Wind Energy Bumps Into Power Grid’s Limits

Wind Energy Bumps Into Power Grid’s Limits

When the builders of the Maple Ridge Wind farm spent $320 million to put nearly 200 wind turbines in upstate New York, the idea was to get paid for producing electricity. But at times, regional electric lines have been so congested that Maple Ridge has been forced to shut down even with a brisk wind blowing.

That is a symptom of a broad national problem. Expansive dreams about renewable energy, like Al Gore’s hope of replacing all fossil fuels in a decade, are bumping up against the reality of a power grid that cannot handle the new demands. The dirty secret of clean energy is that while generating it is getting easier, moving it to market is not. The grid today, according to experts, is a system conceived 100 years ago to let utilities prop each other up, reducing blackouts and sharing power in small regions. It resembles a network of streets, avenues and country roads.

While the United States today gets barely 1 percent of its electricity from wind turbines, many experts are starting to think that figure could hit 20 percent.
Achieving that would require moving large amounts of power over long distances, from the windy, lightly populated plains in the middle of the country to the coasts where many people live. Builders are also contemplating immense solar-power stations in the nation’s deserts that would pose the same transmission problems.
The grid’s limitations are putting a damper on such projects already. Gabriel Alonso, chief development officer of Horizon Wind Energy, the company that operates Maple Ridge, said that in parts of Wyoming, a turbine could make 50 percent more electricity than the identical model built in New York or Texas.
“The windiest sites have not been built, because there is no way to move that electricity from there to the load centers,” he said.

Funny how none of the politicians pushing wind energy as a panacea have mentioned this problem.

Here’s the energy problem
Prof Rick Smalley - Our Energy Challenge

question: How many nuclear power plants would it take to equal the energy equivolent of oil the US currently imports?

answer: 750 nukes.
Of the 439 plants world wide the US has 104

Not to mention practical limits.

The Pickens plan - replace gas with wind.

One problem - gas is used in peaking stations where and when it is needed.

Wind is available when and where it is darn good and ready.

If only these people were honest about the real cost of the “alternative” plans. If they were bona fide alternatives, the government wouldn’t have to bribe people into investing in the technology.

I have yet to see an honestly presented comprehensive plan. Oil will never be totally replaced because it is used for so many things besides energy production, but those advocating using alternate energy sources never mention this.

We have an 80 year old man-make lake here that was orginally built to provide electricity. It is now surrounded by expensive homes and has been relegated to providing peak power so as to minimize fluctuations in the water level. After all, we can’t let the “haves” do without their recreational water so the rest of us can have clean and inexpensive electricity, can we? Same thing with the proposed wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod. It would spoil somebody’s view of the ocean.

We currently have on the drawing boards a billion $ coal plant and two new reactors at an existing nuclear plant. Both are on indefinite hold because of "environmental concerns."
When we start having brownouts and blackouts because of a lack of generating capacity, does anyone really think that the people who are blocking the construction of these plants will stand up and take the blame for causing them?

The NIMBY mentality will block the production of power where it is most needed and will, in my opinion, keep us forever enslaved to those who don’t share that attitude. Until this obstacle is overcome, all the talk of energy independence is just more hot air which can’t be utilized for any worthwhile purpose.

this is the case in TX, obviously a place where wind and solor energy has great potential, the delivery system has not kept pace with the construction of wind and solar systems. past issues of Texas Public Power, the magazine of our co-ops, detail problems with this form of energy generation, and the reasons behind the problem. Everybody thinks they can build a windmill on their property and their own problem is solved. not so.

If Pickens and others think wind power is the answer, let them do five things:

  1. Build them with their own darned money … with no government subsidies … same as when someone builds a coal, oil, or natural gas electric generating facility. [One of the selling points for solar and wind is that the government will pay you to install them.] If T. Boone Pickens thinks it’s so hot, let him pay for it himself. He may have made his original money in the oil bidness, but he made a really large chunk of it by “playing” with hostile takeovers and “greenmail”. Let him take his hand out of this taxpayer’s pocket.

  2. Build the necessary storage for when the wind isn’t blowing to avoid wasting all that “free fuel”. The other units can be “throttled” up or down as needed.

  3. Build the necessary spinning reserve for when the wind suddenly stops. Sudden surges can wreck the distribution system and customer equipment.

  4. Suffer the civil and criminal penalties when birds are killed by the spinning blades. No more free rides.

  5. Meet strict noise regulations.

So far no one has been able to do all that successfully.

Folks have indulged these wind fans by looking the other way, opening the taxpayers pockets and holding their noses.

I have been in the middle of cornfields surrounded by literally dozens of these exact windmills and they hardly make any noise at all. The blades don’t spin that fast. This is the kind I’m talking about from a picture I took in August.
In my humble opinion, I hear too many “we can’t we can’t” talk when an idea is advanced. We can’t drill in Alaska, it’s a wildlife. We can’t have windmills, the grid is weak and they make noise. No solar panels on cars, it’s not good enough. We can come up with a list of problems a mile long with our current energy situation, and yet run hands in the air if a solution is advanced because there might be bugs in the plan?

What I don’t understand is why the power grid in the US is so antiquated. Most experts agree that it is out of date and over-stressed. Its why blackouts have periodically occurred in the the NE part of the US on hot summer days. So why don’t we get a better power grid? Most electric utilities are monopolies for their area, so raising funds shouldn’t be a problem. Why is the US hamstrung by its inadequate electric grid?

That is a fair point. The forgotten story from 2001 was the rolling blackouts of the west coast.

Joy, the problem is there are no good solutions to replacing what oil, natural gas, and coal does. Oil appears to be peaking globally, production has been flat for four years (see 17a,b, & c Oil production peaked in the US in 1970. However, only about 3% of oil is used to generate electricity in the US. Natural gas peaked in North America around 2002 and has been in what’s called an undulating plateau. The US gets 12% of its gas consumption from Canada but that 12% is 50% - half - of Canada’s production. How long can that relationship go on? If you look at all the unconvetional gas plays around the US it’s estimated that they will supply 10% US gas demand as reported by Unconventional gas plays are going to have to do a lot better than 10% to keep pace with US demand. For example, John Hofmeister, pres, Shell, stated to the Senate in April that the US economy uses 10,000 gallons of oil every second, it uses 20 railcars of coal evey minute, and it uses 60 billion cubic feet of natrual gas every day. What is ever going to replace that much energy? As Kunstler said, and I think he’s right, no amount of renewables will The Long Emergency and The End of Suburbia .

In the above lecture, Prof Rick Smalley - Our Energy Challenge, Rick commented that wind might supply the world with 1 to 2 terrawatt but according to him the world will need on the order of 10 terrawatts by 2050 or the 21st will not be a prosperous. As he put it: if he could take his republican right hand, pro-growth pro-energy, and flip a switch that’d turn on a giggawatt of power (the same as a typical nuclear power plant) he’d have to flip that switch every day for 27 years to meet the energy damands by 2050. We are talking on the order of 10,000 nuclear power plants. According to Prof Daviid Goodstein , though, that many nukes using light-water reactors would us up the know uranium supply with in two decades.

As oil goes into depletion that energy supply will have to be made up from some other source. Boone Pickens believes it will come from natural gas. Time will tell if he’s right. Others want it to come from hydrogen or batteries. These last two require an increased electrical generation and a beefed up power grid.

In Texas ERCOT has planes for rolling blackouts due to the population increase and the inabilitiy of the grid to keep pace. I think they’re estimating blakouts for the summer of 2009 forward.

And Al, I know you chose not to believe anything I tell you…can’t help that cuz it’s your choice to make…but T Boone Pickens is not get one dime from you or the government to build his wind farm. The cost of construction is all on the him and his investors. The incentive the government gives wind farm construction is a 1.9 cent exemption per kilowatt produced and an excellerated depreciation on equipment. IOW a $20/megawatt of production isn’t subject to an income tax. If you believe the government is paying a protion of the cost to build wind farms then pull up the federal website that proves it.

I believed this too and it may technically be true for the wind farm, but I did read this about his supposed partnership with Nancy Pelosi and a California Proposition which would spend public bond money for the promotion of natural gas, a major proponent of the Pickens Plan:

Generally though, I support Pickens at this point and IMHO believe it is private enterprise that will lead the way to energy independence, not governement subsidy.

Unfortunately, I believe energy independence will come about but it will be for a very unpleasant reason. Imports will stop. What happens when all developed and developing countries become net energy importers? With the North Sea England was a net energy exporter. Today because the North Sea’s production is in decline England is now a net enerty importer. Mexico is close to becoming a net energy import. Mexico has been a major supplier of oil to Gulf Coast refineries.

Everyone will have to learn to live with a whole lot less.
W.D. Lyle Jr., Ph.D. and L. Scott Allen, Ph.D.
Coauthored “A Very Unpleasant Truth…Peak Oil Production and its Global Consequences”

These two guys are not writers by profession. If you search amazon you’ll see there are no other books written by them. So who are they? Both are retired from Mobil Oil in the exploration department. One worked for 50 years in the oilfield and the other worked 30 years for Mobil. Here’s an interview they gave about the book and how they came about writing it.

Are you wondering what oil, and natural gas, has to do with Wind Energy? You can’t simply compartmentalize one source of energy from another. Oil imports will deplete. Natural gas production will too although the capacity to import natural gas is greater than oil, it’s more costly then oil since it has to chilled and liquified…and no city wants a natural gas undloading terminal in their port. Transportation will have to switch to something else as oil supply falls short. If, for example, you take NG away from electric production to run transportation then produced electricity has to be generated from something else if you want to maintain the same capacity of output.

I believe the truth is there are no competitive economic solutions to replace the energy from oil. Price increases will fix that. For example, there is no competitive economic solution for my electricity supply except to buy it from my local utility. If the utility costs doubles solar panels start looking good. If it triples I will be a moron not to have them. Of course the demand will go down when economic alternatives come on line.

The “forecast” for 2050. Ever read The Population Bomb?

If the government isn’t subsidizing wind farms, why does the industry crash every time they run out? But if you want a link on wind subsidies how about this

If T. Boone Pickens doesn’t need any gummint money for his windmills, then why is he spending so many millions of dollars on prime time radio commercials???


Why doesn’t he just get busy and get to work and quietly start punching in those windmills as fast as he can … and thus coin more money.

[Wonders: would his huge profits qualify him for a windfall profits tax???]

Don’t be such a cynic, Al. Maybe he actually cares about his country.

All you got to do, Al. Is pull up a federal link that proves federal money is being used to fund wind farms. Something like this one, Al.

Quoting your site: with the exception of Mass. state’s green credit, whatever that is, your site said exactly what I said. So to quote it: If, as planned, the wind plant nears completion in 2008, Cape Wind would be looking forward to receiving three subsidies at different stages over the 25-year life of the project: federal production tax credits, Massachusetts “green” credits, and a **tax break through the accelerated depreciation **feature of the federal tax code.

That’s all they get from the federal government. There is no money appropriated (coming from tax payers) to the building of wind farms coming from the federal government. Even oilfields get production allowance tax credits. Farmers get ag exemption tax credits!

On the population bomb, did you watch the Smalley video? He addresses population. The UN projections are that population will peak at about 10 billion IIRC.

And price increases will not fix the oil problem. The problem isn’t $'s cuz the Federal Reserve can print all it needs. The problem is net energy return coming after energy input. The dollar’s value is based upon the US’s GDP capacity to continually service its debt. The US depends upon the ability to grow the economy in order to service its debt obligation. IOW if we can’t grow net energy supply at a rate necessary to maintain the needed GDP growth then the US will not be able to service its debt obligations.

Notice the difference between these to "dollars."
At the top of the bill it reads back by silver. The bottom bill is a Federal Reserve Note. The top bill’s worth is weighted in silver and the bottom one is weighted in debt, T bills to be exact.
It works like this (actually chapters 6-12):

In the 1970’s we got a glimps of what happens when the energy supply could not service the GDP. The Oil Embargo created stagflation, a stagnate GDP with rising costs. And as Rick Smalley said, then enabling technology to replace oil does not exist. Histroians may one day look back on this society and see things like wind trubines as a desperate attempt to prevent an economic collapse.

Because you reach a point in size of deminishing returns do to up keep maintence costs. The US highway system is no different. Here’s a thought experiment: the next time you go for a drive try to imagine all the tar that had to be pump out of a well somewhere in the world and that went into build roadway you’re driving on. Then think about all 3 million miles of it in the US…then the rest of the world. All those roads have to be periodically reserfaced as they become aged.

As of October 2004 there are 594,470 highway bridges in the United States. This includes all bridges of 20 foot or greater length that carry roadways open to the public. It does not include railroad bridges. Now, there’s an overwhelming number!

Source: November 2004 issue of Better Roads. They have been reporting these numbers, broken down by state, annually since 1979.

Gotta be a little bit careful with statistics and data lest one become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the numbers.

Depending on whose numbers you use, there are 251,000,000 passenger cars in the United States. And about 10,000,000 trucks and around 7,000,000 motorcycles. [2006 data]

About 300,000 airplanes [FAA 2002]

They burn a LOT of fuel … but so far we have been able to supply them.

How can that be since the numbers are so overwhelming?

And yet, we have been supplying them with gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. None have been parked for the lack of fuel.

Supposedly there are around 3500 oil tanker ships in the world carrying petroleum and refined product.

And there are already around 3,000,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines in the U.S.

Not a problem.

The industry seems to be able to cope with producing and transporting oil and other related substances.

New discoveries constantly. Pennsylvania is STILL producing oil. AND they’ve found natural gas in … (gasp) … New York State … [how can that be?].

Not really necessary for those of us here at CAF to worry about where all the oil infrastructure is going to come from … we’re not going to have to invent it from scratch today and tomorrow. The oil and gas industry have been working on it for a century.

Oil production in Pennsylvania has increased. Shocking!

One of the issues that is needed to be considered is the role of the various states’ Public Utilities Commissions.

Before an energy company can get a rate increase for its retail customers, it must apply to each state public utility commission.

There are hearings and the utilities must defend their proposals for various maintenance and repairs.

And often the public utility commissions refuse to approve certain specific proposed activities.

If a utility says it needs a ten cent increase per unit based on past and proposed expenditures, and if the public utility commission only approves eight cents, then the utility has to cut. One of the things that gets cut is tree trimming. Utilities that have overhead power lines (versus underground power lines) often then suffer in storms or strong winds when the trees take out (or even just touch) power lines.

There are other issues as well. For example, utilities have always been plagued with fires in their transformers … they reduce the voltage from the transmission line voltage … often locally around 27,000 volts down to your house voltage … usually 120 or thereabouts … 110 … sometimes 220. It might be 120/208.

The transmission voltages differ depending on various circumstances … but if you look at the power poles in your neighborhood, you will find a transformer within a couple of hundred feet of your house. Sometimes, transformers are undergound or in a special building or in a basement.

Transformers heat up and to dissipate the heat, they use a liquid coolant.

To eliminate transformer fires, General Electric came up with a chemical that is mixed with the liquid coolant.

Then environmentalists came up with the accusation that the chemical causes cancer and utilities had to remove the chemical.

And transformer fires returned. And that introduced another measure of unreliability to the electrical grid.

It’s another one of those extremely complex industries that has been around for a hundred years and that requires specialized knowledge.

When a public utility commission orders a utility to cut expenses, the retail user (you and me) suffers.

The chemical used in the transformers was PCB.

A friend of mine had to investigate a PCB spill and went to the GE plant to get some background info and found the workers there using it to wash up after work. They said there was nothing wrong with it.

The whole energy industry is exceptionally complicated and inter-related. And subject to impacts from political entities such as state public utility commissions and PIRG’s with specific interests.

It’s not really a monopoly.

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