Saturday, September 27, 2008

More on Wind & Natural Gas

The following is a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal about the article referred to in my previous post on this issue.

To the editor:

The recent article by Edgar Gaertner on how wind energy leads to more gas consumption in Europe draws an erroneous conclusion about U.S. wind power’s potential. Wind power is not meant to replace all natural gas (or any other fuel) in U.S. electric power generation. As a clean source of electricity that is also stable in price, wind can provide 20% of U.S. electric power needs by 2030, thereby displacing other energy sources that are not as clean, and whose prices are volatile. According to Department of Energy estimates, 20% wind power would cut natural gas use in half from what it would otherwise be. Still, other fuel sources would be needed to generate the remaining 80% of our electricity.

As for the need for backup power: Wind is variable, but so is customer demand for electricity, which varies throughout the day. Utility system operators already turn power plants on or off as needed to balance supply and demand. With today’s forecasting models, a grid operator can accurately predict how much wind power is available to meet demand, and can balance wind with other power sources as needed. Wind power can supply 20% or more of the total electricity on a system without adding significantly to normal variability.

The net impact of 20% wind would be good for U.S. consumers, good for the environment, good for energy security, and good for the U.S. economy because about half of wind power components are made in the United States.

Randall Swisher
Executive Director
American Wind Energy Association
(sent 09/17/08)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

New Mass. Administration, New Wind Farm

From the Berkshire Eagle comes a report that the Brodie Mountain wind farm in Western Massachusetts, stalled for many years by a variety of delaying tactics, is finally moving forward and expected to be operational by 2010.

The project was recently bought from a private developer by Berkshire Wind Power Cooperative Group, a collaborative of 14 municipal utilities that are members of the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co. Observers credit the administration of Gov. Deval Patrick (D), elected on a pro-wind platform, with helping to break the logjam.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Times Magazine Looks at Bluewater Wind

Sunday's New York Times Magazine features an excellent article on Delaware's offshore Bluewater Wind project by Mark Svenvold. There are many useful passages here. Selecting a few:
[The Mid-Atlantic Bight, a] coastal region running from Massachusetts to North Carolina[,] contain[s] up to 330,000 megawatts of average electrical capacity.

That's enough, by itself, to generate roughly 70% of current U.S. electricity use.
Over time, comments to the Public Service Commission were nearly 10 to 1 in favor of the wind project. A survey conducted by the University of Delaware concluded that 91 percent of the state’s residents supported wind power offshore — even if it meant paying more per month for electricity.

This despite an anti-wind advertising campaign by the local utility.
“Wind power,” says Walt Musial of the N.R.E.L. [National Renewable Energy Laboratory], “is not a niche player. That’s something that the American public may not fully be aware of.”


Svenvold quotes two persistent critics of wind. One argues that the wind blows mostly at night "when you don't really need the electricity." Of course, you actually "really need the electricity" up until wind is meeting 100% of instantaneous electricity demand--something it is nowhere near doing in any part of the U.S. today. The second argues that natural gas is needed to "back up" wind, increasing its cost and carbon footprint. For a response to this, see my comment on Edgar Gaertner's recent article in the Wall Street Journal, which makes the same erroneous assertion.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

New Pro-Renewable Energy Group in New York

From New York comes this welcome announcement that a new grassroots advocacy group, the Renewable Energy Advocacy Coalition (REAC), is being formed in the Empire State.

The letter to the editor concerning REAC notes that media reports seem to over-emphasize opposition to wind projects:
Despite the focus of the recent Associated Press article that profiled New York's Maple Ridge Wind Farm as locally controversial, findings of the "First Annual Lewis County Survey of the Community," released in October 2007, showed that by a 4-1 margin, Lewis County residents believe that the "development of the Maple Ridge Wind Farm has had a positive effect on Lewis County." Furthermore, 77 percent of respondents supported expansion.

Controversy is always interesting, but it's good to know that the real story of wind power continues to be one of overwhelming support--especially when that support comes from locations where wind farms are already operating. As the letter adds,
In Madison County, N.Y., the Fenner Wind Farm is an object of community pride. Local residents created the Fenner Renewable Energy Education (FREE) Center there to educate their many visitors about the benefits of renewable energy technologies, including wind.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Fact Check II: National Center for Policy Analysis

The National Center for Policy Analysis adds to a generally shoddy record of analysis on wind power by picking up the Gaertner article mentioned below.

Fact Check: Wind Power and Natural Gas

In an article published Thursday, Edgar Gaertner of the Wall Street Journal, regrettably, gets it wrong with respect to wind power and its ability to reduce the use of natural gas in Europe (which depends heavily on Russia for natural gas supplies). According to Gaertner:
Wind turbines generate electricity very irregularly, because the wind itself is inconsistent. Therefore wind turbines always need backup power from fossil fuels to keep the electricity grid in balance."

This is incorrect. Customer demand for electricity varies throughout the day, just as wind does, and wind adds little variability to a utility system. Other power sources are needed not to "back up" wind, but to meet peak demand.

Gaertner goes on to note that gas-fired power plants are ideally suited to match up with wind, because their output is very flexible (true) and ascribes increasing use of gas in Spain and Germany to those countries' growing use of wind (probably not true). Here's one reason gas consumption is increasing in Germany:
...Greens and even parts of the governing Christian and Social Democratic parties are fervently opposed to the construction of new coal plants.

The U.S. Department of Energy has found that wind can generate 20% of U.S. electricity by 2030. In the process, it would reduce the use of natural gas for electricity generation by 50%, even though an additional 90,000 megawatts (MW) of gas generating capacity would be needed. Why is this? It's because even though there would be more gas plants, they would run much less and use much less fuel. Mr. Gaertner's commentary, therefore, misses the mark.

Utilities are building wind today because it provides them with zero-cost energy. It is primarily an energy resource, not a capacity resource. Society today faces three major issues: rising electricity demand, high (and volatile) fuel prices and global warming. Fuel prices and global warming have nothing to do with capacity, but rather with fuel consumption.


Monday, September 01, 2008

Wind Power Chips in at Republican Convention

The Republican National Convention issue of Roll Call, the political newspaper covering Capitol Hill, features a cover with a cartoon of an ax-wielding logger whose ax reads "tax cuts," accompanying an elephant with a "Drill Here, Drill Now!" banner. Meanwhile, the back cover warns, "CAUTION: Stopping Wind Turbines Will Result in Loss of Jobs," in a full-page ad placed by the American Wind Energy Association. It's a strong reminder that energy issues will be front and center when Congress returns soon for a final brief session before the November election.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hats Off: Matt Wald on Transmission

Kudos to Matt Wald for today's excellent article in the New York Times on transmission and why it is needed for wind power to reach its full potential in the United States. This is a central electricity issue facing the next Administration.