickly diminishes and more excess capacity has to be added. See for a summary. The fact is that the wind doesn't always blow, even over a whole continent at the same time. Therefore, the grid has to be built as if the wind isn't there, because so often it won't be. And with the wind turbines added in, the grid needs even more capacity -- and more high-voltage interconnection lines -- to balance that energy.

The bottom line is that very little can be achieved with large-scale wind power on the grid. It simply adds expense and impacts without replacing other expenses or impacts to any degree that can justify it.

tags: wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism

August 28, 2011

Which Side Are You On?

Eric Rosenbloom, president of National Wind Watch, replies (larger roman type) to Robert Freehling, research director of Local Power, Oakland, California (smaller italic type) ...

Subject: RE: [Fwd: rfk jr + on wind energy]
Date: Mon, 22 Aug 2011 19:15:25 -0700
From: rfreeh

... Wind Watch, the principle source of anti-wind material in this thread, opposes all wind power and refuses to support any form of renewable power. See this quote from their FAQ webpage:

“What do you support?

National Wind Watch supports an open and honest debate about our energy use and the costs and benefits of all methods of generation, efficient use, and conservation. NWW supports continuing research and development of new energy sources. NWW supports the protection of rural communities and wild places threatened by fruitless industrial development. The mission of National Wind Watch is to provide the information needed for proper debate about industrial wind power, particularly that which isn't provided by government agencies or the industry and its supporters.”

In other words the only things that Wind Watch supports are “debate” and “research and development”. They cannot name one source of renewable energy that they support, even on their own FAQ page when they ask themselves this question. On this same FAQ page, Wind Watch acknowledges climate change and the destructive character of our current energy use.

Wind Watch's mission is to provide information about industrial wind, not to endorse any other energy source, renewable or otherwise. It is true that many opponents of industrial wind are skeptical about other renewables as well. It is also true that most support decentralized solar and geothermal. But Wind Watch's mission is to serve all opponents of industrial wind, no matter their views on other forms of energy.

They are the archetype of the NIMBY organization, yet they deny that they are NIMBY’s because they don’t like the negative implication of that label. In reality, they are planet destroyers claiming the garb of being pro-environment. They twist the facts to their case, and make statements removed from the full context. For instance, they try to minimize the contribution of wind to getting rid of coal, based upon the argument that “wind power does not and cannot contribute significantly to our electricity needs.” ( ( faq page)

The negative implication of "Nimby" derives from hypocrisy in one's opposition. Wind Watch supports such "Nimby"s in their local battles, but not their suggestion that industrial wind development is more appropriate elsewhere. Wind Watch advocates for local opposition because it is more more meaningful to fight to protect your own back yard, and most opponents — because they have been compelled to learn about what will be affecting their back yards — recognize that industrial wind development is not appropriate anywhere else as well.

In other words, most opponents are indeed fighting locally — that's called civic engagement — but without the hypocrisy implied by the "Nimby" pejorative.

Similarly, it is ridiculous to call such people "planet destroyers" who are fighting, after learning and weighing the costs and benefits of industrial wind development, to protect their part of the planet from large-scale industrial development.

What they fail to mention is that they personally want to do everything in their power to insure that wind never contributes significantly to our electricity needs.

This would be a more valid criticism if we did not already have the experience of Europe to learn from. Large-scale wind, even to the extent that Denmark boasts of, has not appeared to reduce coal use. It is the nature of wind energy that ensures that it can never contribute significantly to our electricity needs.

They also do not mention that wind is by far the most successful and fastest growing source of renewable energy. And that wind is on track to become one of the world’s major sources of energy within the next two decades. And that is why it is so important for opponents of renewable energy to take down wind above all.

This year worldwide installed wind power grew past 200 Gigawatts, with about 40 Gigawatts of new wind going in every year. By 2015 the rate of installation is forecast to increase to over 80 Gigawatts per year, with cumulative capacity reaching 500 Gigawatts. Total installed wind capacity should reach one Terawatt (trillion watts) sometime in the early to mid 2020s.

News on global wind capacity:

Success in building wind turbines is not success in replacing other sources of energy. In fact, there was virtually no new coal capacity built in the U.S. for 20 years, until wind energy started to be developed in a big way. Similarly, natural gas keeps pace with wind, because it is necessary to add for dealing with wind's variability.

For scale: one Terawatt is the capacity of all the generation in the US combined, and the total world electric generation capacity is today about 4.5 Terawatts.

One Terawatt of wind will generate more electricity than all the coal plants in the US combined. Wind infrastructure has the fastest payback for embodied energy and carbon used in its construction of any energy source currently being used; and when generating electricity it consumes no fuel and emits zero carbon or other greenhouse gases. Thus, to say that hundreds of Gigawatts or a Terawatt of wind cannot contribute significantly to our electricity needs, and cannot reduce pollution and help protect the climate, is beyond absurd.

If there is already 200 GW of wind capacity installed, surely its contribution to meeting electricity demand, reducing pollution, and protecting the climate should be detectable.

I became involved with this issue in 2003 when I sought out information about what a small wind facility bordering where I lived at the time would entail. While I was concerned about the impact of such constructions on a wild ridgeline, I had no reason to be skeptical about the benefits. But I started to notice that the promises of wind were always in the future or expressed in theoretical equivalencies. There were no actual data showing benefits that justify the industrialization of any rural or wild place. There still aren't.

As comments about wind only being commercially viable due to “subsidies from taxpayers” in the form of tax credits, this is at best a half truth. The wind tax credit is about 2 cents per kilowatt-hour and it is only paid for the first ten years of a wind plant’s operation. Since wind turbines have an economic life of 20 years, this tax credit is only about 1 cent per kilowatt-hour when averaged over the life of the plant. This credit is paid for every kilowatt-hour generated, and thus is performance and value based.

Very few wind turbines last 20 years. Ten years is in fact a more realistic span for their useful life. Many don't make it that long. Besides the production tax credit, wind developers enjoy 5-year double-declining depreciation and in many places a forced market, not only of actual energy generated but also of "green tags", or renewable energy credits, a lucrative secondary market invented by Enron.

Again, however, generation of energy by a wind turbine does not necessarily translate to comparable reduction of fossil fuel use or carbon or other emissions.

This compares with solar power, which gets a 30% tax credit upfront. An investment credit established as a percentage of the initial cost of the solar plant means that the more the solar plant costs the higher the value of the tax credit. It also means that the solar plant gets the credit irrespective of how much electricity it generates. Thus, the wind power—unlike solar— has to actually earn its tax credits.

As part of the recent economic stimulus package, wind developers also have had the option of taking a 30% tax credit up front, or a 30% cash grant, instead of the 2.2-cents/kWh production tax credit.

In general, wind power tax credits are not “paid for” by taxpayers, they are simply taxes not collected by the federal government. In the case of wind, the infrastructure would mostly otherwise not get built; thus there is little or no real “revenue loss”. However, there are US congressional rules that require the credits to be offset by other adjustments to the budget.

On the other side of the balance, there will be significant tax revenues gained by the commercial activity of manufacturing, constructing and operating a wind plant. The California Energy Commission’s most recent in-depth report on cost of electricity generation shows that wind plants would pay, over the full life of the plant, about 8/10ths of a cent per kilowatt-hour in “ad valorum” expenses; i.e., property taxes. The report also shows that a wind plant will pay four times the amount of property tax per kilowatt-hour than a natural gas combined cycle baseload plant.

CEC Cost of Generation report (Table 6 on pdf p. 46 = document p. 28):

If wind worked, this would be a valid — and unnecessary — argument. Since wind does not show measurable benefits to the environment, and in fact shows significant adverse impacts to the environment, proponents are reduced to presenting it as a (very inefficient) works program.

The message to rural towns throughout the country, like that from any predatory capitalist in a third-world country, boils down to: "Give us your mountain/fields and we'll give you a shiny new firetruck."

The new local tax revenue from a wind plant offsets the federal tax revenue lost due to the Production Tax Credit. Thus, the federal government’s Wind Production Tax Credit helps local government raise more taxes by stimulating local economic activity in renewable energy. Other tax revenues will be created by employment and business activity of the wind plant, both direct and indirect. The result is that there is little to no net cost to taxpayers.

Again, that's no doubt what Exxon and GE and Florida Power & Light say to rationalize their nonpayment of income tax. And this critique does not consider the simple passing on to ratepayers the costs to utilities of integrating wind.

As for the ultimate NIMBY group Wind Watch’s claim that wind power is not “competitive” without tax credits, the RETI data base shows wind projects with cost of energy averaging about 13 cents per kilowatt-hour—with all tax benefits stripped away, and the CEC Cost of Generation report shows new natural gas combined cycle plants generating electricity at a levelized cost of about 12.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. If tax benefits are factored in, then the cost is lower. Both natural gas and wind power vary in cost over a wide range, and thus wind projects can generate electricity at a similar cost of energy as a new natural gas plant, when both plants are compared over their full lifecycle. It is noteworthy that the CEC’s cost estimate for natural gas power does not include any cost for carbon, and thus does not capture the externalized burden of climate change.

RETI database of potential renewable energy powerplants and cost of energy from them:

Externalized costs are indeed important to consider. Wind has them, too, including a complete dependence on petroleum products, steel, concrete, and rare earth metals. But again, these are accounting games. Wind does not appear to measurably reduce the impacts of other sources; it just adds its own.

The email thread also points to an article and video from in Portland citing a staffer from Bonneville Power Administration that wind does not provide any carbon benefit. Taken out of context that might seem an embarrassment for wind. However, Bonneville is quite different from most electric power providers in the US in its carbon profile, since its primary source of energy is from hydropower which has no carbon emissions. If you actually read the article it paraphrases a secondary source— Todd Wynn— from the Cascade Policy Institute who is paraphrasing a statement allegedly made to his think tank by an unspecified staffer from Bonneville. But the actual quote from Wynn is quite specific:

“So when the wind blows, the dams stop generating electricity, and when the wind stops, the dams continue to generate electricity,” said Wynn. “So, in fact, wind power is just offsetting another renewable energy source. It’s not necessarily offsetting any fossil fuel generation.”

In other words, zero carbon wind power is displacing zero carbon hydropower in Bonneville’s service territory. Of course, if you start with a source of power that has no carbon emissions, then adding wind will have no carbon benefit. By cherry picking such cases as Bonneville, wind can be made to look bad to those who don’t have any information to make a reasonable judgment. It would be far more valid to look at how adding wind affects carbon emissions in the US as a whole, which gets about 70 percent of its electricity from the greenhouse gas emitting sources of coal and natural gas. The US electricity supply does not look anything like Bonneville’s.

Thus, this Bonneville case is an idiotic argument against wind. Sorry, but there is no kinder word for it.

But it is a very good argument against wind in the BPA control area. And it is a good example of how the claims made for wind by its salespeople and lobbyists don't quite hold up in the real world.

There are so many misleading statements in this thread of emails and articles, that it would be very time consuming to disprove them all. I am only picking some key issues to provide a sense of the scale of misrepresentation. The most amazing, is that Marin critics of the oil, gas and coal industry would first accuse MEA and wind developers of being pro-nuclear and pro-fossil fuel, and then include a full article by Robert Bryce (see below in thread)—one of his attack pieces on wind.

Bryce throws in “everything but the kitchen sink” in his attempt to “refute” wind power, piling bits of “evidence” taken out of context, to “prove” that wind a) causes noise, b) costs too much, c) does not reduce carbon emissions, and d) kills bats and birds. Some of these have a loose connection to reality. The wind industry is not, after all, spotless, and has significant problems which we have a duty to press wind developers to address. However, several major problems caused by our current reliance on coal, nuclear and natural gas electric power- causing catastrophic climate change, killing tens of thousands of people per year from air pollution, nuclear proliferation and radioactivity, and global energy wars— are not among the problems caused by wind, to put the discussion in the correct perspective.

(Briefly, again, there is a leap from noting the problems of our current energy use to claiming wind as a solution — that is a form of both ad populum and non sequitur logical fallacies. But we are not arguing about the existing problems; we are arguing about wind's usefulness.)

The low frequency whooshing noise from the rotating blades can be a problem for some people who live near large wind turbines. The facilities should probably be generally located at a good distance from people, and especially so for those who are sensitive to this sound. On the other hand, there are many noises that people accept as part of daily life that probably do not have worse effect than wind, such as the sound of cars and trucks on freeways and streets, construction equipment, the repeated humming and buzzing of electrical appliances such as air conditioners, refrigerators and transformers, the ground shaking and squealing sounds of railroads and light rail, etc. But the one that gets singled out for major action is, of course, windmills.

It is callous to disregard the continuing reports of people suffering ill effects from wind turbine noise. Noise regulations exist — often already inadequate — for noises we have had experience with. The unique sounds generated by giant wind turbine blades moving through different layers of air at tip speeds approaching 200 mph — and their physiological and psychological effects, from loss of sleep and stress to "wind turbine syndrome" — are still being researched and are clearly not adequately regulated.

As for cost, Bryce discusses the variable price of natural gas as the “determining factor” for whether wind power is competitive. However, he is misinformed, as apparently is his favorite source for information on wind cost and aesthetics: Texas fossil fuel billionaire T. Boone Pickens. At this point in time, natural gas is not the main expense for new natural gas plants in the US. Fuel may be the big expense for legacy plants that have paid down their initial investment, but not for new plants. Natural gas fuel becomes the main expense only when power plants operate in “base load” mode—running at steady output 24/7. Coal and nuclear plants operate that way, but most natural gas plants do not. When natural gas plants operate at fractional capacity, then the major cost is not the fuel, but the power plant. And while natural gas fuel prices are relatively moderate in 2011, natural gas power plants have skyrocketed in cost. Indeed, all new conventional power plants—coal, natural gas and nuclear power, have gone up dramatically in cost over the past decade. This is reflected by the Power Capital Costs Index, which reached 219 based upon a 100 starting index in 2000, meaning that a power plant built in North America in 2011 would cost more than double what it did in the year 2000.

A natural gas plant built today and operating at, say, only 23 percent capacity, would produce electricity at about 13 cents per kilowatt-hour. This assumes the current cheap price for natural gas that Bryce proposes--$4.50 per million btu. Most modern wind plants can beat this cost of natural gas electricity—even without any tax subsidies. With tax benefits and offering lower early year prices in a escalating price contract, the first year price of wind may be as low as 4 cents per kilowatt-hour. Take away the tax credit and the first year price on a similar contract might go up to 5 or 6 cents per kilowatt-hour. Fixed price contracts might be 8 or 9 cents per kilowatt-hour. This is cheaper than any other new form of electric generation, including nuclear or coal.

Again, these are arguments as if there is a choice. Since a complete non-wind grid needs to be in place for times when the wind is not blowing sufficiently (or blowing too hard, or not in the right direction), you have to pay for both. So the comparison needs to be between wind plus gas versus gas alone.

... [Robert Bryce on Cape Wind costs] ...

Bryce’s analysis of the cost of natural gas power is closely related to his misrepresentation of the carbon benefits of wind. When modern “combined cycle” natural gas plants operate as base load—steady 24/7 at full output—they can reach efficiencies near 50%. Bryce argues that wind pulls natural gas plant out of operating as efficient base load to operating at part load to compensate for wind power. In partial or variable load, the natural gas plants may only operate at 35% or less efficiency, meaning the plant burns more fuel to generate each kilowatt-hour of electricity than when operating as a base load plant. Thus, if wind changed natural gas plant operations from base load to partial and variable load, the efficiency loss would increase fuel use and offset much of the carbon benefit of wind.

This assumes, however, that current natural gas plants generally operate in base load. That turns out to be quite incorrect for the general fleet of gas plants in the US. The vast majority of base load power in this country comes from coal and nuclear power, and to much a lesser extent from hydro and natural gas. In general, natural gas is used as a flexible resource mostly operating in partial and variable load—meaning it is already operating at lower efficiency in the vast majority of cases. This can easily be demonstrated with data about operations of US natural gas plants.

The US Government reports that as of 2009 there was 459,000 Megawatts of nameplate natural gas capacity. Those plants generated 920 Billion Kilowatt-hours of electricity. If 459,000 Megawatts of power plants operated 24/7 year round, they would generate .459 × 8760 = 4020 Billion Kilowatt-hours of electricity. In other words, natural gas plants only operated about 920/4020 = 22.8% of their capacity. That means that natural gas plants in the US overall do not typically operate in highly efficient base load, but rather operate at their least efficient mode— the same as they would do for backing up wind.

In other words, Bryce’s argument that wind power reduces the efficiency of natural gas plants is highly misleading, since natural gas plants already operate at relatively low efficiency, and in this context wind power will make relatively little difference.

But the goal is to replace coal, i.e., base load. That could be done with very efficient combined-cycle gas turbines, effectively reducing carbon emissions by three-fourths. If wind is part of that effort, then half as efficient open-cycle gas turbines would have to be used, since CCGT isn't able to respond quickly enough to wind's variability. So the question is, again, what is the carbon effect of wind plus OCGT versus CCGT alone? Many analysts have found it to be no better and in some cases worse.

This also means that Bryce’s argument for “cheap” natural gas power— based on the current low fuel price— is wrong, since the low capacity utilization of natural gas plants means that the power costs are mostly driven by the cost of the power plant, not the cost of natural gas.

Bryce brings back another round of “bait and switch” comparisons on carbon benefit of wind power. He says:

“The American Wind Energy Association insists that the wind business ‘could avoid 825 million tons of carbon dioxide annually by 2030.’ ( That 825 million tons sounds like a lot. It’s not. In 2010, global carbon dioxide emissions totaled 33.1 billion tons. Thus, if the US went on a wind energy binge, and installed thousands of turbines in every available location, doing so might reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by about 2.5%. And that calculation assumes that global carbon dioxide emissions will stay flat over the next two decades. They won’t.”

It is a clever trick to make 825 million tons of annual carbon dioxide emissions avoided by wind power disappear into insignificance. This is actually a double bait and switch. First, if you go to the linked article, this savings claim is NOT from the American Wind Energy Association— it is a scenario from the US Department of Energy. The scenario is that 20% of US electricity comes from wind by 2030, which is equivalent to taking 140 million cars off the road and offsetting 20% to 25% of greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector. Not a trivial accomplishment. The second bait and switch is that Bryce compares the US wind scenario against global carbon reduction. This assumes that only the United States is installing wind, which is very far from the truth, and it compares apples to oranges. US wind power should be compared to US carbon emissions or you will make incorrect inferences about the result.

These criticisms are valid. But Bryce doesn't need to make 825 million tons look insignificant. That avoided CO₂ is already an imaginary projection based on theoretical equivalences, not real-world data.

Bryce goes on to the “bird and bat” argument. He cherry picks a study about bird kills at Altamont, considered by most wind experts as just about the worst case scenario for wind. Indeed, some wind advocates think that wind power should never have been developed at Altamont, as— in addition to being questionable environmentally— it is not a particularly good wind site.

Nevertheless, wind turbines do kill lots of birds and bats. Of course, so do many other things, such as power lines, buildings, cats, chemicals, and catastrophic climate change. It has been estimated that the average turbine kills about 2 to 3 birds per year. Getting all US electricity from wind would take about 1 million turbines that are 1.5 megawatts in size. That might kill about 2 to 3 million birds per year— assuming we got all of our electricity from wind, which no one expects ever to happen.

By comparison, communication towers are estimated at present to kill between 4 million and 50 million birds per year, and electric power lines may kill anywhere from hundreds of thousands to 175 million birds per year.

And cats are estimated to kill hundreds of millions of birds per year, and more than a billion small mammals—including rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks— according to the American Bird Conservancy.

All this is not to minimize the very real problem with birds and bats.

Actually, it obviously is meant to minimize the problem by comparisons irrelevant to the issue of wind's additional impacts.

Wind turbines do threaten certain specific species, such as raptors and certain types of bats. However, Bryce again goes out of his way to present selective data that skews the results against wind. He mentions that “In 2008, a study funded by the Alameda County Community Development Agency ( estimated that about 2,400 raptors, including burrowing owls, American kestrels, and red-tailed hawks – as well as about 7,500 other birds, nearly all of which are protected under the MBTA – are being killed every year by the wind turbines located at Altamont Pass, California.”

True enough, but he leaves out the most important finding of the study—the new “Diablo” turbines killed between 60% and 80% less birds than the old “Non-Diablo” ones. This means that the high level of bird kills at Altamont is a mostly legacy problem that can be greatly reduced with modern wind technology. Bryce is absolutely silent on this aspect of the Altamont study. Table ES3:

A reduction of an appalling death rate remains unacceptable. If bird mortality were no longer a problem, then why is the AWEA fighting new Fish and Wildlife guidelines that would make them comply with migratory bird treaties and eagle protection laws? Besides the 3,500 to 5,000 raptors estimated by ecologist Shawn Smallwood being killed annually at Altamont, other facilities also continue to report thousands of bird and bat deaths, e.g., at Wolfe Island, Ontario, and Maple Ridge, New York.

This takes us back to the question about why Bryce is chasing wind with a hatchet. What is his agenda?

Bryce, in his banner energy policy book “Power Hungry”, supports a vision very different than what anti-wind environmentalists claim to believe:

“The United States has built a $14-trillion-per-year economy based on hydrocarbons: coal, oil, and natural gas. We cannot— and will not— quit using carbon-based fuels for this simple reason: they provide the power that we crave. Nine out of every ten units of energy we consume come from hydrocarbons.

Power Hungry proves that what we want isn’t energy at all— it’s power. Bryce masterfully deciphers essential terms like power density, energy density, joules, watts, and horsepower to illuminate the differences between political rhetoric and reality. Then he methodically details how the United States can lead the global transition to a cleaner, lower-carbon future by embracing the fuels of the future, a future that can be summarized as N2N: natural gas to nuclear. The United States sits atop galaxies of natural gas, enough to last a hundred years. By using that gas in parallel with new nuclear technologies, America can boost its economy while benefiting the environment.”

Bryce also hates energy efficiency, and explains why in his book:

“He goes on to eviscerate the notion that the United States wastes huge amounts of energy. Indeed, the facts show that over the past three decades the United States has been among the world’s best at reducing its energy intensity, carbon intensity, and per-capita energy use.”

In other words, Bryce opposes the entire green agenda. Bryce is a big believer in nuclear and natural gas power— explicitly. He defends these sources as cheap and necessary, and in this context attacks solar, wind and even energy efficiency. Bryce is a key policy guy at the Manhattan Institute, an institution described in Sourcewatch:

The *Manhattan Institute* (MI) is a right-wing 501(c)(3) non-profit think tank founded in 1978 by William J. Casey who later became President Ronald Reagan's CIA director.

The Manhattan Institute is "focused on promoting free-market principles whose mission is to 'develop and disseminate new ideas that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility.'"

"The Manhattan Institute concerns itself with such things as 'welfare reform' (dismantling social programs), 'faith-based initiatives' (blurring the distinction between church and state), and 'education reform' (destroying public education)," Kurt Nimmo wrote October 10, 2002, in CounterPunch.

The Manhattan Institute, when it is not trying to destroy the environment and social programs, also likes to promote global energy wars. Perhaps its most famous contribution to public discourse was from David Frum, who left the institute to become a Bush speechwriter and coined the term “Axis of Evil”, a key concept that helped push the US into several international conflicts. The Manhattan Institute is big on “market competition”, also hard right style, which explains why it is so important to make the case that wind is dependent on welfare subsidies and “can’t compete” on the free market. Because if wind is lower cost without subsidies, Bryce and the other pro-fossil fuel and pro-nuclear folks decisively lose the battle on the conservative side of the political spectrum. Then they have to decide between dirty fuel and conservative principle.

So, if MEA and the wind developers are guilty of promoting wind and renewable energy, those who oppose wind are clearly siding with the authors of global energy wars, nuclear and fossil fuels.

Like Earth First, who have consistently recognized the predatory nature of industrial wind and led protests against construction of a facility in the mountains of Maine? Or the Zapatistas in Mexico supporting the Zapoteco farmers of the Isthmus of Tehuantapec against the theft of their land for a giant Spanish wind energy facility (the Zapotecos have written about "the imposition of neoliberal megacorporations destroying nature and our cultures")? Or the Adivasis of India, who are against being evicted from their forests so they can be mowed down for giant wind turbines? Or the diverse group of protesters camping out in northwest Denmark determined to save one of their last large forests from clearance for a giant wind turbine "test facility"? Or the anticapitalist antiwar Bread and Puppet Theater, who have been fighting big wind on Vermont's mountains? Or the established environmental advocate who lives off-grid and is leading the fight against industrial wind in Vermont?

Or do all supporters of wind power share the world view of all other supporters, such as T. Boone ("Swift Boater") Pickens; wind pioneers George W. Bush and Kenneth Lay of Enron (Bush was keynote speaker at the American Wind Energy Association convention in 2010); AWEA's own CEO, Denise Bode, former natural gas and petroleum lobbyist; anti-environment Christian fundamentalist Rick Perry; anti–environmental regulation lobbyist Frank Maisano of Bracewell-Giuliani, the spokesman for mid-Atlantic wind developers; nuclear plant builder and war profiteer GE, the country's biggest manufacturer of wind turbines (after buying Enron's wind division)? Or indeed, nuclear giant Electricité de France?

In fact, all of these supporters of wind are featured at, and Counterpunch regularly reproduces Robert Bryce's work and has published an article by Nina Pierpont about wind turbine syndrome.

It is true that conventional energy companies are developing renewable energy projects, since many people in the energy industry see the writing on the wall. As Helen points out: “Wind developers are also oil and gas developers, they are one and the same.”

Well, the evidence shows that the opposite is true too: the wind opponents are supporters of oil, gas, coal and nuclear— they are one and the same. For, among renewable energy sources, wind is the closest to seriously challenge or displace fossil fuels in a big way. Strike down wind and you will set back renewable energy by 5 to 10 years. Of course, Bryce and Wind-Watch do not just want to get in the way of wind; their efforts also create roadblocks to other sources of renewable energy as well.

After the ad populum, non sequitur, red herring, and ad hominem efforts, now it's time for the straw man, or paper tiger. Robert Bryce does not represent all, or even most, opponents of wind. From that misrepresentation it is an unsupported leap to claim that "wind opponents are supporters of oil, gas, coal and nuclear" and "create roadblocks to other sources of renewable energy as well". Would Freehling similarly claim that opponents of big hydro are against other renewables? Rather than creating roadblocks, fighting the harm and waste of resources caused by industrial-scale wind is to the benefit of other renewables, such as decentralized small-scale vertical-axis wind. It would be more reasonable to argue that industrial wind itself has set back the cause of renewable energy with its aggressive encroachments on rural and wild land and habitats.

There is no choice about the fact that we are all— people who take pro-wind and anti-wind positions alike— enmeshed in a world controlled by conventional energy resources. But there is a big difference which side of this paradox you are on. Those who oppose wind because oil and gas interests are involved will leave us addicted to fossil and nuclear fuel, with no alternative energy source. That is not smart.

It was argued earlier that association with fossil fuel and nuclear interests adversely colored at least one writer's opposition to wind. But now it appears to be acceptable for wind proponents to consort with big energy. Clearly paradox, or real-world complexity, is allowed only for those who agree with Robert Freehling. Those with differing views must remain a caricature.

But to his final assertion, big wind is indeed big energy, and there is no sign that wind seriously threatens fossil fuels or nuclear. There is no justification for its novel impacts if it can not meaningfully diminish existing impacts from other sources of energy. At best, it might help drive the replacement of coal or even nuclear with natural gas (as required for back-up), but it would require less efficient gas turbines to be built than would be possible without wind. And then there's fracking.

To be pro-wind requires being pro–natural gas. Can we say therefore that to be pro-wind means to be pro-fracking? And to be pro-fracking is to be pro-Halliburton, and to be pro-Halliburton is to be pro-war ... (and former Halliburton division and war contractor Kellogg Brown & Root used to boast of being "in the vanguard of the development of offshore wind power in the UK" and still notes, "KBR has established itself as a key provider of services for the indispensable wind farm industry")?

Which side are you on, indeed.


~~Eric R.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism

June 1, 2006

Model wind energy ordinance (1)

From the Town Code of the Town of Malone (N.Y.) (enacted May 24, 2006, by unanimous vote):

Wind Energy Facilities

Article I

§ 80–2. Purpose. ... to promote the effective and efficient use of the Town's wind energy resource through wind energy conversion systems (WECS), whithout harming public health and safety, and to avoid jeopardizing the welfare of the residents.

§ 80–4. Findings

A. The Town Board of the Town of Malone finds and declares that:

1. ... the potential benefits must be balanced against potential impacts.

2. The generation of electricity from properly sited small wind turbines can be a cost efffective mechanism for reducing on-site electric costs, with a minimum of environmental impacts.

3. Regulation of the siting and installation of wind turbines is necessary for protecting the health, safety, and welfare of neighboring property owners and the general public.

4. Large-scale multiple-tower Wind Energy Facilities represent significant potential aesthetic impacts because of their large size, lighting, and shadow flicker effects.

5. Installation of large-scalee multiple-tower Wind Energy Facilities can create drainage problems through erosion and lack of sediment control for facility and access road sites and harm farmlands through improper construction methods.

6. Large-scale multiple-tower Wind Energy Facilities may present risks to the property values of adjoining property owners.

7. Large-scale Wind Energy Facilities may be significant sources of noise, which, if unregulated, can negatively impact adjoining properties, particularly in areas of low ambient noise levels.

8. Construction of large-scale multiple-tower Wind Energy Facilities can create traffic problems and damage local roads.

9. If improperly sited, large-scale multiple-tower Wind Energy Facilities can interfere with various types of communications.

10. The Town has many scenic viewsheds which would be negatively impacted by large-scale multiple-tower Wind Energy Facilities.

§ 80–5. Permits Required

B. No WECS other than a Small WECS shall be constructed, reconstructed, modified, or operated in the Town of Malone. No Wind Measurement Tower shall be constructed, reconstructed, modified, or operated in the Town of Malone, except in conjunction with and as part of an application for a Small WECS.

E. Exemptions. No permit or other approval shall be required under this Chapter for WECS utilized solely for agricultural operations in a state or county agricultural district, as long as the facility is set back at least one and a half times its total height from a property line and does not exceed 120 feet in [total] height.

G. Notwithstanding the requirements of the Section, replacement in kind or modification of a Small WECS may occur without Town Board approval when there will be: (1) no increase in total height; (2) no change in the location of the Small WECS; (3) no additional lighting or change in facility color; and (4) no increase in noise produced by the Small WECS.

Article III. Miscellaneous

§ 80–14. Variances

B. If (1) a court of competent jurisdiction orders the Zoning Board of Appeals to consider a use variance for any Wind Energy Facility other than a Small WECS ... or (2) the prohibition on any Wind Energy Facility other than a Small WECS is invalidated, no Wind Energy Facility shall be allowed except upon issuance of a Special Use Permit ... which shall require a Decommissioning Plan and Removal Bond, a Public Improvement Bond to protect public roads, and compliance with the following minimum setbacks:

a. The statistical sound pressure level generated by a WECS shall not exceed L10-45 dBA [i.e., shall not exceed 45 dBA for more than 6 minutes (10%) of any hour] measured at the nearest off-site dwelling existing at the time of application. If the ambient sound pressure level exceeds 45 dBa, the standard shall be ambient dBA plus 5 dBA.

b. 1,500 feet from the nearest site boundary property line.

c. 1,500 feet from the nearest public road.

d. 1,500 feet from the nearest off-site residence existing at the time of application.

e. One and a half times the total height of the WECS from any non-WECS structure or any above-ground utilities.

f. 250 feet from federal or state-identified wetlands, to protect bird and bat populations. This distance may be adjusted to be greater or less at the discretion of the reviewing body, based on topography, land cover, land uses, and other factors that influence the flight patterns of resident birds.

[Click here for Article II: Small Wind Energy Conversion Systems]

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, wind turbines, environment, environmentalism

May 9, 2007

National Wind Watch comments on National Academies report on impacts of wind energy

Press release:

Rowe, Mass., May 9, 2007 -- On May 3, 2007, the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies of Science released its report on the "Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects". The report states:

Because the use of wind energy has some adverse impacts, the conclusion that a wind-energy installation has net environmental benefits requires the conclusion that all of its adverse effects are less than the adverse effects of the generation that it displaces.

Such official analysis is exactly what has been missing in the careless push for wind energy, according to National Wind Watch (NWW), a coalition of individuals and action groups fighting inappropriate wind energy development in the U.S. and around the world.

Although commending the recognition of negative impacts, which neighbors and many observers have long been attesting to, NWW notes the report includes nine references from the main American industry trade group, three from the British, and three from the Danish. These are not cited as examples of how the industry self-protectively spins information but rather as reliable information about impacts. That not only calls into question some of the report's assessment of the extent of adverse impacts, it also illustrates the hurdles that people who defend wildlife, the landscape, and their homes still have to overcome.

The usual line from wind promoters is that the problems that wind energy solves are much worse than any that wind energy itself causes, e.g., more birds would die if wind turbines were not built (because of climate change caused by fossil fuels). But the argument is stacked. Neither part of it has been rigorously examined -- neither the premise that wind energy on the grid brings significant benefits, nor the assumption that its negative impacts on the environment, communities, and individual lives are anything but minimal. Only citizens' groups such as those associated with National Wind Watch have dared to demand accountability in the heedless industry and government push to develop wind.

It is welcome that the NRC report, although it glosses over the many adverse impacts of industrial wind development, nonetheless recognizes the need for studying them. NWW hopes that this quasi-official report will start to turn around the studious dismissal of increasingly obvious and significant problems.

Examination of wind's claims of benefit also need a hard look. With more than a decade of experience in Denmark and Germany, it is absurd to still cite carbon reductions according to industry theory instead of actual experience. We need to know the documented effect of wind (a highly variable and intermittent nondispatchable energy source) on emissions on the grid.

The report unquestioningly repeats the sales claim that the average annual output from wind is 30% of its capacity, even though the reality is quite different. According to figures from the 2007 Annual Energy Outlook of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Energy Information Agency (IEA), the output in 2005 was only 21% of capacity.

As to effects on wildlife, although it acknowledges that impacts are poorly studied the report repeats the cant that the slaughter of raptors at Altamont Pass in California is an aberration and mostly due to older turbines -- an obviously dubious claim. Deaths are mounting with every new facility. The first-year study (by a company-picked firm) of the 120-turbine "Maple Ridge" facility in northern New York estimated that 3,000 to 6,000 birds and bats were killed there last year.

The report also determines that the toll on bats is only a problem in the mid-Atlantic, which is the only place where it's been well documented. But just two days before the NRC report was released, Michael Daulton of the National Audubon Society testified before the U.S. House Natural Resources Wildlife Subcommittee that bats in Missouri are attracted to wind turbines. Merlin Tuttle, president of Bat Conservation International, has stated, "We're finding kills even [by] the most remote turbines out in the middle of prairies, where bats don't feed."

Donald Fry, director of the Pesticides and Birds Program, American Bird Conservancy, testified also on May 1, 2007, to the U.S. House Fisheries, Wildlife, and Oceans Subcommittee:

The wind energy industry has been constructing and operating wind projects for almost 25 years with little state and federal oversight. They have rejected as either too costly or unproven techniques recommended by [the National Wind Coordinating Committee] to reduce bird deaths. The wind industry ignores the expertise of state energy staff and the knowledgeable advice of Fish and Wildlife Service employees on ways to reduce or avoid bird and wildlife impacts. ... The mortality at wind farms is significant, because many of the species most impacted are already in decline, and all sources of mortality contribute to the continuing decline.

Finally, concerning human impacts the report is regrettably vague in both its findings and its recommendations. Wind turbines are giant industrial installations, and here again, just as with birds and bats, the assumption is backwards. Of course there are adverse impacts. As Wendy Todd, who lives 2,600 feet from the new wind energy facility on Mars Hill, Maine, testified to her state legislature on April 30, 2007: "Noise is the largest problem but shadow flicker and strobe effect are close behind. ... Some find that it makes them dizzy and disoriented; others find that it can cause headaches and nausea." Although this report is perhaps the first quasi-official study to acknowledge that fact, it still puts the burden of proof on the wrong people.

Before we destroy another landscape, natural habitat, community, or individual human life, governments at every level, conservation groups, and environmentalists need to seriously assess the claims made to promote and defend industrial wind energy development.

National Wind Watch information and contacts are available at

November 22, 2013

Questions and Answers: What's wrong with wind energy?

1. The National Wind Watch home page says, “because of the wind’s low density, intermittency, and high variability, [large-scale wind turbines] do next to nothing for reducing carbon and other emissions or dependence on other fuels”. Could you go into a bit more detail about this and present any links you have for evidence?

The power of the wind is 1/2 of area (turbine rotor diameter) × air density × wind speed cubed. There is a theoretical physical limit (Betz’ law) that no more than 16/27, or 59.3%, of the wind’s energy (power × time) can be captured. Modern wind turbines may reach 50% efficiency, but only within a certain range of wind speeds, which appear to be the average speeds for which the turbines are designed, but at which speeds they generate at only a fraction (around 1/3) of their maximum rate. As the wind speed increases, the rotors are increasingly feathered and efficiency plummets.

The brochure for Enercon turbines includes graphs showing the efficiency vs. wind speed.

In addition to being limited by Betz’ law, wind turbines must not interfere with each other, so they must be spaced quite far apart. The minimum distance is generally considered to be 3 rotor diameters perpendicular to the wind (possible only where wind is unidirectional) and 10 rotor diameters parallel to the wind. See, eg, Thus in an array of, say, 90-meter-diameter turbines (the blades of each machine sweeping a vertical airspace of 1.57 acres), each machine would require 810,000 square meters around it, or 200 acres. From that 200 acres, assuming a 2-MW turbine and an average rate of generation 25% of capacity (see for U.S. averages; they are generally quite a bit less in Europe), the average power density is only 2.5 kW/acre.

Furthermore, that wind energy is intermittent, meaning other sources of electricity must be available, and variable, meaning other sources must be kept running to be ramped up and down as needed to keep the electricity supply exactly matched to demand. This means that wind is only adding to the grid and then causing other generators to run less efficiently, including burning fuel while not generating electricity. See and

2. Pertaining to health — I’ve heard very mixed messages about whether the health effects are of legitimate concern and I would like to hear your take on it. ... Any scientific information would be great!

21 published (peer-reviewed) studies:
10 non-industry, non-government reviews:

One hitch has been the term “annoyance” as used in these studies. In epidemiology it means to a degree that can cause health problems. The wind industry has instead used its colloquial meaning to characterize the problem as something people just need to get used to.

Even that flies in the face of the evidence that infrasound (frequencies below the threshold of conscious hearing) and low-frequency noise (ILFN) is probably responsible for much of the problem, because research suggests that people who are sensitive to ILFN become more sensitized with continued exposure.

The research showing that people complain more about wind turbine noise than other artificial sources at similar decibel levels is probably explained by the facts that it is unpredictable (depending on wind speed and direction), that it often occurs at night, and that it is a pulsating noise.

Basically, the wind industry is trying to stop research as it has just begun. Because, as the reviews conclude, the preliminary research clearly justifies concern and is already leading to revisions of noise regulations to consider lower frequencies and pulsating patterns. And if such regulations are justified for humans, they would also have to be considered for wildlife ...

3. For my own sanity, I’m wondering why on earth there is so much controversy! How can there be such polar opposite opinions and what is the truth ... in your opinion?

There is a lot of desperation and urgency to remedy the consequences of our high level of energy consumption, and big wind has exploited that, ever since Enron first realized that it could sell wind to environmentalists as an alternative to coal. Since concern about climate change came to dominate mainstream environmentalism after Al Gore’s movie, wind energy has been sold as our salvation. It became a “with us or against us” marker of one’s concern for the environment or sociopolitical team loyalty. Its own adverse impacts (mining, birds and bats, wild habitat) are then dismissed simply as being much less than those of fossil fuels (the other team), ignoring the fact the the reduction of fossil fuel burning because of wind energy is effectively nil, making wind’s impacts — many of them unique, such as the threats to raptors and bats, and the need to build over hundreds of acres at a time in rural and wild places — an addition, not an alternative. Even the American Wind Energy Association once admitted that the most ambitious wind program would only slow the increase of carbon emissions. And for greenhouse gases, there are still the problems of transport and heating. And animal agriculture. And hydrofluorocarbons.

The truth is that there is no free lunch. By approaching the problem with building more instead of using less, wind energy is only perpetuating it. And while people look to wind energy to save the planet, they are more likely to avoid doing things that would make a real difference. They are able to buy Enron-invented “green tags” (carbon credits) to “offset” their impact rather than actually reduce it.

So the polarity is indeed justified and inevitable. Once somebody realizes that wind is a nonsolution, and harmful itself without meaningfully mitigating other harms, it is clear that there is hardly a “middle ground”. And once someone who believes in wind starts to admit that it has drawbacks or that claims for its benefits are overblown, a cornerstone of mainstream environmentalism starts to crumble — and retrenchment becomes all the more fierce to avoid complicating “the message”.

4. One more question: What are viable solutions instead of wind energy, and if wind energy is here to stay what kind of regulations or changes are needed for it to be successful?

Frankly, there probably isn’t a viable solution right now to 8 billion humans consuming ever more resources, particular in a world economic model of “growth”, which even with the modifier “sustainable” is still growth — growth of consumption, growth of waste, and less for the rest of life on the planet. Thursday's Democracy Now had a couple of climate scientists on calling for radical change from that model:

As for the potential success of wind energy, it would require not only massive building of wind turbines (and all the resources they require) but also an even more massive battery backup system (and all the more resources) and a massive expansion of continent-wide high-capacity transmission lines. In other words, it’s ridiculous. Virtually everything would have to be turned over to wind energy. We would have instead of a war economy a wind economy, where wind energy powers primarily the maintenance of wind power. And we’d still need backup generators!

H.G. Wells wrote, in 1897, “A Story of the Days to Come”:

And all over the countryside, he knew, on every crest and hill, where once the hedges had interlaced, and cottages, churches, inns, and farmhouses had nestled among their trees, wind wheels similar to those he saw and bearing like vast advertisements, gaunt and distinctive symbols of the new age, cast their whirling shadows and stored incessantly the energy that flowed away incessantly through all the arteries of the city. ... The great circular shapes of complaining wind-wheels blotted out the heavens ...
In that story, it is indeed the power company that is in power.

That said, it is a fact that wind turbines are being and will continue to be built, so like National Wind Watch I strongly support effective setbacks (at least 2 km, perhaps 5 km) from homes and noise regulations (that limit nighttime indoor noise to 30 dBA, as the WHO recommends, and limit ILFN and pulsating noise as well). And we oppose opening up otherwise protected land to the construction of the giant machines. Of course, such regulation would not contribute to, but instead would threaten, the “success” of wind energy. It would remain rare and unprofitable, as such an absurd source of energy for the modern world should be, used only in the most desperate of circumstances when nothing else is possible and the cost and harm and low benefit might be justifiable.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism

September 30, 2013

Gullible for Wind Power

Ketan Joshi writes: "Not all climate 'skeptics' are wind farm opponents, and not all wind farm opponents are climate 'skeptics', but the region in which those two groups overlap is a truly fascinating case study into how we filter evidence according to our respective worldviews."

This is an important acknowledgement that there are indeed wind energy opponents (or 'skeptics') who are not climate skeptics. In his continuing effort to tar wind energy skeptics with the same brush as climate skeptics, however, Joshi ignores the much more dissonant overlap of climate 'believers' and wind energy supporters.

He decries what he sees as gullibility (or worse) of those who 'believe' the evidence against wind, even as he counts on the gullibility of those who 'believe' in wind to support his defense and promotion of it.

Joshi finds it "fascinating" that one can reject the findings of climate science yet accept those of adverse health effects from wind turbines, insisting that there is "a complete lack of evidence" for the latter. The reference he provides is a film – produced by a wind advocacy group with many industry-connected members – showing unaffected hosting landowners. Joshi apparently takes this single piece of evidence completely on faith, despite its overt agenda, even as he completely rejects all testimony of harm (see, for but a few examples, these victim impact statements).

So one notes that Joshi himself exemplifies how evidence is filtered according to one's worldview. In this case, it is easily understandable in that he works for a wind developer. His general claims of scientific rigor are thus called into doubt when he so casually misrepresents the science of wind energy. His devotion to science seems to go only so far as it supports his and his company's interests.

That's obvious, really, to everyone except, apparently, himself. Just as he tars all views of climate skeptics because of their view on climate change, like many that promote the industry he asserts that faith in wind energy unquestionably follows from the acceptance of climate science. Rather than acknowledge any evidence against wind energy, he bolsters his faith in it by lashing on other examples of accepted science, such as the benefit of vaccines and the truth of evolution, shamelessly aligning industry self-interest with the indisputable achievements of Salk and Mendel. Another tactic is to detect not only scientific heresy anywhere in the views of wind power's critics, but also any hint of racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, etc. to further justify ignoring and even mocking the evidence. Even worse, corporate wind defenders often gloat over the money they make and spend and dismiss critics as merely envious, as cynically angling, like themselves, for a big payoff.

This does not, of course, cause the evidence to go away that wind energy is neither a viable energy source nor a meaningful contributor to lower emissions, and that it has a high level of adverse impacts relative to its benefits.

[[[[ | ]]]]

Despite the acknowledgement that "[n]ot all climate 'skeptics' are wind farm opponents, and not all wind farm opponents are climate 'skeptics'", Joshi's main purpose remains the nonsensical defense of wind energy as a good simply because many climate skeptics bash it. By bashing the climate skeptics in return, he avoids addressing their critiques – which many climate non-skeptics share – of wind energy. In short: 'Because they are wrong about climate science, they are also wrong about wind energy.'

But are climate skeptics who support wind power also therefore wrong about the latter? Are climate non-skeptics who agree that wind energy has serious shortcomings also wrong about climate science? At least the latter possibility is blocked by denying that climate non-skeptics really are: 'Because they oppose wind power, they are dishonest about supporting climate science.' In other words, it is really only one's view of wind energy that is tested, because that is in fact the only true interest. For the former question, corporate representatives like Joshi are quite able to separate the issues of climate science and wind power when climate skeptics support the industry (a common situation in the U.S. among legislators at the subsidy trough). [Update, Jan. 29, 2014:  Joshi has decried Greenpeace as "anti-science" on the evidence of their destroying a GMO research crop. But Greenpeace also supports corporate wind power, which is "pro-science" according to Joshi, whose "science" is clearly an ad hoc fetish.]

Circularity is not a concern, because the premise is not what it might appear to be: not climate science, fossil or nuclear fuels, particulate pollution, nor the Koch Brothers. It is simply the desire to erect giant wind turbines wherever possible.

Those who support that goal repeatedly show that their interest is not science, but simply to sell their product. Thus they misrepresent both.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism

July 17, 2007

Q & A: Wind Energy

The president of National Wind Watch sent us these answers to questions recently posed by a student in Texas.

1.  Most of the prevailing literature on wind energy has been relatively positive, can you comment as to why your organization has chosen to take an oppositional approach?

Answer:  Most of the prevailing literature on wind energy is wishful thinking. If you read it objectively, you begin to notice that all claims of success (other than sales figures) are not backed up by actual data. This is combined with a tendency to dismiss adverse impacts as insignificant or unlikely. Faced with the evidence of adverse impacts, many advocates of wind energy simply deny them. After a while, one realizes that the arguments for large-scale wind energy are for the most part intellectually dishonest and unable to withstand scrutiny.

Since there is little (if any) evidence of good from wind energy, it is our duty to oppose the fruitless and extensive industrialization of rural and wild places by the wind industry.

2.  As of late, Texas has taken the lead in wind energy production. Reports have highlighted the beneficial impact -- both economically and environmentally -- of this relatively recent wind energy "boom". The vast expanse of Texas lands seem ideal for wind farms. So, where is the problem?

Answer:  Where is the proof of these claimed economic and environmental benefits?

Economically, there may be local effects of rents paid to landowners and pay-offs to communities, but that is all paid for by federal and state taxpayers and local ratepayers, who must still pay for keeping up the rest of the grid as much as before along with the added burden of backing up the wind turbines and overbuilding transmission lines to accomodate their occasional surges and shunt their unpredictable supply somewhere it might be needed or until it dissipates as heat.

The environmental benefit is presumably in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which is assumed (though again without proof) to outweigh local negative impacts on wildlife and landscape. But the savings of greenhouse gas emissions that are claimed are theoretical only and ignore many aspects of the grid that complicate such a possible effect -- namely, an intermittent, variable, unpredictable source such as wind has to itself be balanced to maintain a steady voltage on the line. This adds inefficiencies to the use of fuel by other sources (from more frequent starting or ramping) or may require other sources to "stand by" -- burning fuel to keep the steam ready to generate electricity when the wind drops. In addition, hydropower is the most ideal source to balance wind, or wind's variations are simply allowed to modulate the line voltage within acceptable tolerances -- either case obviously does not affect the burning of fossil fuels.

Even in pro-wind theory, wind energy will never have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions. In isolated systems, even the AWEA claims only that wind will slightly slow the growth of emissions, not reduce them. Globally, wind would barely keep up with expanding electricity needs to maintain its less than 0.5% contribution, according to the International Energy Agency's modeling to 2030 ("Renewables in Global Energy Supply", January 2007). Considering that electricity is but one source of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, even the most hopeful theoretical benefit fades toward nothing. In reality, it's likely even less.

Until a significant global environmental benefit can be proven, we must act on the assumption that the local environmental effects can not be justified.

3.  Recently, the Texas General Land Office received funding and permission to start testing and research for offshore wind energy production and technology. What are your views on offshore wind farming?

Answer:  While siting them far offshore mitigates the impact on human neighbors, impacts on seascape and wildlife remain (besides interfering with birds, the turbines' low-frequency noise is likely to disturb fish and sea mammals), as do the very low possible benefits. Offshore construction is more difficult and expensive, and wear and tear on the turbines is much greater -- promising to make offshore wind even more of a boondoggle than onshore.

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights

May 5, 2006

Green tags: breathtaking gall, deflating gullibility

Activewear marketer Prana (which means "breath," in the sense of "spirit" or "life-force," in Sanskrit) has clambered on to the "100% wind powered" charade with its "Natural Power" initiative. The goal of offsetting the negative environmental impacts of the company's activities is commendable. The use of renewable energy certificates, or green tags, from wind power, however, makes it a sham.

Even the symbol of the initiative is misleading: an old wind-powered water pump, which never had anything to do with electricity, let alone transport and heating (electricity being only one source of emissions).

Consumer excitement about "offsetting" one's carbon emissions (without, of course, giving anything up except a few spare dollars) is understandable. When it involves actually planting trees, insulating roofs, or switching to compact fluorescents, or even buying renewable energy where one's utility makes it available, it is worthwhile. But the willful self-deception of buying green tags is inexcusable.

On Prana's web site they write, "Wind generated power is a clean, renewable source of energy which produces no greenhouse gas emissions or waste products." That is an obviously simplistic statement. Greenhouse gases and waste are indeed produced during the manufacture, transport, construction, and maintenance of wind turbines. Acres of trees, often in ecologically vital interior forests, are cut down for each tower, access roads, and transmission infrastructure. Hundreds of gallons of lubricating and cooling oil in each turbine must be periodically replaced (and often leaks). The giant rotor blades are often destroyed by wind, lightning, and fire.

Prana goes on to explain how they offset their electricity use (although not the energy used in transport and heating):

Prana has committed to offsetting approximately 6,000,000 kilowatt hours, or 100% of the electricity generated to power 250 retail locations nationwide by supporting the generation of an equal amount of renewable energy by purchasing US EPA approved Renewable Energy Certificates, also known as 'RECs' or 'Green Tags'. ...

Generating electricity from wind still costs more than generating it from fossil fuel sources, in spite of exciting advancement in wind energy technology [i.e., the towers and rotor blades get bigger --Ed.]. The additional funds provided to renewable energy generators through the purchase of certificates by Prana and others provide critical additional financial incentive for project expansion and future development.
There it is: The sale of green tags simply provides an extra income stream to the generator. It does not add wind power to the grid. It does not offset anything, because the energy (along with the benefits it represents) has entered the grid anyway. It's lovely to donate extra money to wind power companies (such as GE, Florida Power & Light, Goldman Sachs, and J.P. Morgan) if you believe they need it or you think it relieves your energy-use guilt. But you cannot claim that you are offsetting the electricity you use (which doesn't change). You cannot claim that you are "100% wind powered."

The purchase of green tags does not cause any more or less wind power to enter the grid. Nor does it cause any more or less conventional power to be used. As Prana themselves clarify, "The electricity will continue to be uninterrupted even when the wind isn't blowing. As always, the retail locations are still connected to the respective regional electricity systems."

Enron invented the accounting trick that allows separating the actual energy generated by a renewable source from its "environmental attributes." This essentially allowed them to sell wind energy twice. Prana uncritically describes this absurd fraud:
Renewable energy has two components: the energy commodity and the corresponding green power attribute. The Energy Commodity is the actual electricity produced at facilities that generate the renewable electricity. The electricity generated is sold as conventional/generic (market) power stripped of its environmental benefits, or attributes. No environmental claims can be made on this power, because it is separate from the associated environmental benefits that are at the center of a Renewable Energy Certificate.
In other words, the energy goes into the grid whether or not its green tags are sold, but it's only "green" when the tags are sold. It's magic!

And although the energy is already used, only the buyers of the green tags, which cost a fraction of what the actual energy costs, get to be able to say they "use green energy." Elaborate accreditation and certification processes ensure that none of the many brokers blunder and knock over the house of cards.

Prana again:
It is not possible to send the electricity directly to store facilities or any other specific end user location because of the nature of the electricity grid. ... Once renewable electricity is delivered to the electric grid, it mixes with power from other generating plants. This means the actual electricity generated from 'green' sources cannot be directed to a specific home or business.
Either the energy has environmental benefits or it doesn't. If it does, that is because it enters the grid, not because RECs are sold. (sigh)

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, Vermont, environment, environmentalism, sustainability, green energy, green living, green business, carbon offset, ecoanarchism

March 12, 2007

Frontier Natural Foods buys "green tags" not green energy

To the people of Frontier Natural Foods Co-op:

I was saddened to read that Frontier -- where I buy several essential oils, not to mention the bulk herbs and teas from my local food co-op -- has jumped on to the "green tag" fad. While supporting the expansion of renewable energy sources is good to do, it is a quite a leap to claim that you are "converted to 100% green power" or even that you have "offset" your power use with credits for renewable energy used elsewhere.

As your web site states, "Frontier buys its green power, sold to us as renewable energy credits, through Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF)."

Despite BEF's claim, renewable energy credits (RECs) are not green power, since the actual energy is sold separately from the credits. The credits are only tokens. This was a scheme invented by Enron to make their wind energy facilities in California more profitable. They magically separated the "environmental attributes" of the energy source as a separate product. After selling the energy into the grid, they could then sell it again as green tags.

It would be like Frontier selling empty tea bags to people who have access only to Lipton and Red Rose teas. They could say they are offsetting their use of nonorganic tea, but obviously they are not.

It is impossible for two customers to enjoy the benefits of the same energy. Your purchase of a kilowatt-hour of green tags is in addition to another customer's purchase of the same kilowatt-hour of the actual energy. The purchase of green tags only makes renewable energy more profitable. That's a fair enough goal, but it does not change anybody's energy use. The green power is generated and used with or without your purchase of its RECs.

A true statement would be, "Frontier donates x dollars for every y units of its energy use to encourage the development of renewable energy."

Further, the assumption of one-to-one offset is quite debatable. Especially with an intermittent and highly variable source such as wind power, it is doubtful that it reduces fuel use or emissions at other plants to a degree anywhere near the amount of energy it generates.

This is because even as other plants are required to reduce their generation in response to wind, they either have to stay warm to be ready to kick in again when the wind drops or they use more fuel because of more frequent restarts. In either case, they are forced to run less efficiently, with the resulting extra emissions canceling out much of the theoretical benefits from wind on the system.

Despite BEF's claim that buying green tags is the same as buying green power and replaces fossil fuel generators, no fossil fuel generator has ever been shut down or even used significantly less because of wind energy on the system -- not even in Denmark. (I can only speak authoritatively about large-scale wind, which I have been studying for over 4 years now.)

Besides the green tokenism of RECs, and the elusive benefits, large-scale wind energy is not environmentally friendly. It threatens birds and bats, requires huge areas of clearance (as well as wide strong roads and transmission rights of way), and disrupts the lives of humans and other animals with noise and visual distraction. At this scale, it is not green. The major players are multinational energy conglomerates who are as heedlessly predatory in this area as in the rest of their business. (A recent story at Tierramérica described the exploitation of the Oaxacans on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, as well as the disregard of the fact that it is the most important bird flyway in the hemisphere, by the Mexican government, the Spanish Iberdrola company, and others.)

I urge you to read more at the web site of National Wind Watch, a coalition of groups and individuals formed in 2005 to raise awareness of the negative impacts of industrial wind power: . I would like to suggest as well, which features the paper "A Problem With Wind Power."

I ask you: first, to assess the reality of green tags beyond their simplistic sales pitch; and second, to consider that support of industrial-scale wind power is incompatible with ecological values.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, animal rights

September 15, 2012

Wind's reliably poor performance

Wind developer consultant Tiff Thompson, in the September installment of her Windtech International column, “Nimbyism”, takes on critics of climate change science. She acknowledges critics of wind's ability to affect climate change, but dismisses them with industry projections of more wind power and, therefore, more effect on climate change.

Like wind itself, it's a poor performance.

She notes, without clear citation — it may be from the Global Wind Energy Council — that 1 MWh of wind energy “will” offset 550 kg (1,200 lb) of CO₂. Elsewhere, the wind industry in the U.S. has been boasting of their reaching 50 GW of installed capacity. Since the industry also maintains that their average production is at least 30% of capacity (despite actual data showing much less), that would mean 50,000 MW × 0.30 × 8,760 hours/year × 550 kg/MWh = 72,270,000,000 kg (72,270,000 metric tons; 159,328,100,000 lb) less CO₂ every year.

In fact, energy-related CO₂ emissions totaled 1,340,000,000 metric tons in just the first quarter of 2012, falling slightly below the figure for 1992, when the Production Tax Credit jumpstarted wind development. The U.S. Energy Information Administration attributes this to a mild winter, increased use of natural gas instead of coal for electricity generation, and reduced gasoline consumption. It is revealing that 50 GW of wind power was not noted. In fact, even by Thompson's industry-approved boosterism, wind energy would have reduced energy-related CO₂ emissions by 1.3%. And energy-related CO₂ emissions are only about 80% of the country's total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in terms of CO₂ equivalence, so wind's theoretical effect would be to reduce GHG emissions by barely 1%.

But again, looking only at electricity, it is clear that emissions have decreased almost entirely because of increased use of natural gas, which releases half the amount of CO₂ as coal for the same amount of energy (ignoring, of course, the release of GHG methane in the fracking process to procure that natural gas).

In short, it is clear that wind does not, and will not, seriously affect climate change. So Thompson deflects that criticism by raising the demon of climate science denial. She closes her column with: “To deny climate change ... is to embrace ignorance.” She can not honestly defend wind as a means of addressing climate change, so she changes the subject to that of the importance of addressing climate change, digging herself into an even deeper hole, because addressing climate change is so important that we certainly should not waste our time and resources on such an insignificant player as wind power.

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In her cursory attempt to deny the evidence that wind does not meaningfully reduce CO₂ emissions from fossil fuels on the electric grid, Thompson draws a caricature of the criticism and then accuses it of being oversimple. But it is precisely her formula of x wind equals y CO₂ emissions reduction that critics show to be oversimple.

She starts with the apt simile: “It's not like riding a bike and leaving the car in the driveway ... Wind energy on the grid is more like riding a bike and having someone follow you in the car in case you get tired.” (She cites the source as the Energy Integrity Project (Idaho) web site’s home page, but it is on their “Not Clean” page and there credited to one Eric Rosenbloom.) Thompson makes a paper tiger out of this by asserting that “once the biker tires, he has one option: to drive the car at 60 mph, without stopping, wherever he goes”, which she then shows to be untrue — thus proving the validity of the analogy, because in fact someone else would be driving the car and they would be stopping and starting and slowing to accommodate the flagging and reviving energy of the cyclist, and it would be much more efficient to leave the bike behind and simply drive steadily.

So explaining the complex mix of baseload and peaking plants that meet the changing electricity demand through the day, Thompson offers the novel claim that “variable” energy such as that from wind turbines fills the gap (which never existed) between them. She makes the nonsensical claim that wind is “more readily dispatched than baseload”, as if the grid operator tells the wind when, how strongly, and in what direction to blow, and thereby provides cost relief to peaking gas turbines, which, she says, have high operational costs. Their operational costs are high, however, precisely because they provide only peaking power, so it takes more time to make up the initial capital costs. Wind energy cutting into their use only increases that cost burden. Plus the system as a whole has the added costs — and environmental burden — of the wind facilities and their associated infrastructure.

But Thompson’s charade of expertise avoids the main charge against wind on the grid, which is indeed suggested by the analogy of the cyclist followed by a support car. Like the difference between city and highway driving, more frequent startups and ramping of output levels of the gas turbines not only increase wear and tear (thus increasing costs again), but also reduce their efficiency, i.e., cause them to emit more CO₂ per unit of electricity generated.

Furthermore, there are two kinds of gas turbines: open-cycle and combined-cycle. Only open-cycle gas turbines (OCGTs) are able to respond quickly enough to fill in or make way for the variability of wind energy so that demand is reliably met. Not only does wind require them to operate less efficiently, it also prevents the use of combined-cycle gas turbines (CCGTs), which are much more efficient than OCGTs. In the interest of CO₂ savings, many analysts have determined that emissions from wind + OCGT (which wind requires) are not less than, and are in some cases more than, CCGT alone. (For example: here, here, here, here, here and here.)

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The controversy about climate change is not whether human activities contribute to it. It is about the activities excused in the name of fighting climate change. Industrial wind is a prime example of that deceit: furthering crimes against nature in the name of saving it. And rather than admit those crimes, wind's apologists tar any and every critic as a climate change denier. That is true for some critics of wind, who also might, as Thompson describes the Heartland Institute and Manhattan Institute, consider wind to be a pet project of “ecosocialism” (which they oppose), which is odd since big wind is clearly a playing piece in the game of big energy and big capital. It is that latter fact, and the depredation of nature and communities it is thus an active participant in, that advocates such as Thompson must hide by pretending concern for the planet.

It is a cynical and pathetically transparent performance.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism