Posts tagged ‘wind power’

Why Wind Power Does Not Greatly Reduce Fossil Fuel Use

The problem with wind power is that electric utilities have to be prepared at any time for their power production to just stop on short notice.  So they must keep fossil fuel plants on hot standby, meaning they are basically burning fuel but not producing any power.  Storage technologies and the use of relatively fast-start plants like gas turbines mitigates this problem a bit but does not come close to eliminating it.  This is why wind power simply as a source contributing to the grid makes very little sense.  Here is Kent Hawkins of Master Resource going into a lot more depth:

How do electricity systems accommodate the nature of wind and solar? They do this by having redundant capacity almost equalling the renewable capacities as shown in Figures 5 and 6 for two jurisdictions that have heavily invested in wind and solar – Germany and Ontario, Canada.

Pt I Fig 5

Figure 5 – Duplicate capacity requirements for Germany in 2015.

Source: See note 4, sub point a.


Part 1 Fig 6

Figure 6 – Duplicate capacity requirements for Ontario, Canada, in 2018

Source: Ontario Power Authority[5]

In both figures, the left-hand columns are peak demand requirements and include all the dispatchable capacity that is required to reliably meet demand and provide operating reserve. In the right-hand columns, if you look very carefully, you can see the capacity credit for wind by the slight reduction in “Peak Demand + Op Reserve.” In summary, when wind and solar are added, the other generation plants are not displaced, and, relative to requirements, wind and solar are virtually all duplicate capacity.

Wind might make more sense in niche applications where it is coupled into some kind of production process that can run intermittently and have its product stored.  I think T Boone Pickens suggested having wind produce hydrogen from water, for example, and then store the hydrogen as fuel.  This makes more sense because the total power output of a wind plant over a year can be predicted with far more certainty than the power output at any given minute of a day.  This is one reason why the #1 historic use of windpower outside of transportation has been to pump water -- because the point is to fill the tank once a week or drain the field over a month's time and not to make absolutely sure the field is draining at 10:52 am.  The intermittent power is stored in the form of water that has been moved from one place to another.

Are You Desperately Worried About Global Warming? Then You Should Be Begging for More Fracking

Charles Frank of Brookings has looked at the relative returns of various energy investments in the context of reducing CO2.  The results:  The best answer is natural gas, with nothing else even close.  Solar and Wind can't even justify their expense, at least from the standpoint of reducing CO2.  Here is the key chart (Hat tip Econlog)



Note that this is not a calculation of the economic returns of these types of power plants, but a relative comparison of how much avoided costs, mainly in CO2 emissions (valued at $50 per ton), there are in switching from coal to one of these fuel sources.  Natural gas plants are the obvious winner.  It remains the winner over solar and wind even if the value of a ton of CO2 is doubled to $100 and both these technologies are assumed to suddenly get much more efficient.   Note by the way that unlike wind and solar (and nuclear), gas substitution for coal plant yields a net economic benefit (from reduced fuel and capital costs) above and beyond the avoided emissions -- which is why gas is naturally substituting right now for coal even in the absence of a carbon tax of some sort to impose a cost to CO2 emissions.**

I was actually surprised that wind did not look even worse.  I think the reason for this is in how the author deals with wind's reliability issues -- he ends up discounting the average capacity factor somewhat.  But this understates the problem.   The real reliability problem with wind is that it can stop blowing almost instantaneously, while it takes hours to spin up other sorts of power plants (gas turbines being the fastest to start up, nuclear being the slowest).  Thus power companies with a lot of wind have to keep fossil fuel plants burning fuel but producing no power, an issue called hot backup.  This issue has proved itself to substantially reduce wind's true displacement potential, as they found in Germany and Denmark.

There is no evidence that industrial wind power is likely to have a significant impact on carbon emissions. The European experience is instructive. Denmark, the world's most wind-intensive nation, with more than 6,000 turbines generating 19% of its electricity, has yet to close a single fossil-fuel plant. It requires 50% more coal-generated electricity to cover wind power's unpredictability, and pollution and carbon dioxide emissions have risen (by 36% in 2006 alone).

Flemming Nissen, the head of development at West Danish generating company ELSAM (one of Denmark's largest energy utilities) tells us that "wind turbines do not reduce carbon dioxide emissions." The German experience is no different. Der Spiegel reports that "Germany's CO2 emissions haven't been reduced by even a single gram," and additional coal- and gas-fired plants have been constructed to ensure reliable delivery.

Indeed, recent academic research shows that wind power may actually increase greenhouse gas emissions in some cases, depending on the carbon-intensity of back-up generation required because of its intermittent character.


** Postscript:  The best way to read this table, IMO, is to take the net value of capacity and energy substitution and compare it to the CO2 savings value.

click to enlarge

The first line is just from the first line of the table above.   The second is essentially the net of all the other lines.

I think this makes is clearer what is going on.  For wind, we invest $106,697 for $132,030 $132,030 for $106,697 in emissions reduction (again, I think the actual number is lower).  In Solar, we invest $258,322 for $69,502 in emissions reduction.    For gas, on the other hand, we have no net investment -- we actually have a gain in these other inputs from the switch -- and then we also save $416,534.  In other words, rather than paying, we are getting paid to get $416,534 in emissions reduction.  That is not several times better than Solar and Wind, it is infinitely better.

Postscript #2:  Another way to look at this -- if you put on a carbon tax in the US equal to $50 per ton of CO2 that fuel would produce, then it still likely would make no sense to be building wind or solar plants unless there remained substantial subsidies for them (e.g. investment tax credits, direct subsidies, guaranteed loans, above-market electricity pricing, etc).  What we would see is an absolute natural gas plan craze.

Bizarre Payback Analysis Being Used for Alternate Energy

Check out this payback analysis that is being trumpeted for wind power:

US researchers have carried out an environmental lifecycle assessment of 2-megawatt wind turbines mooted for a large wind farm in the US Pacific Northwest. Writing in the International Journal of Sustainable Manufacturing, they conclude that in terms of cumulative energy payback, or the time to produce the amount of energy required of production and installation, a wind turbine with a working life of 20 years will offer a net benefit within five to eight months of being brought online.

So of all the scarce resources that go into producing wind power, if you look at only one of these (energy), then the project pays itself back in less than a year.  This is stupid.  Yes, I understand that there are some "green" energy sources (*cough* corn ethanol *cough*) that cannot even produce more energy than they consume, so I suppose this finding is a step forward from that.  But what about all the other scarce resources used in producing wind power-- steel, labor, engineering talent, concrete, etc?  This is roughly like justifying the purchase of an 18-wheeler truck by saying it will pay off all the vanadium used in its production in less than a year.

Environmentalists seem to all feel that capitalism is the enemy of sustainability, but in fact capitalism is the greatest system to promote sustainability that has ever been devised.  Every single resource has a price that reflects its relative scarcity as compared to demand.  Scarcer resources have higher prices that automatically promote conservation and seeking of substitutes.  So an analysis of an investment's ability to return its cost is in effect a sustainability analysis.  What environmentalists don't like is that wind does not cover the cost of its resources, in other words it does not produce enough power to justify the scarce resources it uses.  Screwing around with that to only look at some of the resources is just dishonest.

The one reasonable argument is that the price of fuels does not adequately reflect the externalities of Co2 production.  I don't think these are high but obviously there are those who disagree.  The right way to do this analysis is to say that wind power provides a return only if electricity prices are X (X likely being well above current market rates) which in turn reflects a Co2 cost of Y $/ton.  My gut feel is that it would take a Y -- a cost per ton of CO2 -- way higher than any of the figures that are typically bandied about even by environmentalists to make wind work.

Postscript:  I did not critique the analysis of energy payback per se, but if I were to dig into it, I would want to look at two common fallacies with many wind analyses.  1) They typically miss the cost of standby power needed to cover wind's unpredictability, which has a substantial energy cost.  In Germany, during their big wind push, they had to have 80-90% of wind power backed up with hot fossil fuel backup.  2)  They typically look at nameplate capacity and not real capacities in the field.  In fact, real capacities should further be discounted for when wind power produces electricity that the grid cannot take (ie when there is negative pricing in the wholesale market, which actually occurs).

Environmentalist vs. Environmentalist

The confrontation may be coming soon in the environmental community over wind power -- it certainly would have occurred already had the President promoting wind been Republican rather than Democrat.  I might have categorized this as "all energy production has environmental tradeoffs", but wind power is so stupid a source to be promoting that this is less of a tradeoff and more of another nail in the coffin.  As a minimum, the equal protection issues vis a vis how the law is enforced for wind companies vs. oil companies are pretty staggering.

“It happens about once a month here, on the barren foothills of one of America’s green-energy boomtowns: A soaring golden eagle slams into a wind farm’s spinning turbine and falls, mangled and lifeless, to the ground.

Killing these iconic birds is not just an irreplaceable loss for a vulnerable species. It’s also a federal crime, a charge that the Obama administration has used to prosecute oil companies when birds drown in their waste pits, and power companies when birds are electrocuted by their power lines.”

“[The Obama] administration has never fined or prosecuted a wind-energy company, even those that flout the law repeatedly. Instead, the government is shielding the industry from liability and helping keep the scope of the deaths secret.”

“Wind power, a pollution-free energy intended to ease global warming, is a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s energy plan. His administration has championed a $1 billion-a-year tax break to the industry that has nearly doubled the amount of wind power in his first term. But like the oil industry under President George W. Bush, lobbyists and executives have used their favored status to help steer U.S. energy policy.”

“The result [of Obama energy policy] is a green industry that’s allowed to do not-so-green things. It kills protected species with impunity and conceals the environmental consequences of sprawling wind farms.”

“More than 573,000 birds are killed by the country’s wind farms each year, including 83,000 hunting birds such as hawks, falcons and eagles, according to an estimate published in March in the peer-reviewed Wildlife Society Bulletin.

Classic Partisan Thinking

Kevin Drum writes

On the right, both climate change and questions about global limits on oil production have exited the realm of empirical debate and become full-blown fronts in the culture wars. You're required to mock them regardless of whether it makes any sense. And it's weird as hell. I mean, why would you disparage development of renewable energy? If humans are the ultimate creators, why not create innovative new sources of renewable energy instead of digging up every last fluid ounce of oil on the planet?

I am sure it is perfectly true that there are Conservatives who knee-jerk oppose every government renewable energy and recycling and green jobs idea that comes along without reference to the science.  But you know what, there are plenty of Liberals who knee-jerk support all these same things, again without any understanding of the underlying science.  Mr. Drum, for example, only recently came around to opposing corn ethanol, despite the fact that the weight of the science was against ethanol being any kind of environmental positive years and years ago.  In fact, not until it was no longer cool and caring to support ethanol (a moment I would set at when Rolling Stone wrote a fabulous ethanol expose) did Drum finally turn against it.  Is this science, or social signalling?   How many folks still run around touting electric cars without understanding what the marginal fuels are in the electricity grid, or without understanding the true well-to-wheels efficiency?  How many folks still run around touting wind power without understanding the huge percentage of this power that must be backed up with hot backup power fueled by fossil fuels?

Why is his almost blind support of renewable energy without any reference to science or the specifics of the technologies involved any saner than blind opposition?  If anything, blind opposition at least has the numbers on their side, given past performance of investments in all sorts of wonder-solutions to future energy production.

The reason there is a disconnect is because statists like Drum equate supporting government subsidies and interventions with supporting renewables.  Few people, even Conservatives, oppose renewables per se.  This is a straw man.  What they oppose are subsidies and government mandates for renewables.  Drum says he has almost limitless confidence in  man's ability to innovate.  I agree -- but I, unlike he apparently, have limitless confidence in man's ability to innovate absent government coercion.  It was not a government program that replaced whale oil as an illuminant right when we were approaching peak whale, it was the genius of John D. Rockefeller.  As fossil fuels get short, prices rise, and people naturally innovate on substitutes.  If Drum believes that private individuals are missing an opportunity, rather than root for government coercion, he should go take up the challenge.  He can be the Rockefeller of renewable energy.

Postscript:  By the way, it is absurd and disingenuous to equate opposition to what have been a series of boneheaded government investments in questionable ventures and technologies with some sort of a-scientific hatred of fossil fuel alternatives.  I have written for a decade that I long for the day, and expect it to be here within 20 years, that sheets of solar cells are cranked from factories like carpet out of Dalton, Georgia.

Awesome Timing

From something called the Washington Free Beacon, via Real Science

Just days after the Export-Import Bank approved a multi-million dollar federal loan guarantee to benefit a mostly foreign-based wind-energy outfit, the company pink-slipped more than 200 American workers.

The Export-Import Bank, a federal agency that promotes and finances sales of U.S. exports to foreign buyers, approved a $32 million loan guarantee on Aug. 2 for a Brazilian firm to purchase wind turbines from LM Wind Power. According to itswebsite, LM Wind Power is headquartered in Denmark.

“Ex-Im Bank’s financing, which guarantees a Bank of America loan, will support approximately 250 permanent American jobs at the company’s Little Rock, Ark., and Grand Forks, N.D., manufacturing facilities,” the bank said in a release.

The company maintains a manufacturing presence in Arkansas and North Dakota—but the company laid off 234 of the Arkansas plant’s roughly 300 workers just two days after its loan was approved.

“We have this week told our workforce that we are re-sizing our workforce and business to fit our plans for 2013,” Adam Ruple, human resources director for LM Wind Power, told the City Wire of Arkansas.

A spokesman for LM Wind Power referred the Free Beacon to the company’s website.

When LM Wind Power came to Little Rock, Arkansas, in 2007, it said it would employ 1,000 people by 2012. But the global economic crunch led to diminishing demand. Three months before its loan guarantee was finalized, LM Wind Power announced its profits had fallen 41 percent last year.

It really takes some amazing stones to grab a $32 million subsidized government loan on the promise to add 250 jobs just days before a planned  234-person layoff.

Every. Single. Time.

Every single time that wind power installations are evaluated based on their actual performance, they turn out to make no economic sense.  Consumer Reports comes to the same conclusion for their wind power trial (and this does not even include the issues of standby power that make even small wind power savings irrelevant to CO2 production).

But if you're considering a wind turbine to supplement your home's power, consider our experience with one product, the Honeywell WT6500 Wind Turbine, a cautionary tale....

A tool on Windtronics' website had calculated we'd get 1,155 kWh per year at the 12-mph average it predicted for our area of Yonkers, New York. And the authorized installer, during his initial visit, didn't say the roof of our headquarters might generate any less, but that rating is at a height of 164 feet, not the 33 feet WindTronics requires for rooftop installations.

In the 15 months since the turbine was installed, though, it has delivered less than 4 kWh—enough only to power a 12,000 btu window air conditioner for one afternoon. A company representative in charge of installations worldwide recently visited our offices and confirmed that our test model was correctly installed. What's more, he told us that while the WT6500 should start generating power at about 3 mph, the initial juice goes just to power the system's inverter, which must be running before it supplies any AC power elsewhere. The true wind speed needed to start producing AC while the inverter is on is 6 mph, not far from the 7.5 mph needed by a traditional gearbox wind turbine....

At the rate the WT6500 is delivering power at our test site, it would take several millennia for the product to pay for itself in savings—not the 56 years it would take even with the 1,155 kWh quote we received.

Sense of Scale -- Keystone XL vs. Wind

One thing that many green energy advocates fail to understand is the very scale of US energy demand in relation to the output of various green sources.

Let's consider wind.

The Keystone XL pipeline would have provided 900,000 barrels of oil per day, roughly equivalent to 1.53 billion kw-hr per day.  A typical wind turbine is 2MW nameplate capacity, but at best actually produces about 30% of this on average.  This means that in a day it produces 2,000*.3*24 = 14,400 kw-hr of electricity.  This means that the Keystone XL pipeline would have transported an amount of energy to the US equal to the output of 106,250 of those big utility-size wind turbines.

Looked at another way, the entire annual output of the US wind energy sector was about 75 terra-watt-hours per year or about 260 million kw-hr per day.  This means that the Keystone XL pipeline would have carried energy equal to over 5 times the total output of wind power in the US.

Of course, this is just based on the potential energy in the fuel, and actual electricity production would be 50-65% less.  But even so, this one single pipeline, out of many, is several times larger than the entire wind power sector.

More Wind Craziness

I still contend that wind is, except in a few niche applications, probably the worst alternate energy source.   Other forms of energy like solar have issues, but there is a lot of reason to believe these a fixable over time with better technology.  Wind is just a plain dog.

One of the biggest problems with wind is the need for backup power.  Because wind's lapses are hard to predict, a lot of fossil fuels have to be burned in spinning, hot backup capacity ready at a moment's notice to take over.  In Germany, the net effect has been very little substitution of fossil fuel burning despite an enormous wind investment

As wind power capacity rises, the lower availability of the wind farms determines the reliability of the system as a whole to an ever increasing extent. Consequently the greater reliability of traditional power stations becomes increasingly eclipsed.

As a result, the relative contribution of wind power to the guaranteed capacity of our supply system up to the year 2020 will fall continuously to around 4% (FIGURE 7). In concrete terms, this means that in 2020, with a forecast wind power capacity of over 48,000MW (Source: dena grid study), 2,000MW of traditional power production can be replaced by these wind farms.

Natural gas makes this situation a little better, as natural gas turbines can be brought up much faster than, say, an oil or coal-powered plant.  But the duplicate investment is still necesary

Britain's richest energy companies want homeowners to subsidise billions of pounds worth of gas-powered stations that will stand idle for most of the time.

Talks have taken place between the Government, Centrica, owner of British Gas, and other energy companies on incentives to build the power stations needed as back-ups for the wind farms now being built around the country.

It is understood 17 gas-fired plants worth about £10 billion will be needed by 2020.

The Energy Department has been warned that without this massive back-up for the new generation of heavily subsidised giant wind farms, the lights could go out when the wind dies down.

Sam Laidlaw, chief executive of Centrica, said renewables, such as large-scale wind energy, were intermittent and required back-up generation, a role gas was uniquely qualified to fill.

But as power stations that operate only intermittently would not be financially viable, Laidlaw said: 'The building of new gas-fired capacity must be incentivised so that gas can fulfil its role as a bridging fuel.'

Great.  So we have wind power, which is not financially viable so it must be subsidized, that required backup power plants to be constructed, which will not be financially viable so gas plants must be subsidized.

I have an idea, why not have gas plants which are financially viable serving the base load and just get rid of wind and this double subsidy all together?



Damning Wind Power Study

Wind is not the worst form of alternative energy -- that probably has to go to corn ethanol.  But it is close.  The consistent experience of European countries that have more wind power than the US is that, because wind is so unreliable, hot backup fossil fuel generation capacity nearly equal to wind capacity needs to be maintained.  This means that even when the wind is blowing, it is not reducing fossil fuel consumption in any meaningful way.  In other words, billions are spent on wind but without any substitution of existing power sources.  Its just pure wasted money.

Anyway, here is a recent study by an environmental group, no less, that found that Britain's wind generation plants are running well under the promised efficiency.  That is, of course, when they are even operable and not just broken down.  In the latter case, companies go for the quick bucks of up front subsidies, then find that the units are not worth the repair costs when they break.

More on Wind

I was having a back and forth with a reader about wind power and how much fossil fuel capacity must be kept on standby to support grid reliability with wind.  Here are some excerpts of what I wrote:

Forget all of the studies for a moment.  I used to operate power plants.  Any traditional capacity (fossil fuel, nuclear) except perhaps gas turbines takes on the order of a day or more to start up - if you don't take that long, the thermal stresses alone will blow the whole place up.  During the whole startup and shutdown, and through any "standby" time, the plant is burning fuel.   Since we don't have a good wind energy storage system, some percentage of wind capacity must be backed up with hot standby, because it can disappear in an instant. We are learning now, contrary to earlier assumptions, that wind speeds can be correlated pretty highly over wide geographies, meaning that spreading the wind turbines out does not necessarily do a lot to reduce the standby needs.  And since plant startups take time, even gas turbines take some time to get running, the percentage of wind power that required hot backup is pretty high -- I would love to find this percentage.

I found at least one source for such a percentage, which posits that for England, the percentage of hot backup needed is as high as 80%:

I quote from page 6-7:

On any view, including the square root rule of thumb referred to above, the result, imposed for purposes of maintaining adequate response and reserve requirements, implies that a high degree of conventional (dispatchable) plant capacity is retained in the system to support wind generation. Thus, for 25 GW of installed wind capacity only 5 GW of conventional plant can be replaced leaving 20 GW in the role of standby capacity (also known as "Spare" or "Shadow Capacity").3

So 80% of the expected production from wind has to be backed up with hot spares burning fossil fuels.  They go on to say that the percentage of required spare capacity may be lower if the grid area is substantially larger, but not a lot lower.  I had not considered hydro power, but apparently that can be used to provide some quick response to wind production changes.  The report also talks about diesel generators for standby since they can be started up quickly, but these are seriously inefficient devices.  Despite the report's conclusion that the situation might be a bit better on the continent with a larger and more diverse grid, a report of the largest German utility seems to argue that German experience may actually be worse:

As wind power capacity rises, the lower availability of the wind farms determines the reliability of the system as a whole to an ever increasing extent. Consequently the greater reliability of traditional power stations becomes increasingly eclipsed.

As a result, the relative contribution of wind power to the guaranteed capacity of our supply system up to the year 2020 will fall continuously to around 4% (FIGURE 7). In concrete terms, this means that in 2020, with a forecast wind power capacity of over 48,000MW (Source: dena grid study), 2,000MW of traditional power production can be replaced by these wind farms.

It is hard to tell, because 48,000 MW is the nameplate capacity which is virtually meaningless, but my guess is that they are not doing better than 80%.

One Step Forward, One Step Back

The other day I was happy to see lefty Kevin Drum pointing out the obvious problems with subsidizing Edit Post "¹ Coyote Blog "” WordPressethanol.  This is a step forward, when smart people on both sides of the aisle can agree that a certain approach is dumb.  Of course, given the incentives in government, that doesn't mean that ethanol subsidies will actually stop.

So we make some progress on ethanol, but just replace it without another absurdly dumb subsidized energy technology, in this case wind.  Wind is not even close to being ready for grid service, and given the hot backup power one needs to cover its unpredictability, it does about zero to reduce CO2 emissions.  A series of studies have shown that it has done nothing to reduce fossil fuel consumption in either Germany or Denmark.  And the whole green jobs thing is even more absurd -- it makes no sense theoretically, as shifting private investment to less economically viable uses has never, ever created jobs -- and has been debunked in practice in both Denmark and Spain.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration has bent over backwards to ignore the science and push wind, for no other reason I can figure out except to avoid admitting he was wrong when he campaigned on wind.  This makes for a pretty depressing story, and, given there are more documents the Administration is resisting releasing under FOIA, probably more ugly news to follow.

Postscript: One way you could use wind is with some kind of storage system, of which I can think of two.  The first is to use wind to pmp water up hill into a reservoir where the potential energy could later be harvested as hydroelectric power.  The other is to use the wind power to make hydrogen from water.  You need some sort of process that can be stopped and started on short notice.

Why Obamacare 2.0 is Like Cap-and-Trade

This was the trick behind cap-and-trade: Politicians know that the only real way to reduce energy usage is to raise its price much higher.  They also know that doing so would lose them their jobs, so instead of passing a simple carbon tax, they created a cap-and-trade system that would force private companies to be the bad guys.  They then try to hide this basic fact with a lot of distracting arm-waving about green jobs and wind power.

The new Obama health proposal, which looks a heck of a lot like the old Obama health proposal (same basic features, same lack of detail) plays a similar game.  Do you remember all that Obama talk about mysterious brilliant ways to reduce health care costs?  Where did they all go?  It turns out that the only real idea they had for reducing health care costs was to deny people care.  They just try to hide this with a lot of distracting arm-waving about gold-plated insurance and electronic medical records.

This denial of service is unpopular.  In fact, it is a great (and sad) irony that Obama is trying to harness anger at insurance companies that is caused mainly by denial of coverage for certain procedures with a system that will deny coverage for even more procedures.  Just like carbon taxes, Obama has fixed on a scheme where once again he sets up private enterprises to be the bad guys to give himself some sort of quasi-plausible deniability.  Obama is proposing artificial price caps on insurance premiums.  The inevitable result:

For example, as I have written elsewhere, artificially limiting premium growth allows the government to curtail spending while leaving the dirty work of withholding medical care to private insurers: "Premium caps, which Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick is currently threatening to impose, force private insurers to manage care more tightly "” i.e., to deny coverage for more services."  No doubt the Obama administration would lay the blame for coverage denials on private insurers and claim that such denials demonstrate the need for a so-called "public option."

Alan Reynolds has more.  And Peter Suderman.   And Phillip Klein points to an interesting anti-progressive angle:

Like the Senate bill, Obama's proposal doesn't include a strict employer mandate, but it does penalize businesses who do not offer insurance to workers who then get their insurance through the exchange. The Obama proposal provides more subsidies to small businesses, and helps mid-sized businesses by exempting the first 30 workers when calculating the tax, but large employers who do not offer coverage would face higher penalties under the Obama proposal. In the end, the tax will make it more expensive for large employers to hire lower income workers (who qualify for government subsidies), and thus exacerbate unemployment.

My read is that this all takes a hodge-podge mess and, uh, makes it even  hodgier-podgier.

By the way, my take is that there is only one health care cost reduction proposal worth talking about, and that is making individuals more responsible for their own health care costs, not less, thus creating incentives to do the thing we do for every other purchase we make:  shop around.

The Problem With Wind

I have an innate confidence in technology.  For example, while I understand solar to be uneconomic for powering my house today, I fully expect that to change.  I look forward to the day, not that far in the future, when I can take my Arizona house off the grid, at least during the day.

In contrast, though, it may be that wind power can't be fixed, in large part due to its inherent unpredictability.  Sure, solar has a problem as well, in that it doesn't work at night.  But at least the times when solar is off here in Arizona (ie when it is dark) are predictable and coincide with lower load periods.  Wind is utterly unpredictable and variable, and its peaks and troughs are unrelated to peaks and troughs in electricity demand.

So, if the grid is to reliably supply sufficient power to meet demand, wind must have a backup.  And there is the rub.  Because just about every technology that might currently be used as a backup takes a really, really long time to start up.  Small gas turbines can be producing electricity from a cold stop pretty quickly, but a large coal-fired power plant can take days to go from a cold stop to producing electricity.  This is in part because there are a series of steps where A has to precede B which must come before C to start plants up, and partially just because immediately heating the whole system up would cause the plant to blow up just from the thermal stresses.

So, to back up wind power, traditional fossil fuel plants have to be kept warmed up with turbines spinning.  This means that fossil fuels are burned but no electricity is produced.  I mentioned in a previous post that the largest utility in Germany estimated that 48,000MW of wind capacity was in fact allowing the shut down of just 2000MW of traditional fossil-fuel powered capacity.

A recent article in the National Post argues the Danes are seeing absolutely no substitution from their substantial investment in wind.

There is no evidence that industrial wind power is likely to have a significant impact on carbon emissions. The European experience is instructive. Denmark, the world's most wind-intensive nation, with more than 6,000 turbines generating 19% of its electricity, has yet to close a single fossil-fuel plant. It requires 50% more coal-generated electricity to cover wind power's unpredictability, and pollution and carbon dioxide emissions have risen (by 36% in 2006 alone).

Flemming Nissen, the head of development at West Danish generating company ELSAM (one of Denmark's largest energy utilities) tells us that "wind turbines do not reduce carbon dioxide emissions." The German experience is no different. Der Spiegel reports that "Germany's CO2 emissions haven't been reduced by even a single gram," and additional coal- and gas-fired plants have been constructed to ensure reliable delivery.

Indeed, recent academic research shows that wind power may actually increase greenhouse gas emissions in some cases, depending on the carbon-intensity of back-up generation required because of its intermittent character.

It probably comes as no surprise that the Danes have the highest electricity costs in Europe.  The article goes on to call wind power in the US a "huge corporate welfare feeding frenzy."

Update: Well, the Danish wind industry certainly seems to be in good hands (via Tom Nelson):

Ditlev Engel, president and chief executive of the Danish wind-energy company Vestas, said anecdotal evidence about birds being caught in turbine blades and other environmental horror stories do not usually hold up under scrutiny.

"Do people think it's better all those birds are breathing CO2? I'm not a scientist, but I doubt it," said Engel, whose company is expanding its U.S. manufacturing and distribution operations. "Let's get the facts on the table and not the feelings. The fact is, these are not issues."

LOL - Nothing like a paragraph that simultaneously includes the phrase "Let's get the facts on the table" with the hypothesis that a couple hundred ppm increase in CO2 concentrations hurts birds.  By the way, from the same article, a lot of discussion of the environmental impact of renewables due to their out-sized use of land.  Clearly an issue for solar and wind, and possibly for others:

One of the biggest challenges renewable-energy projects pose is that they often take up much more land than conventional sources, such as coal-fired power plants. A team of scientists, several of whom work for the Nature Conservancy, has written a paper that will appear in the journal PLoS One showing that it can take 300 times as much land to produce a given amount of energy from soy biodiesel as from a nuclear power plant. Regardless of the climate policy the nation adopts, the paper predicts that by 2030, energy production will occupy an additional 79,537 square miles of land.

I am always amazed at the number of environmentalists that laud the Brazilian ethanol push, given the out-sized effect that industry has had in carving up the Amazon rain forest.  As a disclosure, I am a member of the Nature Conservancy, and wild land preservation is my environmental interest of choice, though I prefer to pursue it through private means (ie via private purchases of land for conservation purposes).  The Nature Conservancy used to spend most of its money for this purpose, though of late it has diverged, as so many environmental groups have, into lobbying government to force people to achieve its ends for them rather than to pursue these ends through non-coercive means.

Provisions That Made the Bailout "Better"

Here are some of the provisions in the bailout that converted "no" votes to "yes." Unbelievable.

Andrew Leonard goes digging in the Senate's bailout package and finds a bunch of "sweeteners" added to lure in votes.  Among them:

* Sec. 105. Energy credit for geothermal heat pump systems. * Sec. 111. Expansion and modification of advanced coal project investment credit. * Sec. 113. Temporary increase in coal excise tax; funding of Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. * Sec. 115. Tax credit for carbon dioxide sequestration. * Sec. 205. Credit for new qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicles. * Sec. 405. Increase and extension of Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund tax. * Sec. 309. Extension of economic development credit for American Samoa. * Sec. 317. Seven-year cost recovery period for motorsports racing track facility. * Sec. 501. $8,500 income threshold used to calculate refundable portion of child tax credit. * Sec. 503 Exemption from excise tax for certain wooden arrows designed for use by children.

are also tax credits for solar and wind power, and a very expensive
requirement that health insurance companies cover mental health the
same way they cover physical health.

When Government Tries to Pick Winners

Folks like Barack Obama have decided that wind power is the answer.  They haven't studied the numbers or really done much to investigate the technology, and god forbid that they have put any of their own money into it or run a company trying to make thoughtful investment decisions.  But he's just sure that such alternative energy technologies work and make sense because, uh, he wants them to.

But when government picks winners, disaster almost always follows.  Oh, sure, the programs themselves get a lot of positive attention in the press, and people are happy to line up to accept subsidies and tax rebates.  But the result is often this:  (ht: Tom Nelson)

According to the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the agency
that oversees the state's major alternative energy rebate programs, the
small wind initiative was canceled because the turbines it has funded
are producing far less energy than originally estimated.

An MTC-sponsored study released earlier this summer found that the
average energy production of 19 small turbines reviewed was only 27
percent of what the installers had projected. The actual production for
the 19 turbines, which received nearly $600,000 in public funding,
ranged between 2 and 59 percent of the estimates.

A $75,663 turbine at Falmouth Academy that received $47,500 in state
money, for example, has produced only 17 percent of the projected
energy in the year since its installation. Another, smaller device in
Bourne is producing only 15 percent of the originally estimated energy.

So the state government funds 2/3 of the project and the project still doesn't make sense

Mr. Storrs criticized the state for dropping the rebate program, which
over two years has covered upward of half the cost of several turbines
on Cape Cod and dozens of others throughout the state, saying, "It is
not what you would hope a progressive [state] like Massachusetts would
cancel. You would hope that they are supporting alternative sources of

Actually, he is correct.  Sinking hundreds of thousands of dollars into faulty technology for terrible returns based solely on the fact that a certain technology is somehow politically correct is exactly what I too would expect of a progressive state like Massachusetts.

The state board complains that the technology choices and siting decisions were wrong.  Well, who would have imagined that investors in certain projects would be lax in their engineering and due diligence when the government was paying 2/3 of the freight, and when the main reason for the projects was likely PR rather than real returns?

If the bit about PR and political correctness seems exaggerated to you, check this out:

During the hearing on the proposal two months ago Mr. Storrs told the
planning board that the project was meant in part to help educate the
public about wind energy. Town Planner F. Thomas Fudala said it would
be informative to see whether the roof-mounted ones actually work.
"Even if this fails, it will be useful information," he said.

Mr. Storrs responded, "I know that sounds weird, Tom, but you are absolutely right."

Wow, I bet this kind of investment decision-making really give the local taxpayers a big warm fuzzy feeling.  By the way, this article also includes an example of why Al Gore and others proposing 10-year crash programs to change out the entire US power infrastructure are impossibly unrealistic, even forgetting about the cost:

Mr. Storrs said he first ordered
the Swift brand turbines last year as part of a bulk order along with
the Christy's gas station in West Yarmouth.

But the planning board had already adopted its new turbine regulation,
which, in part on the advice on Ms. Amsler, had prohibited the
roof-mounted machines.

"The town was just trying to be responsible in terms of looking out for
its residents, trying to make sure these things are not going to pop up
everywhere if they aren't going to work," said Thomas Mayo, the town's
alternative energy specialist.

At Mr. Storrs request, however, the planning board then went back and
reconsidered its regulation. After a public hearing featuring testimony
from Ms. Amsler as well as from a representative of Community Wind
Power who argued that the Swift turbines work well and as advertised,
the planning board decided to change the bylaw and allow Mashpee
Commons to move forward with its project.

The Mashpee bylaw requires a return on investment plan, a maintenance
plan, as well as proof that the proposal meets several safety and
aesthetic prerequisites.

Town Meeting adopted the new bylaw in May, Mashpee Commons quickly
filed its application, and received a special permit in early June.
During the comment period for the special permit, the state program was

After receiving the special permit, Mr. Storrs said he applied for
Federal Aviation Administration approval, which is required for any
structure over three stories in town. More than two months later, he
said he is still awaiting that approval.

Mr. Mayo said the town's application for FAA approval of a site under
consideration for a large municipal turbine took six months to approve.

More on Wind Capacity

The other day I wrote to beware of rated capacity for wind and solar, because such plants tend to run way below their rated capacity on a 24-hour average.  MaxedOutMamma reads the wind report of the largest utility in Germany, which is as a country is among the largest adopters of wind power.  She finds this interesting bit:

wind power capacity rises, the lower availability of the wind farms
determines the reliability of the system as a whole to an ever
increasing extent. Consequently the greater reliability of traditional
power stations becomes increasingly eclipsed.

a result, the relative contribution of wind power to the guaranteed
capacity of our supply system up to the year 2020 will fall
continuously to around 4% (FIGURE 7). In concrete terms, this means
that in 2020, with a forecast wind power capacity of over 48,000MW
(Source: dena grid study), 2,000MW of traditional power production can
be replaced by these wind farms.

This is an even lower substitution factor than I mentioned previously, and is so because this report looks not just at the percent of time wind is blowing at full speed, but also at the peak load conventional power plants that must be kept running on standby due to the unreliability of wind.  At this 24:1 substitution ratio, folks like Al Gore and Boone Pickens will bankrupt us.  But of course, their investment portfolios, laden with alt-energy investments, will be paying off.