EXTRAORDINARY CLAIMS REQUIRE EXTRAORDINARY PROOF
How can an ancient source of energy, which
effectively replace the capacity of modern machines and their fuels, in the process removing significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions that are the by-product of the burning of those fuels?
This final post in our four-part series discusses the nature of the scientific method and shows that there are a number of challenges to the claims wind technology can abate meaningful greenhouse gas emissions–challenges that require access to actual wind performance data showing how wind affects thermal behavior throughout the grid.
Any explanation about causation must honestly and transparently account for all variables at play. It should not consist of cherry picked items favorable to a particular agenda while ignoring other, less favorable factors.
Dr. Truzzi (above) also recounted who is obligated to do what in the process of investigating, vetting, and validating explanation:
“In science, the burden of proof falls upon the claimant; and the more extraordinary a claim, the heavier is the burden of proof demanded. The true skeptic takes an agnostic position, one that says the claim is not proved rather than disproved. He asserts that the claimant has not borne the burden of proof and that science must continue to build its cognitive map of reality without incorporating the extraordinary claim as a new “fact.” Since the true skeptic does not assert a claim, he has no burden to prove anything. He just goes on using the established theories of “conventional science” as usual. But if a critic asserts that there is evidence for disproof, that he has a negative hypothesis—saying, for instance, that a seeming [paranormal] result was actually due to an artifact—he is making a claim and therefore also has to bear a burden of proof.”[i]
AWEA’s extraordinary claim is this: That an ancient source of energy, which relentlessly, continuously, destabilizes the balance between supply and demand, is highly variable and unresponsive, and provides no capacity value while inimical to demand cycles, can effectively replace the capacity of modern machines and their fuels, in the process removing significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions that are the by-product of the burning of those fuels. This claim is particularly egregious given that wind does not even provide modern power performance–only desultory energy. Since energy is the ability to do work and power is the rate work is done, wind technology delivers fluctuating power at a rate appropriate for 1810, not 2010.
The assertion that wind technology is a necessary, let alone sufficient, cause of reductions in the use of fossil fuels and their various emissions cannot withstand even casual scrutiny, for there are, in virtually every case, other much more plausible causes for any CO2 or fossil fuel reductions—viz, a falling away of demand, substitution of other fuels, improvements in conventional machine efficiencies, even changes in weather conditions.
Even more peculiar than AWEA’s extraordinary claim is its assault on the bedrock scientific principle of refutability, what scientists call “falsifiability.” Any claim about truth in the material world must be testable using standards of empirical evidence to determine if it is false. Because an assertion is “falsifiable” does not mean it is false. Rather, it means that if the statement were false, then its falsehood could be demonstrated. By hiding the way wind affects overall grid thermal behavior behind proprietary confidentiality laws, not allowing disinterested, independent observations of the relevant phenomena, wind’s limited liability companies remain mired in what Feynman once called “cargo cult science.”
AWEA could claim there are 1352 angels sitting on a pin in Nashville. But if that pin were sealed away in a safe deposit box controlled only by AWEA and the bank, how could anyone test it for truth? What is even more outrageous is the way government has abetted this absurdity, passing laws assuring “confidentiality,” while regulators look the other way and the Department of Energy engages in promotional, very hypothetical, wind “studies” alienated from reality.
With over 100,000 massive wind turbines around the world—35,000 plus in North America—not one coal plant has closed due to the installation of any wind projects. Nor is there empirical evidence that there is less coal burned per unit of electricity produced as a specific consequence of wind. Ontario has long promised to retire (but has never been able to do so) all its coal plants. Officials tout that they will be replaced by wind. To hedge its renewable energy bet, the Ontario government is building natural-gas facilities as insurance against new wind projects.
In other words, the province expects to replace coal with natural gas, not wind. The latter could not exist without either hydro, which presently provides the province about 25% of total generation (wind is about one percent) or flexible natural gas generators. Projections by the Ontario Power Authority depend upon planned conservation savings and natural gas, not wind, as a means of displacing coal.
Similarly, boasts by the former governor of Kansas that her state would not approve a new coal plant because of its increasingly expansive wind projects conveniently forgot to mention how the state had planned to increase its importation of natural gas–at higher cost. Many new coal plants are in the offing, both in the United States and throughout the world—even in Kansas, since the new governor, “recognizing the need for baseload power,” struck a deal allowing one new coal plant in the western part of the state.[ii]
Depending upon government sanctioned secrecy of its performance data and therefore confident that there would be no fact checking in the real world, AWEA has exploited the arcane, very complex nature of greenhouse gas emissions—arcane because so few have knowledge about it and complex because of its incredible scale and the difficulties involved with actual measurement. It then produced highly selective evidence based upon a series of hypothetical projections, mathematical models with incomplete information, and well-crafted but ultimately vacuous statements such as “one of the universally recognized and uncontestable benefits of wind energy….” Everyone should dust off and reread Darrell Huff’s classic, How to Lie with Statistics.
LET’S GET REAL
Wind technology is NOT universally recognized for its ability to reduce CO2 emissions, for many have contested that presumption. And, in the wake of Bryce’s article, many more will soon join the fray. According to their calculations, whatever wind produces will replace some existing conventional generation for a brief and highly fluctuating time; but in terms of overall fuel use, wind production rarely “saves” anything and, in most cases, as shown in the Bentek study, requires that more fuel be consumed in highly inefficient ways over time.
The Bentek study is supported by the work of engineers like Kent Hawkins in Canada (here and here), Peter Lang in Australia (here and here), Bryan Leyland in New Zealand, Jim Oswald in Britain, C. le Pair and Kees de Groot in The Netherlands, and several studies in Germany, Spain and Denmark, some of which are summarized in Bryce’s latest book.
Responding to both the letter and spirit of Truzzi’s charge, critics of wind technology not only have cast doubt upon AWEA’s claims, showing that the organization has not met the requisite burden of proof, but they also offer a means of testing their thesis that wind does not offset much CO2. Lang, Le Pair/De Groot, Oswald, and Hawkins have independently developed differing methodologies for assessing wind’s potential to engage greenhouse gas emissions, and they are in remarkable agreement about their conclusion: that the higher wind penetration on virtually any grid system, the greater potential for more CO2 emissions than would be the case without any wind at all.
These methodologies now must be tested against reality, made so difficult because of proprietary confidentiality laws that shield wind performance activity from critical scrutiny. Thus far, only Bentek has been graced with this opportunity.
Consider just a few of the questions that must be answered and the issues that must be properly accounted for, at minimum:
In most cases around the country, the answers will involve coal plants, as they do in Texas and Colorado, Minnesota and, especially, Iowa, working highly inefficiently. The heat rate penalties involved logically lead to more fuel use—which exhausts more CO2 emissions. However, even in those areas where natural gas generators can serve as the principle means of balancing wind flux, inefficient cycling would remain an issue, subverting CO2 emissions offsets, as Lang and Hawkins predict.
Logic also dictates, in answer to these questions, that any grid must be able to support the entire range of wind flux–from zero to the highest installed wind capacity. Therefore, a grid must have a 1:1 compensatory generation for wind available at all times.
Moreover, with more wind penetration, additional conventional generation must be brought on board to keep the grid’s reserve margins intact. AWEA’s footnoted statement that there is existing reserve capacity available to cope with the loss of a large generating set that can be used to “back up” wind, is seriously misleading. Such reserves provide for grid security; using them to mollycoddle wind flux should be a breach of priority and protocol. In the real world, wind can only be a small bit player in a much larger machine complex, a complex made more inefficient because of wind caprice.
Allowing researchers access to wind performance data (wind speeds, etc) at appropriate time intervals will advance the cause of knowledge. But it will also have practical policy uses, for it would permit the public subsidies now provisioning wind projects to be indexed to functional measurements showing how much CO2 and fossil fuel wind actually reduces, so that the public—and policy makers—would know the value obtained for those tax dollars. It would also inform the various renewable portfolio standard laws, which now only require “deployment” of technologies like wind. The way such laws are presently written, there is nothing whatsoever requiring wind to “do” anything, nothing mandating that wind output show that it, and nothing else, is responsible for reducing CO2 emissions and fossil fuel consumption. (This is equally true for Renewable Energy Credits and stock portfolio reports.) Since there is no physical accountability, RPS laws today could mandate deployment of pixie dust, subsidize it, and obtain the same “benefit” presently derived from wind.
Looking at the evidence provided on behalf of wind technology, which is at best equivocal, and critical analyses like Bentek’s that expose the technology’s limitations, perhaps it’s fair to conclude by extending AWEA’s distasteful analogy. Those who claim that wind technology can abate meaningful levels of CO2 emissions would admire the three-pack a day guy who decides to improve his health by smoking four packs of filtered cigarettes instead.
The following provides links to the other posts in this series as they are published:
Part I – Windpower on the Firing Line
Part II – Getting to the Facts on Emissions Reductions
Part III – Further Analyses
Part IV – (This Post)
[i] Marcello Truzzi, “On Pseudo-Skepticism.” Zetetic Scholar. December 13, 1987, pp 3–4.