Pitfalls of Wind Power

I’m a big fan of wind power. We should be encouraging utility companies to build wind farms as fast as they can… But there are a couple of potential problems emerging.

The first problem is that the growth of wind power in the nation’s leading wind power state, Texas, is coming at the expense of natural gas-fired plants…

Source: Natural Gas Tilts at Windmills in Power Feud, Wall Street Journal, March 2, 2010

Here in Texas, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (Ercot) allocates our daily electricity generation. The utility companies will deliver a daily forecast to Ercot, outlining how much power they can deliver and the price per KwH. Ercot then matches up supply with its demand forecast and picks the least expensive combination of generation sources. If a utility company fails to deliver their promised KwH due to mechanical or maintenance issues, they have to pay for the cost of the backup…
One grievance: Coal, nuclear and gas operators must pay for their own backup if an operational or maintenance problem prevents them from delivering power as promised. But if wind generators fail to deliver promised power because the wind doesn’t blow, the cost of backing up wind power companies is spread among all the generators, state officials say. This puts an unfair burden on nonwind generators, says the gas faction.

LINK

If fossil fuel or nuclear operators can’t deliver their promised power, they have to foot the bill for buying replacement electricity. If the wind generators can’t deliver, the backup cost is spread among all of the utilities.

This process is resulting in a decline in the gas-fired generation capacity as the wind capacity grows. Wind, with its subsidies, is the cheapest source when the wind blows; so it is the preferred source. Coal and nuclear are the next cheapest. Then comes natural gas, particularly older gas-fired plants.

If the goal is to deliver the “greenest” energy, wind should be displacing the dirtiest source: coal. If the goal is cheaper energy, wind power should not be subsidized.

Wind power is very well established in this state. I don’t have a problem with it having been subsidized while it gained a foothold… But at some point the playing field will have to be levelled or we will be displacing a relatively green power source with wind and not displacing our least green source.

The second problem is noise pollution…
The Brewing Tempest Over Wind Power
People living near turbines increasingly report sleep deprivation, headaches and vertigo. The wind lobby says there’s no proof

[…]

Doctors and acoustics experts from the U.S. to Australia report a raft of symptoms that they blame on wind turbine noise, including sleep disturbance, headaches and vertigo. Dr. Nina Pierpont, a pediatrician in Malone, N.Y., has studied 36 people affected by wind turbine noise since 2004 at her own expense. The people she interviewed were widely dispersed; they lived in the U.S., Canada, England, Ireland and Italy. She found that the collection of symptoms she calls “wind turbine syndrome” disappeared as soon as people moved out of their noise-affected homes and into new locations at least five miles from any turbines.

Across the border, Ontario-based orthopedic surgeon Dr. Robert McMurtry has been researching wind turbine noise for the past 18 months. Dr. McMurtry, a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, counts more than 100 people in Ontario he believes are experiencing adverse effects from turbine noise. “It has compromised their health,” he says.

[…]

Wall Street Journal

Wind power will increasingly become an important component of our electric generating capacity; but it is not a panacea.

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