Concerned Citizen vs. DOE on Windpower (can we stop the hype and talk turkey?)
Editor Note: This letter from a U.S. citizen/taxpayer to the U.S. Department of Energy is an example of grass-root opposition to government-dependent windpower. For a previous post along the same lines, see “New York’s Thousand Islands Are Being Ruined” (Letter to Sen. Schumer on the blight of government-dependent windpower).
Dr. Steven Chu
Secretary of Energy
U.S. Department of Energy
1000 Independence Avenue S.W.
Washington, DC 20585
Dear Secretary Chu:
You and other officials of the US Department of Energy should be ashamed of yourselves because:
· Despite thousands of employees and billions in our tax dollars, you have found it necessary to have some low level “energy analyst” from a CONTRACTOR organization reply to an email from a US citizen and taxpayer, and
· The reply was so lacking in substance (see attached) that your contractor (and, presumably, your staff) apparently assumes that citizens and taxpayers outside Washington have no knowledge of DOE programs or the true costs and benefits of wind energy – the subject of my email.
It certainly appears that DOE officials have forgotten that they have an obligation to citizens, consumers, and taxpayers who provide all the money that flows through the DOE to employees and contractors. Instead, DOE officials and contractors behave as if their sole obligation is to special interest groups, including the wind industry, that are enjoying billions in tax dollars.
I have studied wind energy for several years and I am well aware of its true environmental, energy, and economic costs and benefits and I am well aware that DOE officials—especially those in your Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (DOE-EERE), your national “laboratories,” and especially the National Renewable Energy “Laboratory” (NREL)—are highly biased and repeatedly engage in:
1. Distribution of information about wind energy that is false and misleading. For example, DOE officials and contractors consistently overstate the environmental, energy, and economic benefits of wind energy and understate or ignore its adverse impacts – including adverse environmental, scenic and property-value impacts.
2. Sponsoring studies, reports, analyses, and “models” that produce findings that are highly biased in favor of wind energy, and overstate the benefits. For example, the JEDI Model developed for NREL by a wind industry advocate and widely promoted by NREL overstates the economic and job benefits of wind energy projects.
3. Supporting state “wind energy work groups” that are not representative of the interests – especially the interests of citizens, electric customers, and taxpayers –who are adversely affected by wind energy projects. Such work groups, funded in whole or part by DOE-EERE and/or NREL are generally biased in favor of wind. They are a “clever” way for DOE to avoid the spirit of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) which requires that membership in “advisory” committees be balanced and representative of all interests.
To repeat, DOE officials and contractors behave as if their sole responsibility is to the special interest groups – while ignoring the interests of the citizens, consumers, and taxpayers who should be THE most important “stakeholders” served by DOE and its contractors.
The “energy analyst” from Sentech Inc. who responded to my email to DOE is somewhat correct in stating that the US will have to depend on a “portfolio” of energy sources. This should be obvious since it has been the case for decades. However, the “energy analyst” is not correct if he blissfully assumes that DOE has no obligation to take into account the full, true costs and benefits of various energy sources or that it should promote all sources regardless of their cost effectiveness. In other words, his statement is naive.
The “energy analyst’s” use of generating capacity to support his misleading claim about the great contribution of wind energy during 2008 is nothing short of arrogant obfuscation. Anyone with an ounce of understanding about electric generation should know that generating capacity is not a useful measure of the contribution of wind turbines because those turbines have inherently low capacity factors. That is, they produce only small amounts of electricity because they produce only when wind is blowing within certain speed ranges. Therefore, the electricity they produce is intermittent, volatile, unreliable and low in value. Wind speeds are most likely to be sufficient to produce significant amounts of electricity at night in colder months, not on hot weekday late afternoons in July and August when electricity demand tends to be highest and the electricity has its highest value.
Why should DOE officials and contractors get away with such misleading claims and why should they be so biased towards the wind industry when it is the citizens and taxpayers of the US who pay their salaries?
The “energy analyst” also fails, conveniently, to acknowledge that wind turbines have very little, if any, capacity value. That is, they cannot be counted on to produce electricity at the time of peak electricity demand. Perhaps DOE officials and contractors simply aren’t aware of this fact – which has been demonstrated clearly by experiences in New York, Texas, and California and which can be seen by anyone with access to the electricity production records of wind turbines. More likely, ignoring this significant limitation of wind energy is simply one more indication of DOE officials’ and contractors’ bias towards the interests of the wind industry and against the interests of citizens, consumers and taxpayers.
This weakness, of course, has huge significance because it means that reliable generating capacity must always be immediately available to “back up” the intermittent, volatile and unreliable output from wind turbines. It means that areas needing additional generating capacity to meet increases in peak electricity demand or to replace old generating capacity will have to add reliable generating capacity whether or not they install wind turbines.
Again, why should DOE officials and contractors get away with ignoring these critical limitations of wind energy and continue to pretend that the limitations are insignificant?
The “energy analyst’s statement that “…wind power prices have become competitive with wholesale power market prices” is one more example of DOE officials’ and contractors’ penchant for making false and misleading claims about wind energy. Anyone who has studied the truths about wind energy knows that the full, true cost of wind energy – including the cost of massive federal and state tax breaks and subsidies and the costs of providing reliable backup generation – are far in excess of the costs of electricity from existing generating plants powered by coal, natural gas, nuclear energy or hydropower. DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) has demonstrated that the cost per kWh of tax breaks and subsidies for wind energy far exceeds the cost of tax breaks and subsidies for traditional energy sources.
Again, why should DOE officials and contractors get away with ignoring facts while issuing false and misleading claims on behalf of special interests aligned with the Department?
I will not spend a lot of time responding to the “energy analyst’s” claims about DOE’s ridiculous “20% wind energy by 2030” report. The most significant fact shown by that report is that most anything can be demonstrated by a government sponsored report if one makes the “right” assumptions. DOE should be ashamed to have published that report and even more ashamed to claim that it presents realistic findings.
Finally, I am quite aware that DOE will spend millions of taxpayer dollars in the years ahead in attempting to improve wind energy. I am also quite aware that DOE has already spent hundreds of millions of our tax dollars on wind energy R&D during the past 3 decades. Furthermore, I am quite aware that the logic for DOE’s subsidies for the wind industry were predicated on the idea that a “fledgling” energy technology needed taxpayer funded subsidies to gain a foothold in competitive energy technology markets. In case DOE has not noticed, there are now a significant number of wind turbine manufacturers who are selling into highly subsidized and profitable markets that should be able to fund their own wind energy R&D. Perhaps they have concluded that there are few technological advances likely that will improve wind turbines and perhaps DOE is merely wasting tax dollars by continuing to pour money into wind energy.
The continued failure of DOE officials and contractors to be responsive to the interests of US citizens, consumers, and taxpayers makes a mockery of President Obama’s claim to make the activities of the federal government more transparent, honest, and responsible.
Mr. Secretary, I suggest that it is time for you to get control of the DOE establishment and put your employees and contractors to work on behalf of the real “stakeholders.” The fact that DOE has hired contractors to respond to citizens’ correspondence suggests that your department is out of control. What are your thousands of employees doing to earn their taxpayer-provided salaries and benefits?
Sue Sliwinski describes herself as an environmentally minded rural resident trying to raise awareness that will not only help preserve our rural heritage and quality of life but will also curb the abuse regularly doled out by huge corporations against the environment and against unsuspecting average citizens- usually with the help of our own elected representatives and legislators.
Response from US Department of Energy re: wind power viability
5/12/2009 3:10:42 PM Eastern Daylight Time
Dear Ms. Sliwinski:
Thank you for writing to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) regarding your concerns about the viability and environmental impacts of wind power. Your letter was forwarded to the Wind and Hydropower Technologies Program for response.
The Wind and Hydropower Technologies Program believes that clean, affordable, and reliable wind power can play an important role in the nation’s energy portfolio. We agree with you that energy efficiency has many benefits, but we believe the nation’s energy challenges will require a portfolio of many different technologies to address.
For the past four years, wind power has been the second-largest new resource added to the U.S. electrical grid in terms of nameplate capacity, behind natural gas. In 2008, wind power generation made up 42% of all new generation added to the grid. Although wind turbine prices have risen in recent years, largely due to increased commodity prices and high demand for turbines, wind power prices have become competitive with wholesale power market prices. Furthermore, several studies that model the integration of significant amounts of wind generation into the electric grid systems have found that that wind power’s variability and uncertainty imposed integration costs of less than $5 per megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity. The Wind Program works to decrease integration costs further through research into improving wind forecasting and resource modeling, assessing and validating the nation’s wind resources, and modeling wind integration.
Last year the Department of Energy released a major report, 20% Wind Energy by 2030, which examines wind power’s potential to supply 20% of U.S. electricity by the year 2030. The report concludes that wind power could feasibly supply 20% of the nation’s electricity without requiring any major technological breakthroughs. Under this scenario, wind energy would avoid the emission of 825 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually; reduce cumulative water consumption in the electric sector by 8% between 2007 and 2030; reduce the impact of volatile fossil fuel prices; and employ an annual average of 250,000 workers in wind power and related sectors.
Finally, we appreciate and share your concern about the environmental impacts of wind energy. The Wind Program will fund millions of dollars worth of research over the next few years to identify environmental impacts of wind energy and to develop ways to avoid, minimize, and mitigate those impacts. The program also works to provide state and local stakeholders with timely and accurate information on the current state of wind technology, economics, wind resources, economic development impacts, policy options, issues, and barriers to wind development in their regions. This information allows stakeholders to evaluate wind power’s benefits and challenges for their communities.
Thank you for your email and your interest in renewable energy.
Energy Analyst, Sentech, Inc.
Supporting: U.S. Department of Energy
Wind & Hydropower Technologies Program
Annual Report on U.S. Wind Power Installation, Cost, and Performance Trends: 2007. http://www1.eere.energy.gov/windandhydro/pdfs/43025.pdf
20% Wind Energy by 2030: Increasing Wind Energy’s Contribution to U.S. Electricity Supply. http://www1.eere.energy.gov/windandhydro/pdfs/41869.pdf
Wind and Hydropower Technologies Program website: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/windandhydro/