Beyond Wind Spin: Miami Herald Should Get It Right
“I would suggest that the owners of the “wind farms” that may not be able to sell all their output don’t deserve a lot of sympathy. They should have known the risks of investing in an industry that exists only because of massive tax breaks and subsidies and other unwise government policies.”
Mr. Graff: Thanks for your probably well-meaning [August 5th] story that bore the headline, “Newly Available Wind Power Often Has No Place to Go.” However, I wonder if you realize that the story was quite one-sided and likely misleading.
That tends to happen, unfortunately, when a “news” story is based heavily on information fed to reporters by lobbyists — in this case from the wind industry’s Washington-based lobbyists, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).
Please consider the following points:
Market Distortion. Completely missed in your story is the fact that construction of wind turbines to generate electricity is not driven by normal electricity market requirements or by benefits for electricity users. Instead, construction of “wind farms” is driven by two principal market distorting forces:
1. State “Renewable Portfolio Standards” (RPS) that force electric distribution companies to provide from “renewable” sources certain dictated shares of the electricity they sell — even though that electricity is very high in true cost and low in true value.
2. Massive federal and state tax breaks and subsidies for “wind farm” owners.
As explained in more detail below, electricity from wind turbines is high in true cost and low in real value.
Transmission Capacity. Contrary to the implication of your article, the electricity industry spends a lot of money on the transmission system; in fact, $14.1 billion in 2012 (Electric Light & Power, July 31, 2013). The fact is that building expensive transmission to serve “wind farms” doesn’t deserve high priority among competing needs for expanding or upgrading transmission capacity.
Ordinary electric customers end up paying the cost of building transmission capacity and building such capacity to serve “wind farms” is seldom in electric customers’ best interest; for example:
1. Such capacity is expensive because “wind farms” tend to be located distant from areas where electricity is needed, resulting in high cost and greater “line loss” of electricity.
2. “Wind Farms” use transmission capacity inefficiently, particularly because their output is intermittent and volatile and wind turbines seldom produce at their rated capacity.
Misleading terms. Your use of “wind-generation capacity” mirrors the misleading use of such terms by AWEA representatives. The rated “capacity” (megawatts or gigawatts) of wind turbines is much less important than:
1. The amount of electricity they actually produce (measured in Kilowatt-hours, megawatt-hours or Gigawatt-hours). Unlike reliable generating units, wind turbines produce electricity only when wind speeds are in the required range. (They start producing when wind speeds are about 6 MPH, reach rated capacity around 32 MPH and cut out around 55 MPH.). Their production on average is less than 30% of their rated “generating capacity.”
2. When they produce electricity. Wind turbines tend to produce at night and in colder and shoulder months, not when electricity demand and real value is high, such as on hot weekday afternoons in July and August. Thus the real value of their output is low.
3. The unreliability of their output. Wind turbine output is intermittent, volatile, and unreliable. Therefore, when wind turbine output is forced into an electric grid, reliable generating units must always be available to compensate for the unreliable wind turbine output in order to assure that the electric grid is kept in balance (voltage, frequency, demand & supply).
Faulty Government Policies. The fact that federal and state government policies promoting wind energy are not in the interest of ordinary citizens, consumers, and taxpayers is illustrated by the headlong drive by New York state governors and political leaders to force electricity from wind into New York’s energy supply. (The underlying points in this example apply equally in the U.S. “heartland” that is the focus of your article and elsewhere.) Consider two alternatives:
1. Wind Energy: New York’s first 15 “wind farms” have a total rated (or nameplate) capacity of 1,273.9 megawatts (MW). During 2012 these 15 “wind farms” produced 2,321,500 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity. 
Assuming very conservative capital cost numbers, the capital cost of the 15 “wind farms” in NY was probably around $2 billion. The predominate demand for electricity in New York State is in the New York City – Westchester County area. However, NY’s “wind farms are located in upstate and western New York so the output from the wind farms” must be transmitted to the NYC area, adding to the cost and adding environmental damage when additional transmission capacity must be provided.
2. Alternative: A single 450 MW gas-fired combined cycle generating unit (or two 225 MW units) located near NYC, operating at only a 60% capacity factor, could have supplied just as much electricity — actually 2,365,200 MWh  – with about one fourth of the capital cost and with less overall cost to consumers and taxpayers when fuel and O&M costs are added.
Furthermore, the gas-fired generating units would be reliable and dispatchable and thus available when needed, including times of peak electricity demand. As indicated earlier, electricity is available from wind turbines only when wind speeds are in the “right” range. They are highly unlikely to produce much electricity during times of peak demand, so they ., they have little or no “capacity value.”
Also, there would be no need to add transmission capacity to bring wind-generated electricity to the NYC area from upstate and western NY. Finally, a gas-fired generating unit would provide more jobs than the “wind farms.”
Mr. Graff, I recognize that you probably do not have the time to understand the complexities of the electricity industry or of the distortions resulting from unwise government policies that have led to the construction of “wind farms” when the money could have been spent much more productively elsewhere.
I would suggest that the owners of the “wind farms” that may not be able to sell all their output don’t deserve a lot of sympathy. They should have known the risks of investing in an industry that exists only because of massive tax breaks and subsidies and other unwise government policies.
I hope you will work to learn more of the facts before writing more articles about wind energy that have great potential to mislead fellow reports, the public and government officials.
And, please, don’t rely heavily on information supplied by lobbyists such as the AWEA. They serve a purpose but it is not the interests of ordinary citizens, consumers and taxpayers.
Glenn Schleede (Ashburn, VA)