Too Much Wind a Bad Thing?

Trying to find a compromise when it comes to wind power has proven difficult. Few can argue with the fact that wind turbines and the power they generate are a good thing, diversifying our energy mix. The point of contention has been between those who believe wind and other renewable can replace coal (and other traditional sources) and those who are not "blown away" by the wind or "overheated" by solar’s potential.

Now there is a new argument, courtesy of a recent study, that the unpredictable nature of wind is causing an actual increase in carbon dioxide emissions. I’ll let the expert, James Taylor of the Heartland Institute, explain. The bottom line, as Taylor points out, is that Washington just might need to slow down on the emission regulations and the renewable mandates.

Government policies designed to fight global warming by encouraging, subsidizing, or mandating renewable power may be making global warming worse.

In a published paper, electrical engineer Kent Hawkins shows when wind power surpasses 5 percent of power generated, the frequent ramping up and ramping down of other power sources to compensate for wind’s unpredictable variability causes such inefficiency in power generation that overall carbon dioxide emissions rise.

For a good analogy, consider this: A driver who keeps his or her speed at a consistent 60 miles per hour will get better gas mileage than one who frequently accelerates and decelerates between 45 and 75 miles per hour. The inefficiency of frequently ramping up and ramping down vehicle speed is substantial enough that the vehicle driving at variable speeds will burn up more gasoline than many vehicles with a lower fuel economy rating.

The same appears to hold true for power generation. Power plants in the Netherlands, Colorado, and Texas switched some of their generation from coal and natural gas to wind power. Because wind speeds are variable and unpredictable, plant operators were forced frequently to vary the ordinarily steady, constant generation of baseload power to back up variable wind power. Whereas a small amount of wind power generation helped reduce carbon dioxide emissions, those emissions began surpassing prior levels once wind power exceeded 3 percent of the power mix.

If the proponents of federal legislation to force reduction of carbon dioxide emissions are sincerely concerned more about alleged global warming than the accumulation of government power to hand out money and favors to preferred industries and contractors, these real-world carbon dioxide facts should put an immediate freeze on renewable power subsidies, renewable power mandates, and cap-and-tax global warming plans. How Congress responds to these new findings will tell us much about the true motivation behind proposed global warming legislation.

In the lawmaking process, as in life itself, rushing to enact "solutions" to speculative problems before the facts are known usually produces more harm than good. Keeping this axiom in mind, Congress need not rush to enact carbon dioxide restrictions on the American economy. After all, total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are falling, not rising, and they have been declining for the past decade. To the extent global emissions are rising, the fault does not lie with the United States. 

Rogers Staying in Energy Game for Next Five Years

Duke Energy’s Jim Rogers has spent 20-plus years as a CEO in the energy industry (starting with PSI Energy in Plainfield in 1988). And despite his wife’s reaction of "what the heck were you thinking?," he acknowledged today at the Indiana Chamber’s Indiana Conference on Energy Management that he’s signed up for five more years.

"I love this industry," he told the conference attendees. And while he has seen many changes in his career, he adds, "The next five years are going to be more transformative for our industry than the last 20 have been."

Rogers shared 10 facts about the current and future energy outlook before answering numerous questions. Among his revelations:

  • By 2050, Duke will have to retire or replace virtually every power plant it is operating today
  • The company is the third largest generator of both coal and nuclear energy. It is currently building new coal and natural gas facilities, has two nuclear proposals being reviewed and is also active in various areas of renewables
  • While there will always be skeptics, he says the majority of scientists have spoken in favor of climate change and that he is a believer

Rogers thinks that the cap and trade legislation that passed the House earlier in the summer "will be improved by the Senate to minimize the cost impact to consumers. The transition, however, is not going to be free, not going to be easy and not going to be quick. It will take decades to make the transition, but we have to get to work on it now. Our mission has changed. We have to modernize and decarbonize our fleet to help our communities become the most energy efficient in the world."

Rogers’ take on three other issues:

  • China: "They’re moving fast. The reality is that China gets it. They’re the number one producer of solar panels; number one producer of wind turbines. They have 14 nuclear plants under construction. That’s why we’re partnering with them. We want to move at China time."
  • Industry employment: "Real jobs are going to be created if we rebuild the nuclear industry in the United States. There are no such things as green jobs; every job is a green job. It’s all about improving productivity and becoming more efficient. Let’s quit trying to draw lines."
  • Smart grid and energy efficiency: "I believe this will turn out to be the greatest enabler, and I can’t even envision today what it will enable." He explains that while Duke and other companies are currently focused on generation of power to the meter, the future includes writing software for specific energy uses. "Our energy efficiency will be driven by technology. The same way you throw the switch today and the lights come on, you will throw the switch and it will optimize your use of energy. The boundaries of our business are being fundamentally redrawn."