A Free-Market Energy Blog

DOE: Breaking the Federal Arm of the Wind Industry (Part IV)

By -- February 23, 2017

[Editor Note: This essay, the fourth in a series aimed at correcting the most harmful wind energy-related policies of the Obama era, examines how the U.S. Department of Energy has set aside its scientific objectivity and, instead, has assumed the role of chief advocate for wind power in the federal government.]

Since 2008, the US Department of Energy (DOE) has touted the technical feasibility of using wind energy to meet 20 percent of the nation’s electricity demand by 2030. In 2015, the agency refined its plan with the release of its Wind Vision, which further qualified the opportunity and laid the groundwork for the US to achieve 10 percent wind power by 2020, 20 percent wind power by 2030, and 35 percent wind power by 2050.

DOE and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) insist that the industry is on track to meet these goals, but even a casual look at DOE’s claims makes clear that the reports are more advocacy than reality.

Advocating Wind …

In 2015, wind power supplied about 5 percent of total U.S. electricity sales. (See Table 1) Doubling this output by 2020 would mean adding tens of thousands of new megawatts and significantly boosting the annual average capacity factor across the entire fleet of operating turbines to 40 percent, where 31 percent is typical today.

This would require upgrading existing facilities,[1] most having been in operation for less than 10 years, or attaining exceptional levels of output at new installations constructed after 2015 (55 percent capacity factor). Reaching higher levels of wind power penetration by 2030 is equally unrealistic, as older turbines would have reached their end-of-life, thus requiring even more wind turbines to be installed. None of these scenarios are likely or feasible, but DOE’s purpose is wind advocacy, so it doesn’t matter.

TABLE 1: Wind Growth 2007-2015 and Proposed[2]
Year Wind Capacity (MW) Total Wind Generation (TWh) Total US Sales of Electricty (TWh) % US Electricity Sales
2010 40,283 94.7 3,755 2.5%
2011 46,930 120.2 3,750 3.2%
2012 60,012 140.8 3,695 3.8%
2013 61,110 167.8 3,725 4.5%
2014 65,877 181.6 3,765 4.8%
2015 73,992 190.9 3,725 5.1%
Years following represent DOE Wind Vision[3] for future growth
2020 113,000 390.0 3,900 10.0%
2030 224,000 839.5 4,197.4 20.0%
2050 404,000 1,715.0 4,900.0 35.0%

… and Infrastructure …

Since wind projects are generally sited in remote areas, DOE’s Vision also mandates thousands of miles of new transmission capacity to deliver the energy at a cumulative cost and scale that is not well understood. Generous state and federal subsidies have skewed power markets such that on-shore wind energy facilities can afford to be located long distances from load areas, despite locational price penalties meant to discourage such siting.

As a result, rather than working to keep deployment of transmission to a minimum, DOE’s Vision advocates building extensive transmission capacity where none was needed before. Texas alone required its residents pony up over $7 billion to finance transmission to deliver West Texas wind to eastern parts of the state. New England is forecasting between $15 and $25 billion to deliver in-region wind to population centers around Boston and Southern Connecticut.

… For Industry, Against the Public

The battles over siting and cost allocations are already raging in every region of the country, including Arkansas where the DOE is now attempting to bypass state regulators and assert federal authority over approval of a transmission line that will carry western wind to points east.

With turbines reaching heights of 500- and 600-feet, public opposition has proven a significant barrier to development. Lawsuits are increasingly common as residents move to stop applications and developers take action to overturn permit denials or restrictive land use regulations. Since October, NextEra filed three lawsuits in Michigan, Missouri and Indiana. In that same period, Apex Clean Energy called on the courts at least twice in North Carolina and New York, and more action is in the works by developers and residents.

DOE’s Vision accepts that obstacles to wind energy expansion might exist, but these issues, according to the Vision, “can be effectively managed with appropriate planning, technology, and communication among stakeholders.”

Experts Without Expertise

In many cases, such planning and communication have fallen to the DOE directly and its employees have shown a willingness to help, even if it means advocacy that extends outside the agency’s core proficiency.

In December 2009, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) released the first of several statistical analyses[4] claiming wind turbine facilities do not diminish the values of nearby residential properties. Since then, LBNL has expanded its study and customized the data for different locales, including Massachusetts.

Despite obvious flaws in DOE’s methodology,[5] wind proponents repeatedly use these government-sponsored reports to silence the public and discredit actual licensed real estate appraisers who testify to results that contradict DOE’s claims.

In another instance, DOE delved into wind turbine noise emissions. In that case, LBNL employees involved themselves in assessing the effectiveness of operating wind turbines in different modes in order to reduce noise emissions at the 4.5 MW facility on Vinalhaven Island off the coast of Maine.

Both reports, on property value impacts and noise emissions, had the same chief authors, Ben Hoen and Ryan Wiser. Neither Mr. Hoen nor Dr. Wiser has professional experience as real estate appraisers nor is either qualified to provide certified appraisals.

With regard to wind turbine acoustics, neither has any academic or professional experience as acousticians nor do they have any direct experience assessing wind turbine noise.

Nonetheless, the reports of these nonexperts carry the weight of the federal government, despite their true intent to advocate for wind power.

In the coming months, we recommend the new administration take action to reset the priorities of the DOE including:

  • Reviewing and eliminating DOE efforts that fall outside core proficiencies. Identify and defund activities aimed at wind advocacy.
  • Discourage funding of wind-related research where the costs can and should be borne by private industry.

—————————–

[1] The IRS approve new guidance in 2016 that allowed for repowered turbines to be PTC eligible.

[2] EIA Power Monthly (Mar 2016) https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/current_year/may2016.pdf

[3] Electricity demand in years after 2015 based on DOE assumption that electricity growth is linear and averages 0.8% per year from 2013 to 2050. http://www.energy.gov/eere/wind/maps/wind-vision

[4] Hoen, Ben, Ryan H. Wiser, Peter Cappers, Mark A. Thayer, and Gautam Sethi. “Wind Energy Facilities and Residential Properties: The Effect of Proximity and View on Sales Prices.” Journal of Real Estate Research 33, no. 3 (2009). http://emp.lbl.gov/publications/impact-wind-power-projects-residential-property-values-united-states-multi-site-hedonic

[5] Wind farms, residential property values, and rubber rulers. Albert R. Wilson – February 16, 2010 http://www.windaction.org/posts/24661-wind-farms-residential-property-values-and-rubber-rulers#.WEX1M_krIuU

 

17 Comments


  1. sherri lange  

    Nice piece. Thanks. Shows the vision of the industry eroding before our eyes. Interesting that lawsuits, nuisance, may yet be another arm breaker for the industry. Watch Ireland, and other places where legal push-back is already finding its way. Imagine 10 or 12 simultaneous suits. That sends a walloping message.

    Reply

  2. Willem Post  

    Lisa,

    Your table one would be more meaning fun it “wind generation fed to the grid” were compared with “total generation fed to the grid”

    The T&D losses are about 7% on a nationwide basis, but could be up to 10% for rural areas where wind turbines are located.

    Here is an article introducing “PATHWAY Source Energy Factors”, to enable comparing one energy source versus another.

    Such factors include T&D losses, and the loss due to other generators having to inefficiently operate for peaking, filling-in and balancing.

    http://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/vermont-s-90-percent-renewable-energy-goal-to-cost-33-billion-by

    Reply

  3. Lisa Linowes  

    Willem, thank you for your comment. The second column in the table should read ‘net generation” for wind. The difference between annual sales and annual net generation fed to the grid is about 0.4% in the years 2010-15. I used ‘sales’ to be consistent with DOE’s claims for demand and its expected wind penetration. –Lisa

    Reply

    • Willem Post  

      Lisa,

      I think it is better to compare wind generation fed to grid versus total generation fed to grid. Those numbers are readily available.

      Never mind what DOE does for political reasons.

      They want to make wind look like a larger percent than it is.

      Looking at the table, the US added

      34 GW from 2010 to 2015, and will be adding
      40 GW from 2015 to 2020
      55 GW from 2025 to 2030

      That is quite an increase with decreasing federal subsidies.

      I wonder, how much of that will be offshore.

      Offshore cap costs appear to be outrageous.

      Here is one NE folly.

      AN EXPENSIVE WIND ENERGY FOLLY IN NEW ENGLAND

      With big enough wings (subsidies, energy storage), even pigs can be made to fly.

      Look at this wind energy folly, right here in New England:

      The Block Island Wind Farm, after many years of dithering, likely will be operational in late 2016. It is located 3.8 miles east of Block Island, Rhode Island. It has five wind turbines, each with a capacity of 6 megawatt. Each turbine is about 589 feet tall. Turnkey project cost is about $290 million. The estimated service life is about 25 years. The annual wind energy production would be about 105,000 megawatt-hour.

      If the major costs of 25-year financing, a return on investment, operation and maintenance, and replacements were ignored, the cost of energy production would be about 11.4 cents per kilowatt-hour.

      If these costs were not ignored, the cost of energy would be at least 20 cents. That would be about the price charged to utilities under a long-term power purchase agreement, PPA. This energy would be variable and intermittent, i.e., no wind, no energy. Other generators, likely gas-fired, would be required to provide supplementary energy on a year-round basis.

      The actual PPA calls for 24.4 cent the first year, increasing at 3.5% per year for 20 years; the rate would be 48.6 cents in the final year. For comparison, the Cape Wind PPA calls for 18.7 cents, increasing at 3.5% per year for 20 years. New England wholesale prices have averaged about 5 cents for dispatchable, steady energy for the past 5 years, thanks to low-cost, clean, low-CO2 emitting, domestic natural gas and nuclear energy.
      http://www.platts.com/latest-news/electric-power/charlottesville-virginia/rhode-island-offshore-wind-project-wins-key-court-3555862

      There is a much better and less costly alternative. A much larger quantity of energy could be bought from Hydro-Quebec at a cost to utilities of about 7 cents, with adjustments based on New England wholesale energy prices. That energy would have much less CO2 emissions per kilowatt-hour than wind energy, and would be a steady, year-round supply, wind or no wind.

      A 1,000-megawatt transmission line, costing about $2.0 billion, could supply to Massachusetts and Rhode Island about 6.5 million megawatt-hour of steady, year-round energy, at least sixty times at much as the above wind turbine system, mostly supplied by French and Norwegian contractors.

      Reply

  4. Lisa Linowes  

    Willem – thanks for your reply. DOE’s Wind Vision report assumes offshore installed capacities in 2020, 2030 and 2050 of 3MW, 22MW and 86MW respectively. These figures are not realistic, as you rightly state.

    The difference between wind as a percent of sales and wind as a percent of total generation in each of the years cited in the table is only 0.4%. Since DOE’s claim is that wind can achieve 10%, 20% or 35% of of end-user demand (not total energy) it would important we retain the same comparisons in this essay.

    Reply

  5. Willem Post  

    Lisa,

    The T&D losses of distributed wind turbines likely are higher, say 8 – 10 percent, than of the national grid, say about 6.5 – 7 percent.

    Germany’s websites play the same games as DOE, when they say renewables are a % of consumption, which makes the RE % look larger, more impressive.

    Reply

  6. Marie McNamara  

    Ireland and other countries where the court cases are going is very instructive. Also, beware that there are efforts to neuter an avenue of nuisance suits from various corporate activities in the state legislatures in the U.S. I’m not a lawyer, but that sounds wrong if a property owner or party cannot address/redress serious problems. It’s a pillar of property rights in my mind. Has anyone else seen this, yet? BTW, very well done article.

    Reply

  7. Tom Stacy  

    Resolving the difference re T&D losses stated by Post (6.5-7.0%) and Linowes (0.4%) only requires a look through the sources and their explanation of what they measure. Fior instance, if Lisa’s “sales” data is collected based on PPA contract quantities rather than from RTO LMP calculations that closely estimate and reflect real-time congestion, then that could easily make up the difference. I would side with the LMP calculations in that case. I don’t have the RTO data but I’ll bet it could be made available to the right party.

    Reply

    • Willem Post  

      Tom,

      190.6 TWh is the wind generation fed into the grid in 2015.

      Distributed wind turbines have a T&D loss of about 8 – 10 percent, i.e., about 173.4 arrives at user meters.

      Electricity sales were 3725 in 2015, at user meters

      Wind percent = 173.4/3725 = 4.66%; the table states 5.1%, which is not correct.

      Plus the peaking, filling-in and balancing losses were not charged to wind

      Reply

  8. Ronald Chappell  

    A question not addressed here is the question of required as well as variable wind idle costs to maintain grid grid stability as the % total wind increases to important levels.

    Reply

    • Willem Post  

      At higher annual percent wind energy on the grid, the other generators doing the peaking, filling-in and balancing will be operating less efficiently, as in Germany.

      This will partially negate fuel and CO2 réductions due to wind energy.

      In Ireland, at 17% wind, wind was only 55% effective; instead of 100 units, only 55 units were reduced.

      At some point, wind turbine power plant should be required to have storage capacity, MWh, so their output is smoothed on a 24/7 basis.

      Reply

  9. Lisa Linowes  

    Willem, thank you very much for your comments. The figures in the table for the years 2015 and prior were taken directly from EIA’s power monthly report cited in footnote 2, specifically tables 1.1, 1.1A and 5.1. In the aggregate, there is about a 9% delta between “Net Generation by Energy Source: Total (All Sectors)” and “Sales of Electricity to Ultimate Customers” but that delta does not appear to be uniform across fuel types (coal, natural gas, wind). I emailed EIA to see if we can get more detail of what exactly accounts for the difference.

    Nonetheless, whether wind represents 5% or 4.66%, the thesis of the essay is unchanged. DOE is advocating a scenario of 10% wind in 2020 that is not feasible.

    Reply

    • Willem Post  

      Lisa,
      Here are some numbers for Germany,

      2016 gross production was 652 TWh
      RE was 196 TWh, i.e., 30% of generation.

      Less self-use 30 Twh
      Less exports 52 TWh
      Less T&D 30 TWh
      Less Pumped storage and misc 19.4 TWh
      Arriving at domestic meters 520.6 TWh

      For some Re folks to make the statement RE 196/520.6 = 37.6% of consumption is completely ridiculous.

      Reply

Leave a Reply