“The following overview on these issues, and my concluding remarks, should leave little doubt as to the worthlessness and serious consequences of pursuing policies of supporting and implementing wind plants in particular. Will the other side respond in the interest of more informed public policy?”
As shown in Part I (Introduction & Summary), Part II (Analysis Approach & Implementation Costs), Part III (Total Costs), and Part IV (Subsidies & Emissions), wind fails on the major considerations of cost and emissions. Yet unbelievably, it still enjoys general popularity and significant government support and subsidization. The answer must be in my response to question 1 in Part I: Wind is seen as a silver bullet – environmentally and politically.
On top of this, there are many other problems with wind that can cause serious, and needless, damage to society. I do not typically focus on most of these, and I cannot do justice to them, but they are worthy of attention. So I shall try, but I will only be scratching the surface. References cited for these are my selections only. Readers are invited to supply additional support with comments.
Anyone wishing to know more about these issues can start with the wealth of information that Lisa Linowes at Industrial Wind Action Group has compiled on wind matters. Also included in references below are examples of other excellent sources of general information on wind.
The following overview on these issues, and my concluding remarks, should leave little doubt as to the worthlessness and serious consequences of pursuing policies of supporting and implementing wind plants in particular. Will the other side respond in the interest of more informed public policy?
Wind proponents claim that support of industrial scale wind (and solar) is necessary to build sustainable industries in the 21st century. Nothing could be further from reality. They point to countries in Europe that have created industries based on these, such as Denmark, Germany and Spain. Missing from this logic is these have saturated their domestic markets and are now dependent on international sales. Unfortunately for them, China quickly has quickly grown to be the world leader in these markets, and most likely will continue this growth trend. Also to be noted is that China is now the world’s dominant producer and exporter of solar panels.
There are a many problems with justifying industrial-scale wind turbines as a job creation strategy:
Lest you think China is a good reference in support of wind policies, note the comments of a number of sources in China under “Stability and cost” in Wind Power in China. For some further thoughts on China’s strategy see my earlier post on this.
Job creation in the wind industry cannot be justified in any rational sense.
Wind fights this one, eliciting support from some “experts” who typically claim something like the following:
“There is no credible peer-reviewed scientific evidence that demonstrates a link between wind turbines and direct adverse health impacts in people living in proximity to them.”
This is reminiscent of doctors over 100 years ago not accepting having to wash hands between visiting patients in maternity wards, notwithstanding cautionary warnings from credible sources and growing evidence supporting this as a major cause of deaths. Another example is the tobacco industry claiming there was no proven link between smoking and cancer.
Today there is growing evidence of a serious health problem with many people who have to live in close proximity to wind plants. A number of medical professionals such as Dr Robert McMurtry, who I know personally as a notable medical professional, and Dr Nina Pierpont lead movements to have this condition properly addressed.
Do not be distracted by the questionable claim of lack of peer reviewed documents by the wind industry. There are many such references on this subject, and here is a sampling:
It is slowly, but increasingly, being reported that a number of people who were affected by closeness to wind turbines have had their properties “bought out” by the wind turbine company on the condition that these people not reveal the reasons involved. This alone should give all of us cause for concern.
This is a problem with wind that exists on at least three continents that should not be taken as lightly as it is by the wind industry, governments and many in the media. There is often a strong suggestion made by these that it is all just something “in the minds” of the many unfortunate people affected, or part of a trumped up campaign of misinformation against wind.
Local Flora and Fauna
This is another area of considerable contention, and is not to be discounted. There are many reports of impacts including clearing of hilltops for wind turbines, access roads and the needed transmission lines connecting these wind plants to the grid. Those that I am aware of are largely anecdotal and there seems to be no analysis of the impacts.
One example which causes some discussion and confusion of terms is the killing of birds particularly raptors and endangered species, as well as bats. This is a very unfortunate matter countered by wind proponents by pointing out that buildings (including houses), transmission lines and domestic cats are responsible for more bird deaths. However household cats do not kill many eagles and like raptor species. Another consideration is that we need buildings and transmission lines (remember that wind adds to this substantially as well), and as hopefully established here, wind turbines are in the category of not needed or desired in any way.
I have also heard of wind plants proposed on bird migratory routes and in wildlife conservation areas, which involve obtaining government permits to kill such species. The associated presumption of greater general public good is not valid.
Anyone claiming that proximity to wind plants does not have a negative impact on property values in the area must live on another planet. The wind industry has managed to produce a few studies that report no impact, but these have been shown to be flawed. There are a growing number of credible studies that document the obvious reality of this. One good source of references is provided by http://www.northnet.org/brvmug/WindPower/RealEstate.html .
Divisiveness within Communities
I have seen this first hand and it is lamentable that the wind movement brings this to our communities, and even within families. This was considered important enough for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, which represents more than 37,000 farmers in Ontario, to mention as a concern in a news release stating its opposition to wind plants.
Contributing to Widening of the Gap between Wealthy and Poor
We all need electricity, as individuals and as societies, and all must be able to afford it. Expensive wind must be funded through higher electricity rates and taxes and represents a burden on those least able to afford it. Carbon tax considerations are fraught with many unintended consequences, one of which is a tax on the poor. Any financial benefits from wind plant implementation are realized only by major international industries that manufacture wind turbines (including in some cases the additional wind balancing gas plants that will be required), the developer/owners of wind plants and early investors.
Another group who believe they will also benefit financially are those allowing wind plants on their property and receive compensation for this. It appears that this can lead to some abandoning other farming activities because of the expected easier ongoing cash flow from lease agreements. Some will borrow based on this expected cash flow. The question is: will all of this prove to be a benefit in the long run? Some of these are otherwise wealthy, and some who do not live on the properties involved. If this practice is deemed as necessary for those that are hard-pressed farmers, surely there is a more intelligent way to make the same funding available.
Invasive to Natural Environments
We need relatively undisturbed, natural environments at the very least as refuges from our complex, intense lives in modern societies. Take away these with the massive industrial development represented by wind plants and we lose irreplaceable resources with the potential to help balance our lives. Some say that wind turbines are beautiful structures. Even so, erecting large billboards of the paintings of the masters in natural environments is not justifiable on the basis of beauty or producing any benefit to society.
Threats to our Financial Systems
This is severe in large part due to excessive debt involved on questionable assets. Wind plants are typically heavily dependent on highly leveraged debt, which has been “backed” by governments through a number of mechanisms including policy initiatives, guaranteed high prices through FITs where provided, Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), renewable energy mandates, long term contracts at premium prices (sometimes called Power Purchase Agreements – PPAs), loan guarantees, and production tax credits (PTCs).
This looks alarming like the sub-prime mortgage fiasco.
Distraction of Resources
Government officials picking long-term winners is a risky game, especially when the stakes are as high as those presented by wind. This causes a significant diversion of resources in terms of money, government and other organizations human resources and missed opportunities elsewhere. As other generation plants have long implementation times, including permitting processes, a consequence of any delay in acknowledging that wind is not feasible means that replacements may not be available when needed.
Wind plant implementation does not provide energy independence for the electricity sector. One example worthy of mention are the risks to energy independence related to the supply of scarce metals, rare earth elements and lithium needed for alternative energy sources as previously reported at MasterResource here, here, and here.
Summary of Results
One of the purposes of this series is to provide an analytical context within which details of wind consequences can be described and illustrated in dollars and sense. Pun intended.
The following table provides a summary of the conclusions of the analysis, based on 1.0 TWh of electricity production in year 0. In 2010 U.S. electricity production was about 4,000 TWh. A reminder that EROEIe is the energy return for energy invested after conversion to electrical energy.
Table V-1 – Overall Performance of New Plants Being Reviewed at Year 12
Source: US wholesale prices – DOE/EIA (2012). “Today in Energy”.
Table V-2 summarizes some of the above results scaled for the U.S. electricity system.
Table V-2 – Scaling Key Results for the U.S.
In retrospect I have been too generous to wind, in part because the analysis is even more complex than I have shown. This is particularly the case with the upper range in emissions savings shown here. Add to this the costs involved (again understated especially in the Wind scenario) and the message should be clear.
In the Wind/Natural Gas scenario, there will still be considerable wind curtailment at this penetration. Note the amounts in the high single digit range already being experienced in Texas at wind penetrations in the order of 5-7%. This could result in payments to wind for production not taken. As well because of the over capacity situation created by wind presence at times (see Part II), other generation plants will have to be similarly curtailed or “de-rated” to accommodate the increased wind/gas electricity flux. This is not a good situation for nuclear and hydro generation plants, which are almost in the “must run” category, but could result in payments to these plant operators for production reasonably expected to be supplied but not taken. Also, in the case of coal plants, emissions will increase as a result of the cycling operations. Such payments to wind and non-wind plants could be in the form of “stand by” payments, which of course for wind cannot be counted on.
The Wind scenario is an even more theoretical thought experiment that would not be possible in reality. My assumption of significant wind curtailment/dumping is the easiest to analyze and helps put the issues of this scenario in perspective. As an alternative another level of wind curtailment could be assumed and the gas plant balancing capacity and production needed increased. See note 3 for some thoughts. The lower rate of curtailment/dumping and higher gas plant requirements would be more representative, and this would be significantly increase wind balancing gas plant capacity and a corresponding increase in fossil fuel consumption and emissions. Also, because of the very large over-capacity introduced by wind, the resulting periods of large wind/gas electricity flow would severely impact the remaining generation plants, and at times involve most of them. The operational considerations, fuel consumption, emissions and economic impacts of all this are considerable and all negative. Remember also displacing hydro and nuclear production does not reduce emissions, but could increase it because of any necessary intertwined gas plant wind balancing production involved.
In summary, neither wind scenario is feasible. The costs involved, fossil fuel consumption and emissions would all be higher (emissions savings less) than that shown. So the purpose in showing the two wind scenarios is to provide a means to introduce the many factors for a complete assessment of wind.
Wind plant implementations should not be pursued as an electrical energy policy for many reasons, the primary being: EROEI, costs, the need for heavy subsidization, little or no emissions reduction and no creation of sustainable new industries and jobs. As noted there are many other negative impacts on society and the environment that are needless. Even small wind penetrations are not desirable. As penetration increases into the high single digit range wind becomes increasingly unworkable. Continued subsidization of industrial-scale, grid-feeding wind at any level makes no sense.
Realistic time frames of many decades must be recognized as necessary for major changes in our electrical energy infrastructure. There are no “silver bullet” solutions available for the foreseeable future. We must better appreciate what we have and take steps to improve all aspects of the processes involved, which is the optimal approach to ensure we are properly positioned to deal with whatever challenges and threats we might encounter, and to secure the future for the generations that follow us. Those that would argue time is not on our side must accept that the only approach that will meet the presently perceived threats is aggressive conservation.
We should be wary of supposed need for a rush to “smart grid” technologies, primarily to support the likes of wind. The electricity grid evolution for the foreseeable future should be restricted to meeting need for replacement, increases in demand, including regional shifts in demand, and upgrades or improvements in “normal” grid technology. A top priority should be protection of our grid against cyber threats; not increasing the vulnerability to them.
European energy policy is not to be emulated. What is proposed there is extremely radical, unworkable and dangerous to society. One is reminded that, for at least the past 100 years, significant elements in Europe have a notable record of extremist, failed initiatives in many areas, including judicial, political, economic, racial and militaristic affairs. The current EU energy policies should be seen as another example of questionable extremism.
I believe I have provided the information needed as the starting point for the formulation of electricity policy decisions in the short to medium term of up to 40 years, from now to the 2050’s. This should include a proper assessment of such factors as high-quality electricity needs, sustainability, economics and complete assessment of the relative risks involved. Policy determination must be followed by well architected and engineered solutions, not politically mandated solutions.
Once this is proceeding, and the sooner the better, policy makers can then focus on the next most important issue of encouraging the development of the technologies required for the longer term.
 The major wind turbine manufacturers ranked by country include: China (Sinoval, Guodian United Power, Ming Yang), Germany (Enercon, Siemens), Denmark (Vestas), Spain (Gamesa), U.S. (GE Energy, GE Wind Energy) and India (Suzlon). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wind_turbine_manufacturers
 DOE/EIA (2009). “2009 Wind Technologies Market Report” http://eetd.lbl.gov/ea/ems/reports/lbnl-3716e-ppt.pdf (see slide 47). In 2009 wind curtailment in Texas was 17% at 5% wind penetration. This improved to 7.7% in 2010 with 7% wind penetration, in part due to “Several minor transmission line upgrades.” http://www1.eere.energy.gov/wind/pdfs/51783.pdf, and increased somewhat again in 2011 to 8.5% http://www1.eere.energy.gov/wind/pdfs/2011_wind_technologies_market_report.pdf. Year over year curtailment will also depend upon changes in the wind regime, and in the cases where hydro is used to balance wind, depending on levels in reservoirs. Higher winds and water levels would likely require increased curtailment. It would be interesting to establish the relationship between wind penetration and curtailment/dumping, controlled for variations in wind regimes geographically and from year to year and for differences in generation plant portfolios.