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Wind power is a reliable technology that provides societal and consumer benefits

Windmills
Photo by Joe Kimball
Windmills in the Grand Meadow area of southern Minnesota

The recent Community Voices commentary by long-time wind energy opponent Rolf Westgard (“Obama's chilly approach to global warming,” Jan. 29) recycled previously refuted myths.

Michael Goggin
Michael Goggin

Wind energy has already proven a reliable energy source by providing significant amounts of electricity across major parts of the United States.

Iowa produces more than 20 percent of its electricity from wind, and when wind energy recently provided more than 25 percent of the electricity being used across 11 Midwest states, including Minnesota, the regional grid operator MISO commented, "Wind represents one of the fuel choices that helps us manage congestion on the system and ultimately helps keep prices low for our customers and the end-use consumer."

In Minnesota, 12.7% in 2011

In Minnesota, wind power in 2011 contributed 12.7 percent of the state's electricity generation, supported up to 3,000 jobs, and contributed $8 million in land lease payments.

It saves consumers money as well. A 2012 report from Synapse Energy Economics found that wind energy can save the average Midwestern household up to $200 per year.

Data and analysis from utilities, the government and independent utility system operators confirm that adding wind energy displaces large quantities of fossil-fuel use and carbon dioxide pollution. That’s because when the wind is blowing, the electricity generated displaces the output of the most expensive, least efficient power plants.

In Minnesota, as wind grew from providing less than 4 percent of the state’s electricity in 2006 to almost 10 percent in 2009, electric sector carbon-dioxide emissions fell by more than 10 percent, or 4 million tons.

Fluctuations are accommodated

Utility operators accommodate gradual and predictable changes in wind output with the same tools they use to deal with fluctuations in electricity demand as well as sudden outages of large fossil and nuclear power plants, which are far more costly to deal with. 



Despite critics’ spin, the facts demonstrate that wind power is a vital component of an “all-of-the-above” national energy policy.

Michael Goggin is the manager of transmission policy for the American Wind Energy Association. 

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Comments (27)

Fake statistics

Those statistics about wind power produced don't cover how much is actually used. Denmark is the poster country for wind, and its 5000+ turbines can produce 20-30% of its power need. But most of that wind power can't be used by the delicately balanced electric grid. so it is dumped at a loss to Sweden, Norway and Germany. Norway and Sweden use the energy to pump water up behind their hydro dams, acting as kind of battery for Denmark's erratic turbines. When Denmark needs power, it buys it, usually from Sweden which is powered by hydro and nuclear.
Without the big PTC subsidy, the wind business goes as quiet as those turbine blades on a muggy summer day when all ACs run, and there isn't a "breath of air."
In 2012, wind and solar combined provided 3.5% of US electric power and about one quad of our total 100 quads of all energy consumed.

Rolf, if the energy is produced but not "used,"where does it go?

Rolf, as a petroleum engineer, you should understand that the law of the conservation of energy indicates that all wind energy added to the power system must be "used." Every MWh of wind energy added to the power system must offset a MWh that would have come from another fuel source. Grid operators use wind energy to offset the most expensive power plant that is currently operating, which is almost always the least efficient fossil-fired power plant.

In regions with significant hydroelectric potential, sometimes grid operators use wind energy to offset electricity production that would have occurred at hydroelectric dams, storing water behind the dam that will be used to produce energy and offset fossil fuel generation at a later point in time. In either case, wind energy is directly offsetting fossil fuel generation on a 1:1 basis.

If you disagree, please explain where you think the wind energy that is produced but not "used" is going? If you can, I'll let the Department of Energy and the Midwest independent grid operator know that their statistics are "fake." If you can't, I expect you to retract your statements and to stop spamming every newspaper in Minnesota with your misinformation.

Michael Goggin

Excess energy

To my knowledge, it is either dissipated as heat, dumped off to another user, or the source is shut down.
In the Pacific Northwest, Bonneville Power Authority is in a dispute with wind operators, because 'must take' laws require BPA to take wind energy and shut off low cost hydro power. Wind operators insist on this because they don't get their subsidy unless they produce. I can't blame them.

Incorrect

"To my knowledge, it is either dissipated as heat, dumped off to another user, or the source is shut down."

No mechanism exists for grid operators to dissipate electricity as heat. The Midwest grid operator regularly transacts energy with neighboring power system, but to the extent any wind energy is included in those transactions the wind would still be used to offset fossil fuel use on the neighboring power system. All of the wind output statistics I cited in my article include only wind energy that was actually produced, so if the source was shut down that would not be included in the numbers I cited.

Wind vs. Fossil, Goggin vs. AWEA

Michael Goggin:

You should consult with AWEA board member E. On Energy before speaking on how much fossil generation wind can replace.

"Wind energy is only able to replace traditional power stations to a limited extent.
Their dependence on the prevailing wind conditions means that wind power has a limited
load factor even when technically available. It is not possible to guarantee its use for the continual cover of electricity consumption. Consequently, traditional power stations with capacities equal to 90% of the installed wind power capacity must be permanently online in order to guarantee power supply at all times"

Hardly a 1 to 1 ratio with respect to emissions reduction is it?

E. On is a treasure trove of data:

"As wind power capacity rises, the lower availability of the wind farms determines the reliability
of the system as a whole to an ever increasing extent. Consequently the greater reliability of
traditional power stations becomes increasingly eclipsed. As a result, the relative contribution of wind
power to the guaranteed capacity of our supply system up to the year 2020 will fall continuously to around 4% (FIGURE 7). In concrete terms, this means that in 2020, with a forecast wind power capacity of over 48,000MW (Source: dena grid study), 2,000MW of traditional power production can be replaced by these wind farms"

24MW nameplate wind to replace 1MW nameplate fossil.

So who do you believe? AWEA shill Michael Goggin or his director E. On Energy?

http://www.nerc.com/docs/pc/ivgtf/EON_Netz_Windreport2005_eng.pdf

Never forget that Mr. Goggin loves wind: his personal green job depends upon it.

Kevon Martis
Uncompensate Ratepayer Advocate

More on Europe's experience with wind farms

On the evening of Dec. 20, Britain’s average temperature fell to minus 5.6 Celsius. At 6:30 that evening, Britain’s wind farms, which have a generating capacity of 5,200 MW of electricity, were actually generating 40 MW.
As Jeremy Nicholson, director of the UK Energy Intensive Users Group, states, “What is worrying is that these sorts of figures are not a one-off. It was exactly the same last January and February when high pressure brought freezing cold temperatures, snow and no wind.” Nicholson added, “We can cope at the moment because there is still not that much power generated by wind. What happens when we are dependent on wind turbines for more of our power, and there is suddenly a period when the wind does not blow and there is high demand?”
Queen Elizabeth’s husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, summed up the issues with Britain’s wind program, describing wind supporters as people who “believe in fairy tales.”  Governor Romney had this one right. "It’s time for “all sources of energy to compete on their merits.”

Stick to the subject, please

The topic is wind energy in Minnesota, not Europe. The opinion of Prince Phillip on wind energy bears little weight here. We fought a war to make ourselves independent of the British monarachy, today we are fighting to make ourselves as independent as possible of coal-fired electricity.

Wind power is not the only answer to our energy challenges, but it is an important step in the right direction. Of course it has its pros and cons -- every energy source does -- but it is working well for the people of Minnesota, keeping the light on, the air cleaner and the bills lower.

There is a role for wind and solar

But it remains a relatively small supplement. A big wind turbine is 150 tons of concrete and steel, plus some rare earths from China in the nacelle. Producing those is not environment friendly. The issue of lower bills is open to dispute. Obviously the AWEA and I differ on that point.
Long term renewables will be more competitive as fossil fuels get increasingly dear. IMO solar will be the major rival to nuclear.

If we reach the '25 by 25' goals...

...and there is every indication that we will, then 25% of Minnesota's electrical power will come from renewable sources within the next 12-13 years. The actual number may be a little higher, as the state's largest utilty, Xcel Energy, has commited to a 30% renewable goal by 2025.

These numbers do not appear small or supplemental to me. The current market forces moving Minnesota utilities away from coal and toward cheaper natural gas (see business section in today's Star Tribune) will also play a role in our energy future. Yes, natural gas is a finite fossil fuel with pros and cons of its own, environmentally speaking. But there is no question that it burns cleaner than coal, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions significantly compared to coal-burning plants.

As for nuclear, who knows? Judging from its recent past, it doesn't seem to have much of a future in this country, regardless of its pros or cons. But that's just IMO. (grin)

Legislators and the laws of physics and nature

Passing renewable fuel standards is easy. Actually doing it with erratic fuel sources is not so easy.

25x25

You may very well reach 25% by 2025. Of course that will mean replacing a huge number of existing turbines and towers with new ones.

DTE Energy in MI reports under oath to the MPSC that gearboxes will fail somewhere between 5-12 years requiring a $450,000 replacement. They also state that the generator will be exhausted by 20 years and the tower worn out by 25 years requiring replacement or expensive retrofit.

http://efile.mpsc.state.mi.us/efile/docs/16991/0001.pdf

And of course at 25% wind, MN will be permanently bound to the other 75% being fossil fuel.

That is because wind cannot replace baseload and is always redundant to and dependent upon fossil fuel generation (absent storage or massive hydro capacity).

Xcel has "commited" to a 30% goal

"Committed" is an interesting way to describe a State law that mandates that Xcel must have 30% or face significant fines. 30% instead of the 25% for other utilities is Xcel's punishment for supplying realiable, carbon free electricity from their "evil" Prairie Island and Montecello nuclear reactors. It's amazing what companies will "commit" to when the government holds a gun to their corporate head.

A Complete Change in the Power System

I'm well aware that some of us are absolutely determined to maintain the old central-power-plant- from-which-all-electricity-is-distributed model of meeting the average consumer's electrical needs,...

but, as seems increasingly clear, that model is rapidly losing it's viability, especially in the face of climate change.

Coal and oil fill our atmosphere with greenhouse gasses that accelerate global climate change and other pollutants that cause many people respiratory difficulties.

Burning natural gas produces fewer greenhouse gasses and less air pollution, but the process of fracking is setting us up to have large numbers of the fresh water aquifers upon which so many of us depend for our drinking water rendered unfit for human consumption,...

at the very time that planetary warming and the increased drought it will bring are going to increase the need for fresh water.

The releases of raw methane so common with fracking produce greater climate change affects than CO2 does (and why on earth is the methane gas being burned off at the Bakken field in North Dakota - where there are so many natural gas flares burning 24 hours a day that the light is clearly visible from space at night - not required to be recaptured and piped into the existing natural gas infrastructure where it can do useful work).

We have not solved (and likely NEVER will solve) the waste problem associated with nuclear power plants, with large amounts of nuclear waste now being stored in scattered locations all across the world, and the humans managing those plants and those storage sites being, well, HUMAN, and therefore, incapable of perfection either in design or execution and management,...

it's only a matter of time until an accident, terrorist attack, or natural disaster, spreads nuclear materials over a fairly wide local area and renders it uninhabitable, as we saw in Fukishima.

The model we now need for electrical generation and distribution is far more akin to what the internet is becoming - where, much like people producing their own content and uploading it to the net while also downloading the content produced by others,...

people and/or utilities place solar panels on their own rooftops, and put up wind turbines,

and where a Manhattan-type project to design and build the means to store large amounts of power at reasonable cost is put in place so that the spikes in solar and wind-produced electricity (and increasingly likely, hydroelectric, too) can be evened out and consistent power can be provided to the grid as need.

Under such a system, then, we would need a far smarter electrical grid and the job of the utility companies would shift from power generation to grid management and maintenance. It's likely that such a grid-management focus for utilities would require government support,...

or an entirely different style of regulation if the utilities were in the position of buying the electricity generated all over the place (and storing it, as needed), then selling back it back to us.

Since it is already possible for individuals to produce and store sufficient amounts of solar and wind energy to take themselves completely off the grid, that could become another model wherein each home is retrofitted to do so, and each structure is built with those capabilities.

Of course we'd all have to drive electric cars, too.

All of this is completely possible now and would clearly produce the greatest good for all of society while protecting our planet's future.

The only REAL question which remains is whether we have the political will to wrest control of our energy supply out of the hands of those who are making massively obscene profits off our energy use or lacking that, continue to let them figuratively (and literally) "eat, drink, and be merry" (at our expense) because they expect to be dead before the future destruction caused by their current selfish and self-serving profit mongering arrives.

Energy pipe dreams

At this point, no one has been killed or even become sick from radiation in Japan. It's even possible that no one ever will be.
Amery Lovins sold 'soft power' nonsense to California. The result was Enron induced near catastrophe.
As to nuclear spent fuel, just reopen Yucca Mountain before Obama has the chance to trash it. Longer term breeder reactors will burn it as fuel.
Wind power has not replaced a base load coal plant anywhere on earth, nor is it ever likely to. In addition to conservation, natural gas and non polluting nuclear are the only options to replace coal.
Pipe dreams are easy; real practical solutions are not.
MN has one solution in our 3 low cost reliable round the clock nuclear reactors. We will need to replace Sherco's giant coal output. One Westinghouse AP 1000 can do it. Or 2 or 3 gas plants like the HIgh Bridge plant in St Paul. Covering the state of Minnesota with turbines and solar panels wouldn't have a chance.
REW

Enron induced near catastophe?

This is the first time I ever heard anyone blame the California energy crisis on Amory Lovins. I've met Lovins and heard him speak but I'll bet he'd even be surprised he had that much influence.

I think the consensus view is that the California Energy crisis was created by Enron and like energy trading firms on the failed deregulation model adopted by California.

Given our options for the future, I'm open to hearing and learning more about how nuclear energy can be produced more safely to avoid an otherwise gruesome future with climate change. We need to be open to accepting certain risks given the tradeoffs. But we need to have some way of getting a coherent message about this all. We can't go around preaching about how safe nuclear plants and generation is and then be lecturing countries like Iran that they cannot have such power because we are afraid they will use to build a nuclear arsenal. And if we must assume that such power is safe only so long as people we trust are in control of it, it might as well be not available at all, given the depressing history of our species.

ENRON

And of course ENRON fathered the push for wind subsidies, ergo, they are evil too?

Enron

Enron also fathered industrial scale wind energy on the Buffalo Ridge in MN in the 1990s. MN adopted Enron's wind turbine siting "standards", which have NO scientific basis, and has never updated or modified them since then. This is part of the reason MN's siting "standards" allow a turbine to be sited as close as 500 feet from a home. This is almost 1/7th the distance required in Germany - 1000 meter/ 3,281 foot minimum setback. MN has had an exchange partnership on renewable energy with Germany for several years now. In December a member of the German delegation speaking at a public forum facilitated by MPUC Commissioner David Boyd, said the minimum setback in Germany is 1000 meters. Depending upon the number of turbines and terrain, Germany sometimes requires a 6000 meter setback. He stated that early on, Germany allowed turbines closer and there were health and flicker problems. About turbine siting, he told citizens, "Learn from our mistakes, not from our successes."

Unfortunately, MN's hearing seems to be selective. The MPUC, Governors, Legislators and State agency heads all know there are significant negative health effects from turbines near homes. Some say their "assumed there were no negative effects" when MN mandated wind in 2007; others say "We knew, but everyone needs to suffer (to save the planet)." MN's "leaders" are unwilling to slow the flow of cash which goes primarily to these European wind developers and Wall Street. After all - "It's for the greater good".

AWEA, of course, says that turbine noise is just like your refrigerator. Please provide the scientific and experiential data showing people sick and abandoning their homes due to refrigerator noise.

"No one has been killed or even become sick from radiation"

Not yet, anyway.

At least thirty-one people were killed immediately by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. There may have been 20 or so other deaths shortly afterwards. The World Health Organization estimates that the ultimate death toll will be around 3500, due to radiation exposure from the incident. As of 2005, 4000 cases of thyroid cancer have been attributed to radiation exposure from Chernobyl.

These are the lowballing figures that are endorsed by WHO and, if I recall, the nuclear energy industry.

From the Institute for Energy Research(IER) 1/23/13

Germany is phasing out its nuclear plants in favor of wind and solar energy backed-up by coal power. The government’s transition to these intermittent green energy technologies is causing havoc with its electric grid and that of its neighbors—countries that are now building switches to turn off their connection with Germany at their borders.
The intermittent power is causing destabilization of the electric grids causing potential blackouts, weakening voltage and causing damage to industrial equipment.
The instability of the electric grid is just one of many issues that the German government is facing regarding its move to intermittent renewable technologies. Residential electricity prices in Germany are some of the highest in Europe and are increasing dramatically (currently Germans pay 34 cents a kilowatt hour compared to an average of 12 cents in the United States). This year German electricity rates are about to increase by over 10 percent due mainly to a surcharge for using more renewable energy and a further 30 to 50 percent price increase is expected in the next ten years. These changes in the electricity generation market have caused about 800,000 German households to no longer be able to afford their energy bills.

Some of Us Will Go To Nearly Endless Lengths

Simply to preserve the status quo and protect the interests of those we admire.

Change is the only thing that will save us. Change to distributed power generation is the only logical means to move away from fossil fuels. The technology required to produce a power grid smart enough to deal with distributed power generation and storage methods to smooth out disagreements between peaks in supply and peaks in demand is still being developed, but it WILL be developed, despite the efforts of the powers that be and their admirers to prevent such development.

"When a distinguished scientist states that something is possible he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible he is almost certainly wrong." Arthur C. Clarke

use wind power to make hydrogen

Norway, on a small scale, has already been able to store electric energy efficiently. When the wind power is producing more than can be used (say late at night) they used the power to produce liquid hydrogen through electrolysis. The result was a pollution free production of a liquid and portable energy source that they used to power hydrogen fuel cell generators when the wind was not blowing and they needed power. This is not some pie in the sky idea, it was being done effectively. Imagine investing money in this technology instead of fracking or war. Check out this report.

http://www.iphe.net/docs/Renew_H2_Ustira.pdf

Distributed energy

Reminds me of Mao's China when everyone had a backyard smelter, etc.

I was thinking we could scale it up...

My mention of the Norway experiment was not to suggest a backyard approach. I brought it up to get us thinking about one possible way to store energy from windy places where there are few people or wind power generated at off peak times to be used when and where it is needed.

Useful renewables

IMO the best use of renewables is in locations where there is no grid and lots of sun - Like many parts of Africa. Solar or wind power can be used to pump well water, filling the water tank when there is wind or sun, and charging batteries to provide some light in the evening.

Irony and deception served on a platter

Who provided Mr. Goggin, AWEA employee, with the photo headlining this article? Directly under "Wind Power is a Reliable Technology" you have a photo of the French enXco built, Xcel owned, Grand Meadow industrial wind facility. Within the last 13 weeks, Xcel replaced 6 of the 67 gear boxes at this facility which began operating in 2009. Cost? $360,000 each. This also required two cranes; the larger crane is hauled in on 22 semi-loads and assembled on each of the 6 sights by the smaller crane. Xcel anticipates having to replace about 10% of the gearboxes every three years throughout the life of the project. Grand Meadow also had exploding T junctures and leaking underground transmission lines in its first year of operation.

Xcel testified to the MN Public Utilities Commission that they found out that wind 'produces less electricity and the turbines cost more to maintain than what they were told'. Xcel called around to other wind projects in MN and found out this was normal - produces less and needs more maintenance. Xcel wanted permission from the MPUC to raise their electrical rates to cover the additional cost at their other enXco wind adventure run amuck - Nobles Wind in the Worthington area which began operating in 2011. Nobles operated an entire 12 weeks before being shut down for major repairs and replacements. Burning up transmission lines, burning cables in the turbine tower, and replaced all 134 pad mounted transformers there. But I'm quite certain the @ $134 M in federal tax payer's 1603 cash was safely in hand by that time.

Your figure of $8 million in 2011 land lease payments is significantly higher than the $6-7 million in leases, and taxes to local government, being touted by J. Drake Hamilton of Fresh Energy in her presentations all around MN. Both of your claims are dwarfed by data from the MN Rural Electric Association that rural rate payers lost $70,000,000 in 2011 just on the portion of MN wind electricity produced when the utilities could not use it. $70M does not include the usable portion of wind at a rate over 2 times that of electricity from other sources. Nor does it include the federal 1603 cash of about $1M per turbine spent on this "free" source of energy.

The MPCA testified in the last two weeks at MN Senate and House hearings that "carbon emissions" are modeled - not measured - and that the primary driver of lower modeled carbon emissions in MN was the economy going into the crapper in 2008. I'm not certain how a major recession is a societal benefit - but perhaps you define that differently than I do.

I'm still trying to find someone to explain the "social and environmental benefits" of ruining the health of rural residents, driving their property values into the toilet, and causing them to abandon their homes (or live in the basement) while simultaneously slaughtering thousands of bats and birds. One of the MN legislative leaders I spoke with last week said the MN legislature knew of these downsides to industrial wind when they passed the 2007 wind mandate. The legislator said, "I suffer; we all must do our part (suffer)." Much like Windustry's Lisa Daniels said, “It's for the greater good."

Of course neither of them, nor any other wind supporters, have yet offered any science-based or experiential based evidence that there is ANY benefit to the environment, or society as a whole, to wind turbines. Nor have you in this article.

You also may have somehow missed the latest news on MN's New Era/ AWA Goodhue project pursuit of the nations first ITP for slaughtering bald eagles. If built to its current plan, the project would kill 8-14 bald eagles per year.

BTW - your article does not QUITE surpass the irony of Spanish owned Gamesa proposing to site these fiscal sink holes on real sink holes at the "Eco Harmony" (I kid you not) project in SE MN. This project has the added "eco" attribute of being on and all around bat hibernation caves for maximum bat kill potential.

Wow

Lots of arguments back and forth here. Couple thoughts..

I have no doubt that operational costs and reliability of energy for solar and wind power are not up to par with other sources. This is what happens when you have a century of large-scale funding of other, non-renewable energy sources (oil, coal, natural gas) from industry and government to improve operational efficiency and technology.

@Kristi "Of course neither of them, nor any other wind supporters, have yet offered any science-based or experiential based evidence that there is ANY benefit to the environment, or society as a whole, to wind turbines. Nor have you in this article."

Alright, you lost me there. You lost me when you claim that there has never been any science of experimental based evidence that wind-generating turbines and their operation have less of a negative effect on the environment than fossil-fuel burning sources.

Taking a further step back from this discussion, the majority of the angst of wind is that it is "more expensive" than traditional sources. I don't understand how people can continue expecting an unlimited supply of cheap energy, and also assume that even if it were true, that it is somehow good for society and the environment. Plentiful and cheap oil/coal/gas will not be around forever. Any gains in efficiency of production and use of these energy sources has only encouraged us as a people to use more of it, per capita. Results are staggering. Land-use patterns in our country are outrageous. Living/driving patterns have contributed to our society having high rates of obesity and diabetes. I could go on.

To assume that a future where energy costs more to obtain but has fewer effects on the environment is not a bad thing. Heck, it might encourage us to use a little less. Maybe if we start implementing these technologies on a broader scale we can make them safer, quieter, and more efficient.

And until you can point to an energy source that doesn't impact human health with CO2 emissions, animal habitats with drilling/piping/plants, and doesn't spill oil by the millions of barrels, don't come crying about 8-14 bald eagles a year as if you care.