June 21, 2007

Global Warming: Wind Power

Global Warming: Wind Power

california windmills

California windmills [Ron's Log / Flickr]

The Danes are doing it (to the tune of 20% of their electricity needs), so why can’t we?

Wind power comes in two basic forms: from small windmills designed for individual use (up to 35 m tall with a rotor diameter up to 15 m); and from gigantic, utility-scale versions (as large as 80 m tall with rotors over 80 m in diameter). Neither form seems to have gained more than a toehold in America’s electricity market; wind power accounts for less than 1% of it.

It’s puzzling that a more robust wind-power market hasn’t developed in the US. Is the barrier technological? Is it an issue of NIMBY, which has characterized much of the opposition to the Cape Wind project? Is the problem that traditional fossil-fuel energy companies are given bigger subsidies and tax breaks?

We hope this hour can be both a close look at wind power and also a window into the struggles of alternative energy more generally. Anyone have thoughts on how to breathe fresh air into this debate (very bad pun intended)?

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  • herbert browne

    Both Colorado & Washington State have passed laws that will require development of alternative (primarily wind) power sources in the near future. Whoever the “movers & shakers” of those efforts were, they can probably give some highlights of both what they envision and what the political & economic barriers have been. Economically, power purchases by power companies (who may, themselves, also be producers) is both a “spot market” & a “long-term contract” enterprise. Wind has some disadvantages to a “quick-response” situation. There are other realities, as well, eg off-peak hydropower is often dirt cheap (night-time wholesale rates can be 1/3 of daytime costs). Of course, the wind generally blows stronger during the day, so this would be a “plus” for wind. The “priority” system of power usage figures in, too (there’s some industrial use of “interruptible” power that’s also a little cheaper)… lots of wrinkles to this game… ^..^

  • kcollins

    This is a great topic. Wind power could be one the eforts that save us in our search for earth-saving energy.

    One aspect I feel strongly about is how beautiful they are. There is a wind turbine off Rte. 93 in Dorchester, MA, that is fabulous The slow, steady movement of the blades, the changing color of the structure depending on the time of day and weather, the gentle strength . . . I find them hypnotic and lovely. I have never seen a wind farm except in pictures but the photographs of ‘wind farms’ are fabulous, too. I sense something so benign and gentle about them.

    There is something so visually satisfying about them. I am always surprised their beauty is not mentioned in all the talk about them.

    \Clearly , I am no scientist but I wanted to comment.

  • rc21

    I don’t see a problem with wind farms,as long as they are not placed in such a way as to obstruct the view from the Kennedy compound,

  • Potter

    Thank you for the topic. I agree, kcollins, the wind turbines do not seem to be unsightly. They are a monument in facrt to caring about our planet and should make us feel good. It’s very disappointing that the Kennedy’s should be against the greater good of the project. Romney is misrepresenting himself big time though. RC21- funny!

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wendy-williams/nantucket-mitt-romney-an_b_52660.html

    We have an empty hill dissected by huge power line “trees” here in our town in central MA . That would would be a perfect sight for a few of those lovely fans.

  • rc21

    The thing about wind power is that it is cheap and does not pollute as far as I know. Maybe someone can give us the draw backs to this form of power. I think we should go all out in our development of this energy system.

    Potter I almost fell out of my chair laughing while listening to Joe Kennedy discuss why it was a bad idea to put the wind farms off the cape.

    Hypocrisy at it’s zenith.

  • http://www.liftport.com Brian Dunbar

    It’s puzzling that a more robust wind-power market hasn’t developed in the US. Is the barrier technological? Is it an issue of NIMBY,

    Count me in as someone who doesn’t get that last. Windmills are pretty and elegant.

    But then I am a bit of a freak – I love to gawk at machinery of all kinds. If a power company wants to plant on in my backyard, I’m all for it.

    Granted, I don’t know why wind power does not have a wider adoption – but it _feels_ like NIMBY is a big part of it. Or at least NIMBY when practiced by those with pull.

    It is my feeling – and I’d love to hear what the experts think – that wind power can’t be a complete solution but it can be a part of the solution to supplying energy in the future.

  • rahbuhbuh

    I think wind farms are beautiful to watch. one is unsightly because it’s so awkward. a series is magnificent. That statement isn’t biased because windmills denote energy efficiency, i’m not conforming my notion of beauty to fit something functional. i get the same woozy feeling as when i first looked up at a true skyscraper, barely believing people made something that big and interesting.

    did people have issues with light houses? they’re theoretically a functional eyesore against a treasured naked coastline, but people got used to them or perhaps evolved into them. Or, they decorated them and turned them into something which matched the aesthetics of their coastal architecture.

  • plnelson

    One aspect I feel strongly about is how beautiful they are.

    Personally I think they’re horribly ugly compared to a natural open sky or hillside. Granted, they’re less ugly than cooling towers or the oil rigs off the beach at Santa Barbara. But to stick a manmade “thing” against a pristine natural sky is preferable only in the sense that it’s preferable to throw up plain vomit instead of vomit with blood.

    So I see them as a “lesser of evils” proposition. Better than fossil fuels so I’m willing to live with them, even on Cape Cod, but I’m not going to love them.

    In answer to the question, wind energy is growing rapidly in the US and if it weren’y for a current shortage of turbine parts it would grow faster still.

  • herbert browne

    I was heartened to read recently (Portland”Oregonian”) about windmills set up on top of buildings… and these were sails, set up on a vertical axis (like Savonius rotors), rather than the “propeller on a stick” design. They were also relatively short- about 5 or 6 feet tall- unlike the real monsters of verticality, like the ones that Boeing tested in the Columbia River gorge, years ago, which were around 200′ or better. The vertical ones are apparently better in lighter winds. They (the big ones) are really graceful… tall, tapered to their widest point in the middle, and really stately… moving or still. ^..^

  • Potter

    There is always at least two sides to an issue. Regarding the Cape Wind Project this article gives the other side: Sounding off–Was RFK Jr. on the right boat?

  • wesuwi

    You’re right. There are always two sides to every issue.

    And then there are the facts. What’s disturbing about Bobby Kennedy’s opposition, and about the opposition from most of the wealthy who have financed this mess for the past 5 1/2 years is that they don’t have a clue what the facts are.

    They just don’t want the project. They opposed the project even before Cape Wind Associates had filed their initial paperwork to obtain their permits, back in December, 2001.

    For example, in Bobby’s “manifesto” against the project which appeared several years ago in the New York Times, he claimed that whales would be harmed by the project. Our congressman, Bill Delahunt, repeated this claim only a few weeks on the local radio station. Delahunt said the whale-watching industry would be harmed. Many years ago Walter Cronkite wiggled his famous eye-brows and asked on a CNN spot: What about the whales? Do the whales know how to get around this thing?

    Problem: There are no whales in Nantucket Sound, haven’t been for several centuries, since the whalemen of Nantucket over-harvested them.

    Ergo: Whales will not be harmed. Whale-watching will not be harmed. Whale-watching occurs on the north side of the Cape, not the southern shoreline. In fact, if there were whales in Nantucket Sound, Ted Kennedy, who frequently has problems while captaining his sailboat, might not be with us today.

    I love whales, and believe they should be protected. Sadly, some people with other agendas have learned to use the emotions surrounding these animals for their own personal agendas.

    Some one asked a question as to why we don’t have more wind energy?

    Outside of New England, there are plenty of wind projects. And there will be many, many more within a year or two.

    In New England, this is unlikely to happen.

    There are a number of very-well-financed groups who are committed to preventing this technology from taking hold here.

    This is a shame, as the technology would help stabilize the electric grid and give rate-payers lower electricity rates by dampening the economic pressure on natural gas and other fossil fuels.

    I’m sure that many of these people believe they are providing an important service to our region, but when I read what they write, it quickly becomes apparent that they don’t understand the bascis.

    Wendy Williams

  • enhabit

    all those blasted suv’s cluttering up nantucket…sometimes on the beach no less..they have ruined nantucket for me, a place i’ve known and loved for my entire life…one has to suspect that these are some of the very people who object to the windfarm in the sound.

    i’m w/ rc21 on this one..the pinnacle of hypocracy..

  • Potter

    The article says not that they don’t want the project- but they don’t want it there. They liken it to Yellowstone- a national treasure. Either it is or it is not. Either a wind farm there would destroy or degrade the area or not. I don’t see what anyone’s wealth has to do with this- I say this to my firend RC21 especially who usually argues the other side if I am not mistaken. As well enhabit- regarding those blasted SUV’s everywhere- I agree totally . Let’s argue the merits. I am for wind farms- for wind power. I have no dog in this Cape Wind Project. I would like to understand the issues. RFK is an environmentalist in my book. We support Waterkeeper Alliance and Natural Resources Defence Council. They do good work. My question is this argument as crass as selfish rich people not wanting to spoil their view or is there something else going on?

  • http://www.liftport.com Brian Dunbar

    plnelson

    Personally I think they’re horribly ugly compared to a natural open sky or hillside.

    Agreed but .. the locations they want for windmill farms aren’t pristine. Cape Cod is cluttered with houses, buildings – it’s been occupied for going on 400 years now.

  • enhabit

    put a geothermal energy facility in yellowstone? first reaction..ABSOLUTELY NOT..but i will listen to your case.

    so persuade us about capewind..i’m afraid that i have yet to hear a sufficiently persuasive argument against..the best so far is harm to birds.

    what is and is not harmful to the environment in regrettably..relative. everything harms the environment one way or another. think that solar is completely harmless? look again. ..but it does have major advantages over other systems..and what about the materials that are going into those hybrid car batteries?

    just because something LOOKS “sustainable” or “harmless” does not mean that it is. think that lumber is a sustainable building material? ask yourself why the industry needs to go after old growth, and why do they seem to have so much trouble supplying properly kilned lumber to the market..are there cracks showing up in your new starter mansion? it would appear that demand is putting a strain on the industry’s ability to supply…sustainable? maybe/maybe not.

    think that steel is environmentally evil? it’s not that simple, it can at least be completely recovered from a demolition and reused..even the zinc galvanizing can be recovered. the same is true for otherwise environmantally cruel aluminum..completely recoverable, with very little energy used in the RE-processing and strong as before. so why do so many of us toss out those beer cans?

    a carefully designed large “green” home may be no better than a smaller conventional one.

    potter is right..give us facts..real ones. nothing is perfect so we need to be fully informed, we have tough choices to make..nuclear may well be our best near term option, God help us all! if you really care..walk more, use less electricity, live in a smaller home etc. etc. etc.

  • Tim Sackton

    One aspect of wind energy that I’d like to see discussed is its impact on rural America. While big offshore projects like Cape Wind (or the big offshore wind farms in Denmark) get a lot of press, my impression is that rural landowners in the plains states, upstate New York, the Dakotas, etc stand to gain quite a bit by either leasing their land for wind turbines or installing turbines and selling the power back to the grid. I don’t know a lot about the economics of this, but I wonder if it is possible that a few wind turbines could be the difference between making a living and going under for some farmers. Combine this with ethanol, and I wonder if it is possible that the American farmer will make a comeback, not as a producer of food, but as a producer of energy. Anyway, I’d be interested in hearing the perspective of these rural landowners — after all, it may be the willingness and ability of landowners in the Dakotas to install wind farms that determines the long-term viability of wind power in the U.S., not the fate of Cape Wind.

  • rc21

    Potter, it really is just a matter of the rich, and to be honest I’m sure there are some republicans in the group, just not wanting it in their back yard. The difference is that there is massive amounts of money on the cape and these people have done their best to cloud the issue.

    Let’s face it there are probably legitimate reasons for not building something of the magnitude of these windmills any where in America. If they proposed to build them in Worcester the people of central Mass surely could find some valid reasons for the wind mills to be moved.

    The point is we need wind power and these wind mills need to be built somewhere. The cape is as good a place as any. Every argument the Kennedy people have come up with has been frivolous, and based on partial truth. Kennedy and the other rich people on the cape are nothing more than a bunch of spoiled babies, with lot’s of money to fool the public.

  • Potter

    Tim Saction I agree.. good post.

    I wanted to say as well- about calling people hypocrites and bringing in hostility towards “Kennedy people” ( of which there seems to be en endless supply- not only of Kennedy people but also of hostility towards them)- we are all hypocrites- people throwing stones- when it comes to saving the environment. We evolved ourselves into this situation, this lifestyle and now we find that in order to save the planet we are going to have to make some changes and choices-maybe drastic.

  • Potter
  • enhabit

    potter:

    it is the very location of capewind that invites such insult. it is smack in the midst of affluent-r-us! many native nantucket folk can’t even afford to live on their own island anymore..they have moved to the cape and commute.

    as i have mentioned, the islands are choked with large vehicles (except the elizabeths)..gas guzzling vehicles..ideed all that surrounds the capewind site is pretty affuent..

    it is a location that seems to make a lot of sense and we are not talking fossil fuels here…give them a better place or a reason not to use the sound.

  • enhabit

    let us be fair..if we were talking about appalachia here..i doubt that we would be having this discussion.

  • Ben

    In likening Nantucket to Yellowstone as a national treasure, it’s close, but a few miles too far south of Cape Cod National Seashore to make that designation. The point is compelling and needs to be considered – set the precedent for compromising one National Park and you risk compromising them all. The fight to prevent drilling in places like ANWR could become a footnote of resistance to energy hungry opportunists. Even if, as in this exception, the energy generation appears environmentally benign and it’s footprint is trim, if you invite energy interests into protected lands as guests you will never ever get them out and they will take advantage of every hospitality until all of the resources they are after are exhausted. It’s not their function to do otherwise.

    That said, windmills are cool as hell and if more people have a Quixote moment everyday then who’s the poorer? Why shouldn’t these affluent energy consuming communities make some of their own juice?

  • enhabit

    amen to ben

  • rahbuhbuh

    Charlestown/Boston’s $2m grant for wind technology development.

    “The grant for Massachusetts will provide specialized test equipment for a $15.2 million hangar on Massachusetts Port Authority-owned land in Charlestown, where different designs of turbine blades up to 230 feet long will be shipped in on barges for testing”

    http://www.boston.com/business/technology/articles/2007/06/26/state_gets_2m_grant_for_wind_technology/

    the state’s delegating $13m? and MiT $5m as well? something like that

  • 1st/14th

    Since someone asked .. the problems with wind are location, grid stabilization and integration, and dispatching issues. Location is an obvious issue. With the most attractive sites for wind energy in the United States being some of the more remote, transportation of wind generated power from the turbines to the grid can be an expensive proposition. With the construction costs of high voltage power lines ranging from between $2-$3million a mile, the requirement to build even a modest 50mile spur prices many wind energy project out of competition.

    Frequency and voltage are also significant hurdles. Since the wind does not blow at a constant speed, it is difficult to provide the type of “clean power” that the overall grid requires. As with anything, time and money can solve these issues, but many as with location, if it costs more than a conventional source, few are going to spend the money or time.

    Dispatch is also a fairly thorny issue for wind, and I believe the most significant. Utilities use complex forecasting tools to estimate how much power they will have to produce in order to match demand as closely as possible. They take into account the time of the day, the day of the week, weather, holidays, major events, and historical data, and usually can predict within a few tenths of a percent the actual power required by the grid. Since most of their plants can generate exactly the amount they need, with high reliability, integrating a variable output station effects the operations of all their other facilities.

    With a large grid and a small wind generator, there is plenty of margin to suck up the variances, but if we want to go the way of Denmark and supply 20% of our electricity needs via wind, the technical challenges, and costs, might price wind out of the market (at the present date at any rate). Point to Denmark as an example, is also a bit misleading, because while Denmark (tiny) gets 20% of its electricity from wind, its electrical grid is fully and heavily interconnected with the rest of the EU-25′s grid. Its the equivalent of comparing power production in Massachusetts with the rest of the United States. In fact, the largest increase in power production in Europe over the past 20 years has been from natural gas, not wind.

    But this is kind of moot, because we all know man made global warming is the con job of the century. And when people are properly informed, this is the conclusion they reach.

  • Ben

    A few things about the price of wind – it costs nothing to deliver the raw energy supply to the generation source, it does not require expensive transportation or storage facilities. It produces little or no waste in generation. It is a poor military target and no future state will likely commit to toppling any other elected governments to control their supply of wind. Sure the understanding and implementation is currently cost heavy because it is not implemented at a large enough scale to overcome those initial obstacles, but wind looks like a no brainer on risk in the long term. Solves all problems? No. Distributes the load away from more fossil and fissile fuels? You bet.

  • herbert browne

    It seems like having a wind-power project in an area with enough consumers nearby (& which assumes an existing grid) would be a good thing… Have the Canadians decided on a tidal power generator under the Bay of Fundy, yet? I think those will be coming, soon.

    Re “But this is kind of moot, because we all know man made global warming is the con job of the century. And when people are properly informed, this is the conclusion they reach..”-

    What is the nature of “mootness” here? Our use of power (& sources for same) are inconsequential? Smooth-talking “expert” Michael Crichton is more believable than a shrill young woman posing as a “scientist” to a disinterested audience? So, global warming is just a “given”- and we’d better get over it? Well, sure… it IS relative, after all. It’s bad if you’re a polar bear, but not if you’re a starling… and bad if your Alaskan village of 3500 years is built over permafrost, but not so bad if you’re a real estate developer in British Columbia. Anyone who buys into the “think globally, act locally” paradigm, and who bears a burden of ethical intentions, doesn’t have to look too far into the past to get a vision of the future… ^..^

  • smtcapecod

    Some observations:

    Wind power is intermittent. As such, adequate reliable energy must be available to cover the wind production. Therefore, it is additive, capable of supplementing existing energy production but doesn’t do much to alleviate demand for fossil fuels. This characteristic is exacerbated by the fact that total output is still comparatively low, and that peak production (when winter winds are higher and more constant) may be out of time with peak demand (when summer homes are occupied and air conditioners are on). Of course this last point is variable depending on location.

    It would be interesting to see an energy demand forecast for a given region, plotting energy from a propsed renewable energy project against project increase in demand for that region. I think that the former would eclipse the latter in most coastal regions.

    It would also be interesting to see the relative benefits in terms of emmission of a given energy facility- or several even, compared to a 1 mpg increase in minimum mileage criteria for vehicles. Most of our fossil fuel consumption is, I believe transportation related, rather than home heating/energy.

    The case that renewable energy facilities actually offset pollutants that would be emmitted by conventional fuel plants seems dubious, particularly if the renewable generator can sell off certificates or credits that allow another generator to continue polluting but still meet standards under cap and trade schemes.

    One or a few wind turbines may be pretty and elegant if properly sited. A broad swath of turbines that dominates or obliterates a landscape of finer scale, usually isn’t percieved as such.

    Other nations are signficantly farther ahead than the US in terms of capacity installed, capacity in planning and permitting. In part, this is because these countries decided to pursue wind proactively and deliberately. They (the governments) identified sites likely to be suitable for wind energy production, then they identified the scale- the installed capacity– likely to be suitable for the site, then they sent out solicitations for private firms that would build within those constraints. So, the public interest was safeguarded to some degree from the outset. Limits on the scale and extent of new facilities was established by the state, rather than by the profiteer. In the U.S., we have been largely reactive- almost entirely in the offshore environment and until recently with regard to private leasing arranagement on agricultural land and on public (BLM) lands.

    Wind is part of the picture, but in my opinion the current bandwagoning is misplaced and is resulting in huge investment in a technology that is space-hungry, has clear impacts to the environment (particularly if foundations are embedded in shifting marine sandflats), and is poorly understood in terms of cradle-to-grave costs and lifespan net benefits to the environment.

    Do a show on emerging tidal, current and wave generation instead. Its more consistent and more promising and output is moving upward in a similar manner to wind generators a couple decades ago. Test project is in at East RIver NY, there’s a tidal facility in Nova Scotia, there is a wave demo project off of Portugal and ORegon, proposals have been filed for current production in parts of Nantucket Sound, and the Cape Cod Canal- probably one of the largest, tidally driven hydrologic pumps around.

  • http://criticalculture.blogspot.com Pacze Moj

    Just an interesting tidbit:

    In Ontario (Canada), there was an initiative to build some wind turbines that hit a roadblock when, based on treaties signed long ago, a group of Natives argued, successfully, that they were legally entitled to the wind! Funny how something that was worthless back then is not so worthless now.

    “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind”?

    Perhaps that’s not such a bad fate after all!

  • herbert browne

    My thanks to smtcapecod for the info on tidal projects. The wave energy studies along the Oregon coast are interesting, in part because of the challenge of “networking” the output. While the tides may have their regular “lulls”, there always seems to be a series of lumps on the ocean. The Norwegians have some electric generators that utilize differences in air and water temps to drive turbines via that thermal exchange… kinda like locating a turbine in the refrigerant line in a freezer. They’re built into barges that are moored to piers… but it seems like they may have some degree of portability, given their situation… ^..^

  • enhabit

    until we come up with some kind of “star trek” energy source…augmentation and conservation are key, intermittent and all.

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