September 29, 2010

Mythbuster busted: Tom Gray and the hard facts of wind energy

The unflagging Tom Gray of the American Wind Energy Association has now presented a story about Kodiak Island, Alaska, as a "mythbuster".

It's a mythbuster only if you characterize, as Gray does, the problems with wind on the grid in the most simple-minded way.

1. First, he harps on the charge that backup power units must be kept running, noting (actually, asking tauntingly like a brat in a schoolyard) that Kodiak Electric Association (KEA) burned 930,000 fewer gallons of diesel fuel in the first year of three 1.5-MW wind turbines operating, so emissions must have been reduced.

2. For the same reason, fossil fuel use was reduced.

3. Finally, taking on the charge that wind is unreliable and hard to integrate into utility systems, he notes that KEA did it.

Now let us look at the facts.

The 4.5 MW of wind went into operation in July 2009. The data provided by KEA on diesel fuel saved is estimated as proportional to the net energy produced by the wind turbines. That is not a record of actual fuel savings, which is affected by the diesel generators' efficiency, which is affected by more frequent ramping and switching on and off to balance the wind feed.

As Gray knows, the charge that other plants have to be kept running primarily applies to large coal (and nuclear). Smaller coal plants may be able to ramp their production as needed (at a cost of efficiency). Natural gas plants may be able to switch very quickly on and off (again, at a cost of efficiency, like city versus highway driving). Diesel plants, too, can switch on and off quickly. On an island, they act very much like the backup generator that an off-gridder keeps ready.

So points 1 and 2 dodge the issue of exactly how much diesel fuel is saved by using an estimate rather than actual data. In a similar example from East Falkland, Islas Malvinas, less than one-fourth of the estimated fuel savings was actually seen. And it has still to be documented how less cleanly the remaining three-fourths is being burned.

Again, emissions may have been reduced, but by very much less, if any, than hoped or claimed. And fossil fuel use was reduced, but likely by very much less than estimated.

As for point 3, an island system is a simple closed system, with fast-responding diesel generators (as well as in this case hydro) to adjust quickly to changing demand. They continue to operate in the same way with the addition of wind turbines, which are essentially "negative demand". Being a "small, isolated" utility system is precisely why it is easy to integrate wind there, not, as Gray implies, an example of particular challenge.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism

September 24, 2010

Two poems by Eric Rosenbloom


Clouds waft from over the ocean
        And rain upon the land
Rivers flowing return to ocean
        Waters seeped through the land

Out of the ocean a ship finds the river
        And sails against her waters
Its people build on her shores of mud
        With rushes, wood, and stone

And their towers tumbling back to the land
        Are the last that the river washes
Of the memories returned to ocean
        Of its people seeped in the land


Lilith the earth has drawn the waters to her
And grown a tree that branches over the ocean
And screens the sky from its jealous view

Adam takes the proffered fruit
And dwells with Lilith among the limbs
And leaves of her mortal garden

She is fair and he her king, but Eve
Her clouded brow is drawing him apart
To live again with her as ever

He promises return but knows not which
And Lilith dies, and he dies too, or lives
With Eve our queen to return, to return

September 23, 2010

Wind industry continues to lie

Here are a couple of examples of the alternate reality in which wind industry executives operate, hoping that the rest of the world will join them.

In today's Daily Mail report about the U.K.'s new sprawling wind energy facility off the coast of Kent, an unnamed spokesman for Renewable UK, responding to criticism that this 13.5-square-mile, £780 million plant will produce at an average of only 35-40% of its capacity, said, ‘You have to bear in mind that coal and gas-fired power stations don’t work at full capacity either – and even nuclear power stations are taken off line.’

He does not mention that other power stations are used according to demand, not the whims of the wind. Using a peaking plant (at full rated power) 35% of the time, that is, when you need it, is very different from wind turbines producing power, at variable rates, whether you need it or not. An average of 35% is meaningless: If it can not be produced on demand, it is worthless. Wind turbines produce at or above their average rate — whatever it might turn out to be — only about 40% of the time — at whatever times the wind wills.

Also in the article, an item in the sidebar says that it "generates power at wind speeds between 8mph and 55mph". Elsewhere in the article, however, it is noted that the the plant will generate at full capacity only if the wind is blowing at 16 metres per second, i.e., 36mph. Below that speed, production falls precipitously. At 8mph, it is barely a trickle. Furthermore, after the wind gusts above 55mph and the turbines shut down, they don't start up again until the wind goes down to 45mph.

Let us now turn our attention to Vermont, where the founder of anemometer maker NRG Systems David Blittersdorf (his wife Jan is still CEO; David went on to Earth Turbines and then All Earth Renewables, which applied for millions of dollars of grants this year, so Mr B got himself appointed to the state committee disbursing the grants ...). As reported by the Rutland Herald, Blittersdorf gave a talk about wind power at the annual meeting of the Castleton Historical Society.

He said that "wind power is practically unsubsidized when compared to power sources like oil and nuclear energy." Federal financial interventions and subsidies in the energy market were examined by the Energy Information Administration in 2008. They found that wind energy received $23.37 per megawatt-hour of its electricity production in 2007, compared with 44 cents for coal, $1.59 for nuclear, and 25 cents for natural gas and oil.

He also said that "many of the objections to wind power, such as danger to birds and concerns about noise, are no longer true due to newer technology". In fact, "newer technology" simply consists of taller towers with larger blades, which now reach well into the ranges of migrating birds, both large and small. Every post-construction survey of a wind energy facility continues to report more deaths than predicted. (And yet permitting agencies and bird protection organizations continue to believe the developers' assessments.) In addition to birds, the toll on bats has become an increasingly alarming concern. The size of modern turbines has also only increased, not decreased noise problems. Everywhere that wind turbines are erected within 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) of homes, people complain of disturbed sleep, consequent stress and irritability, and often worse health problems that may be a direct result of the throbbing low-frequency noise on the balance organs of the inner ear. (And yet permitting agencies and neighbors continue to believe the developers' reassurances; the latest victims of this willful obtuseness reside on the island of Vinalhaven, Maine.) Again, the problems with wind have only become worse with "newer technology"..

And so he said that the only real remaining objection is the aesthetic one: "Some folks don't want to see a wind turbine on a mountain. We have to choose something. By denying wind power, you're supporting coal, oil and nuclear energy."

Bullshit and bullshit. Not to mention, the aesthetic objection is valid, considering that wind turbine facilities are generally built in previously undeveloped rural and even wild areas. You can't have environmentalism without aesthetics. Vermont doesn't allow billboards on the highways. It essentially bans all development above 2,000 feet on the mountains. 400-feet-high machines blasted into the ridges and connected by wide straight heavy-duty roads are rightly seen as an insult to what we hold dear.

Anyway, many objections — as described about birds, bats, and noise — remain. And the benefits to be weighed against those "aesthetic" costs are hard to find. By denying wind power, you're not supporting other forms of energy any more than you are by promoting wind power. Because wind, which answers only to the whims of Aeolus, not to the actual minute-to-minute needs of the grid, has not replaced and can not replace other forms of energy on the electric grid.

David Blittersdorf may think it's worth killing birds and bats, destroying the neighbors' health, and wrecking the landscape in the belief that if we erect ever more wind turbines we might actually see some positive effect (ignoring all the havoc wreaked to get there). But instead he denies that these well documented impacts actually occur. That is quite disturbing.

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

September 13, 2010

Israel-Palestine peace talks to clear way for bombing Iran

As Sam Smith points at Undernews, the point of these very unserious peace talks seems really to be to declare their failure, thus clearing the way for the next round of atrocities by the U.S. and/or Israel. Next stop, Iran!