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Posts from — November 2010

Technical Appendix to the Calculator: Fossil Fuel Consumption, CO2 Emissions, and Costs with Wind (Part II)

Part I yesterday introduced the latest version of the Calculator (14.2), which continues to illustrate the futility of wind as a means of reducing fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. This post provides more detail about the approach taken by the Calculator.

As important as the subject is, there are no extensive analyses of real-time information (finely grained time intervals for long periods of time) assessing all the variables affecting electricity system behaviour as wind penetration increases. Existing analyses have some or many of the following important limiting characteristics (not necessarily an exhaustive list):

· Are based solely on annual electricity production and annual averages (even statistical averaging is suspect in terms of real-time operation) of electricity generation.

· Use unrealistically high wind capacity factors, including offshore projections, which in practice deliver at about the same capacity factor as assumed at the high end for onshore.

· Are conducted at a macro level, say for a country or even a state, ignoring lower level considerations (eg local grid considerations)

· Assume that the production from intermittent sources offsets fossil fuel consumption (and thus CO2 emissions) on a MWh basis. Some studies admit to some reduction in savings but suggest that this is small.

· May do valid, but incomplete, modelling, for example short time periods, using limited fossil fuel plant performance data and ignoring the need to change fossil fuel plant types to meet the requirements of balancing wind.

· Do not take into account the reduced capacity factor of wind-balancing fossil fuel plants

· Assume that normal reserves are available to meet continuous intermittent wind production variations regardless of wind penetration.

· Assume intermittent production is no different from short term demand changes.

· Assume geographic dispersion provides significant smoothing.

· Assume better wind forecasting will reduce the impact on wind balancing requirements.

· Ignore seasonal and year-to-year wind conditions.

· Assume grid upgrades (typically substantial capacity upgrades but sometimes disguised as “smart grid” considerations, such as smart meter implementations and demand management) will allow the introduction of extensive wind plants in a manageable manner.

· Do not provide a convincing causation link between any changes in CO2 emissions and wind implementation.

There are many studies with these limitations, and unfortunately, these are largely the accepted body of knowledge on the subject. In response, I developed the Calculator in an attempt to estimate these affects in a relatively simple way. [Read more →]

November 30, 2010   4 Comments

The Calculator: Fossil Fuel Consumption, CO2 Emissions, and Costs with Wind (Part I)

[Editor note: Kent Hawkins has been at the forefront of devising a model (the Calculator) to estimate the lost wind-related emission reductions due to the fact that backup fossil-fuel generation (to firm wind) must operate less efficiently. This two-part series (today and tomorrow) provides Mr. Hawkins' latest thinking. While technical, the Calculator is a very important line of analysis that will continue to be revised by its open-minded author. So critical comments are especially welcome.]

There is no convincing proof of the ability of utility-scale wind electricity generation to provide any of the incredible benefits claimed for it. In light of the massive costs (hundreds of $billions) of the extensive implementations projected by some governments, and equally large changes to electricity grids required to support wind’s ineffectiveness, it seems reasonable to expect that such claims be properly substantiated beforehand.

Among the more important claims are fossil fuel and CO2 emissions reductions. In the absence of (1) any verification of these, ignoring of course the many uncritical testimonials by government bodies, environmentalist organizations and the media, and (2) the necessary public information to objectively analyze wind’s performance, the Calculator was developed as an interim tool to assist in understanding some of the realities of integrating wind into electricity systems. It shows the fossil fuel consumption, CO2 emissions and associated costs, based on a range of input factors.

This update is based on feedback from the Calculator series and comparisons with studies involving some level of actual results by Bentek and le Pair and de Groot. (A copy of the Calculator can be obtained here). There are no changes to the approach taken, but improvements have been made, including a better user-interface. Note that input should be entered only in cells that are outlined or by using the provided sliders. Other cells contain calculated amounts or references.

Critics have charged that the Calculator is not based on any production data to support the results reported in the Calculator series. But, this misses the point. Considering that there is not sufficient, appropriate data available publically to permit a comprehensive analysis, the calculator expresses a working hypothesis based on the important factors that bear on wind integration:

  • Impact of wind volatility on fossil fuel plants required to balance wind production
  • The need to introduce fast-reacting but less efficient gas plants into the generation portfolio
  • Focus on the effects of the intertwined nature of wind plants and fossil fuel plants versus macro analyses, for example, at the country or state level
  • Seasonality of wind production
  • Consideration of the likelihood that some fossil fuel plants in the wind-balancing role may be able to operate “normally”, for example in periods of low wind production, including no wind conditions.

So the Calculator does not “prove” that wind plants increase CO2 emissions but shows the impact of a number of considerations. [Read more →]

November 29, 2010   25 Comments

MasterResource Update: The Progress Continues (3Q–2010+ report)

The free-market energy blog MasterResource is nearing its second anniversary (first post: December 26, 2008).  Our viewership has steadily grown, and we have reached as high as #7 on the “green blog” list of Technorati (as of 11/24: #32 out of 6,246).

The strength of MasterResource is the quality of our bloggers, some well-known names in the free market movement and others new names with now uncovered expertise. In particular, we have tapped into a talent base of individuals who are critics of industrial windpower, many of whom come from an environmental background and now appreciate the free market perspective.

We also appreciate the hundreds of comments that our blogs are generating, which is more talent bubbling to the top. In addition to supportive comments, we post critical comments that are in good taste. We are not afraid to debate the issues so long as the critic is sincere and avoids attacks at the person.

Philosophy

MasterResource is grounded on energy realism (versus energy hype and alarmism). Our preference is for free energy markets over energy statism. We prefer voluntary solutions to private and social problems wherever possible and believe that the intellectual case is strong against government coercion from an intellectual elite (the smartest guys in the room, to use the Enron vernacular).

Our worldview can be summarized as follows: [Read more →]

November 25, 2010   12 Comments

“Birds of Prey Remain at Risk” (Windpower’s ‘avian mortality’ issue today)

“Citing a dearth of applicable wind-generation modifications, Dick Anderson of the California Energy Commission suspects that current bird fatality levels in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (WRA) will mirror those revealed by a 1991 CEC study.  ‘Very little has been done by the wind companies to effectively change the situation,’ Anderson recently said.  Though studies have yielded a ‘better understanding’ of avian causalities, few measures appear to be reducing avian impacts.”

- Staff Article, “Altamont Avian Mortality Continues; Improvements Grounded,” California Energy Markets, January 23, 1998, p. 2.

Last week, my post “Cuisinarts of the Air” (Revisiting an environmentalist term for windpower)” ended with the question and a request for readers:

So what has happened in the last decade regarding industrial wind in bird-sensitive areas? Comments and updates welcome!

Well, as if led by an invisible hand, Science magazine published a letter-to-the-editor (November 12, 2010: p. 913), “Birds of Prey Remain at Risk.”

The authors contend that the California bird problem has not gone away. But where is the outrage? Why does Big Environmentalism (BE) look the other way?

The answer, I believe, is that BE must accept industrial wind as part of their cap-carbon-to-cap-capitalism crusade given the dearth of other supply-side options. But windpower gives little emission reduction for the government buck and has a host of side issues–so the question again arises: why?

I believe that the real reason why environmentalists are wind-intoxicated is because the photo-shoped, no-sound images of wind turbines represent the PR front for a whole agenda. Wind is BE’s (environmental) loss leader, so to speak, and part of the consolation prize is higher energy prices, which is a per se good to them. But this is putting form over substance a la Enron. The bubble of misdirection will eventually burst.

The letter follows:

E. Kintisch’s News story “Out of site” (special section on Scaling Up Alternative Energy, 13 August, p. 788) discusses the bird-of-prey deaths (including golden eagles) caused by wind turbines. The story implies that the problem at the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (APWRA) in California has been reduced by spacing turbines farther apart and removing turbines from problematic sites. These statements are misleading. [Read more →]

November 24, 2010   3 Comments

End the Ethanol Subsidies! (Congressional inaction would save taxpayers $6 billion, and bring other benefits too)

What am I missing? Is there some aspect of our inane energy policies that I am failing to understand, much less appreciate?

“We the People” just booted a boatload of spendthrifts out of Congress, after they helped engineer a $1.3 trillion deficit on America’s FY-2010 budget and balloon our cumulative national debt to $13.7 trillion.

And the “bipartisan White House deficit reduction panel” chimed in with a 50-page draft proposal, offering suggestions for $3.8 trillion in future budgetary savings. The proposal targets $100 billion in Defense Department weapons programs, healthcare benefits and overseas bases. It also proposes a $13-billion cutback in the federal workforce and lining out $400 million in unnecessary printing costs.

Yet, amazingly, not even this independent commission was willing to eliminate the $6-billion sacred cow of annual ethanol subsidies! The current 45-cents-per-gallon tax credit for blending ethanol into gasoline automatically expires December 31, as does the 54-cents-a-gallon tariff on imported ethanol. So all senators and congressmen need to do is nothing, and beleaguered taxpayers will save six billion bucks.

We can only hope. [Read more →]

November 23, 2010   4 Comments

The New Guard of Climate Questioners: Get Ready for the Next Round of Climate Science Debate

Last Wednesday, November 17, 2010, the Subcommittee on Energy & Environment of the Committee on Science and Technology of the U. S. House of Representatives held a hearing on climate change titled “A Rational Discussion of Climate Change: the Science, the Evidence, the Response.” In a clear deference to the incoming make-up of the House, there were a relatively high number of panelists that were invited by the sitting minority, which made this hearing more “rational” and fascinating that than most subcommittee hearings in some time.

The Republican invitees were Richard Lindzen, Patrick Michaels, and Judith Curry.

The first two are stalwarts of the let’s-just-hold-on-a-minute view of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. And, true to form, at the hearing each presented compelling evidence as to why anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions might not rapidly push up global temperature—not now, nor in the future. The testimony of Lindzen and Michaels can be found here and here respectively. And while their arguments are met with considerable opposition from the global-warming-is-a-dire-problem types, the ideas espoused by Lindzen and Michaels are scientifically compelling.

The third Republican invitee, Georgia Institute of Technology’s Dr. Judith Curry, is a new addition to this group (her testimony can be accessed here). In fact, not too long ago, she was starring for the Democrats at Congressional hearings. She also endorsed Joe Romm’s book, Come Hell and High Water, upon its release in 2006.

But all this changed about a year ago, when Dr. Curry started delving into the contents of the Climategate emails (which just celebrated the one-year anniversary of their release). She did not like what she found and spoke up.

At the time, when expressing her initial concern about the behavior on display (and its implications) in the Climategate emails, hers was one voice among several that came from folks who were typically apart from the usual (critical) suspects.

However, as time went on, the other voices have grown dimmer, while Judith’s has grown louder—primarily because of her continued investigations and her conviction borne upon what she has found.

Her primary interest, as of late, concerns the recognition and representation of uncertainty in our scientific knowledge. She holds the opinion that the level of true uncertainty is suppressed in the IPCC documents, and that its full revelation is essential in presenting a fair description of the state of scientific knowledge.

Her frank discussion on this topic has made her rather unpopular among her past supporters (she was at one time deemed the “high priestess of global warming” but now labeled a “heretic”) and is what has landed her in the anchor seat of the Hearing last week.

Here is a snippet of how she describes her personal journey: [Read more →]

November 22, 2010   8 Comments

“Cuisinarts of the Air” (Revisiting an environmentalist term for windpower)

Avian mortality is the scientific term applied in environmental assessments of windpower. But there is another term that has gained currency where industrial wind has impacted local bird activity.

This post documents the historical use of the term, which was coined by the Los Angeles representative of the Sierra Club in the late 1980s. The term came back into use when environmentalists challenged a project of Enron Wind Corporation, now a subsidiary of General Electric.

Looking back, if environmentalists and regulatory authorities had cracked down on industrial wind, this artificial government-dependent industry could have been avoided altogether or shut down.

Instead, with Big Environmentalism leading the way, and anti-energy intellectuals welcoming the high cost-low reliability of wind, this inferior power source has been allowed to grow.

And now, grass-roots environmentalists are leading the charge against industrial wind.

A Term is Born

Here is the origin of the term as told by Paul Gipe in Wind Energy Comes of Age (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1995, p. 450):

At the height of the Gorman [California] hearing, an old man took the podium. Suddenly the television news crews switched on their Klieg lights. Something was afoot. They had been alerted that a suitably newsworthy ‘sound bite’ was on its way. Tension in the room mounted. The old man proceeded to lovingly describe the beauty of his racing pigeons, their speed and grace, how they had become a part of his family, and then with perfect timing and dramatic flair, pleaded with the planning commission to protect his pigeons from “the Cuisinarts of the air.” [Read more →]

November 19, 2010   8 Comments

Death to the Chicago Climate Exchange ($7.40 to a nickel per CO2 ton, the market has spoken)

“One of the keystones of the Climate Change alarmist movement was its audacious attempt to create a functioning market by monetizing the atmospheric gas known as CO2…. Certainly, gaming the system has always been at the top on the agenda of the new green eco-trader.”

- Patrick Henningsen, “The Great Collapse of the Chicago Climate Exchange,” 21st Century Wire, August 28, 2010.

We were tipped off by the August 28th headline, “The Great Collapse of the Chicago Climate Exchange,” by Patrick Henningsen, editor of 21st Century Wire. And now it is official as reported by Chicago Business, Fox News , and Crain’s Chicago Business (sub. required): the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) is dead. Trading in carbon-dioxide (CO2) emission contracts at CCX has basically ceased with member emissions-reduction agreements expiring at the end of the year.

The death rattles have come with each price decline per ton of carbon credits. Compared to $7.40 per ton in May 2008 when cap-and-trade legislation was eagerly anticipated, CCX’s market price tanked to $0.10 per ton in August 2010 and half that last month.  So much for a contrived opportunity in a pretense  market.  What a difference a couple of years, a few scientific scandals, and old-fashioned political gridlock make.

Reuters reported in August that the CCE was facing significant layoffs and an operational scaleback only a few months after being acquired by publicly traded Intercontinental Exchange Inc (NYSE: ICE). ICE acquired CCX earlier this year in an all-cash deal totaling nearly $600 million, a shocking valuation given CCX’s lack of traction and a paucity of sustainable revenue (more on this later). [Read more →]

November 18, 2010   4 Comments

Fiscal Commission Should Support Increased Energy Production, Not Increased Energy Taxes

Among the many suggestions in the draft report of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibiity and Reform is a 15 cents-per-gallon increase in the federal gasoline tax. No doubt, this proposed tax hike would raise revenues and make a modest dent in the deficit, but it would do so at the expense of the driving public and would disproportionately burden low-income motorists.

There’s a better way. If raising energy-related revenues is the goal, why not fill federal coffers in a manner that actually reduces the price at the pump? Washington can accomplish this by allowing more oil drilling in an about face from the so-called permitorium.

Background

The federal government controls all offshore areas beyond three miles from the coast, as well as vast expanses of energy-rich western lands. Unfortunately, only a fraction of these areas have been opened to energy leasing, due to legislative and regulatory restrictions.

For example, a 2008 Department of the Interior report notes that only eight percent of the estimated 31 billion barrels of oil beneath federal lands is fully available for leasing, while 30 percent is subject to significant restrictions and 62 percent is entirely off-limits. America’ offshore areas hold even greater potential but are also constrained. No other energy-producing nation on earth has limited itself to this extent. [Read more →]

November 17, 2010   2 Comments

Fighting the Windpower Industrial Complex: The Eric Bibler Letter (A Grassroots Environmentalist Speaks to Power)

The unequal contest about the implementation of utility-scale wind plants between a number of ordinary citizens, on one hand, and the system of government intransigence, environmentalist narrowness, strong industry lobby groups, and uninformed public opinion, on the other, is a difficult but necessary one.

In Europe alone, which has the most experience with the wind plants, the number of such groups is approaching 450 in 21 countries. In Ontario Canada, one of the North American extremist jurisdictions in support of wind, the number is 35.

Unfortunately, compared to the wind proponent side, the relatively small number of people fighting wind plants comes from those who are faced with the reality of the prospect of wind plants in close proximity to their communities. However, others who for various reasons have done the necessary research to see past the misconceptions to the reality of the total folly of pursuing such policies have also joined them.

We must rise above the negatively intended, and unthinking, use of the term NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) that is quickly applied to these citizens’ groups. Although, initially their opposition represents self-interest (which is not automatically to be criticized), nevertheless they progress to becoming informed on the subject to properly represent their case. In doing this, they soon discover that the associated problems and worthlessness of the whole wind agenda. They find out that the Wind Crusade is hardly noble environmentalism. Many find themselves asking: why have so many self-styled environmentalists sold out to image, to form over sustance?

My view is that utility-scale wind plants are ineffective in all respects as an electricity source and should not be part of any electricity system, rendering all the other problems that come with them needless. The ‘other problems’ are the negative impact on:

  • Human health
  • Local flora and fauna
  • Local economies, including businesses and housing real estate values
  • Natural environments, so taken for granted, but important to our society
  • Relationships within communities and even families
  • Our financial systems (think in terms of the recent sub-prime fiasco)

A Letter to Real Environmentalists on Windpower

The following letter from Eric Bibler to the Cape Cod Commission about planning for industrial wind turbines is noteworthy. Bibler is an environmental activist and President of Save Our Seashore, a non-profit organization based in Wellfleet, MA, that is devoted to the principle that our National Parks, including the Cape Cod National Seashore, should be preserved and protected as a natural resource and not subjected to industrialization through the installation of wind energy. [Read more →]

November 16, 2010   7 Comments