Wind Power: Just an Ugly ‘Hood Ornament’ on the Conventional Power System
As time marches on, the ability of the wind industry to ‘hood’-wink power punters is running into a deluge of ‘unhelpful’ facts: here’s some more from Michigan Capitol Confidential’s Jack Spencer.
Renewables Just a Hood Ornament on Fossil Fuel Power System
You can’t have renewable energy without fossil fuels backing it up
4 September 2015
General Electric Co. and the Environmental Protection Agency know better than most that renewable energy sources — which are the recipients of billions of dollars of taxpayer largesse in many forms — are in the end dependent on fossil fuels. In a document submitted to the EPA on June 25, 2012, GE urged the agency to keep this fossil fuel dependency in mind when considering emissions standards:
“However, if flexible generation assets, such as gas turbines, are not available, these renewable technologies will not be deployed. In other words, gas turbines are an essential component of renewable energy sources’ ability to penetrate the market.”
Nevertheless, the public remains mostly unaware of the degree to which the heavily subsidized or mandated renewable energy sources, including wind and solar, rely on fossil fuels. More than half the electric generation nominally credited to wind power is actually produced by fossil fuels, mostly natural gas. And on the rare occasions when renewable energy advocates are forced to admit the fossil fuel dependency, they refer to it as only “backing up” the renewable source.
GE, the huge multinational corporation, has been described as President Barack Obama’s “favorite corporation.” It has contributed heavily to Obama’s political campaigns. And like all other large corporations it is vulnerable to the administration’s regulatory arms. So it is not a company one would expect to state so unambiguously facts that the administration would prefer to downplay, such as descriptions of why renewables are dependent on fossil fuels.
Nevertheless, here’s another example from the GE document:
“Renewable power, especially from wind and solar, will be expected to fluctuate hourly and even minute-to-minute with changes in wind speed, cloud cover, and other environmental factors. With this generation mix, electric supply must be available to quickly compensate for the combined variability of demand and fluctuation in the renewable supply.”
The GE document is titled: “Comments of the General Electric Company: Proposed standards of performance for greenhouse gas emissions for new stationary sources: Electric utility generating units.” The document includes a great deal of technical information and is available for public viewing.
However, as is typical of such documents, it omits the percentage of electricity attributed to the “renewables” that is actually generated by the fossil fuel component. When this information is repeatedly denied to the public it is fair to ask: “What are they trying to hide?”
Jack Spencer is on the right track, but the missing answer as to GE’s love of wind power is staring him in the face – as his following pieces detail.
GE’s real interest in wind power is about selling thousands of fast-start-up Open Cycle Gas Turbines (OCGTs) – which are being rolled out any where that there is any significant wind power capacity.
Whether or not GE sells wind turbines (and it hasn’t sold many in Australia) – as long as these things are being speared into rural communities, GE still gets to sell OCGTs – a market in which it dominates.
In an effort to flog its gas turbines, GE advertised heavily in The Guardian – under the banner “Powering People” and in The Australian – where, earlier this year, GE “sponsored” numerous “features” under its banner “Powering Australia” (see our post here).
OCGTs are used – along with gazillions of gallons of gas, diesel or kerosene that run them – to plug the ‘gaps’ in wind power output around the globe: they’re a daily occurrence; total; and totally unpredictable.
We’ll let Jack off the leash again, as he homes in on the fact that wind power’s really just a ‘gas’.
How Wind Energy Creates More Dependence on Fossil Fuels
‘Any informed student of wind energy … understands that’
2 March 2015
Truth has a habit of emerging from unexpected places. An article in the Daily Kos about the desire to end dependence on fossil fuels for energy needs reveals a “nasty little secret” about wind energy: It relies on fossil fuels. That’s a message wind energy opponents in Michigan have been trying to get across to the news media and the public over the past few years.
The article is part of a series titled “Getting to Zero,” by Keith Pickering, and is written with the premise that global warming is a dire and immediate threat. It states, “If civilization is to survive, we need to get to zero emission of fossil carbon, and we need to get there rapidly.” Overall it paints a pessimistic portrait of efforts to reduce carbon emissions from human sources.
A major aspect of the article’s pessimism about actually “getting to zero” pertains to wind energy. The following paragraphs serve as an example:
Wind farms are dependent on the weather to work, and most of the time they’re sitting idle or underperforming because the wind isn’t strong enough to turn the blades. The capacity factor (CF) for wind varies by location, but Iowa is pretty good, so let’s assume a CF of 35 [percent]. Nuclear has no such dependency and can operate around the clock.
In the [U.S.], nuclear plants have an average CF of 90 [percent].
So when we factor CF into those prices … most of wind’s advantage is wiped out by just that factor alone.
Over the long term it gets even worse for wind, because nuclear plants today are engineered for a 60-year lifetime, and wind generators are engineered for a 20 or 25 year lifetime. … That means that wind is cheaper than nuclear in the short term, but more expensive in the long term. Then there’s the backup problem. … When the wind dies, the lights still have to stay on. Right now that’s done with natural gas. …”
According to Kevon Martis, director of the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition, a non-profit organization concerned about the construction of wind turbines in the region, what the Daily Kos article shows is that people knowledgeable about the technology understand that wind energy depends more on fossil fuels than on wind, no matter their views on contentious issues like global warming.
“Any informed student of wind energy, regardless of whether they are on the left or the right politically, understands that, far from freeing Michigan ratepayers from fossil-fueled electricity, wind energy actually binds us to fossil fuels at roughly a two-parts-fossil one-part-wind ratio,” Martis said. “Properly understood, wind energy should always be called ‘fossil-wind.’ What’s sad is that the vast majority of Michigan residents and probably members of the news media as well are not aware of this information. That situation needs to be remedied.”
In its assessment of wind energy, the Daily Kos article states: “Wind-plus-gas-backup is certainly better than gas alone, but it’s not the endpoint of a fossil-free grid, and it never will be.”
One of the strongest arguments against wind energy is the assertion that “natural gas alone” would produce fewer emissions than when it is combined with wind. That’s because having to switch natural gas generation on and off, literally at the whim of the way the wind blows, is less efficient and therefore less clean.
However, a news media and public that mistakenly believe wind energy is just wind, rather than two-thirds fossil fuels, cannot be expected to comprehend or participate in such a debate. Restricting important facts or (as some still insist) “alleged facts” about wind energy to the province of “experts only” is an affront to transparency and an obstacle to open public discourse. The Legislature owes the people of Michigan a hearing or series of hearings on this issue.
David Wand, deputy director of strategic communications with the American Wind Energy Association, did not return a phone call offering him the opportunity to comment.
Natural Gas to Wind Energy: You’re Nothing Without Me
Energy from windmills is mostly backed up by fossil fuels
11 April 2015
Wind energy in Michigan is approximately two-thirds fossil fuels (predominantly natural gas) used in a less than efficient way, coupled with one-third wind. Most people are unaware of that reality and misinformation flourishes as a result.
Case in point: a new study claims to provide comparisons between wind and natural gas by treating them as if they were two totally separate and distinct forms of energy generation.
The University of Michigan and Lansing-based consulting firm 5 Lakes Energy are touting a joint study based on a “model” produced at the university. The stated purpose of the study is to provide policymakers with a “tool” to help them choose between wind and natural gas. Unfortunately the model upon which the study was based is so flawed that the only “tool” it brings to mind is a toy hammer used in an attempt to force a square peg into the proverbial round hole.
The outputs of the model and resulting study attempt to justify the expansion of wind energy (the term “renewables” is used — but that means wind) in Michigan to meet energy demands resulting from the impending closure of coal plants. Its main argument is that wind energy would be a wise choice because natural gas prices are likely to fluctuate.
The idea here is that wind energy should be seen as a hedge against the possibility that natural gas prices could increase. It is basically an attempt to use the old “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” analogy. This is persuasive only when one ignores the fact that wind energy is 65 percent natural gas, which is precisely what the model does.
For those who understand that a dependable blend which includes wind energy must contain mostly natural gas, the analogy of “not putting all your eggs in one basket” used to promote the study is ludicrous.
“The operative word is ‘or,’” said Tom Stacy, an electricity generation analyst and independent regulatory and policy consultant who signs his correspondence “Ohioan for Afford Electricity.” He explains that the “eggs in one basket” warning doesn’t make sense. “There is no ‘or.’ It is either 100 percent gas or 65 percent gas plus 35 percent wind.”
“The catch,” he continued, “is that compared to the cost of the natural gas basket, consumers are forced to pay triple for baskets because the wind basket costs twice what the gas basket does, yet the gas basket is still required to hold 65 percent of the eggs.” He continued, “The end result: For our dozen eggs, we pay for three baskets when we could have paid for one. In exchange we get four free eggs. The problem is the extra baskets cost far more than the eggs.”
Although fortified with the usual officious-sounding phrases and sprinkled with expert-speak acronyms, the 5 Lakes study is rooted in the popular, but inaccurate, fantasy that wind energy is what wind supporters wish it could be, rather than what it actually is. At one point the study report reveals its imaginary basis with the following statement: “If we choose the natural gas path and natural gas prices rise, we may regret that we are stuck using expensive natural gas when we could have had free wind or solar fuel.”
Free wind? That phrase alone seems contrived to deceive the uninitiated and validate the green faithful. Again, since wind is so unreliable, wind energy has to be backed up by natural gas 65 percent of the time. Under that circumstance — obviously — the cost of wind energy will always largely reflect the price of natural gas. What’s more, the impact of any natural gas price change on wind energy is really more that 65 percent, because natural gas, when hooked up to wind energy, is put to a less efficient use. This is due to the requirement that it be constantly adjusted for when the wind is or is not blowing or not blowing enough. It is exactly the same dynamic that takes place with an automobile’s use of gasoline when driving in city traffic as compared to coasting down the open highway.
In the real “power pool,” wind is not physically paired with just natural gas; it is also paired with coal. The example used in this article gives wind the benefit of the doubt by only using natural gas, and not coal, as the balancing source in the hybrid. The average emissions intensity of coal plus wind is far higher than for gas plus wind. In other words, coal gets terrible “city mileage MPG” compared to natural gas and the pairing of wind with coal results in the excessive inefficiency of stop and go traffic.
The flawed and dishonest premise of the 5 Lakes Energy Study marks it as just the latest attempt by wind energy advocates to promote their product by masking wind energy’s true nature. Wind energy is a less than 30 percent add-on to natural gas. Its effect on emissions, as compared to just natural gas alone, is debatable and at best minimal. The failure of the study to acknowledge this spoils all of its conclusions and suggestions.
A glance at a list of 5 Lakes Energy principle founders reveals more than one official from the administration of former Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Michigan Capitol Confidential emailed the following questions to Douglas Jester, the author of the report on the study, and later to other 5 Lakes Energy officials. They were: Are you denying that wind energy is primarily fueled by natural gas? Why does your study appear to have not accounted for this reality? Is there something we are missing here that you should make us aware of?
Thus far, there has been no response to these questions.