December 31, 2004

A closer look at Danish wind farms

The Barnstable Patriot, January 2004:

When the weather cleared at Blavand (Denmark), we were fortunate to be able to go back and actually see the Horns Reef complex.

That was, for me, probably the most important experience of the entire trip, and it was truly a revelation. No computer simulation, video or photo presentation can be a substitute for what the eye actually sees.

My impression was that even at a distance of 7 to 8 miles, the complex was far too visible and, when coupled with the strobe lights that flashed asymmetrically from its perimeter, it presented the look of an industrial complex. I did not find it aesthetically pleasing.

There is, at least in my mind, an expectation that when the sky meets the horizontal sea line there should be nothing permanent to break that plane. Not to wax philosophical, but it may be a human response to want to look at an unbroken seascape to, at least in a psychological sense, escape from the land. A sail or an irregular cloud line, yes, but nothing permanent that will draw the eye from the natural balance of the sea and sky.

In its stark utilitarian aspect, the Horns Reef wind farm assaulted my sense of natural balance and I was disappointed by it.

-- Jim Coogan

December 29, 2004

Energy laundering

[Jacksonville (Fla.) Energy Authority] has signed an agreement to buy power from a wind farm in Nebraska to meet environmental goals, though the public utility will sell the power back to the utility that generates it. ... "Although JEA will sell the power back to [Nebraska Public Power District], we will receive environmental credits for the green power our investment generates, ..." said JEA CEO Jim Dickenson.
Follow this. NPPD sells to JEA a certain amount of power presumably reflecting a certain amount of wind-powered generation in its network. JEA, being aver 1,500 miles away, can't of course use it. They sell it back to NPPD but get credit for buying "green" power anyway. They will also no doubt offer an extra charge for their customers to feel better about their energy use. And who's to stop them from selling more of this premium "clean" energy than they actually "buy" from NPPD, since they don't really have it anyway? I suppose NPPD also could provide this service to any number of customers, selling the same "wind power" over and over again. And the facility isn't even built yet. A green revolution indeed.

December 26, 2004

Nuclear power behind wind advocates?

Besides NIMBY (see earlier post), opponents of large-scale wind power are often dismissed as fronts for the nuclear and coal industries, despite no evidence whatsoever. (Former director and current communications director of the American Wind Energy Association, Tom Gray, was forced by a British court to publicly retract such a charge about the Country Guardian group.)

NIMBYism more often -- and more accurately -- applies to supporters of wind energy. U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair intervened to prevent a wind facility near his home, though he insists on building them everywhere else. In the U.S., Massachusetts politicos are enthusiastic about wind power except in the view of their Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard homes. And Bruce Lisman, a director of Central Vermont Public Service, which is fighting to turn a pristine mountain top in southeastern Vermont into a giant wind power plant, is appalled by one his neighbors in western Vermont planning to put up a small turbine for his home. That's the definition of NIMBY, folks.

Back to the nuclear and coal industries: How do they benefit from the "green" push for wind power? Scare-mongering about climate change and CO2 emissions is central to the wind industry's marketing strategy but only serves to show how insignificant wind's contribution can ever be. They have, however, successfully lobbied for the "consensus" view that our energy-use emissions are changing the climate. Having accepted that, and having supported massive wind projects and subsequently seeing their lack of positive impact (and their inordinate negative impact), governments must now more seriously address the very narrowly focused problem they have imposed on themselves.

The wind industry also knows that conservation would save loads more electricity than their turbines could ever provide, so they rarely advocate that obvious green solution, which would make their product irrelevant.

So who now steps in to save the day? Nuclear power, which emits no CO2, and coal, which continues to innovate mining and electricity generation to be more environmentally friendly (for example, Florida Power & Light was just named as the best energy company in the U.S. by the World Wildlife Fund for their "clean" coal initiatives -- see earlier post).

Is it just a coincidence that as most of Europe and North America has shied away from nuclear energy Greenpeace is the loudest "environmentalist" advocate of industrial wind power? Greenpeace became a giant well funded organization through dramatic actions against nuclear energy. Without a vital nuclear power industry, it is nothing. In the U.K. Greenpeace has put its name on a "green" utility plan (Npower Juice) that is run under the Germany-based RWE Group, one of the world's biggest nuclear power generators. The interest for both sides appears to be the same: more nuclear power.

December 25, 2004

Time and the Indian

"What persists is the blasphemy of believing that murder is prayer."

-- Richard Rodriguez, "News Hour," Dec. 15, 2004

December 24, 2004


Every announcement of a wind-farm proposal includes the claim of how many homes it "will" power, misleading people to think that it is a steady source. (Not to mention that the unit, "homes," is whatever the salespeople want it to be and ignores the fact that most electricity use is not residential.) In fact, two-thirds of the time the output from wind turbines is not significant.

Only occasionally does the output approach the nominal power rating, so that rare event is cited with the conditional tense, typically a claim of how much of a district's electricity "could" be produced by the wind turbines. Here again, not mentioned is the fact that such an event is more like an unwelcome surge on the grid, since demand is already being met by other sources when the wind suddenly picks up. And if the grid can adjust quickly, then it must also be prepared for the moment the wind generation suddenly drops.

So, as the west Danish grid manager, Eltra, has admitted, most wind-generated electricity must be dumped.

Another rare event is when the industry moves beyond the easily manipulative "will" and "could" to cite actual figures for existing facilities. Even there, they confuse the facts.

As in Denmark's famous "20% electricity from wind," the number reflects the output from the turbines as a percentage of the electrical energy consumed. It does not, however, tell us how much of the wind-generated power was actually used. In western Denmark, for example, only 16% of the wind production did not have to be dumped. That is, the 20% figure should be corrected to barely 3% of Denmark's electricity provided by wind.

That is obviously why Denmark has not closed down a fifth of their fossil-fueled generating plants. In fact, they haven't been able to close down even one.

The clear test of wind power is whether it is able to change existing patterns of energy use. It is not enough to say how much power the turbines generate. How much do they actually contribute? And does that contribution actually affect the use of other sources?

December 22, 2004

Wind is an attractive investment/con

People often ask, upon being told about what lousy sources of energy wind farms are and how much damage they do, why do people invest in them? The answer, of course, is the very non-invisible hand of government manipulation of the market.

A December 15 presentation by Ed Feo of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy for an American Bar Association seminar pointed out the financial benefits in the U.S.: accelerated depreciation, production tax credits, power purchase agreement (captive buyer), REC sale agreement (secondary sale of "green credit"), and subsidy payments. These benefits, paid for by taxpayers and ratepayers, amount to two-thirds of the value of a wind project. A 300-KB PDF of the PowerPoint slides is available here.

Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy sponsored a "Financing Wind Power Projects" conference last year, in which Keith Martin of Chadbourne & Parke claimed, "Federal and state tax subsidies cover as much as 75% of the capital cost of a wind project." A 535-KB PDF of the conference schedule is available here.

Apparently, two-thirds or even three-quarters isn't enough to keep the juggernaut rolling, because the Renewable Energy Business Alliance has been formed this month to lobby for even more tax breaks.

In Germany, already crowded by one-third of the world's wind power, a recent law requires utility companies to buy all wind power produced and to pay 10 times what electricity from coal, nuclear, and natural gas plants costs. The flood of investment is not surprising.

Please note that there is nothing inherently wrong with such subsidies (and also note that there is no such thing as a free market). But who benefits? As has been made clear in Germany and Denmark, industrial wind power benefits only the investors. It also provides green window dressing for politicians and still-polluting energy companies. The subsidies do not serve to advance a greater good at all. They move huge amounts of cash from taxpayers and ratepayers to the pockets of a very few. That's why those that have the means eagerly invest.

Harvesting Energy

"If we choose to live beyond the fringes of powerlines without living like troglodytes, we must become our own little power companies and take responsibility for the whole electric eneterprise: generating and storing it; transmitting it from source to demand; and distributing it among the loads, where it sheds light, performs work, amuses and instructs us, and powers all the myriad uses we have created in this electricity-infatuated era. Suppliers as well as consumers, off-the-gridders quickly come to grips with the finite energy budget within which we all must learn to live comfortably."

-- Michael Potts, in The Real Goods Solar Living Source Book