Comments concerning the proposed East Haven, Vermont, wind project

Mathew Rubin, president of the proposed East Haven Windfarm [click here], is quoted at the January 13 public hearing in East Haven: "A lot of what was said tonight was not fact but rhetoric."

That would more accurately describe his own claim that his 6-MW "demonstration" project of 4 turbines will provide the electricity used by 3,000 homes, or one-third of Lyndonville Electric's needs.

Six MW is the same rating as the wind plant in Searsburg, which produces about 12,000 MW-hours per year. LED's average residential customer uses 7.5 MW-h, so the "number of homes" figure should be only about 1,600.

LED provides about 70,000 MW-h per year to all of its customers. The likely 12,000 MW-h annual output of a 6-MW wind plant is 17% of that, that is, one-sixth.

Of course, that output is averaged over a year. Most of the time, when the wind is not blowing near the ideal 30 mph, the turbines are generating only a trickle of electricity, if any. Most of the time, that is, they are effectively not providing any power to anybody, and it is worse than mere rhetoric to pretend otherwise.


Vt. (U.S. Dept. of Energy Energy Information Agency)
2002: 5,611.83 GW-h
2001: 5,638.82
1999: 5,519.36
1998: 5,357.81

1999:   30.6 GW-h to residential customers, avg. 7.2 MW-h
8.7 GW-h to commercial customers, avg. 14.4 MW-h
19.7 GW-h to industrial customers, avg. 517.8 MW-h
65.74 GW-h total
1998: 62.92 GW-h total

2009: 11,589 MW-h from Searsburg (21.9% of 6.05 MW capacity)
2008: 10,235 MW-h (19.2%)
2007: 10,476 (19.7%)
2006: 10,821 (20.4%); ~9,200 MW-h RECs sold
2005: 11,484 (21.7%); 10,000 RECs sold
2004: 11,023 (20.7%); 11,023 RECs sold
2003: 10,828 (20.4%); 2,260 RECs sold
2002: 11,458 (21.6%); 1,881 RECs sold
2001: 12,135 (22.9%)
2000: 12,246 (23.1%)
1999: 13,605 (25.7%)

Mathew Rubin, president of East Haven Windfarm, said on Vermont Public Radio's "Switchboard" (Feb 5, 2004) that the number of wind plants in Vermont cannot be large. He explained that 7/8 of the possible sites are off limits: 1/2 are on federal land, 1/4 on state land (although they could be opened to development in the future), and 1/8 on land otherwise restricted from development. (Michael Fraysier, land director of Vermont's Agency of Natural Resources, says that only 1% of state-owned land is feasible for wind development, and most of that is in state forests.)

The American Wind Energy Association [click here] says that Vermont has wind resource enough to supply an average output of 537 MW or 5,000 GW-h/yr. With only 1/8 available for exploitation, however, that figure must be reduced to 67 MW or 625 GW-h/yr, about 10% of Vermont's electricity use in 2002. Not all projects are likely to be approved, so if half of the possible sites are rejected, the figure is reduced to 5%: 33.5 MW or 312.5 GW-h/yr.

Vermont's existing wind plant in Searsburg is rated at 6 MW and produces about 12 GW-h/yr (less each year), which represents a performance factor of 23%. It is reasonable to assume that other turbines in Vermont would perform similarly, so it would in fact require 146 MW of installed capacity to produce 5% of Vermont's electricity, an average output of 33.5 MW. That would require about 100 330-ft-high 1.5-MW turbines, concentrated in a few unlucky sites.

If state land were opened up, there is only one site in the whole state that is not part of a state forest and on which development is not otherwise restricted or prohibited. It is in Darling State Park on the northern section of Kirby Mountain, and it borders Victory State Forest, which includes much of the eastern side of the ridge. Victory Basin is a large undeveloped wild area, a rare haven for birds and other animals.

John Zimmerman, the area representative of the multinational energy consortium Enxco, has said that Kirby ridge holds no more than 10 MW of generating capacity. The state-owned part is less than half of it, and the town of Kirby has emphatically rejected development on the rest. If the state decided nonetheless to sacrifice the ridge to development, it would therefore enable a facility smaller than the one at Searsburg, to produce less than 0.2% of the electricity used in Vermont.

The deal between Lyndonville Electric (LED) and Mathew Rubin's East Haven Windfarm (as reported here) illustrates the silliness of Rubin's claim that the 6-MW demonstration project will provide "one-third" of LED's needs.

First of all, the claim of one-third is twice the likely actual output. The 6-MW wind plant at Searsburg, for example, produces about 12 GW-h/yr, which is likely to be the output of Rubin's plant as well and represents only one-sixth of the 70 GW-h/yr LED provides to its customers.

The deal for LED to "buy" electricity from Rubin shows that in fact the wind-generated electricity will be sold to the operator of the New England grid, who sends the money to LED, who then keeps 5% of it and sends the rest on to Rubin's company. This scheme has nothing to do with the actual electricity that LED may purchase from any particular source. It is simply a payoff by the wind developer to the local municipal utility.

In addition, LED will be getting 10% of the renewable energy certificates that Rubin earns, no matter where he sells it.

Rubin continues to describe this scheme as "selling to LED at below-market rates. In effect LED will pay 5% less for any electricity from the New England grid up to the amount paid to Rubin. He may well be able -- because of tax credits and favorable accounting rules -- to sell to the grid operator below market value, but the electricity LED buys from the grid will be at market value, easily swallowing up that 5% pay-off.

[This letter was originally printed in the Feb. 8 Burlington Free Press.]

Dan Reicher, in his opinion piece "Discuss wind power based on facts" (Burlington Free Press, Feb. 1) says that "wind turbines are extremely reliable and are available to run 98 to 99 percent of the time."

That claim, however, is contradicted by the record of the wind plant in Searsburg. Electric Power Research Institute found that from July 1997 through June 2000 each of the Searsburg turbines was inoperative more than 11 percent of the time, i.e., they were available to run only 88 to 89 percent of the time.

In addition, EPRI found that the plant as a whole actually generated electricity barely 60% percent of the time. Green Mountain Power claimed in 1996 that they would produce 0.5 percent of Vermont's electricity. In 2002, they produced less than 0.2 percent. The average output in the summer of 2002, according to GMP, was 0.5 MW, less than 10 percent of the plant's rated capacity.

There is no reason to expect that new wind plants in Vermont would perform much better.

[Click here for a report on Searsburg's record.]

Mathew Rubin, president of the East Haven Windfarm proposal, responded to a letter in The Caledonian-Record that pointed out errors and raised some questions about his claims for the project's anticipated output. [Click here for the original letter of March 1, 2004. Click here for Rubin's letter of March 25.] That letter addressed only the output claims and did not attack either an earlier letter writer or Mr. Rubin. Rubin, in contrast, attacks the questioner of his claims by name as either ignorant or dishonest, misreads a question as an assertion, pleads his and General Electric's put-upon rectitude, and only weakly attempts to show the doubts to be unfounded.

He says that a 6-MW 4-turbine facility in East Haven will produce much more electricity than the 6-MW 11-turbine facility in Searsburg "because the wind resource is much greater and because newer wind turbines are more efficient." It would be one thing to say that may be the case, but Rubin says it will be so. The wind resource as it works on turbines is notorious for being quite different from earlier measurements. Newer turbines may indeed be more efficient, but Rubin projects an output of 60% more than Searsburg (and then exaggerates the number of "homes" provided for by another 20%). The output from only 4 turbines would be more unreliable than the combined output of 11 turbines. Finally, Rubin's output claim would represent an average production of more than 36% of his facility's rated capacity. Nobody in the industry expects average production over 30% from a land-based facility. With the variability of Vermont's weather, and the position of East Mountain behind the primary ridges of the Green Mountains, Searsburg's typical output of less than 25% is indeed more likely. (The developers of Searsburg overstimated the facility's contribution to Vermont's electricity by about 2-1/2 times.)

The big issue that prompted his response, however, is the question of how much unmetered electricity the facility would use. He asserts "it takes a small fraction of a percent of the power generated to run a wind farm" and wonders why the writer believes that the industry keeps that information from the public. In fact, the writer has looked at numerous technical reports of existing wind facilities and the specifications for turbines from General Electric, Vestas, and NEG Micon and has not found any figures for their electricity demand, which continues whether the wind is blowing or not. Conventional power plants typically use 10% of their own electricity, so it is highly unlikely that wind facilities, which rely on power from the grid to work, use ony "a small fraction of a percent."

Rubin: "If the claims that Mr. Rosenbloom and several other project opponents have made are true, then General Electric, which makes the turbines, must be wrong." But what are the claims that GE makes? We are still in the dark. Click here for more about how much electricity a large wind turbine requires.

Rubin insists that the electricity sold will represent the net output. One must, however, question what he means by net. At Searsburg the meters do not "run backwards," so the amount of power the turbines are taking from the grid is completely unknown. Despite Mr. Rubin's attack on asking such questions, it remains unknown how much (unmetered = free) electricity his turbines will require.

The question remains: Do industrial-size wind facilities produce an amount of energy that is significantly more than (or even as much as) the amount they use?

More pages on this site about wind power in Vermont:
letter to The Caledonian-Record (St. Johnsbury), by Bill Eddy
letter to The Caledonian-Record, by Bill Klein
editorial by the Burlington Free Press
notes on some surveys about wind farms
report on the poor record of the Searsburg wind plant
letter to the Manchester Journal, by Hugh Kemper, and response by Andrew Perchlik, with commentary
outline of large wind projects targeting Vermont and vicinity
letter to the Burlington Free Press, by Eric Rosenbloom
Also: Vermonters with Vision

back to "A Problem With Wind Power"