Each and Every One Its Own Solyndra

I drove through Indio / Palm Springs on Tuesday and was aggravated, as I always am, at just how few of the zillions of government-subsidized windmills are actually turning.  Saying that one in twenty were generating power would be generous.  I know the wind was blowing because a few of them were turning.

On Thursday I drove back through and tried to take a video, though all I had was my iPhone.

You have to squint to see all the dead windmills in the back of the first shot.  If you have never been to this site, you many not be able to comprehend just how far in the distance the dead masts go.  Here is another shot from several miles further down the site

Here is my proposal.  We make this whole area a National Park and call it "Corporate State Park."  It would be at least as educational as any other National Park.

  • NL7

    I drove through there on I-10 back in 2006. Was shocked at all the windmills and that most weren't turning. Seemed like one in every five or ten would be turning slowly, and I didn't notice any real distribution for it. I assumed that it was a low-wind day and that they dispersed the ones turned on to maximize the wind capture.

    On a sidenote, has anybody considered the possible problems or benefits of catching a huge amount of wind energy and turning it to human applications? I mean, the windmills are taking energy from the movement of air, so the blades must be slowing down the movement of air (otherwise violating the laws of thermodynamics and creating an opportunity to place 10,000 windmills in a line, all capturing the energy of the unslowed air). So just hypothetically, if we had a massive wind program and it captured a lot of the air in a region, is it possible that slowing down the movement of air might noticeably alter weather patterns in some way? I'm assuming, without any particular talent for physics, that the threshold for such change is huge and that it's too unpredictable to be used for any sort of positive climate shaping (e.g. shifting rainfall patterns), right? Is there basically so much wind energy that the human race, absent Bond-villain technology, couldn't hope to do much environment-shaping with windmills aside from killing a few birds?

    Sorry, random insane thought. Read too much sci-fi as a kid.

  • Lemon

    I think I read a few years back they're like Goldilocks and only work in certain wind conditions - not too windy, not too unwindy, has to be just right.

  • http://twitter.com/hartez E.Z.
  • norse

    I wonder who was responsible for siting that park... looks pretty terrible (mountainous terrain, short tower generators and small distances?!). This is what this stuff is supposed to look like pretty much every day, unless when it is so stormy that the turbines need to be halted: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhOKV01nPIM

  • http://devilish-details.blogspot.com/ mesaeconoguy

    It’s actually well sited – narrow coastal range notch,
    opening to large valley/depression and heating, and general favorable
    topography.

    I’ve almost been knocked over filling up for gas a couple
    times very close to Warren’s photo.

    Government sited it, and maintains it. That’s the problem.

    I’ve actually seen most of the turbines working……..once.

  • Andrew Garland

    The operation of government pork requires new, exciting, and unproven projects. When the money is gone and the project fails, politicians need to blame the failure on "new technology" which unfortunately did not work out.

    Investing to refurbish an old wind turbine (not the old-named windmill) puts the smell of failure too close to the new investment. Someone might ask why they were investing again in a project which had already failed. Somehow, having a new location and name keeps the press from asking this.

    The newness does not have to be much to make the scam work. Investing in passenger rail is an obvious loser. Investing in "high speed" passenger rail is new, exciting, and worth trying, using lots of taxpayer money to carry out the experiment.

    Short Wind Turbine Life

    === ===
    Almost 80% of the world's wind turbines (May 2010) are under warranty, but "this is about to change". Many gearboxes, designed for a 20 year life, are failing after 6-8 years of operation.

    You probably pay around $.11/kwh for your residential electricity, which was produced for about $.03 to $.05 (Coal $.03 Gas $.05 Nuclear $.02). It is costing $.27/kwh to produce wind power, and your cost will be more, except for the cost that is hidden in government subsidies (higher taxes and fewer jobs). This exceeds the government subsidy of $.20/kwh for wind power, a subsidy which is almost twice as much as what you currently pay for power as a retail customer.
    === ===

  • Not Sure

    You're not supposed to think about these things. Wind power is green and green is good- that's all you need to know.

  • http://profiles.google.com/philip.ngai Philip Ngai

    Do you have a lat/long?

  • AnInquirer

    Some comments.
    The site is likely a good site. Desert vs. mountain vs. ocean produces breezes ideal for windmills.
    Although the model may be different than 20 years ago when I was involved in the business, but the main objective of the business model back then was to get the windmill built. Once that was accomplished, then subsidies and credits and tax write-offs produced a nice cash flow. If a windmill broke down, then it often / usually was cheaper not to fix it. Just let it decay. To some degree the next generation windmill was more efficient and brought on another set of subsidies and credits and tax write-offs!
    These windmills look newer than the ones that have been abandoned on the Altamount Pass. There is a chance that transmission constraints induced the system not to run the windmills at the time that you drove through.

  • irandom

    Just because they spin, doesn't mean they are generating electricity.

    "Developers often set malfunctioning turbines to "virtual" mode -- blades spinning without generating electricity."

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/9234715/Wind-farms-can-cause-climate-change-finds-new-study.html

  • SamWah

    Name it Government Crony Green(back) National Shame Park.

  • Allen

    More wasteful, as you know, this means someplace there are natural gas powered generation units working away to produce that "wind energy".

  • rxc

    What is really needed is for all the supporters of wind and "smart meters" to hook their meters up to the windmills they support. When the wind blows, they will get electricity, but when it stops blowing, their smart meters will cut them off. I think this would nudge them to reconsider their support.

  • Daddybob

    WESLEY THE WEEPY WIDDLE WINDMILL

    Once upon a time in the windy, windy valley around Whitewater, California there lived a sad little windmill named Wesley. Wesley was the seventeenth windmill in the fifty-sixth row. Wesley was sad because out of all the 952 windmills in the valley he was the only one that never turned.

    “I want to be green” he whimpered. “I want to save the earth.”

    But while most of the windmills spent most of the day not turning, poor Wesley was the only windmill who never turned at all.

    It’s not like he wasn’t trying. But poor Wesley was in a part of the valley that never got any wind. “God wouldn’t put me here if he didn’t want me to help save the earth,” thought Wesley. He didn’t know that God had nothing to do with it. The windmills were heavily subsidized by the federal government and -turn or not- people made a lot of money just by putting them up.

    One day, while Wesley was wasting his time fretting about global warming, a work truck pulled up right in front of him. Wesley was excited when several men ( or -if you are a Democrat- several women) got out and started unloading their tools. ( Or-if they were in the union- they got out and stood around with their thumbs up their asses.) He thought they might put him up on a higher pole or move him to a different location. But all they did was take him apart and throw him in the truck and take him to the steel mill to be melted down and turned into sheet metal.

    Wesley didn’t like being so flat but he thought that maybe he’d be turned into a Prius or a giant recycle bin and could help save the earth that way. Imagine his disappointment when he was taken to a stamping plant and turned into the body of a full-sized Hummer! Wesley’s last hope was shattered when he prayed “Dear God, at least let me be painted green” but was instead painted red and outfitted with a 650 horsepower engine which got only 3 miles per gallon.

    So you see, boys and girls, sometimes your life just sucks donkey dicks no matter how hard you try.

    THE END

  • sch

    I went through that "pass" in 2007 driving from Ontario to Palm Desert. It really is a fantastic location for windmills, had a 30mph wind blowing the day we drove through.
    A google map search for Cabazon, CA with sat view will show the pass. It is coated
    with windmills, hundreds of them, but a lot of them are fairly small, and as noted not very many rotating IIRC well under half were rotating. Suspect part of it is too many old school windmills in the few hundred kilowatt range and not enough in the multimegawatt range.

  • epobirs

    IIRC, there is always going to be a fair number of turbines idle at such a site because the wind doesn't always blow from the same direction. Part of the problem of wind parks is the need for high redundancy to cover all of the directions the gusts might fly in a particular day. Add to this the rate of failure and you have a risk of a minimum number of generating blades facing the right way at any given time.

  • Rocky

    The wind it this area comes directly out of the West 90 percent of the time and with a constant speed relative to most other sites. This is a near perfect site for wind power. Many of the older units have fallen into disrepair and will not be replaced with newer ones. The new units, the ones actually turning tend to be more reliable but are also costly to repair. Many of these installations have been here for 20 years or more. This is likely going to be the future for many newer installation across the US unless the government subsidizes maintenance and replacement costs too, since wind energy is not profitable as of yet. These things were an eye sore when they were new and worked. Most of them have just become monuments to a failed government experiment. We will likely end up forking over more tax dollars to clean the mess up an put the desert back to it's original state.

  • markm

    This has been going on for a long time. I toured a wind farm located in a pass near LA back in 1987. The wind was nearly optimal at the time, yet about a third of the turbines were shut down. I asked about that, and learned that they turned a profit on building the turbines and collecting subsidies, but selling the power did not make enough to cover maintenance. So they only worked on the simplest breakdowns, and let the turbines with more serious problems die.

    Lemon: "Like Goldilocks" is pretty close to the truth. Wind turbines only generate their rated power at one particular wind speed. Any more, and they have to shut down to prevent damage from excessive wind forces or excessive speed. Any less, and they may still generate power, but it falls off rapidly. Some basic physics: The wind power across a given surface area is proportional to the third power of the wind speed:

    Power = 1/2 (mass per second) (velocity)^2
    The air mass per second = (area)(density)(velocity)
    Power = 1/2 (area)(density)(velocity)^3

    What that means is that a 21% drop in the wind speed cuts the power available in the wind by half. It probably cuts the turbine net output even more, after accounting for the aerodynamics (those blades are most efficient at high speed), and for the fixed power that is used for the turbine controls and electronics. At 50% of rated speed, the turbine outputs 1/8 of the rated power at best, and may even go to zero.

  • nehemiah

    At least they are not killing birds.