November 17, 2005

Wind power titbits and news

According to a March 2004 report prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy by Craig Cox of Bob Lawrence and Associates (Alexandria, Va.), each of the foundations for the 108 GE 1.5-MW wind turbine towers in Lamar, Colo., contains 1,250,000 pounds of concrete and steel rebar.

According to a Nov. 17 story in the Providence (R.I.) Journal, the hole prepared for a single 660-KW Vestas V47 wind turbine tower at a Portsmouth Abbey is 13 feet across and 26 feet deep.

In Wayne County, Pa., it has been widely reported, the Waymart Wind Farm company is trying to get their tax assessment lowered from $282,410 to $31-45,000 per 1.5-MW turbine. In Meyersdale, Pa., the owners of the wind power facility pay the town $640 per 1.5-MW turbine instead of taxes. Nobody should be surprised that these people try to get out of paying their fair share. But who in supportive communities thinks the crumbs they might throw for a while are worth the tremendous loss of open or wild land?

Finally, the Baltic Times reported on Nov. 16 that Estonia is no longer favoring wind power over other renewables: 'Einari Kisel, head of the Ministry of Economy and Communications' energy department, puts it bluntly: "We do not want to have too many wind mills," he says. "The price of wind energy is expensive. The unstable production causes additional costs to other producers."' The wind developers argue that the high cost and low benefit can be mitigated by selling CO2 credits to countries that must meet Kyoto Accord targets (or at least buy enough tokens of non-CO2 production instead of actually reduce emissions). That is, embrace energy-laundering.

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November 16, 2005

Wind power increases emissions from fossil-fuel plants

On May 14, the Herald Sun of Melbourne, Australia, carried a story that began, "Could wind power actually increase greenhouse gas emissions in Victoria?":
Andrew Richards, external affairs manager for Australia's biggest renewable energy company, Pacific Hydro, ... rejects outright claims that wind farms can increase greenhouse gases because they cause existing brown coal generators to "throttle back" and produce higher emissions.

"Coal-fired power is at its most efficient at maximum load, there is no doubt about that," said Mr Richards, who also sits on the board of the Australian Wind Energy Association.

"But it is a bit of a furphy to say that wind power is causing greater emissions at this stage.

"With the current state of output from wind in Victoria, we are just background noise compared to demand fluctuations."
"At this stage." That is to say, it appears, that as wind power becomes more than just "background noise" it does indeed cause greater emissions.

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November 15, 2005

New wind report blows away myths of proponents

A report that Britain has the best wind resource in Europe has been getting a lot of attention lately. This has in fact long been known and is evident in the higher capacity factor (actual output vs. full capacity) of installed wind turbines: 25% in the U.K. versus 15-20% on the continent.

Rather than looking just at averages, the recent government-commissioned study from Oxford
University's Environmental Change Institute found that Britain is never becalmed. The researchers examined 35 years of meteorological data and found not one hour when the wind wasn't blowing at least 4 m/s somewhere in the island kingdom, that being the wind speed at which most industrial turbines start generating electricity. They also found that the wind is below that speed in more than 90% of the country only 1-2 hours per year. From this, they argue -- and news articles duly echo -- that wind power is not intermittent as opponents claim and is therefore a reliable source of energy.

The report itself (beyond the executive summary), however, distinguishes between intermittency and variability, noting that "it is the variation in output from one hour to the next [let alone one minute to the next] that poses challenges for its integration into electricity networks."

The electricity produced by a wind turbine at 4 m/s is the merest trickle, which the report also explains. So the planned tens of thousands of wind turbines would be justified by proponents because in one region there will always be a trickle of production. Rather than defeating the argument of wind power's intermittency, this study in fact underscores it by emphasizing the need for many widely dispersed wind plants to essentially act as a single small plant.

Even then, as the report also explains, the need for conventional capacity would be minimally reduced, "due to the variability of wind power." In their example, which assumes a 35% capacity factor for wind (despite elsewhere citing the actual 27% long-term average), the addition of 13 GW of wind plant capacity to an 84-GW network could replace only 3 GW of conventional capacity. They also explain that spinning reserve must be added as well to back up the wind, so some of that 3 GW has to remain. Their estimate is a very optimistic 5% of wind capacity, or 0.65 GW in the example, but German grid manager Eon Netz has determined their need for spinning reserve to be at least 50%. Even halving that need by assuming the U.K.'s wind is so much more steady than Germany's would mean that no conventional capacity would actually be displaced.

In addition to the new wind capacity (without any reduction of other capacity, and possibly an increase of conventional capacity for spinning standby), the report describes the need for new and upgraded transmission capacity and the costs of integrating nondispatchable and highly variable wind power.

Thus wind power is an expensive land-intensive intrusion that fails to make a meaningful contribution to our energy needs nor to cleaning up our ongoing energy use.

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November 14, 2005

High cost of wind energy

Letter to the Editor, The Times (London), Nov. 14, 2005:
Sir, The figure quoted for the payback time of wind turbines (letter,
November 7) is strictly for the manufacture of the turbine itself and takes no account of the huge energy costs involved in making the massive foundations, the access roads, transmission lines, the re-engineering of other generating plant to enable switching in and out of intermittent supply, nor a share of the costs of back-up conventional plant on spinning stand-by. It is these costs that make wind energy not so attractive and make financial pay-back time more like seven years. For a lifetime of some 25 years per structure this is far less attractive and were it not for massive subsidy the current scramble to despoil our upland areas would not be taking place.

Brampton, Cumbria
Note that the writer limits himself to the financial payback time. It is probable that the wind turbines never pay back the energy their manufacture, transport, installation, and operation require. See "The Low Benefit of Industrial Wind" at

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November 12, 2005

"The Aesthetic Dissonance of Industrial Wind Machines"

Here's an excerpt from a thoughtful essay about the aesthetics of industrial wind turbines, "The Aesthetic Dissonance of Industrial Wind Machines," by Jon Boone, at the online journal Contemporary Aesthetics. (Click on the title of this post for the complete essay.)
Perhaps only the US highway system has the scope and scale to match the aesthetic pretensions for industrial windpower. It certainly has transformed the landscape, as well as much of the culture, penetrating into nearly every aspect of life on the continent. Moreover, its functional success has allowed it to become part of the accepted natural background, much in the way Prof. Saito hopes for the windpower machines. People generally take the interstates for granted these days. Still, despite its ubiquity, the American highway system should present many "thick value" difficulties for philosophers of aesthetics. These difficulties were rather artfully exposed by Godfrey Reggio in his film, Koyaanisqatsi. Here, Reggio shows our highways as foreboding corridors of frenetic technology in service to unbridled consumption, scarring the earth with terrifying consequence and for no compelling reason. He could just as well been documenting industrial windpower, pointing out similarities with factory farms and noting how each corrupts the economy, diminishes the ecosystem, and blights the landscape.
And from one of the footnotes:
... photograph taken several miles away from four of the twenty 375 foot wind turbines atop a 2700 foot ridge over the town of Meyersdale, PA. But the height and elevation are only part of the story. The differentially moving propeller blades dominate the visual experience, taking away the sense of the mountain itself.
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November 11, 2005

More cons than pros

Kristin Calkins Rowe wrote in the Burlington (Vt.) Free Press ("Wake up on wind power," Nov. 7, 2005), "It doesn't take a genius to figure out there are more cons than pros in this debate." The most glaring cost of big wind is the industrial development of rural and wild areas, which inarguably degrades rather than improves our common environment. That is impossible to justify if the benefits claimed by the industry's sales material are in fact an illusion, propped up by subsidies and artificial markets for "indulgence credits" which allow the flouting of emissions caps and renewable energy targets.

Why do utilities generally support wind as a renewable power source?

Actually, they don’t. In Japan, as reported by Asahi Shinbun on May 18, 2005, utilities severely limit the amount of wind power on their systems, because, as documented above, "introducing too much of the electricity, whose supply can fluctuate wildly, can cause problems for utilities' power grids. ... If there is no wind, the utilities must rely entirely on other facilities. And even when wind power can satisfy all of the demand, they must continue operating thermal generators to be ready for any abrupt shortfalls in wind power."

With the movement away from vehicles such as the Clean Air Act, which actually reduced emissions, to so-called market solutions such as renewable portfolio standards (RPS), utilities must buy a specified proportion of their power from renewable sources or buy credits equal to their shortfall. As long as they can say that, for example, 20% of their power comes from wind, it doesn't matter if they're burning as much nonrenewable fuel as ever to back it up. Most importantly, however, "green credits" are generated in addition to actual electricity. They are an echo of the renewable energy already sold that is given as much, or even more, value than the real thing. Burdened with the directive to buy renewable energy, utilities want to be a part of wind power development so they can share in the lucrative sale of the credits.

Ironically, analyses for New Jersey utilities and by the U.S. Energy Information Agency have shown that the only effect on emissions that an RPS might have is to drive down the cost of exceeding emissions caps or missing renewables targets.

With rising fuel prices, however, many utilities have started to demand actual useful energy targets from wind facilities. As Renewable Energy Access reported on Nov. 7, 2005, from an American Wind Energy Association financing workshop in New York City, this has worried investors. Wind turbines produce only the very marketable appearance of green energy, not actual relief from other sources.

[Read the rest of this paper at]

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November 9, 2005

"Onerous" demand that wind turbines actually work

The American Wind Energy Association sponsored a financing workshop in New York last week. As reported by Renewable Energy Access:
Another major theme of the workshop was the effect that high natural gas prices are having on the wind power market. In general, the high fossil-fuel prices will be very good for the wind power market, most agreed, as utilities and investors that want to limit their fuel-price risk start looking for other energy technologies that can be built quickly. However, that interest is making project development more difficult in some ways, as well. As utilities try to define power output from a wind project more and more precisely, they are tending to make power purchase agreement terms more onerous -- too limiting in some cases to make the project viable.

In light of that fact, investors and developers are starting to look toward merchant wind plants -- those built without a long-term supply contract. In some markets, especially those with high renewable energy credit prices and predominant use of natural gas for electricity, merchant plants look as though they may be more profitable than those with supply contracts locked in. However, with the exception of a few cases, there has been little action on the merchant plant front yet.
In other words, a wind facility is only attractive to investors if it is not actually expected to produce useful electricity!

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