Planet Gore

Yes! A Mighty Wind!

A  reader makes the case for wind:

Of course wind is not 100 percent sustainable at its design peak delivery rate … neither is hydropower (did you ever live in the Northwest US, where they live or die each year with the thickness of the previous winter’s snowpack and resultant runoff as stored in reservoirs?). Neither, for that matter, is oil and gas (when the Middle Eastern oil cartel or Comrade Chavez shuts off the spigot, or when GazProm shuts down the gas flow to Ukraine, as they did this week, or when Katrina blows through and shuts down all the Gulf oil platforms, etc. etc.). Even nuclear power is subject to regulatory-induced safety shutdowns. Coal supplies can be disrupted too, although historically coal supplies have been more stable than other sources.
And of course any and all power plants, regardless of fuel source, never operate continuously at 100 percent of rated capacity. Between shutdowns for maintenance, technology and emission systems upgrades, emergency repairs, issues about power factor management, transmission line capacities, fuel disruptions, labor issues, etc. etc., the average power plant in the world operates at much less than maximum rated capacity.
The average down time for wind plants is about 1 percent to 2 percent, much better than virtually any other kind of power plant — for thermal power plants typical downtimes are in the range of 8 to 10 percent, with annual power generation as a percentage of rated capacity typically in the range of 70 to 80 percent. While wind farms typically operate at only 30 percent or so of maximum rated capacity, that variability is built into the plant design and the economic considerations. Maintenance costs for wind generators are also quite low. And unlike most other power sources, it is easy to fine tune a wind turbine farm’s capacity by adding as little as one additional turbine at a time in very short timeframes, whereas expansions of thermal power plants require huge capital construction programs with long regulatory and construction lead times.
The bottom line for the economics of wind energy today in 2008 is that the total unsubsidized cost per kWh of wind energy has steadily dropped to below 6 to 7 cents — much less than several other sources of energy (nuclear, oil), and competitive with coal, hydro, and natural gas generation costs, even without subsidy. These costs factor in downtime, availability, and maintenance costs, and have plummeted by more than 80percent in the last 25 years . . . additional future cost reductions are likely as wind turbine production eventually matches demand, and as the costs of hydrocarbon fueled power continues to escalate.
Finally, the crack about “bird Cuisinarts” is silly and flat out wrong. Avian collision mortality rates for existing wind farm are calculated to be approx. 0.01 to 0.02 percent of all avian collision deaths in the U.S.
With all its pros and cons, wind energy is a reasonable and viable source which is rapidly growing more widespread at the same time that it is becoming cheaper than competitive sources. As the price of hydrocarbon fuels continues to climb, the impetus for growth in wind energy production ultimately will have little to do with climate alarmism. It will be the market, not the global warming hand-wringers.

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