“Forgotten by many proponents is the justification for the PTC in the first place: to reduce CO2 emissions…. [Yet] … many utilities with large amounts of wind generation steadfastly refuse to release operating data for analysis. I suspect to do so would mean the release of empirical data to build the opposition’s case for insignificant CO2 reduction and poor operating economics. I was unable to find one study of existing wind energy installations that found the CO2 reductions predicted by AWEA.”
Robert Peltier, editor-in-chief of POWER magazine, is an honest broker. He understands the technical side of electrical generation as a professional engineer. He knows power generation in practice from his years of industry experience on the regulated and the nonregulated sides. He has taught the subject as a tenured professor. And with years of experience in the U.S. Navy and in law enforcement, he has just about seen it all. (See full bio below.)
In his current position, Peltier oversees staff and industry writing on the latest power technology relating to plants using oil, gas, coal, nuclear, water, wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass. Battery technology is regularly updated too.
His most recent Speaking of Power editorial, “Under Seize” (December 2012), contains numerous insights that friend and foe of modern windpower should heed. The longtime head of the American Wind Energy Association (and critic of Honest Bob), Denise Bode, is riding into the sunset. But she leaves behind a very subpar, dishonest technology that sans government support will be revealed as the Enron of energy sources. (And, thinking ahead, who will pay for wind-turbine removal?)
His seminal editorial follows:
As I write this column on Election Day 2012, the polls are still open and both presidential candidates are predicting victory. The next dozen hours or so will prove only one candidate correct. Regardless of the outcome, wind power remains a loser.
The Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind power expires at the end of this year unless Congress takes affirmative action to renew the law. This expire-renew cycle has occurred seven times since the PTC was first put into effect in 1992. However, unique events are in play this year that signal waning support for its renewal.
There is increased squabbling within environmental groups, particularly the Sierra Club, about the consequential environmental damage caused by wind power. “Aviary mortality” is the clinical term used to describe the bird annihilation caused by wind turbines. One Sierra Club area representative uses the metaphor “Cuisinarts of the air” to describe wind turbines. At last count 77 organizations were petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to toughen the rules for siting, permitting, and operating large-scale wind projects. Rules proposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service for wind turbine installations were deemed “unworkable” by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), which continues to dismiss bird kills as a serious problem.
Internal friction burst into flames recently when Exelon (a member of the AWEA board) went public with its view that the PTC was no longer necessary and should be allowed to expire. Exelon argued that the PTC was distorting competitive wholesale energy markets and was causing harm to other “clean energy” sources, such as nuclear energy. Exelon was quickly “voted off the island” at an emergency board meeting that excluded Exelon. Opposing points of view are clearly not valued by AWEA.
The root cause of the market and economic distortions described by Exelon is the PTC. The PTC pays the owner approximately $22/MWh for energy (not firm capacity) sold into a market. In some regions wind farm owners bid into the electricity market at a zero or negative power cost up to the value of the PTC in order to stay first in the production queue. The market distortion is particularly prevalent during periods of low power demand and excess electricity supply, where these artificially low power prices force baseload plants to operate at less-efficient part load.
The economic distortion is exacerbated in states with a renewable portfolio standard (RPS), where mandated power purchase agreements pay two to three times the marginal power cost. Not only does the PTC enable priority operation, but it also ensures that we all pay a premium for that power. The cost is buried in the government-approved utility rate structures. Also, 75% of the wind turbine installations since 2006 have been in only 11 states. The PTC has had the effect of shifting the cost of wind power development from a small number of states to taxpayers nationwide.
Forgotten by many proponents is the justification for the PTC in the first place: to reduce CO2 emissions. When the PTC was originally enacted, this justification was blindly accepted by many states without independently confirming CO2 reduction claims. The result was RPSs designed to encourage wind by exercising a state’s political muscle over electricity markets. (See here for an infographic of U.S. and global RPS standards.) Ironically, not one state RPS has a written requirement to reduce CO2. Intuition is not a substitute for empirical studies.
Over the past few years a large number of studies have been conducted in the U.S. and the European Union that conclude the fossil-fueled equipment used to balance the grid (“chase” wind because of its limited and unpredictable supply), and the loss in efficiency of baseload plants forced to operate off design, produce about zero net change in CO2emissions. Some studies predict a little more, some a little less. I also find it interesting that many utilities with large amounts of wind generation steadfastly refuse to release operating data for analysis. I suspect to do so would mean the release of empirical data to build the opposition’s case for insignificant CO2 reduction and poor operating economics. I was unable to find one study of existing wind energy installations that found the CO2 reductions predicted by AWEA.
The number of grassroots organizations opposed to government-mandated and -supported utility-scale wind power projects is growing rapidly. The Industrial Wind Action Group maintains a growing list of organizations (more than 150 at last count) on its website (windaction.org) that have been formed to oppose new wind power parks and to bring reason to the public debate about the true value of the electricity produced by wind power.
Follow the Money
AWEA, as the industry’s principal lobbyist, has failed to state a compelling reason why the PTC should be renewed for a mature technology with minimal environmental benefits. This is particularly telling when support from environmental groups is splintered and the number of opposition groups is growing, getting better organized, and loudly telling Washington of their concerns.
At its core, the PTC is public support of a few wind farm developers, owners, and equipment manufacturers wishing to sustain profits produced by a generous tax subsidy. In my mind, that’s no reason to renew the PTC.
Dr. Peltier began his power industry-career with San Diego Gas & Electric Co., followed by positions with power developer Energy Factors (now part of Sithe Global); gas turbine supplier Solar Turbines, Inc.; and Stewart & Stevenson’s Gas Turbine Division (now part of General Electric), where he was manager of production engineering.
Peltier was also a tenured professor at Arizona State University for eight years where he taught numerous power-related courses. In 1999, Captain Peltier was recalled to active duty in the United States Navy to serve in Washington, DC on the staff of the Naval Sea Systems Command. He left active duty in September 2002, joining the POWER magazine’s editorial staff as senior editor. He was named POWER’s Editor-in-Chief on April 1, 2003. Bob has a BS, MS, and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and is a registered engineer in California and Arizona.
Next year will be Peltier’s 40th in the power industry as either teacher, practitioner, or writer.
Do you think these self-proclaimed climate scientists are going to listen to the practical discoveries of an engineer? They see your contribution as ” follow our lead ” and engineer a way to make this work. ( It helps you make a living, after all )
Dr. Peltier, is there a list somewhere of the studies on carbon dioxide emissions from backup plants?
Yes Dan, this is sort of the postmodernism thinking of not “build it and they will come” but “think-it-and-it-shall-be.”
We need and want renewables as mass energies, so human ingenuity will save us (a perversion of Julian Simon’s ultimate resource theory).
Climate alarmist James Hansen said to this thinking: “Suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.”
I always enjoy reading your articles! It’s an uphill battle though.
>Dr. Peltier, is there a list somewhere of the studies on carbon dioxide emissions from backup plants?
this is just a start of the articles available…
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It must burn Robert Peltier to see his own magazine reporting the facts, which is a marked departure from what Power Magazine did during his tenure there:
Just six months ago, Power Magazine, at Peltier’s direction, covered the exact same report in one of the most blatant attempts to hide the truth ever witnessed:
Robert Peltier, a PHD engineer and former university teacher, has a skill set to not take studies at face value but ask the hard questions.
NREL is wholly dependent on government and energy interventionism for its existence. They are intellectual bodyguards for wind power and mandated energy efficiency, in particular.
At the end of the POWER review that you laud as a correction, the writer wrote:
“The authors conceded during a press call on the report that they did not have access to data on transmission or power purchase agreements that could be implicated by the potential changes. Thus, the study might have modeled more flexibility into the system than it would actually have.
The study also focused only on operational issues and did not consider other factors such as power market impacts, capital costs, or transmission costs. Future work at NREL may examine these issues.”
This study needs more critical review, a good thing since the burden of proof should be on those who advocate coercion over voluntary transactions between consenting adults.
Mr. Coggin, I’d not be so hasty to jump on the NREL study bandwagon. NREL’s estimated cycling penalty of <0.2% is ludicrous, and ignores the real heat rate penalty of existing fleet, which can approach 40% on individual plants. Imagine what that does to system when plants are effectively pushed into all-the-time cycling by wind's gustiness. It also ignores the fact that the unit-penalty on system wide basis increases with increasing wind penetration.
Thanks for the replies.
Tom Stacy, the NREL study took all of those factors into account and still came up with <0.2%. The analysis was done with real heat rate curves for all power plants in the Western U.S. and hourly emissions data as measured by EPA's continuous emissions monitors.
Robert Bradley, I'll let readers compare those two Power Magazine articles about the same report and decide if Robert Peltier is an "honest broker."
As far as the study's credibility, the study underwent technical review from 55 experts including representatives from eight utilities. The analysis of wind’s impact on fossil-fired power plants was largely conducted by engineers at Intertek, a firm that specializes in optimizing the operation of power plants for utility clients.
Arguing that the model overestimated the real flexibility of the Western power system assumes that utilities in the West are leaving massive amounts of money on the table by not making transactions that are in their economic self-interest, which is a curious argument for a free market blog. While that may be the case at the margin, it seems highly unlikely that that would increase the emissions penalty from 0.2% to a significant factor, particularly given grid operating reforms that are moving the West towards a more integrated market. Finally, I'll note that the 0.2% penalty is for a very aggressive 33% penetration of wind and solar, which is many times higher than the level of wind and solar today, indicating the real penalty today is likely many times lower.
Were the 55 experts NREL employees? Who were the representatives from the eight utilities?
For completeness I am adding my comment on this subject which appear on other posts. Here it is:
Because of their highly variable and random production over short time periods (minutes), wind and solar PV cannot be realistically or properly analysed using statistical methods to evaluate real time events. This statistical approach hides the real time impacts, and electricity systems must balance load and generation in real time (again minutes).
To illustrate, I have done some analysis of the BPA wind performance, at 5 minute intervals (which still masks some greater volatility) and 14% wind penetration in energy terms, which shows that, statistically speaking, the standard deviation of the increase in ramping of load minus wind versus load alone is 26 MW. However, the real time effects show over 8 instances per day (one every three hours on average) of over more than three times this level (three standard deviations), with one event per day (on average again) in excessive of 200 MW which is over 8 standard deviations. Note that the ‘averaging’ over time of these events does not mean that their occurrence cannot be more concentrated in real time. There are more ‘black swans’ in wind production than statistical approaches are designed to handle, if you want to avoid severe consequences. For real world experience, talk to the financial industry about this.
Statistical analysis is based on the assumption that the distribution of 99.7% of all events is contained within three standard deviations. Therefore the BPA analysis shows that three standard deviations should exclude only 7 ‘black swans’ or extraordinary events. Over the period measured there were 52 or over 7 times this number. This shows that it is questionable and risky to apply statistical analysis here in connection with our electricity systems on which so much of our well-being depends.
For the purposes of planning reserve requirements based on the use of reliable, dispatchable generation plants in the electricity system (and wind and solar PV are neither), statistical methods have some value.
Having said all this, statistical analysis of wind and solar PV performance may have some value if limited to providing some indication of the relative effect of their use (1) between jurisdictions, and (2) within a jurisdiction between time periods and wind and solar PV penetrations, for example. But, and this is important, it is not valid for the determination of absolute values, especially actual reserves required, stress on wind balancing plants and, importantly, emissions.
I should introduce you to the ‘Statistics Professor’ who some time ago in a comment tried to convince me that statistical methods are applicable in the analysis of real time wind performance, claiming that the ‘square root of the sum of the squares’ formula properly captures the real time effect of combining two random series – in this case the net of wind and load and load alone. Perhaps you already know him, being of like mind on this issue.
In short, you have neither proved your case, nor disproved mine.
It looks like this issue is not going to go away, so for a more complete response I will have to look at completing my BPA analysis when time permits.
Yes, NREL needs to be very transparent with its reviewers–and to even offer the email exchanges showing any tension between the researchers and others (such as the utilities).
Regarding peer review, here is something fresh from the global warming wars: http://judithcurry.com/2013/09/25/nic-lewis-vs-the-uk-met-office/
The list of reviewers is in the report:
Didn’t count 55 reviewers in Review Committee. What am I missing?
Note Bradley’s comments.
I still believe in the content of the report itself rather than the number of reviewers.
Hello Michael Goggin. This is Tom Stacy here. I think you have me confused with Tom Tanton. I have been busy picketing Rob Gramlich’s event in Ohio (see today’s Columbus Dispatch) so I have not had time to participate in this blog. I defer to dr. George Taylor on this topic. George has corresponded with general electric and other combustion turbine and combined cycle unit manufacturers on the topic. I believe his conclusion Is that there is approximately a 20% heat rate penalty for additional cycling if wind only causes combined cycle plant of equal nameplate capacity to bear the cross. There is also a hear rate penalty for operating natural gas turbines at partial load versus full load according to text book by Kehlhofer. But this whole issue is trivial compared to the lack of accountability And consistency in PJM and MISO rules which should define and measure capacity value across all types of generation resources the exact same way. If they did so, wind would have a guaranteed continuous contribution to summer peaking of less than 5% of nameplate. That means the best wind can do is replace some fossil fuel, but never any fossil fuel plants. So when you get the full levelized cost of wind energy down to less than $40 per megawatt hour you’ll finally be competing with the big boys. Good luck with that!
Kent, look on page iii. Out of the 55 there were actually 10 utilities represented, not 8; my mistake. Yes, I’m more than happy to discuss the content of the report. The ball is in your court.
Tom Stacy, as I explained above, the NREL study was done with real heat rate curves for all power plants in the Western U.S. and hourly emissions data as measured by EPA’s continuous emissions monitors, so that has all been taken into account.
Part of your confusion seems to stem from the misconception that a single dedicated fossil-fired power plant would be cycled to accommodate the changes in output at a single wind plant. That is like arguing that a dedicated flexible power plant is needed to accommodate the changes in electricity consumption at your house, ramping up and down as you turn lights and appliances on. Obviously all sources of variability are combined on the grid so that most changes cancel each other out, for a far more efficient outcome.
I agree that PJM’s capacity value calculations should be made more consistent with how other resources are evaluated – using the same effective load carrying capacity/loss of load probability calculation for wind would actually give a higher capacity value for wind than it gets under the current system. ERCOT recently did an ELCC calculation for wind and found the capacity value contribution to be much higher than it had previously estimated.
As far as the $40/MWh LCOE, you may want to check the prices on some of the wind PPAs that are being signed right now. Maybe next time instead of picketing one of our events you should go inside – you might learn something.
Hello Michael Goggin. Tom Stacy here. I think you have me confused with Tom Tanton. I have been busy picketing Rob Gramlich’s event in Ohio (see yesterday’s Columbus Dispatch) so I have not had time to participate in this blog. I defer to Dr. George Taylor on this topic. I believe Dr. Taylor has corresponded with general electric and other combustion turbine and combined cycle unit manufacturers on the topic. I believe his conclusion is that there is approximately a 20% heat rate penalty for additional cycling if wind affects only a combined cycle plant of equal nameplate capacity. There is also a heat rate penalty for operating natural gas turbines at partial load versus full load according to text book by Kehlhofer.
But this whole issue is trivial compared to the lack of accountability and consistency in PJM and MISO rules which should define and measure capacity value across all types of generation resources in the exact same way. If they did so, wind would have a guaranteed continuous contribution to summer peaking of less than 5% of nameplate. That means the best wind can do is replace some fuel, but almost no fossil fuel plants. So when you get the full levelized cost of wind energy down to less than $40 per megawatt hour you’ll finally be competing with the big boys.
In the meantime, almost all conventional generators built in Ohio were built prior to 2001, and under a regulated rate of return on capital. To add wind, efficiency, or anything else in a flat electricity market can lead to reduced revenue and lower profits for existing plants whose owners can then file to raise rates based on reduced profitability of those assets.
I did look at page iii, so my question still stands.
The number of reviewers is possibly not as important as it might appear anyway. See Bradley’s comment. For example did all support the report completely or was there some contrary views, and what were they? What can happen is the reviewers whose criticisms were not accepted can be listed as reviewers because in fact they were.
Finally to respond extensively to the very large NREL report will take me a little time. I do not have the resources of the NREL system to support me.
The ball is not in my court, until someone responds to my comment about the analysis approach and demonstrates more convincing arguments to support yours. As I said, you have neither proved your case, nor disproved mine.