Wind power brings little benefit

This is a short version of the paper "The low benefit of industrial wind," by Eric Rosenbloom.

Although the paper focuses on the lack of environmental and energy benefits, there is a similar lack of financial benefits. Jobs are few and temporary (most installation is done by specialized technicians from elsewhere). Payoffs to towns are short-term promises at best and not binding, and tax benefits are likely to be severely diminished once other losses (in property values and tourism/recreation income) and the state's share are factored in.

Only the individual landowners leasing their land can be said to benefit. Yet for negatively altering our common landscape and degrading wildlife habitat and water ecology (with clearing, foundations, and roads), for adding noise and light pollution day and night, the landowner (who more often than not, it seems, does not live in the area) signs a lease drawn up by the wind company and effectively becomes a caretaker of their interests in perpetuity.

In balance, there is no benefit to the country, to the state or region, and certainly not to the hosting localities from industrial wind turbine installations.

Driving the desire for industrial wind power is the conviction that it will help reduce fossil and nuclear fuel use. Thus the local impacts of large wind turbine installations are thought to be justified by a greater good of healthier air and water, reduction of carbon emissions, and moving away from harmful mining and fuel wars. These are all without question important goals.

While the wind power industry tends to downplay its negative effects, many conservation groups call for careful siting and ongoing study to minimize them. There is debate, therefore, about the impacts but not about the benefits. Even the most cautious of advocates do not doubt, for example, that "every kilowatt-hour generated by wind is a kilowatt-hour not generated by a dirty fuel."

Such a formula is, at best, overly simplistic. The evidence from countries that already have a large proportion of wind power suggests that it has very little, if any, effect on the use of other sources.

In "Impact of Wind Power Generation in Ireland on the Operation of Conventional Plant and the Economic Implications," February 2004, the Irish National Grid find that the benefits of wind-generated power are small and that they decrease as more wind power is added to the system.

Wind plants, they conclude, add more capacity (requiring more infrastructure) with almost no reduction of non-wind capacity, the latter of which must be used more inefficiently than otherwise.

As for CO2 reduction, they determine that "[t]he cost of CO2 abatement arising from using large levels of wind energy penetration appears high relative to other alternatives." Their model generously assumes that all energy produced from wind is used and did not consider output fluctuations within periods of less than an hour. And they do not consider at all the environmental toll of expanded industrial wind development.

Similar conclusions are reached by the Royal Academy of Engineers in "Response to the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee Inquiry Into the Practicalities of Developing Renewable Energy," October 2003. They project that the goal of 25,000 MW of wind capacity in the U.K. -- which boasts some of the best wind resource in the world -- would replace at enormous cost only 4,000 MW of conventional capacity. They also project that the most common output of a widely distributed network of wind power facilities would be less than 3% of capacity and that a third of the time output would be less than 14% of capacity.

The Electric Power Research Institute, in a three-year audit for the U.S. Department of Energy, reported that the ridgeline facility in Searsburg, Vermont, produced no electricity at all -- not even a trickle -- almost 40% of the time.

In "Wind Report 2005," E.ON Netz, the German grid manager for about a third of Germany, hosting 7,050 MW of wind-generating capacity at the end of 2004, states, "traditional power stations with capacities equal to 90% of the installed wind power capacity [a little over the maximum historical wind power infeed] must be permanently online in order to guarantee power supply at all times." The consequence is that wind power construction must be accompanied by corresponding construction of new conventional power plants.

In "Danish Wind: Too Good to be True?" Utilities Journal, July 2004, David J. White describes how Denmark's claim of generating 20% of their electricity from wind is misleading. From the 2003 annual report of Eltra -- western Denmark's grid manager with more than two-thirds of Denmark's wind capacity -- White determines that they in fact exported 84% of their wind production.

He also explains why there is so little CO2 savings from wind. Most of the exported wind power goes to pumped hydro facilities in Norway and Sweden, displacing another emissions-free source. When used domestically, "fluctuations in wind output have to be managed by the operation of fossil-fired capacity below optimum efficiency in order to stabilise the grid." This is because "the rate of change of wind speed can drop faster than the rate at which fossil-fuelled capacity can be started up. Hence spinning reserve is essential. ... The result is that, while wind-generated power itself is CO2-free, the saving to the whole power system is not proportional to the amount of fossil-fuelled power that it displaces."

White refers to a statement by Danish generating company Elsam's head of development, Flemming Nissen, who said in a presentation to the "Vind eller forsvind" conference in Copenhagen, May 27, 2004, "Increased development of wind turbines does not reduce Danish CO2 emissions."

Richard S. Courtney similarly explains in "Windfarms provide no useful electricity," a presentation to the 2004 Groups Opposed to Windfarms in the UK conference, that windfarms only force power stations to switch more often between generation and spinning reserve, or standby. "They provide no useful electricity and make no reduction to emissions from power generation. Indeed, the windfarm is the cause of emissions from a power station operating spinning standby in support of the windfarm."

The most glaring cost of big wind is the industrial development of rural and wild areas, which inarguably degrades rather than improves our common environment. That is impossible to justify if the benefits claimed by the industry sales material are in fact an illusion, propped up by subsidies and artificial markets for "indulgence credits" that actually facilitate the flouting of emissions caps and renewable energy targets.

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