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Fifteen Bad Things with Windpower–and Three Reasons Why

[Note: This article has been updated to Twenty Bad Things about Windpower — go here.]

Trying to pin down the arguments of wind promoters is a bit like trying to grab a greased balloon. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, it squirts away. Let’s take a quick highlight review of how things have evolved.

1 – Wind energy was abandoned well over a hundred years ago, as it was totally inconsistent with our burgeoning more modern needs of power, even in the late 1800s. When we throw the switch, we expect that the lights will go on — 100% of the time. It’s not possible for wind energy, by itself, to ever do this, which is one of the main reasons it was relegated to the dust bin of antiquated technologies (along with such other inadequate sources like horse power).

2 – Fast forward to several years ago. With politicians being convinced by lobbyists that Anthropological Global Warming (AGW) was an imminent threat, a campaign was begun to favor all things that would purportedly reduce CO2. Wind energy was thus resurrected, as its marketers pushed the fact that wind turbines did not produce CO2 in their generation of electricity.

3 – Of course, just that by itself is not significant, so the original wind development lobbyists then made the case for a quantum leap: that by adding wind turbines to the grid we could significantly reduce CO2 from fossil fuel electrical sources (especially coal). This argument became the basis for many states’ implementing a Renewable Energy Standard (RES) — which mandated that their utilities use an increased amount of wind energy.

4 – Why was a mandate necessary? Simply because the real world reality of integrating wind energy made it a very expensive option. As such, no utility company would likely do this on their own. They had to be forced to.

5 – Interestingly, though the stated main goal of these RES’s was to reduce CO2, not a single state’s RES required verification of CO2 reduction either beforehand or after the fact from any wind project. The politicians simply took the lobbyists’ word that consequential CO2 savings would be realized.

6 – It wasn’t too long before utility companies and independent energy experts calculated that the actual CO2 savings were miniscule. This was due to the inherent nature of wind energy, and the realities of balancing the grid (with fossil fuel sources) on a second-by-second basis. The recently released Bentek study (How Less Became More) is a sample independent assessment of this aspect.

7 – The wind lobbyists soon added another rationale to prop up their case: energy diversity. Since we already had considerable diversity, and many asked “more diversity at what cost?” this hype never gained much traction.

8 – The next justification put forward by the wind marketers was energy independence. This cleverly played on the concern most people have about oil and mid-eastern instability. Many ads were run promoting wind energy as a good way of getting away from our “dependence on mid-eastern oil.”

None of these ads mentioned that only about 1% of our electricity is generated from oil. Or that the US exports more oil than we use for electricity. Or that our main import source for oil is Canada (not the mideast). Despite the significant misrepresentations, this claim still resonates with many people, so it continues to be pushed. Whatever works.

9 – Presumably, knowing full well that the assertions to date were specious, wind proponents manufactured still another claim: green jobs. This was carefully selected to coincide with widespread employment concerns. Unfortunately, when independent qualified parties looked closer at the situation, they concluded that the claims were wildly exaggerated. Big surprise!

10 – Relentlessly moving forward, the wind marketers then tried to change the focus from jobs to “economic development.” Developers utilized a computer program called JEDI to make bold economic projections. Unfortunately JEDI is a totally inadequate model for accurately arriving at such numbers, for a variety of good reasons. These contentions have also been shown to be inaccurate.

11 – Along the way, yet another claim has been made: that wind energy is low cost. This is surprisingly bold considering that if that was really true, then why would any RES be necessary? For some reason all “calculations” showing wind to be low cost conveniently ignore exorbitant subsidies, extra backup and balancing costs, additional transmission costs, etc. Independent analyses of levelized costs (e.g. from the EIA) have concluded that wind energy is much more expensive than any conventional source we have.

12 – Modern civilization is based on our ability to produce electrical POWER. Our modern sense of power is inextricably related to controlled performance expectations: when we throw the switch we expect the stove to go on 100% of the time — not just when the wind is blowing within a certain speed range. A fundamental assertion of wind promoters is that there is an equivalence between wind and conventional power sources. (That is the basis for such claims that XYX wind project will power 1000 homes.) This is false from several perspectives. The obvious error is that XYX wind project will NOT provide power to any 1000 homes: 24/7. It might not provide power for even 1 home 24/7.

13 – A more subtle (but significant) difference is in power quality. This term refers to such technical performance factors as voltage transients, voltage variations, waveform distortion (e.g. harmonics), frequency variations, etc. The reality is that wind energy introduces many more of these issues than does a conventional power facility. Additional costs are needed to deal with these wind caused problems. These are rarely identified in economic analyses.

14 – A key grid ingredient is Capacity Value (for layman: this is an indication of dependability). Conventional sources (e.g. nuclear) have a Capacity Value of about 99%. Wind has a Capacity Value of about 0%. Big difference! Wind apologists first stab at solving this major problem was to assert that if many wind projects over a wide geographic area were joined together, that the composite would look like a real (conventional) power source.

Like most of their claims this came from the imaginations of promoters, rather than empirical evidence. When real world data was looked at (e.g. a 1000± mile spread of wind projects in SE Australia on a single grid) no such result appeared. Back to the drawing board.

15 – Here is the latest spiel. Since this enormous Capacity Value discrepancy is indisputable, wind energy marketeers decided to adopt the strategy that wind energy isn’t a “capacity resource” after all, but rather an “energy resource.” Surprisingly, this is actually the first contention that is actually true! But what does this mean?

The reality is that saying “wind is an energy source” is a trivial statement, on a par with saying “wind turbines are white.” The fact is that your cat is an energy source too. So what? Lightning is an energy source. So what? Should we also connect them to the grid (after subsidies, of course)?

Again, our modern society is based on reliable and economic electric power. Making claims that wind provides us energy is simply another in a long line of misleading assertions that are intended to fool the public, to enable politicians to justify favoring special interests, and to enrich various rent seekers.

All this comes about for three basic reasons:

1. Wind proponents are not asked to independently PROVE the merits of their claims before (or after) their product is forced on the public,

2. There is no penalty for making specious assertions about their product’s “benefits,” so each contention is more grandiose than the last, and

3. Promoting wind is a political agenda that is divorced from true science. True science is based on real world data — not carefully massaged computer models, which are the mainstay of anti-science agenda evangelists.

So, in effect, we have come around full circle. A hundred plus years ago wind energy was recognized as an antiquated, unreliable and expensive source of energy, and now (after hundreds of billions of wasted dollars) we find that (surprise!) it still is an unreliable and expensive source of energy. This is what happens when science is relegated to a back-of-the-bus status.

Paraphrasing Dr. Jon Boone:

Let’s see the evidence, in the real world, for the lobbyists’ case. I’m weary of these relentless projections, uncontaminated as they are by reality. In a nutshell, what these profiteers are seeking to do, through methodological legerdemain, is to make wind appear to be what it is not. This is a plot lifted out of Cinderella and her step sisters, or the Emperor’s New Clothes. It’s really a story of class aspirations, but one that is bizarrely twisted: giving wind a makeover to make her seem fetching and comely when in fact she’s really a frog.

See my online presentation at EnergyPresentation.Info for more details, which includes numerous references.

40 comments

1 Tom Stacy { 09.20.10 at 8:26 am }

Good post, John. I’ll have to question your dismissal of “BAD THING NUMBER SEVEN” as never gaining much traction, though.

US Senator Sam Brownback, a few other US Congresspersons I am in touch with, and dozens of leading Ohio General Assembly persons all use ENERGY DIVERSITY as a blanket statement justifying their support of wind energy. It appears to be an issue where for the most part both parties can claim “bipartisan support” despite the platform’s unabashed departure from market efficiency. I am hopeful Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks will soon recognize and publicize the irreconcilable differences between their fundamental principles and government inducements for wind energy.

I contest that this justification is the equivalent of “energy source Marxism” since it seems to support making all energy generation technologies equally profitable regardless of their contribution or cost.

2 Jon Boone { 09.20.10 at 8:57 am }

Of course, frogs have their own special charm, and are likely quite fetching to their own kind. They have little need for an American Frog Association to turn them into flying pigs. Like many “celebrities,” the frogs of wind are famous for being famous, not for their actual performance.

The “every little bit helps” ploy is used both as a public relations template for editorial writers and media flaks around the world, and as a means of conning ratepayers by the likes of wind-invested companies such as Florida Power & Light and Constellation Energy. “Diversifying the energy portfolio” supplies the ignorant with a “justifying” wind bite to help bankroll the craven, for wind, as Ken Lay knew, is not a provider of power: it is in reality a tax shelter generator for large corporations with a lot of discretionary revenue.

In reality energy companies don’t require energy, for that is all around and can neither be created nor destroyed. What they require is the conversion of energy into modern power quality, something that wind cannot provide. It is this idea that should be the antidote for the poisonous bromide now used by AWEA and GE/BP/AES/FP&L/Siemens/Vestas/Dong to subvert reason, common sense, and sound policy.

3 John Droz’s 15 Bad Things - Wind Farm Realities { 09.20.10 at 10:09 am }

[...] Original link, in masterresource. [...]

4 Breaking Wind – Quick hits from the industry for September 21, 2010 « Allegheny Treasures { 09.21.10 at 9:00 am }

[...] Fifteen Bad Things with Windpower–and Three Reasons Why – MasterResource [...]

5 Fran Kunz { 09.21.10 at 9:37 am }

I like it.
Short, to the point, right on the money, and salty-sweet!

I’ll be sharing this with everyone. Thank you for your never ending dedication to bringing clarity to this murky subject.

6 Fran Kunz { 09.21.10 at 9:55 am }

I have one little question, wouldn’t the term “marketeering” be more appropiate?

7 Links « Ontario's Wind Performance { 09.21.10 at 1:45 pm }

[...] Bad Things with Windpower–and Three Reasons Why http://www.masterresource.org/2010/09/15-bad-things-windpower/ All this comes about for three basic reasons: 1. Wind proponents are not asked to independently [...]

8 Fifteen Bad Things with Windpower–and Three Reasons Why | Global Warming Skeptics { 09.21.10 at 3:41 pm }

[...] LINK AKPC_IDS += "3506,";Popularity: unranked [?] (No Ratings Yet)  Loading … [...]

9 Rmoen { 09.21.10 at 6:59 pm }

John-
Smart and accurate writing. Your point that RES standards, whose stated purpose is to decrease GHG, don’t measure the impact of wind on CO2 is subtle but hugely important. My understanding is that Denmark with all its windmills hasn’t lowered its CO2 output one iota and their windmills generate at night when electricity is not needed.
– Robert Moen, http://www.energyplanUSA.com

10 Fifteen bad things with wind power — and three reasons why { 09.21.10 at 8:46 pm }

[...] Continue reading at MasterResource: A free-market energy blog [...]

11 Recent Energy News as of 9-21-10 « PA Pundits – International { 09.22.10 at 5:14 am }

[...] My latest treatise is sort of a summary of the wind energy situation <<http://www.masterresource.org/2010/09/15-bad-things-windpower/>&gt;. ————— We are moving along with our communication committee. [...]

12 Anne Johnston { 09.22.10 at 11:55 am }

The summary is very helpful , especially to people like me who have a limited understanding of energy. But the rise in energy costs force us into understanding, and we know that the Wind Energy proponents are fooling our politicians – but not us. We are fighting furiously, and John Droz’s information is invaluable.

13 The Political Steamroller Behind Wind Power | Energy and Metals { 09.22.10 at 12:24 pm }

[...] 3. Promoting wind is a political agenda that is divorced from true science. True science is based on real world data — not carefully massaged computer models, which are the mainstay of anti-science agenda evangelists. _MasterResource [...]

14 Jay B. { 09.22.10 at 3:29 pm }

Every decision about energy sources is depended on political decision. It has nothing to do with scientific reasons claimed by well known experts. This doesn´t concern just the wind energy it is also about the nuke energy… We still cannot persuade politicians to work on human´s behalf; they work just for themselves… They let us to rely on fossil fuels for the next 30 years. The reason why is simple: the profit of it for them is very high and sure… But what will happen next?

15 Jeffrey Eric Grant { 09.23.10 at 9:21 am }

Thanks for the article! Very informative. I still have this vision that IF wind energy can be stored (at least temporarily) it can be buffered in such a way as to become suitable power for our modern society. Maybe it’s a long shot, but its still in the back of my mind that one day….
In the meantime, I have changed my allegience from being a proponent to being a cautious investigator. I want to see proof of the proposal before agreeing to help pay for it (probably through taxes or increased utility rates), if I have such a vote.

16 John Droz { 09.23.10 at 11:11 am }

Jeff:

There are a lot of “ifs” that need to be worked out before wind energy makes any sense — and I have no problem with businesses and proponents exploring solutions to wind’s deficiencies.

What I do object to is that ratepayers and taxpayers are MANDATED to use wind energy (or some other foolishness) just because of successful lobbying efforts.

What sense does it make to MANDATE a “solution” that doesn’t work?

Wind energy today is an extremely high cost/low benefit alternative that survives only due to its promotion by politicians.

This is what happens when we depart from science as the basis of our technical decisions. Enough already!

17 Jon Boone { 09.23.10 at 1:34 pm }

And let’s consider, perhaps, maybe, unloosing massive windscrapers over land and water in some yet to be understood environmentally and civilly responsible way–WHEN BATTERY STORAGE FOR VARIABLE POWER SOURCES HAS WELL PROVEN ITSELF.

But not before.

18 johana { 09.23.10 at 8:54 pm }

For the technically challenged, your works continue to create an invaluable resource as we try to spread the message to our neighbours, friends, colleagues and even our detractors that IWT’s are unreliable, wasteful and life destroying drains on our environment and economy.

We are eternally grateful.

19 oamoe { 09.25.10 at 5:29 pm }

Well, you should tell this all to the Danes who generate ca. 20% of their power by wind. They are also developing fuel cell capability to use in conjunction with the wind power – unused wind electricity is used to produce hydrogen and oxygen which are then used later (low wind) to create electricity. Tell the Danes all the reasons their wind power is not working.

20 Jon Boone { 09.27.10 at 9:20 pm }

oamoe:
I have told the Danes just that, as have a number of others. You might read Robert Bryce’s book, Power Hungry, to get some idea of wind “performance” in that tiny country.

21 No to the Cape Cod Wind Farm. Yes to Whaling Ships! « Speak Without Interruption { 09.29.10 at 6:12 pm }

[...] Animal rights advocates will protest the killing of whales. As John Droz. Jr., an authority on wind power points out, “Wind energy was abandoned well over a hundred years ago, as it was totally [...]

22 No To The Cape Cod Wind Farm. Yes To Whaling Ships! « PA Pundits – International { 09.30.10 at 11:18 am }

[...] John Droz. Jr., an authority on wind power points out, “Wind energy was abandoned well over a hundred years ago, as it was totally [...]

23 Obama’s Top Priorities are Pure Hooey! « American Elephants { 10.03.10 at 8:30 pm }

[...] to seeing it only occasionally. Not a lot of big solar arrays around here.   To produce dependable power, either wind or solar depends on having full-time backup from a regular (coal or natural gas fired) [...]

24 Confucius { 10.14.10 at 12:14 am }

Wind energy may be unreliable, but solar energy is infinite and quite reliable. Many people have solar panels on various things- from houses, cars and even to laptops! Solar energy is clean, doesn’t rely on dangerous coal or filthy oil (which are over 50 bad things!), doesn’t harm our environment and the sun’s rays are not as “iffy” as wind power. I know much thinking needs to be done so that our dependence on oil and coal will come to an end. We need to better manage the way we use energy.

25 Global Warming Hoax Weekly Round-Up, Sep. 23rd 2010 « The Daily Bayonet { 11.02.10 at 11:38 am }

[...] Fifteen reasons why wind power is useless. [...]

26 Scott Brooks { 12.26.10 at 3:23 pm }

If we could just harness all that wind in Washington DC, the energy would be limitless, but cheaper then fusion?

27 Rob Ryan { 02.12.11 at 11:09 pm }

Your capacity value point is quite misleading, I wonder if it’s purposely so. Capacity value is basically defined as the percentage of “conventional generation” (mostly coal, natural gas) that can be replaced by a resource. Your “nuclear is 99%” claim means that, for a given nameplate capacity a nuclear plant can supply 99% of the energy, in a given period on average, as “conventional power.” But conventional power is has a capacity factor of about 80%, that is, it can typically deliver about 80% of its nameplate capacity over an average period of time (due to scheduled and unscheduled maintenance and other interruptions).

Your 99% attempts to imply that conventional power is 99% reliable. It is not.

Wind is 0% when the wind doesn’t blow. Most studies give a capacity value of anywhere from 6% to 30% (the latter for offshore wind). It’s pathetic that you feel compelled to “MSU” ( make s _ _ t up).

28 Burnaby { 03.03.11 at 1:27 am }

We all see things from our own frames, and sometimes even when the evidence is right there in front of you, it will not be seen, since it does not conform to your preconcieved notions.

I think it makes total sense to include energy sources that do not cause an alteration of our climate for obvious reasons, although technologically we do not appear to be ready to stop wasteful burn of things for energy. Where I live, we get all of our power from hydro dams, but we run low on water in the summer. If we were to include wind power and perhaps wave power, then we would not need to release as much water to generate the power.

I am aware that the wind is not always blowing, but having a variety of sources cover this…The sun comes up every dayand when it doesn’t the wind is probably blowing… when there is no wind… use water… no wind or water or sun, then burn gas or coal… but burning things for heat and energy goes back to the caveman and should be a last resort, and I think we should use our brains…

New technology is a source of future wealth… What are we really accomplishing by just burning things?

29 Racahel Markowitz { 02.15.12 at 3:54 pm }

Dear Mr. Droz Jr.,

I have 8 concerns to raise with you regarding the above article:

1. Where are your sources? Who are your “independent qualified parties”?

2. Putting words in “bold” or “italics” does not define the words.

3. A Straw Man Argument- taking the opposite argument, transforming it into something it is not, and then proceeding to argue against the transformed argument.

No one is arguing that the world should be completely powered by wind.

4. (In response to your first point) Technology has improved since the 1800s. So why should we rule out an idea that did not work in the 19th century and say that it will not work in the 21st century?

5. Airplanes didn’t work in the 1800s either.

6. (In response to number five) Oil is not principally used for electricity. Your argument that windpower will not reduce our dependency on middle eastern oil is completely correct.

7. They are used to power two completely different things.

8. You did not include fifteen reasons. Putting numbers by your fifteen paragraphs explaining your six reasons does not give you fifteen reasons.

30 Pete Password { 02.22.12 at 8:23 am }

Fascist scum the lot of you. Theplanet will take care of you, your denial won’t have any effect against floods, droughts, sea level rise and extreme rainfall. You have no sources listed because you have no sources you would care anyone to examine. It’s all lies funded by big business, especially oil, which funds disinformation to the tune of millions annually. You lost the argument years ago, but you just won’t accept it and go away and find another hobby. You’re pathetic wankers, conned by capitalism to do its dirty work. Yet you live on this planet and it IS happening whether you want to believe it or not. Grow up and stop behaving like spoiled teenagers who can’t have everything.

31 rbradley { 02.22.12 at 10:31 am }

A lot of places would not let a comment like this go through, but we did because it shows a mad-at-the-world, childish mentality in a deep intellectual debate.

We are the peace-loving freedom proponents and you espouse the police-at-the-door to ‘save the planet.’ The burden of proof is on you the coercionist for your utopia. Capitalism is freedom, and political capitalism and socialism are not. So are wind turbines your idea of nirvana?

Consider immersing yourself in the science of liberty and maybe come out of your rethink with a more tolerant, optimistic outlook on life.

32 Fifteen bad things with Windpower | Toronto Wind Action { 02.23.12 at 6:34 pm }

[...] Read more… Posted in Information [...]

33 Barrie K. Gilbert PhD { 03.06.12 at 9:10 am }

Another Option

Over the last 50 years the St. Lawrence Seaway brought us 200 invasive species that changed the Great Lakes forever. Now we watch another “engineering miracle”, industrial offshore wind turbines, rammed ahead without adequate awareness of potential destruction to fish, bats and birds and their habitat, and yes, to us, the human animals that depend on this landscape. Some of Ontario’s richest fishing grounds and migratory bird flyways face a Maginot Line of giant structures virtually circling the eastern Lake from Prince Edward County to the USA border off Wolfe Island. Even If we had no options for electricity other then mega-projects like Windstream’s $1.2 billion Wolfe Island Shoals Project humans, and more specifically, corporations and compliant governments, cannot morally, environmentally, socially or economically justify gutting our last wild places or desecration remnant human viewscapes of Main Duck Island and its surroundings. Too long have corporations and governments ignored the ecological and emotional well being of citizens and societies.

All of the media hype and propaganda promoted by companies seeking to cash in on taxpayer subsidies and an incompetent regulatory system cannot disguise the ineffectiveness of wind energy production. International interest is dropping like a hawk obliterated by a turbine blade, yet amazingly Ontario pursues these empty promises.

A reliable alternative for Ontario’s energy needs does, however, sit beside us in Quebec. Their surplus electricity could be brought here using underwater cable up the St. Lawrence River, similar to the proposal under consideration for New York City.

We, you and I, need to think about this. Should Lake Ontario to be a sacrifice zone? Hasn’t it been abused enough? Before offshore oil wells and gas fracking come charging over the horizon like a frothing monster, the Lake should be put off limit for industrial development, protected forever by potent legislation.

The Thousand Islands Region is the backyard and summer escape for millions of people in Toronto, Ottawa and beyond. Instead of destroying fisheries, re-suspending toxic sediment, destroying the remnants of biodiversity, and obliterating views night and day we need to convince our politicians that another, cheaper solution to our power needs is at hand.

Wind energy has been proven to be neither free nor green. Quebec power has no taxpayer subsidies nor does it threaten to escalate our electric bills by 40% or more. Let’s not trade our known remaining, and already threatened, natural resources and social values for some dubious, disproven pseudo substitute, offshore wind.

34 Wiatraki zak?ócaj? sygna? telewizji i komórki | Nowa Stepnica { 03.23.12 at 12:27 pm }
35 Steve Boughton { 05.02.12 at 8:07 pm }

WIND TURBINES. The 21st Century dinosaur.
One weld around a wind turbine tower 3 metre diameter is 9.429 metres of welding, 10mm steel, a three phase welder wound up to 200Amps, each phase that’s 200 X 415 = 83 kW each hour. 8 hours to weld that one seam is 747 kW plus they probably X-ray each seam.
That’s an incredible amount of electricity made from burning coal, and there are hundreds of metres of seam on each tower. These wind towers burn tonnes of coal in manufacture, how, each one needs many many megawatts to manufacture. How much coal is burnt to smelter the steel for these things, find out their weight and multiply by 0.8 will tell you.
The carbon tax is to support this industry. I’d rather burn coal personally it’s better for the environment.
Can anyone tell me why Queensland’s Tarong Power Station appears to be spending their green energy investment on wind turbines on the Fleurie Peninsular, Cape Jervis Sth Aus’. It all just gets more sordid as you research.
When these things are a few years old, next to the salt water invariably, the bearings rust out, overheat and poof, all that energy is wasted, but they don’t need to replace it when it happens, they’re still getting the carbon credits for years.

36 brandon { 11.28.12 at 9:21 pm }

I’m writing an essay on this subject and your text helped me a lot…..

37 Irish brawler McIlhenny brings ‘FrackNation’ to the screen { 07.08.13 at 3:30 pm }

[...] in the air, expressing their displeasure and trying to shut them down. There is now increasing resistance to wind power all along the U.S. east coast and solar plants in deserts in California’s Mojave Desert are [...]

38 billfu.tumblr.com { 11.04.13 at 12:59 pm }

Thanks for this wonderful content. I really enjoyed it lots. What you have done is actually pretty inspirational.

39 Evan's Blog - Wind Power { 01.23.14 at 7:11 pm }
40 John Edwards { 03.11.14 at 1:08 pm }

One of the worst things about anti-green energy proponents is.. there is no reason for a pro-green energy person to lie or make stuff up. Unless it’s for status, or if they are secret Muslims trying to ruin America from the inside. It seems when conservatives and liberals face off about an issue, it’s always conservatives attacking something that liberals would have no need to break their back for unless they were sure it was the right thing to do. On the other hand, there is typically a clear and rather self-centered benefit for the Republicans if they were to have their way. It just seems like an easy way to spot the bad guy when one side is fighting for something they believe is better for earth as a whole, while another is fighting just to not have to pay as much, or live near fer’ners.

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