The Promise of Wind Power
Has there ever been such a darn good anti-windmill, implicitly pro-fossil fuel article as the recent one in the Voice? All without bemoaning a single bat, bird, tree or view. And hardly a nimby in sight! (â€œFalse Promises of Wind Power,â€ Jan. 2008.) I can now appreciate much more the fluctuating solar & wind power impact on the existing power generation grid and system. Itâ€™s a fine analysis it seems to me, as far as it goes, but the status quo is accepted as a given.
The word â€œchangeâ€ has been much in the air lately (along with the increased CO2) and somewhat paradoxically, if the fossil fuel power companies stay unchanged, there will be more â€œclimate change.â€ Engineers love problems and almost never feel one is unsolvable. The technical expertise that developed the grid and the systems that eat mountains to feed power stations were all designed by engineers, and Iâ€™m sure engineers could happily redesign regional grids and power stations to smooth out the peaks and valleys of fluctuating electrical power, instead of the â€œcoal fieldsâ€ themselves as is now happening.
Transitionally, as solar and wind become significant factors, older, big coal fired sources might be retired and new more efficient regional â€œmake upâ€ plants designed and built. Peak power times might be devoted to new related industries capable of part-time Operations. These might include geothermal energy site preparation; preheating conventional power plant boiler water; pumping hydroelectric outflow water back up to the reservoir, storing some of that energy for gradual release as needed,
Rethinking our energy policy and fixing our infrastructure for the looming crisis will be a painful, long and costly job, maybe even more expensive just to get started, than the destructive Iraq War. Maybe even more painful. But if we could be talked into a ghastly and unnecessary war, perhaps with our new awareness and our new politicians and newly invigorated environmental organization we will be able to talk ourselves into a necessary constructive action. Someday we can take the pesky towers down & remediate the ridges, but putting back the mountains wonâ€™t be so easy, and itâ€™s good to remember that we want to save the biosphere and not just the skyline.
Bob J. Baker
More on the promises of wind power
This letter has three aims: First is to remonstrate with you for publishing a tendentious opinion piece masquerading as an article on wind energy. Second is to rebut both the general conclusions and misleading support â€œdataâ€ in that piece. Third is to discuss what steps and stance WVHC might take on the issue of wind turbine placement in the highlands.
The author, Arthur Hooten, is identified simply as a member of the Friends of Beautiful Pendleton County and not as a member of WVHC. One might reasonably assume that FBPC is a group formed to oppose wind farms in Pendleton – fair enough. Except the piece nowhere addresses the issue of placing wind farms in Pendleton County, but rather launches a hamfisted economic and political attack on what he calls â€œBig Windâ€.
The headline assigned to articles in a news organ is normally under the purview of the editorial staff; so I must assume that in using the headline. The False Promises of Wind Power, you not only think it proper to publish such a piece as news, but that you have checked its â€œfactsâ€ and agree with its thesis. Last I checked WVHC had no organizational position on wind power generally; so, youâ€™re The Way The Voice Works disclaimer notwithstanding, by failing to label the Hooten â€œstoryâ€ as pure opinion – facts not checked – you de-value the Voice as the legitimate organ of the Conservancy.
My distinct impression from reading the voice and speaking with other WVHC members is that many of us are conflicted about the issue of wind farms in the highlands. On the one hand we donâ€™t want the landscape industrialized with rank on rank of wind turbines, while on the other we support the need to eliminate – or at least severely limit – mining and burning of coal to protect both the West Virginia environment and the earth climate.
As for Hootenâ€™s allegations – the real big wind – delivered in sententious all-knowing tones, letâ€™s begin with the technology of wind power which he terms new and unproven. Simply put it is neither new nor unproven. On a smaller scale it has been around for several centuries all over the world. At the present industrial scale itâ€™s about 30 years old and, at an average generation cost of around five cents per kilowatt-hour, is economically competitive with virtually all new power generation, regardless of fuel type or motive force.
Hooten states that the variability of wind makes wind generation â€œnot at all helpful to the gridâ€. Well the grids in Denmark, Germany and Spain donâ€™t seem to agree. Wind energy supplies between five and 20 percent of the electricity in those countries. Further I am unaware of any objection to wind generation by the PJM Inter-connection, our own grid -and a huge one too.
Wind may be variable, but it is not unpredictable. Hooten must not pay attention to weather reports: they all predict average wind velocity over at least a 24-hour period and seem pretty accurate. Since PJM adjustments to load are done on almost a minute-by-minute basis, current weather predictions are quite sufficient to accommodate wind variability over a whole grid.
Hootenâ€™s comments on capacity factors of wind turbines are at best misinformed or even cynically misleading. He cites a German utility study of turbines that â€œrevealed that more than half the time they produced less than 11% of their nameplate capacityâ€. To begin with these are pretty vague figures: in my experience the Germans are given to much more precise numbers than Hooten cites. Capacity Factor is the ratio of actual production to maximum potential production, expressed as a percentage, over some time period -usually as year. While capacity factors vary among sites, a typical one would be 25 percent.
Hooten seems to be implying that turbine capacity factors are unacceptably low. Well if one assumes that â€œmore than half the timeâ€ is 55 percent and â€œless than 11 percentâ€ is 10 percent, then doing the math yields a capacity factor of about 50%! Around here that would be a phenomenal – even absurdly high – number, but in the North Sea, where an increasing number of really big five megawatt turbines are being installed, it could be actual.
As for subsidies, it is true that the Federal government subsidizes wind power, albeit to a small fraction of the extent to which it has long subsidized coal, nuclear and oil – over which it currently is conducting a trillion dollar war in the Middle East. Probably â€œbig windâ€ doesnâ€™t really need the Federal subsidy to make a profit, since itâ€™s the cheapest source you can build today. What Hooten doesnâ€™t tell us is that the biggest â€œsubsidyâ€ comes not from taxpayers, but rather from ratepayers who voluntarily line up to pay a one to two cent per kwh premium for wind generated power. We must thank Hooten for pointing out that electrons in a power line are fungible, thatâ€™s itâ€™s a wise watt than knows how it was generated. So long as the utilities donâ€™t sell more wind generated electricity than goes into the grid, what difference does it make where the electrons originated?
So what are the alleged false promises? Wind turbines provide the cheapest new source of electric power. They contribute virtually no CO2 or any other pollutant. They displace polluting fossil fuels in the generation mix. Up to a point we are nowhere near, they donâ€™t interfere with grid operation or require additional spinning reserve. Theyâ€™re a great investment. They donâ€™t claim to look pretty, although some of us liken them to Brancusi sculptures.
It is interesting that Hooten, David Buhrman and others choose to attack the entire wind power technology rather than the particular projects which galvanized them into action in the first place. By painting wind power as an evil per se they divert attention away from the obvious fact that they are engaging in the age-old not in my backyard phenomenon.
Americans tend to feel very entitled: to have what they want and not have what they donâ€™t want. What is presented as factual analysis is in reality a selfish and hypocritical diatribe adduced in the service of moving burdens elsewhere.
That said, there are some real issues that concern the mission of WVHC, the major one being esthetic. There are landscapes that none of us want to see festooned with wind turbines. It is very disturbing that the Forest Service, with little debate, seems to be opening its lands to wind farms. What are our options?
One would be to follow Hootenâ€™s lead and develop a position opposing virtually all wind power generation. I have major objections to this option:
- It would play into the hands of Big Coal – way, way bigger than â€œBig Windâ€ -especially in West Virginia. By refusing to accommodate that which could displace coal we weaken our opposition to the destruction caused by coal mining.
- We risk politically marginalizing WVHC by being the perenial losing party in wind farm siting disputes.
- We create a serious rift among the membership, many of whom believe that the threats of climate change trump – to some degree – any entitlement to a completely turbine-free landscape.
Another option would be to remain on the sideline and let the advocates and opponents battle it out in the PSC and the courts. I would find such an option unacceptable, since preservation of wild, undisturbed landscapes lies at the very core of our mission. We must participate!
That brings me to option 3: first create an internal capacity to address issues of site location, size and treatment. Next work to convene sympathetic groups to develop common positions on these issues. Finally work with all stakeholders such as the wind industry, PSC and tourism groups to gain protection we deem essential for the wild and wonderful places in our highlands.
Fires in the backcountry
My name is Matt Kearns. Currently I live in New London, CT with the US Coast Guard, but I am originally from Cross Lanes, WV. One of my favorite things to do when I go home on my limited leave time is to hike in the Mon. Iâ€™ve had some fantastic trips over the past few years and I always look forward to the next occasion that will bring me home and help me reconnect with my native lands. I would just like to make a quick comment on something that frequently upsets me whenever I do hike in the Mon, in the hope that more attention may be drawn to this matter and more individuals might reconsider their backcountry practices.
For me personally, there is one thing (besides trash) that can really detract from a wilderness experience – fires. Seeing fire rings and scorched earth in campsites along streams and trails is tremendously unsightly. Fire building is contrary to the principles of Leave No Trace backcountry etiquette, and isnâ€™t recommended on trailhead signs. I was very surprised to read trip reports posted in the VOICE blogs that frequently mentioned the use of fires, given that many of thereaders dedicate so much time, resources, and energy to preserving
West Virginiaâ€™s wild places. I will not belabor the issue, and I understand that we are free to enjoy our wilderness experience in any way that we like. I just ask that we always think about our actions in the backcountry and determine if they truly align with the practices of Leave No Trace and the design behind wilderness areas â€“ limiting manâ€™s impact in our most natural and special environments.
I love nothing more than spending my time at home in the forests of West Virginia and I enjoy knowing that my presence will be forgotten by the land soon after my departure. I hope that we will all continue to promote responsible use of our backcountry, preserving the natural integrity of our most favorite places so that we may share them with our children.
New London, CT
Mountaintop removal commercials bug reader
I canâ€™t watch another one of these stupid Walker Machinery bug commercials without â€œgoing Elvisâ€ and shooting my TV. Do they really think they can convince the audience that weâ€™re fighting to end mountaintop removal mining just for the sake of Mr.Bugâ€™s habitat? What am I saying? Of course they do. Thatâ€™s why theyâ€™re running the ads. They do think weâ€™re that stupid.
I want to let everyone know that the other habitat that weâ€™re fighting for is our habitat. You know, those of us who live with a valley fill in our backyard, or a slurry impoundment hovering above our communities, homes and schools, or have lost our well water because of blasting. Thatâ€™s whose habitat weâ€™re trying to save!
Their attempt to trivialize our fight to save our homes is pathetic. So go ahead and spend that money on these stupid commercials. We know youâ€™ve got it to spend. But most West Virginians are not that stupid.