Saturday, February 23, 2008
The New York Times has an interesting story this morning about the rapid development of wind farms in Texas, which has surpassed California and now leads the country in the generation of energy from wind. This is perhaps surprising from a state with such a deep political and cultural commitment to the oil industry, which is probably why the editors saw fit to run the story on the front page.
Accordingly to the article, one of the reasons for the success of wind power in Texas is that the state is friendly to economic development of all sorts. People are not inclined to sue to stop wind projects, and are likely to lose if they do. Contrast Texas to Massachusetts, which has far more people who at least say they care about green energy. Ted Kennedy has done is level best to kill a wind farm near his retreat on Cape Cod, which -- if you have ever been there -- has a huge amount of wind. And not just from the flapping of the Kennedy jowls. (The Nantucket Sound wind farm proposal seems to be making more progress lately, notwithstanding the passionate opposition of most locals.)
There is a lesson in this. The development of clean energy is development, and states that are friendly to development in general will find it easier to displace fossil fuels than those for whom anti-progress litigation has become an art form.
All those Oil People can more properly be thought of as Energy People. Businesses do not object to taking on similar or related projects. Coca-Cola is not a cola beverage company; Nestle is not a chocolate company.
The Mother Jones fantasies of oil companies keeping down all alternative sources of energy as competitors is just bunk. As oil supplies deplete (and I don't think this is a rapid as threatened), they want to have something else for Exxon to do thirty years from now.
Your point is a good one -- development is development, even if we choose to call those eyesores "wind farms" instead of the more appropriate "wind factories". It is interesting to see the rising tide of opposition to wind power in Europe, as people are becoming aware of the massive scale of installations which will be required to make any kind of meaningful difference in energy supplies.
Wind power today is definitely profitable for investors, given all the subsidies. As to whether wind power is actually useful, it is worth reading the Wind Report put out by major German wind power utility Eon.
Eon's hard-won experience has shown that, because of the variability of wind, they need to back up over 90% of wind power capacity with reliable conventional 24/7 power stations -- which just about destroys the economic case for wind power (in the absence of subsidies).
It is amazing that the political class, in Texas & elsewhere, continues to subsidize wind power despite the ready availability of real-world evidence questionning the wisdom doing so.
I am embarrassed to say that even in Kansas we have had a wind generating plant plan struck down from Lawsuititus just north of here in Alma, home of a lot of flint hills and many gamebirds (who it is supposed will be drawn to the giant funny-sounding towers as some sort of giant bug-zapper, according to the suit)
At the exact same time, we have a liberal Governor who seems to think another coal-fired plant in western Kansas would be a polluter because it emits CO2, and had her people deny a permit on that basis (which the Republicans in Topeka are fixing, thank God). Ironically she is proud of the number of methane emitting cattle we have in the state.
There are just so many people who want us to sit at home in the dark, and will sue to keep us that way.
Texas ... a state with such a deep political and cultural commitment to the oil industry
Texas is making money out of energy production, and if they are smart enough to realize that wind generators are just another form of energy production like an oil well, then more power to them.
Not to mention that the state is already covered with oil wells, and windmills are cleaner and more attractive than oil wells.
I didn't take the time to read the article, but I know from personal experience that West Texas can get pretty darn windy. I remember one spring in the mid-80s when the winds were so strong they uprooted numerous very large trees (and blew the shed in our backyard apart). Might now be windy all the time, but if it can help ease our dependence on fossil fuels, that's great.
Even more interesting is the Green comparison of W's ranch in Crawford. Modest size and geothermal heat pumps circulate water through pipes buried 300 feet deep that heat the house in winter and cool it in summer. A 25,000 gallon cistern underground that collects all waste water and rain water to be used for irrigating the native landscaping.
And of course FatAl is promoted as the Green messiah. Right Chambers?
Yes, wind energy is irregular, which means that it needs to be used in conjunction with some combination of standard electrical generation or energy storage for backup. Another issue which the NYT article pointed out, is that in the US, the best source for wind energy, the Great Plains, by map or by numbers,is far from the population centers which use energy, necessitating investment in transmission lines.
The National Research Council, a branch of the National Academies of Sciences, recently published Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects. For those who are concerned about the effect of wind energy on bird populations, here is the study’s conclusion.
“Clearly, bird deaths caused by wind turbines are a minute fraction of the total anthropogenic bird deaths—less than 0.003% in 2003 based on the estimates of Erickson et al. (2005)”
The cost of wind energy according to one presentation, went down from 40¢/ kwh in 1979 to 3-5¢/ kwh in 2004. A presentation in 2007 put it at 8-10¢/kwh, competitive with other sources. These come from the American Wind Energy Association, so there may be some bias. Nonetheless, the claim that the cost of wind energy has gone down drastically in the last 3 decades with improved turbine design, is a valid one. Precisely what the cost is now, can be debated. Here is a look at relative costs of wind and other forms of electrical energy in Europe .
While we have a “free market”, it is taxed and regulated by the government. The issue of subsidies applies not only for wind energy, but for ethanol, coal, nuclear , and petroleum. What mixture of this is open to debate. It would appear that the subsidies for ethanol are a bit of an energy balance boondoggle, because currently ethanol is made not from all of the corn plant, but only from the grain. There is current research to convert all of plant cellulose into alcohol, not just grain.
There will be no one answer for energy. Wind is but one possibility. Tigerhawk has already had discussions on the issue.
I hope I do not come across as a windbag.
We here in West Texas love the huge wind turbines that generate electricity. If you have ever driven between Sonora and Odessa, there is nothing and I mean nothing to see. Look out your windshield and you see mesquite, cactus and the occasional road kill. Now we can see the towers and blades turning in the wind. You can count them, you can feel that the land is worth something and wonder "how much does that rancher get for one of those things being on his land"?
Yep! Better than oil!
buh..buh...buh....but they're all HICKS!!!!!!
CHRISTIAN ZEALOT CREATIONIST REPUGS!!!!!!!
KILLING US ALL BY HAVING MORE THAN 0.7 CHILDREN AND DRIVING THEIR >3 CYLINDER CARS THAT DO NOT RUN ON SMUG!!!!!
HOW DARE YOU IMPLY THEY ARE MORE ENVIRONMENTALLY RIGHTEOUS THAN ME?!?
"notwithstanding the passionate opposition of most locals."
Well, not just locals.