A free-market energy blog
Random header image... Refresh for more!

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?

Sincerely,
Sue Sliwinski
Sardinia, NY

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.

*********************************

Subject:
Response from US Department of Energy re: wind power viability

Date:
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.

Sincerely,

Jesse Johnson
Energy Analyst, Sentech, Inc.
Supporting: U.S. Department of Energy
Wind & Hydropower Technologies Program


Additional resources:

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/

5 comments

1 Alan F. { 05.17.09 at 11:36 am }

As vague things go “42% of all new generation added to the grid” is about murky as a chocolate milk shake. They don’t build any other type of generating facility next year and its a certain 100% for 2010. Idiocy.

Try this http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm/epmxlfilees1_a.xls and actually gain some perspective on things.

2 John Donaldson { 05.18.09 at 1:17 pm }

I read Ms. Sliwinski’s letter with thorough enjoyment. Although I live in relatively close proximity to the So. Cal. Banning Pass site, long known for its thousands of wind turbines, I am not a wind energy evangelist. Ms. Sliwinski points out the very real and legitimate concerns including variability and unpredictability of actual electrical power generation. The power grid functions best with exactly the opposite characteristics – reliability and predictability.
Relative to the DOE contractors, let me opine that virtually no one hires contractors who disagree with them. If a contractor expects future work, they will work diligently to please the contracting agency. Expecting objectivity as a quality of an activitist federal agency is unrealistic. So Ms. Sliwinski’s point that the money is not well spent is accurate but nearly irrelevent.
A second key point is that wind power is a very easy sell to the American public [except when the turbines are in your back yard]. Most people either can’t or won’t do the economic analysis that invariably shows coal as the best choice for power generation of the scale needed for the American economy. The PERCEPTION of pollution vs. the PECEPTION of ‘clean’ energy is what drives policy. In the end, the subsidies for wind power generate more political power than electrical power. And the current administration, including DOE, is very much tuned into generating political power.

3 Robert Borlick { 05.18.09 at 9:32 pm }

Much of the opposition to wind power is the result of an attempt to answer the wrong question.

No doubt, wind power is expensive relative to coal and other fossil fuels – if one ignores the environmental cost of the CO2 they spew into the atmosphere. If one includes the cost of the allowances that fossil-fueled power plants will need to buy to cover their CO2 emissions, windpower becomes competitive. Until we can remove and permanently sequester the CO2 from the emissions of coal-fired power plants it is folly to build any more of these plants.

Wind power is not the only emissions-free source of electricity; other alternatives are hydro, nuclear and solar. The US has essentially run out of undeveloped hydro sites, we can’t economically build much nuclear capacity before about 2025 and solar energy is far more expensive than wind power is, at least for now. That leaves us with only three resources for accommodating growth in electricity consumption through 2025: conservation and efficiency, wind power and natural gas. In light of this situation wind power is destined to play a major role over the next 15 to 20 years until either nuclear or solar energy can replace it at reasonable cost.

So despite its many shortcomings, wind power is one of the few options we have for continuing our consumption of electricity without dooming the planet in a few decades of global warming.

4 Alexandra Weit { 05.21.09 at 10:17 pm }

I too live in the Banning Pass near Palm Springs, where the 4,000+ windmills [565 MW] only generate an average of 100+/- MW per year and only 5-6 MW are generated in the summer. The wind is only good enough to produce “power” intermittently 14-20% of the time of installed capacity. I obtained 15 years of wind energy production records and this is consistent. To put this in context, Edison uses about 13,000 MW per year and this little bit will do what? And yes, wind always needs back up, meaning that wind is a DUPLICATION of power that the utilities have to have to avert blackouts. Wind Energy is nothing more than another scam and the only “green” are the $’s passing from the rate and tax payers into Big Wind and politicians pockets. Anyone wanting a copy of these records just e-mail me at bobweit@msn.com.

5 Frank T. Manheim { 05.27.09 at 3:40 pm }

I reviewed the DOE study on wind energy in my recently released bo0k, Frank T. Manheim, “The Conflict over Environmental Regulations in the United States: Origins, Outcomes, and Comparisons with the EU and other Foreign Regionws”, NY, Springer 2009 (March).

It offers details relevant to Ms Sliwinsky’s complaint. She is right that in recent decades federal science agencies have tended to lose the objectivity they had prior to the 1960s and either become compliant to administration policies, or seek safety in e “basic research” semi isolation. But it’s not a one-way street. Industry has often adopted merely self-serving postures. Academics have their own peer-review publication priorities that too often closes their eyes to doing the independent analysis that is badly needed. As a retiree from a federal research agency I got fed up with what I saw. The book above (through with a rather academicized title that can be misleading) represents five years research to track down the realities. Have a look!

Leave a Comment