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When the wind blows too much

When the wind blows too much

I’m all in favor of wind energy.  If it works, do it.  But the notion that windmills will be anything more than a small aspect of electricity production is blowing smoke.

I previously highlighted the problem in Britain, where wind turbine owners are paid not to produce electricity, Our Future? Wind Farms Forced To Shut When Wind Blows.

Now it’s happening here, Wind farms in Pacific Northwest paid to not produce:

Wind farms in the Pacific Northwest — built with  government subsidies and maintained with tax credits for every megawatt produced  — are now getting paid to shut down as the federal agency charged with managing  the region’s electricity grid says there’s an oversupply of renewable power at  certain times of the year.

The problem arose during the late spring and early  summer last year. Rapid snow melt filled the Columbia River Basin. The water  rushed through the 31 dams run by the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal  agency based in Portland, Ore., allowing for peak hydropower generation. At the  very same time, the wind howled, leading to maximum wind power production.

Demand could not keep up with supply, so BPA shut  down the wind farms for nearly 200 hours over 38 days.

Related:  Taking from the windless to give to the windy


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Even in here in Texas, T. Boone Pickens abandoned his wind energy project after spending $80 million on TV commercials and $2 billion plus wind turbines (that he is trying to sell).

    theduchessofkitty in reply to Lambchop. | March 8, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    And those wind turbines are an eyesore. If you have been recently to the Corpus Christi area, you can see the fields of San Patricio County covered in those contraptions… that seldom work, despite the fact that there’s always a nice little wind coming from the Gulf.

    An eyesore, even for South TX.

I’m not sure I see this as a huge problem. Coal-fired and other electrical stations scale up and back to meet peak and off-peak demands. Shutting off part of the power production network during non-essential times makes sense.

Of course, some of the larger questions are 1) can the grid be easily cross-connected to other grids to share the excess power, and 2) why did somebody build so much excess capacity in this one grid?

But, solar, wind, geothermal, tides, ethanol and algae are not going to replace coal, oil, natural gas, nukes and hydro power in my lifetime and probably not for my kids either.

We need to get the government out of this nonsense. The DoE alternative fuel efforts have been running since 1979 or 1980 and they have yet to produce a viable alternative fuel.

    Uncle Samuel in reply to WarEagle82. | March 8, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Ah, but they have made some people very, very wealthy.

    And, have greatly enlarged dear leader’s war chest.

    Squires in reply to WarEagle82. | March 8, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    The entire point of technological development, from the first stone axes used to crack open bones and access the nutritionally rich marrow, to the towering rockets which promised us the possibility of colonizing other planets, is to free man from being at the mercy of the whims of nature and accident.

    For some people, that is an idea perhaps too liberating. They would prefer shortages, prefer rationing, prefer the threat of crisis hanging over the heads of the individual so that they can herd them into embracing a collective, and the leadership of a self-appointed elite to act as their enlightened shepherds.

    See also: Identity politics.

      Squires in reply to Squires. | March 8, 2012 at 1:19 pm

      Or, put it this way: If you want more control over a population, do you give them a thorium reactor, or a fickle grid of windmills and solar panels, which require someone to decide who does and does not get power when nature is not cooperating?

      Do you stay out of the way of those who develop and market personal transportation, or do you push collectivized transportation networks requiring passes, permissions, and the bending of the individual’s life to a train schedule determined by a faceless bureaucracy? If you desired the power to shape a population into some particular, regulated, utopian mold, would you have them riding motorcycles and large, powerful automobiles, or buses, trains, and bicycles?

any high wind means shut off too, these things have a very narrow range to work in.
cannot let blade tips go supersonic, bad stuff happens lOL

LukeHandCool | March 8, 2012 at 11:53 am

“At the very same time, the wind howled, leading to maximum wind power production.”

If Chevy made the turbines, they would be catching on fire and this green heat could be used to fire up coal plants to provide the electric energy for more Volts on the road.

If only Rube Goldberg were alive today and an engineer at Chevy.

    Midwest Rhino in reply to LukeHandCool. | March 8, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Apparently there are plenty of rubes around, firing things up. There are a few pics of burning turbines at this guy’s site.

      LukeHandCool in reply to Midwest Rhino. | March 8, 2012 at 12:52 pm

      Midwest Rhino, that is awesome. I don’t know if I should be happy or sad when I’m too far ahead of my time.

      LukeHandCool (who is quite Rube Goldbergian in the seemingly crazy steps he’ll go through, as a social phobic, to avoid running into his neighbors outside … many of these choreographed avoidance techniques are again, years ahead of their time).

“I’m all in favor of wind energy.”

I’m in favor of energy sources that are feasible. Wind is not. Not even close. If it was, it wouldn’t need massive subsidies to support it. Even after the subsidies, it is by far the most expensive energy on the market so there are government mandates requiring utilities to buy it (well, solar is far worse, but also irrelevent even compared to wind).

For perspective, nuclear costs the utilities that buy it about $28/KWH, coal and gas about $65, on shore wind $110, offshore wind >$300 when available (which is approximately never due to constant mechanical breakdowns and the cost to repair – offshore wind sits idle and broken). Note these are the costs to the customer (the utility), the cost for wind would be far higher if it weren’t for subsidies.

Wind, therefore, results in higher tax bills for everyone. It also results in higher electric bills for everyone. This also means that every product produced by a company that uses any electricity (ie. ALL products) are more expensive for everyone to buy.

Wind power is essentially a massive transfer of wealth from all taxpayers, all ratepayers and consumers of all products to the wealthy individuals that own the corporations building windmills.

According to the EPA’s bogus numbers, the average windmill is producing energy 30% of the time. The actual number is 8%. Either the wind is either not blowing, blowing too hard, the windmill isn’t connected to the grid (greenies HATE transmission lines), the windmill is broken (a VERY common problem) or it is deliberately disconnected from the grid (pay to not produce).

But yet, they’re still putting them up. The subsidies are the reason. Between federal and state subsidies, in many states you can make >$500k per year per windmill WITHOUT PRODUCING ANY ENERGY AT ALL. In many states, mandates are resulting in utilities putting up windmills for the sole purpose of satisfying the mandate.

MaggotAtBroadAndWall | March 8, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Heritage put together this chart, based on data from the Congressional Budget office, about energy subsidies.

On a per kilo-watt hour basis, wind energy gets an ubelievable 1000 times more in subsidies than oil companies.

Just remember that as President Obama demonizes oil companies to justify his fantasy that “the world should run on renewable energy” during his re-election campaign.

Also, see this. 1200 birds, some protected under federal law, are killed by wind energy DAILY. No federal government prosecutions. However, there have been hundreds of prosecutions of oil, gas, and electric companies that have accidnetly killed birds in their operations.

I wonder if there’s a double standard be applied to pursue his ideological drive, green energy, fantasy?

LukeHandCool | March 8, 2012 at 12:19 pm

“Also, see this. 1200 birds, some protected under federal law, are killed by wind energy DAILY.”

Maggot, not only do we get clean energy, we also make air travel safer, as birds being sucked into jet engines is a leading cause of aviation disasters.

We kill two birds with one turbine. Oops.

    MaggotAtBroadAndWall in reply to LukeHandCool. | March 8, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    LukeHandCool, who sees the glass as half full when I wonder why the Obama administration has not outlawed large glasses to conserve resources.

    Aarradin in reply to LukeHandCool. | March 8, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    I saw some D’s try to discount this once by comparing it to the number of birds killed annually by house cats.

    I don’t know of any cats capable of taking down condors, bald eagles or other large birds that are endangered though. Windmills, on the other hand, create wind currents that these large birds literally fly circles in. Around and around the windmill and often, eventually, they get hit by a blade of the windmill.

As it turns out, the utimate villans in the wind power game are the electric companies across America who are deliberately rent-seeking, using special government rate-setting rules and direct government subsidies to walk around the stricter income rules that apply to utility monopolies.

There was essentially no need to supplement the power generated by 31 Dams on the Columbia River, but Bonneville Power encouraged the building of some huge wind farms “in the neighborhood,” which then got attached to the power grid. Warren Meyer at Coyote Blog published this horror story from 2009:

In the space of one hour last month, electricity generated at wind farms in the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge shot up by 1,000 megawatts – enough to power some 680,000 homes.

Less than an hour later, it plummeted almost as much.

Sitting in front of 10 computer screens in a fifth-floor room of the federal Bonneville Power Administration headquarters in Portland, Kim Randolph had to react quickly.

Working from a keyboard, she diverted millions of gallons of water away from massive turbines spinning in Columbia River dams and sent it around the dams.

The 17-year veteran power operations specialist remembers how fast she needed to work as a wind storm caused generation to peak and fall three times over eight hours.

“You have to get it in hand and get it in hand very quickly,” she said.

Getting it in hand is a balancing act. It means balancing the power generated by 31 dams, a nuclear power plant and now wind farms in order to send a stable flow of power into the BPA’s 15,238-mile grid across the Pacific Northwest.

It also means balancing the grid’s needs against those of fish and commercial river traffic on the Columbia River.

Getting power from wind, which can vary greatly, is complicating that balancing act.

So controlling the grid is a manual operation that must be done even if diverting water around the dams is harmful to salmon and other fish in the Columbia River. I wonder where the EPA was on this one?

Ironically, the Pacific Northwest is better off than some areas where old-fashioned coal and gas-fired power plants spin turbines all day long – but cannot be turned off completely because wind turbines require the wind to blow.

Out here in Indiana, the 350 foot high wind machines that are decorating our farmland soon will become the designated State Tree.

    n.n in reply to gad-fly. | March 8, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    Our “green” future is gray? Perhaps we can paint them green.

    What is the effective power density of these windmills?

    This reminds me of the old women who lived in a shoe.

BPA has filed a lawsuit against Harry Reid claiming he has violated his contract. According to BPA Reid agreed to visit their wind farms and conduct long speeches on cowboy poetry as an essential part of our culture. Reid has appeared only once and his speech produced such a breeze several of the wind turbines were sent spinning into space, knocking out a satellite from Light Squared. Reid’s office -for once – had no comment.

In most parts of the nation, the opposite is true.

Rather than a glut of power, you have to plan for back-up generation when the wind is low.

Which is kinda stooooopid, really. We have LOTS of natural gas, which is what we tend to burn in inexpensive, market-priced, very low-pollution turbine generation plants.

Wind power should be ONLY a market alternative, which means it would not be used unless it is the most economical generation method in a competitive venue. NO SUBSIDIES.

    Aarradin in reply to Ragspierre. | March 8, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    They do the same in Washington. The backup is usually natural gas, because the turbines can be brought online quickly (nuclear and coal are usually used for base load).

    For every commercial windmill, somewhere there are gas powered backups. Of course, the ‘backup’ is in operation far more than the windmill.

    In fact, whenever you hear “green energy” what that actually means in practice is that we’re now using a LOT more natural gas to generate electricity than we used to. Gas prices have come down to be roughly equivalent of coal and the EPA is shutting down coal fired plants as fast as they can. Environmentalists are gradually getting dams destroyed, and no new ones are being built. Nuclear, of course, hasn’t changed since 3-mile island. Wind is still <1% production and solar is <1% of what wind is.

      Ragspierre in reply to Aarradin. | March 8, 2012 at 1:29 pm

      Here’s an interesting little “crony coincidence”, too.

      GE makes…

      wind turbines

      big gas turbines

      generators driven by gas turbines

      Makes you wanna say…Hmmmm….

        Aarradin in reply to Ragspierre. | March 8, 2012 at 3:45 pm

        The reason GE has zero tax liability is largely because of the federal tax credits for their wind energy business.

        As the CFO of Enron once said, “The Green in Green Energy is dollars”.

Nothing like paying for a free renewable resource! I’m sure somebody somewhere needed that money to power their own gristmill.

Highly topical and a chance to inject some market sanity…

Cowboy Curtis | March 8, 2012 at 1:16 pm

I drove across the Staked Plains a couple of summers back, from Oklahoma to Santa Fe, down the Rio Grand and then back across to the Edwards Plateau. There were long stretches of them along the interstate, and hardly a one was moving. And ugly as the blackest sin in the middle of country that’s hardly been touched since the day God made it. Talk about destroying the natural view. Which, of course, in any other circumstance, the eco-nuts would oppose with fantastic rage.

I guess despoiling nature is always bad, except for when it isn’t. I’m glad we’ve got a bunch of hyper-urban liberals to set us straight on which is which.

The primary reason Obama and allies won’t approve closing Chicago Sanitary Canal to Great Lakes, in effort to stop invasive species “jumping carp” is that Obama bundler CEO of Commonwealth Edison Frank Clark owns four power plants on the carp canal.
The CommEd plants provide 7% of power from carp canal hydro.

Hey Windy City, why not replace 7% hydro-power with twirly turbines and save the Great Lakes.
Closing the carp canal would also benefit Warren Buffet new rail investments.
Clark/Buffet Vs Obama Environmental Disaster

Henry Hawkins | March 8, 2012 at 3:33 pm

One time me and my buddies got drunk and hit some shrooms and got naked and duct-taped ourselves to the blades of one of those big ol’ wind turbines just before Hurricane Floyd hit the NC coast and the local SWAT unit got called out on us and we could see them staging below us I mean at least we could when that particular blade was passing the ground and we got right dizzy and I don’t remember much of what happened after that but I wish we’d thought to get video and I’m pretty sure I lived.

Maybe the next time there is an “oversupply” they can ask the public to pitch in — do their share — by turning on more lights and appliances.

Note the local community did not want these turbines and sued to block having them put in their back yard. The Dem governor and elitist Seattle mowed them down and put these eyesores in the rural community anyway.