July 30, 2004


"In collaborations, all affected stakeholders come together to attempt to reach consensus-based decisions regarding the appropriate location and development of proposed wind facilities. The strength of a collaborative process comes from its flexible, inclusive, voluntary, and participant-driven nature. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of collaborative decision-making is that locals can gain more control over wind-siting decisions. Wind developers also can benefit from collaboration as the process helps to inform local communities on the real benefits and costs of wind projects, rather than on speculative, sometimes incorrect concerns about lowered property values and ruined views."

--Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), "Guidebook for New England Inland Wind Power Siting," June 2003
The approach described in the CLF paper is summed up on page 6:
"For the process to be seen as fair ..."
Not "for the process to be fair" -- only to be "seen" as fair!

In the whole paper, it is assumed that opposition based on the fact that wind turbines don't do what they are claimed to do is "misinformed," so the purpose of the "collaboration" is to give the developer one more chance to do their "objective" PowerPoint show and then leave any remaining opposition right out of the discussion. It is not about whether the developers ought to be sent packing, but only about giving the people the feeling that they are helping to guide the project. It is only between the developers and people not yet ready to believe that the whole thing is a sham and a con and so can be pacified by a symbolic gesture or two (and plain old money!).

Bravo to the Glebe Mountain Group in Londonderry (Vermont) for rejecting this game.

July 29, 2004

Convention talk

There was a lot of talk at the Democratic convention last night about opportunity and the American dream. It was notable that each speaker presented him- or herself as the example of what is possible: fleeing the honest hard-working lives of their parents to rise to positions of power and affluence.

John Edwards talked about his "two" Americas, but then emphasized how his aspirations beyond mill work should be the model for all and that people who follow his path should be rewarded. Looks like there's three Americas, Johnnie: those at the top, like yourself, those who aspire that way and ought to be humored for it, and the people you write off as losers for not fleeing a life of honest toil.

So there's the problem with this presentation of "the American dream." It's not about making life better and more fulfilling however one might live. It's only about striving. Edwards is right that striving has gotten harder. But why is there such a desperate need to "better" one's situation? This ethic of striving necessarily discounts those who don't strive. The consequence is that we are justified in ignoring their plight because it is their fault they are poor, so we are justified in keeping them poor. After all, such a caste system makes it easier for the strivers.

John Edwards' plan for helping the middle class does nothing towards making all labor dignified, or at least enabling of a decent life. A mill worker is as important to society as a trial lawyer, a cotton picker as important as a senator, a mother as important as an entrepreneur, an artist as important as a policeman. In one America, every person would enjoy the fruits of our shared life, not just those who earn it according to the arbitrary criteria of our "leaders."

We can not all rise like John Edwards did. Most people have to stay "behind" to make things and clean up for him. By definition, in a competitive society, only a few can "win" -- the vast majority are losers. But that's what makes winning so gratifying, and why we hear nothing from the "winners" that would actually improve life for most people, such as single-payer health care or allowing unions to organize again.

July 28, 2004

A note about Luddism

The Luddites, like the saboteurs in France, rebelled against the industrialization of their livelihood, against the transformation of their work from home-based artisans to centralized factories, against the loss of their independence and the loss of their villages to the demands of fickle capitalism.
Lessons from the Luddites
[from "Setting Limits on Technology", by Kirkpatrick Sale, The Nation, June 5, 1995 -- available at the Free Range Activism Website]
  1. Technologies are never neutral, and some are hurtful.
  2. Industrialism is always a cataclysmic process, destroying the past, roiling the present, making the future uncertain.
  3. "Only a people serving an apprenticeship to nature can be trusted with machines" (Herbert Read).
  4. The nation-state is synergistically intertwined with industrialism and will always come to its aid and defense, making revolt futile and reform ineffectual. [The U.K., in response to the Luddites, made machine breaking a capital offense and at one time had more troops protecting Midland weaving factories than fighting Napoleon.]
  5. Resistance to the industrial system, based on moral principles and rooted in moral revulsion, is, however, not only possible but necessary.
  6. Resistance to industrialism must force the viability of industrial society into public consciousness and debate. The costs and consequences of technologies must be laid out as clearly and as fully as possible. Who are the winners? What will be lost? Will this invention concentrate or disperse power?
  7. Resistance to industrialism must be embedded in analysis that is morally informed, carefully articulated, and widely shared. Globalism must be opposed by localism. Industrial capitalism must be opposed by an ecologically sustainable economy. The logic of exploitation must be opposed by the humane.
The depredations of commercial wind power are analogous to the Highland clearances of small farmers in Scotland, the enclosure of common land for private profit, and the further centralization of economy which the Luddites fought against. To be Luddite is not to be against technology. It is to examine what is behind the introduction of a technology and to consider what will be lost against any possible benefit. Large-scale wind power takes away much and gives nothing. It is yet another encroachment meant to increase our dependence on large industry. It diminishes our lives and makes us less free.

The case is similar against genetically engineered food crops. In France, those who pull up those crops are appropriately called saboteurs.

Why the Dems Deserve Nader

"The Democratic administration carries the ball for Wall Street's foreign policy. And the Republican party carries the ball for Wall Street's domestic policy. Of course the roles are sometimes interchangeable." (Adam Lapin, The Third Party, 1948)

'One useful way of estimating how little separates the Democratic and Republican parties, and particularly their presidential nominees, is to tot up the issues on which there is tacit agreement either as a matter of principle or with an expedient nod-and-wink that these are not matters suitable to be discussed in any public forum, beyond pro forma sloganeering: the role of the Federal Reserve, trade policy, economic redistribution, the role and budget of the CIA and other intelligence agencies (almost all military), nuclear disarmament, allocation of military procurement, reduction of the military budget, the roles and policies of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and kindred multilateral agencies, crime, punishment and the prison explosion, the war on drugs, corporate welfare, energy policy, forest policy, the destruction of small farmers and ranchers, Israel, the corruption of the political system.

'In the face of this conspiracy of silence, the more third party challenges the better. Nader is doing his duty.'

--Alexander Cockburn
(click the title of this post for the full series of articles)

July 27, 2004

Same Old

The New Republic offers a report from the Democratic convention in Boston, but for some reason the writer pretends it is May Day in Cuba and Fidel Castro is the speaker:
Castro does eventually wrap up, and the crowd spills into the streets. As I watch people packing onto rickety old buses, I am struck by how much the May Day routine typifies today's Cuba: conditions everyone complains about, politics falling on tired ears, police infiltrating everything, and, of course, the same enduring legend keeping it all in one piece. I won't be surprised if Castro begins next year's May Day speech with the same slow sentence. The Cubans will wave their paper flags and go home to sleep off the hearty dose of politics so they can get back to getting by.
You can tell it's really the U.S. she's talking about, because unlike Cubans we have to struggle without job or retirement security, dependable health insurance, free higher education, etc.

Wind's ability to raise CO2 emissions

An interesting paper by Robert J Bass and Peter Wilmot of the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, Loughborough University (U.K.), has been brought to my attention. It shows that wind turbines supplying the grid may actually increase CO2 emissions. The latter part of the paper is reproduced below, with emphasis added.
[C]arbon dioxide liberated per GW generated continuously for one year (8760 hours) from different fossil fuels is:

Fuel type         CO2 tonnes/year

Direct Coal fired 10.8 m tonnes/year
Direct Oil fired 6.75m tonnes/year
Gas (open cycle) 4.5 m tonnes/year
Gas (CCGT) 2.85m tonnes/year
Wind turbine Nil

The new wind generators will come on stream during the next five years and may be expected to generate power for twenty-five to forty years. During this time the early years of the make-up power will come from the existing fossil fuel power plants. Many of these units, however, are already half way through their working lives and will have to be replaced during the next five to fifteen years.

Furthermore, the current Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) units are not well suited to follow the demand load changes on the network as the boiler/steam turbine units respond slowly to major load swings. And when the transient output from the wind turbines is added to the fluctuating nature of customer demands, the picture of the network supply requirements becomes even more unpredictable.

The potential consequences of wind power

If a 1GW wind farm generates power to the grid during all the periods when wind is sufficiently powerful, it might be expected to deliver approximately 2,630 GWh per year. However, this would cause a shortfall against a 1GW base load demand (i.e. 8760 GWh) over the same period of approximately 6,100 GWh and this has to be generated by fossil fuels.

The consequences are summarised in the table below:

Annual tonnage of CO2 emitted

Wind turbine + CCGT station 2.0 m tonnes
Wind turbine + Open cycle station 3.15m tonnes
Wind turbine + Oil fired station 4.75m tonnes
Wind turbine + Coal fired station 7.5 m tonnes

The data demonstrates that at best a wind turbine farm of 1GW installed capacity would save approximately 0.85m tonnes of carbon dioxide annually if it displaced an efficient CCGT plant. By the year 2010 a number of the current CCGT stations will be more than twenty years old and approaching the de-commissioning phase. If the financial incentives are inadequate (as is the current position) and the base load market is not available to help defray capital and fixed operating costs, they will not be replaced. The technology of any such new plants will also need to have been developed to handle the transient nature to the demand after the wind farms have produced their volatile output. The supply of natural gas will need to be reliable and economically priced but by this time it will be imported from politically less stable sources.

If the gas fired units are not available, the supply would have to come from either oil or coal fired plant (or even new open cycle gas fired plants). This would cause carbon dioxide emissions to increase above their current best levels.

In the case of oil fired back-up, the increase is some 1.9 m tonnes greater than the current position would be where the whole load is supplied by a gas fired CCGT plant. If the comparison is made with a coal fired plant supplying the make-up, the increase in carbon dioxide would be 4.6m tonnes annually.

And these figures will be eight times greater if the wind turbine installed capacity reaches the government’s target of 8GW.

It is worth noting that the government is committed to reducing the carbon dioxide emissions by 26.5m tonnes annually by 2010. A significant proportion of this reduction is planned to be delivered by wind turbines. This analysis suggests that the current ‘Dash For Wind’ could actually make the situation worse.
Another article sent to me describes the same scenario in the U.S. It is by Richard Stevens and appeared in "Energy Pulse." It unfortunately devolves into a defense of nuclear radiation, but here is the interesting part, with emphasis added.
Operating a fossil fuel fired power plant in the cyclic mode, instead of operating at a constant power, has two very detrimental effects. First of all, cycling makes the power plant much less efficient. It must consume more fossil fuel to produce the same electrical output. Second, cycling produces thermal stresses that over time will cause material failures that will force the power plant to shut down to make repairs.

The failures produced by cycling is one of the reasons that has influenced most power plant operators to choose a power plant design that is relatively inefficient when they need to operate the plant in the cyclic mode. A simple combustion turbine is typically 40% efficient. A combined cycle power plant that includes a combustion turbine, a heat recovery steam generator, and a steam turbine, is typically 58% efficient. However, the combustion turbine is less likely to fail due to the thermal stresses induced by cycling.

The other major reason that a power plant operator would choose the inefficient combustion turbine over the efficient combined cycle is that the combustion turbine costs less to install. The power plant operator must operate his combined cycle generator longer than the combustion turbine to recover his investment. If he is forced to shut down or reduce power to make room on the electrical grid for a wind generator, he may never recover his investment.

Consequently, there are very compelling technical and financial reasons to choose a simple combustion turbine that is only 40% efficient if the power plant is forced to cycle because of the operation of a wind generator on the same electrical grid. Using the 26.0% wind capacity factor from California in 2000, one can calculate the amount of fossil fuel required to operate a combustion turbine for 74.0% of the time in order to replace the missing power from the wind generator, and compare it to the amount of fossil fuel required to operate a 58% efficient combined cycle power plant 100% of the time. The more efficient combined cycle can now be used since it does not have to vary its output to accommodate the wind generator. The result is that the combination of wind generator and combustion turbine uses 7.2% more fossil fuel than the combined cycle. That’s right. The introduction of the wind generator causes more fossil fuel to be burned not less. That means more pollution, not less. That means more carbon dioxide emitted into the Earth’s atmosphere, not less. That means more dependence on imported fossil fuels, not less.

July 21, 2004

Danish Wind: Too Good To Be True?

[The following excerpts are from an article in The Utilities Journal (published by Oxford Economic Research Associates), July 2004, by David J. White, written in response to "The Danish Wind Power Experience," by Steffen Nielsen, in the May issue. The article was provided by Country Guardian.]

"Key facts omitted

"Denmark has installed 3,100 MW of wind turbine capacity to date, which is in theory capable of generating 20% of the country’s electricity demand. Of that capacity, 2,374 MW is located in western Denmark (Jutland and Funen). The statistic is misleading because it implies that 20% of Denmark’s power is supplied continuously from its wind capacity, but the figure appears to be a promotional statistic rather than a factual representation of the supply pattern.

"Jutland has cable connections to Norway, Sweden and Germany with a capacity of 2,750 MW. In other words, it has the means of exporting all of its wind production. The 2003 annual report of Eltra, the western Denmark transmission company, suggests an export figure of 84% of total wind production to these countries in 2003, with figures that ramped up rapidly over previous years as Denmark found that it could not absorb wind output into the domestic system. ...

"Reuters reports for 2003 present annual load factors of just 19% for Denmark and 18.7% for Germany [Reuters Power News, March 24th 2004]. An even more recent article cites the results of a study covering the German wind system for 1998–2003 [Reuters Power News, June 1st 2004]. If the annual average load factor is back-calculated over the five-year period, it is only 14.7%. ...

"Impact on CO2 reduction

"There is no CO2 saving in Danish exchange with Norway and Sweden because wind power only displaces CO2-free generated power. When the power is consumed in Denmark itself, fluctuations in wind output have to be managed by the operation of fossil-fired capacity below optimum efficiency in order to stabilise the grid (ie, spinning reserve). Elsam, the Jutland power generator, stated as recently as May 27th at a meeting of the Danish Wind Energy Association with the Danish government that increasing wind power does not decrease CO2 emissions. Ireland has drawn similar conclusions based on its experience that the rate of change of wind speed can drop faster than the rate at which fossil-fuelled capacity can be started up. Hence spinning reserve is essential, although it leads to a minimal CO2 saving on the system [data available on www.esb.ei]. Innogy made the same observation about the operation of the UK system [observation made in a paper presented by D. Tolley, Innogy, to the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, January 2003].

"The result is that, while wind-generated power itself is CO2-free, the saving to the whole power system is not proportional to the amount of fossil-fuelled power that it displaces. The operation of fossil-fired capacity as spinning reserve emits more CO2/kWh than if the use of that plant were optimised, thus offsetting much of the benefit of wind."