Death by Wind

On February 7th, the federal bureaucracy announced its plans for off-shore wind energy. To mark the occasion, Virginia Governor McDonnell stated that the Commonwealth must use “a diverse portfolio of fuels, including . . . offshore and onshore wind . . . .  At the same time we must also maintain reasonable energy costs and a reliable, consistent supply.”Problem is, you can’t do both.

Two recent, peer-reviewed and unimpeached studies explain why wind energy, a 17th century technology, has no sensible place in a 21st century civilization. The energy windmills offer is not free, not clean, not reliable and not consistent. And it doesn’t create new jobs. Here’s why.

The wind blows, except when it doesn’t.  And, wind speed varies on a second by second basis.  Thus, wind energy produces electricity in fits and spurts.   To prevent blackouts and brownouts, we need extremely consistent electricity.  The voltage supplied to our electrical grid must exactly meet the demand and the frequency cannot vary by any more than five cycles in 60 (8.3%) or electrical equipment shuts itself down to prevent damage to motors and circuits.

In an effort to make wind energy useful, electricity generators have to “back-up” the wind energy with other generation capacity, like natural gas and sometimes coal power. When the wind goes down, the back-up energy must fill in – on a second by second basis. Thus, building a 150 megawatt wind farm means one must also build a 150 megawatt fossil fueled back-up supply.

They don’t tell you this at the wind energy pep rally.

To understand what this need for back-up energy means in terms of reliability and pollution, Bentek Energy, LLC. took a hard look at the issue, publishing an April 2010 report entitled: “How Less Became More: Wind, Power and Unintended Consequences in the Colorado Energy Market“. It takes the wind out of the wind-power sails. In sum, they conclude that the use of wind energy resulted in increased levels of SO2 (acid rain), NOx (smog) and CO2 (greenhouse gas).

The reason wind isn’t clean is specifically because of the back-up energy needed. Imagine it this way. If you race your car up a hill, then glide down the other side, then speed up, then slow down, then let it idle for a couple of hours, then race back into traffic, then slow down, then . . . . You get the picture. Horrid gas mileage. And guess what else. The pollution control devices were designed to work on a steady emissions stream, not on one that is as variable as the wind. So, it takes more fuel and it doesn’t scrub the pollution out as well.

Voila, dirty air from windmills. And what about cost?

The cost of having to build redundant back-up energy is obvious, but that’s not the end of the accounting. Take a look at the American Traditions Institute’s new report on proposed federal Renewable Energy Standards - the proposal to mandate 30 percent of all electricity to be generated by “renewable” sources under the President’s state of the Union speech plan.  Renewables are dominated by wind energy - over 80 percent in the Colorado plan, for example.  Thus the report, “The Effects of Federal Renewable Portfolio Standard Legislation on the U.S. Economy” could as easily be called: “The effects of mandatory wind power.”

The costs are massive in any way they are explained. The study examines three levels of wind energy, but to meet the President’s plan, we can concentrate on the 30 percent level. The study also looks at low, medium and high cost assumptions. The high assumptions are based on real world data. The low cost assumptions come from the federal government.

Now, let’s begin with your pocket book. According to this study, to enjoy the increased number of blackouts and brownouts from reliance on wind power, you will have the honor of losing between $350 and $1,300 in disposable family income.

Of course, you still have a job. Maybe. A 30 percent wind energy mandate will reduce national employment by 409,000 to 1.5 million jobs. And if you think a windmill factory is going to take care of that – think again. Think “China.” They have the essential rare earth minerals needed to make the required magnets and they are using this as leverage to force manufacture of the entire windmill on their own shores. At most, we will get some temporary ditch digging jobs.

The real kicker is what these costs mean in terms of health. In addition to the increased acid rain and smog, the fact is that poor people are less able to maintain their health than rich people, so the loss of income also means increased bad health. How much? The 30 percent mandated wind energy would cause from 3,300 to 12,500 additional premature deaths in the nation, mortality rates higher than from operating room errors and HIV, respectively.

So, Governor, the research says you can’t have it both ways. Either you can have reasonable energy costs and reliable, consistent supply or you can have wind power. I’m thinking Virginians want to keep their jobs, their money and their health. You can deep six the windmills somewhere offshore.

About David Schnare:
Dr. David Schnare, Esq., Ph.D. is an attorney and scientist with 40 years of federal and private sector experience consulting on and litigating local, state, federal and international environmental legislative, regulatory, risk management and free-market environmentalism issues.

4 Responses »

  1. It's as if these reports were prepared by people with extremely narrow shutters around their eyes. For one, I don't know of anyone who looks upon wind power as a sole energy source. Of course the winds vary. But so does demand. Hence, the use of a large power grid to balance the elements. The whole idea of having a grid that includes alternate energy sources, especially more environmentally friendly sources, is to mitigate the very ramp-up costs you mention.

    Secondly, to blame wind turbines for poor air quality is ridiculous and misleading. A wind farm may indeed move noxious air around. But that's already happening in nature. There are ample examples of natural areas (e.g. the Adirondacks) that are being damaged by polluted air from other regions of the country blown by prevailing winds. If you want to deal with poor air quality, you deal with it at the source, not at the point where some device that is using the wind's own power to distribute it.

    Finally, this might be one of those cases where all the science might make sense in theory, but it doesn't in fact. There are ample examples of where wind energy is being used to either provide all of a community's energy needs or, more likely, decrease the demand a community places on more environmentally harmful energy generation methods.

  2. When I was designing alternative-energy systems, wind-produced energy was about three times nuclear-produced energy. My recent survey reveals that is still the case. The wind studies did not include maintenace, which, as a mechanical engineer, I would expect to be high. The nuclear studies did include maintenance. However, I would not use pollution as an argument. The wind systems would be topping units that would decrease the demand on existing low-efficiency power plants. Wind could never be the dominant source of power so there would be no need for new fossil-fuel plants.

  3. I ask Mr. Bonney to read the reports to which I have linked in this essay. A large gird, whether a grid of windmills or the entire electrical grid, does not heal the wounds of highly chaotic, unpredictable and variable wind. Mr. Bonney demonstrates lack of a fundamental understanding of how electrical grids work and how wind energy's variability causes blackouts, brownouts and the need for shadowing power. I suggest to any who want to understand why wind simply does not and cannot deliver what is promised read the following: Boone, J. (2010), “Overblown”, http://www.masterresource.org/2010/09/windpower-overblown-part-1/

    Mr. Bonney also does not understand why wind causes pollution. It is not that windmills churn already dirty air. The air is hardly that dirty in the first place. No, it is because when wind drops, even for seconds, back-up fossil fueled generators have to fill in, and in an inefficient and dirtier than normal manner. That causes more air pollution than normal, and that's the reason wind causes air pollution.

    Finally, Mr. Bonney suggests that the studies are based on theory rather than fact. It is just the opposite. The facts of wind energy drive this essay, and dirtly little facts they are.

    With respect to Mr. Costello's contribution, he is in error as to how windmills are used on the grid. They are not brought on line as energy is needed to "top" off the generation. They are "first use" in everycase. Wind energy is so uncertain and unpredictable that it cannot be called on (known in the industry as "dispatched"). Wind is unreliable. That is what makes it costly, dirty and deadly.

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