Jon Boone challenges “Maryland’s wind power potential”

In the Baltimore Sun’s Second Opinion Blog of February 10, 2010 Mr. Andrew Green writes of “Maryland’s wind power potential.”

Mr. Jon Boone of Oakland, Maryland takes exception to Mr. Green’s post suggesting:  “The Sun’s paean to wind technology … cannot withstand even casual scrutiny, since it is so little contaminated by reality.”

As you might suspect, this sets up an excellent point/counterpoint that Allegheny Treasures hopes will continue beyond this post.  It is only in open debate of these critical issues that we learn.  Perhaps the Baltimore Sun will sponsor such an ongoing exchange of opposing ideas.

In order to provide background to Mr. Boone’s reply, we first provide Mr. Green’s original post in it’s entirety for your convenience, followed by Mr. Boone’s full response.  Enjoy!

Mr. Green’s post begins:

Maryland isn’t going to have two-thirds of its electrical energy needs supplied by wind anytime soon, but it’s useful to know that the potential is there. As a study released this week by the Abell Foundation demonstrates, the state’s capacity for off-shore wind-powered energy is both vast and untapped.

What the report, prepared by the University of Delaware’s Center for Carbon-free Power Integration, demonstrates is that existing technology is available to produce a huge amount of electricity from 24 to 48 miles off the Atlantic Coast from Ocean City. Maryland has already pledged to use renewable energy to meet about one-quarter of its power needs in 12 years. Off-shore wind could do the job.

There are numerous challenges involved. It’s not clear what the impact thousands of turbines could have on local marine ecology. Shipping lanes would have to be protected. Transmission lines (so often opposed by communities in a right-of-way) would have to be built. Wind power would have to be balanced with other sources of electricity to supply the grid when the weather proves too tranquil for turbines.

But the point is that the state lacks neither the wind nor the technology to make it happen. Denmark set a similar course a decade ago, and today the wind supplies one-fifth of that country’s energy needs. Delaware’s planned Bluewater Wind project could have more than 70 turbines producing electricity in several years.

What Maryland must avoid, however, is the kind of NIMBY battle that has paralyzed the similar Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound for the past decade. There are few, if any, locations on the East Coast where birds would not be harmed by turbine blades. And while it’s appropriate to respect Native American traditions and artifacts, should such concerns drive the nation’s energy policy future?

The biggest hurdle for Maryland wind, however, is surely going to be the same challenge that all renewable energy sources face: The willingness of the state and the nation to commit to it. Public financing and tax incentives must be available. Most important, carbon emissions must be addressed either through a system of cap-and-trade as President Obama has proposed or through a direct tax on greenhouse gases.

Until other forms of energy production are charged for the pollution they create and the contribution they make toward climate change, renewable forms of power will be seen as impractical. Our global competitors aren’t likely to make that mistake. China is already making substantial investments in renewable power.

The sooner Maryland can take the wind power plunge, the better. Denmark’s early commitment to wind power has allowed the country to be a global leader in the field — with thousands of jobs in designing, engineering, and supplying the technology to others. Maryland could be in the same position within the U.S. — but only if the general public is willing to support this unique opportunity.

Admittedly, that is likely to mean consumers will have to pay more for cleaner forms of energy in the short term. But in the long-run, the savings are bound to be substantial — not just in dollars but in jobs, a cleaner environment, energy independence and future economic growth.

Mr. Green’s post ends!

Mr. Jon Boone’s response begins:

The Sun’s paean to wind technology–in the wake of the recent Abell Foundation report on the “potential” of offshore wind development–cannot withstand even casual scrutiny, since it is so little contaminated by reality. With about 100,000 industrial wind turbines in operation around the world–35,000 in the US alone–there is not a shred of empirical evidence that wind has been responsible for offsetting significant (or any) greenhouse gas emissions in the production of electricity–or that it has contributed to any reductions in fossil fuel use.

Although 20 percent of Denmark’s installed electricity capacity consists of wind energy, much more than half (for grid security reasons) of its actual generation (which is about one-fourth of its rated capacity) is exported to Scandinavia, where it displaces highly flexible hydro generation–at no savings in CO2 emissions but with substantial cost to Danish ratepayers. Moreover, imported hydro from Scandinavia is used to balance most of the wind volatility that remains in Denmark, so that any CO2 offset there is due to hydro, not wind. If Denmark did not have the Scandinavian “sink” in which to dump its considerable excess wind, and if that sink did not have hydro as its principle source of power, Denmark would be awash in both carbon dioxide emissions and wind turbines in the production of electricity. As the journalist Robert Bryce has written, “In 1999, Denmark’s daily coal consumption was the equivalent of about 94,400 barrels of oil per day. By 2007, despite a 136 percent increase in the amount of electricity produced from wind, Denmark’s coal consumption was exactly the same as it was back in 1999.”

The apotheosis of wind technology was literally embodied in the wonderful Clipper ships of the nineteenth century. There’s a good reason they are now consigned to museums. The energy requirements of 2010 insist upon precision, controllable machine performance that passes stern tests for reliability standards. Wind technology is completely inimical to reliable performance standards. Our modern system of power insists on capacity value–getting a specific amount of energy on demand and controlling it whenever desired.

And so the issue is how to make people believe that a source of energy, which relentlessly, continuously, destabilizes the essential match between supply and demand, is highly variable and unresponsive, and provides no capacity value while inimical to demand cycles, can effectively provide two-third of Maryland’s electricity. This claim is particularly egregious given that wind does not even provide modern power performance–only desultory energy. Although there is indeed vast stores of energy in the ocean’s winds, the trick is to convert them to useful power. Since energy is the ability to do work and power is the rate work is done, wind technology delivers fluctuating energy at a rate appropriate for 1810–even with a flotilla of wind rigs anchored offshore.

Imagine that Maryland had 500 skyscraper-sized wind turbines–say 100 in the mountains, 200 in and around the Chesapeake Bay (by far the best wind resource within the state’s interior), and another 200 offshore–with a total installed capacity of 1250MW. Odds are that the capacity factor for all that installed wind would not exceed 30 percent (for a variety of reasons). Consequently, the area’s grid, the PJM, which generates over 140,000MW at peak demand times, would get an average yield of only 375MW from all that wind. Sixty percent of the time, it would generate less than 375MW and 20 percent of the time, especially at peak demand, it would produce virtually nothing. All this wind wouldn’t dent a grape in the scheme of things. What must happen when, for example, 1000MW of wind energy drops in an hour to less than 50MW, as it sometimes would? Tripling the number of wind turbines would magnify the problem.

More than 70 percent of any wind project’s installed capacity must come from conventional generation that performs inefficiently as it quickly ramps up and back to balance wind’s relentless volatility. This is not “supporting” or back-up generation, but rather proactive reliable power that must be actively entangled with wind to make it work. Given the dearth of hydro in the PJM, this means the inefficient use of fossil fuels, particularly coal units.

Yes, any grid can “integrate” wind volatility, at least up to certain levels of penetration. But not without substantial increased costs, both in dollars and CO2 emissions. Wind behaves much like a drunken driver. Imagine what must happen to integrate a substantial number of drunk drivers on our highways, and you get some idea of what is necessary to incorporate wind as it staggers its way around the grid. On the whole, Maryland wind would play a dysfunctional role in terms of improving the state’s grid security and reducing its greenhouse gasses.

Industrial wind is perhaps the silliest modern energy idea imaginable. In the final analysis, it’s a faith-based proposition, requiring people to close their minds and clap their hands to revive it from a life and death struggle against unbelief, bringing the technology back from the oblivion that the steam engine consigned it to hundreds of years ago.

Throwing vast amounts of the public’s treasure down the rathole of wind is to deny investment in infinitely more effective technologies that will preserve the energy requirements of modernity. It is incredibly irresponsible. Such dystopian cognitive dissonance has more than a totalitarian patina, both in regards to community well-being and its potential to corrupt the political process. Wind may seem like cutting edge and progressive technology. In reality, it’s antediluvian and uncivil. Only authoritarian government would force such nonsense on anyone’s backyard.

Even governments, along with newspaper editors, should not pretend to know what they do not.

Jon Boone

Oakland, MD

Mr. Boone’s response ends!

Biographies:

Andrew Green, according to the Baltimore Sun, “has taken the “know a little bit about everything” approach in his time at The Sun. He was the city/state editor before coming to the editorial board, and prior to that he covered the State House and Baltimore County government. His reporting has taken him to every county in Maryland as he’s tracked issues ranging from slot machine gambling to electric rates. As an editor, he oversaw coverage of crime, education, the environment, health, science and more.”

Jon Boone has been a formal intervenor in two Maryland Public Service Commission hearings. He produced and directed the documentary, Life Under a Windplant, which has been freely distributed within the United States and many countries throughout the world.

Mr. Boone also developed the website Stop Ill Wind, where anyone can read his complete direct testimony, with many related documents, in the Synergics wind case before the Maryland Public Service Commission.

His essay, The Aesthetic Dissonance of Industrial Wind Machines, was published in the journal, Contemporary Aesthetics. A revised copy of his June, 2006 speech given in Wyoming County, The Wayward Wind, was published last year by McGraw Hill. His paper, Less for More: The Rube Goldberg Nature of Industrial Wind, is pending publication.

A lifelong environmentalist, Mr. Boone helped found the North American Bluebird Society and has been a consultant with the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in New York.

He is a former university academic administrator and now a painter who receives no income from his work on wind technology and resides miles from any proposed wind project. .

Mr. Boone seeks only informed, effective public policy–and an environmentalism that eschews wishful thinking because it is aware of the unintended adverse consequences flowing from uninformed, unscientific decisions.

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