Global warming and 100 percent renewable energy have been inextricably linked by the media, with the latter proposed as a solution for the former. Here’s why 100 percent green cannot be a solution for Keene.
First, even if nuclear energy is considered green, and a second reactor is installed at Seabrook, Keene could only achieve about 50 percent renewable energy. Without “green” nuclear, Keene would be hard pressed to achieve 10 to 20 percent green energy, and that only with great difficulty and environmental expense. As to whether nuclear energy is “green” for Keene, the minutes of the Keene Energy and Climate Committee has the committee’s answer: Asked about the mix of green sources, not one member of the committee agreed that nuclear is green.
A few basics: A base-load nuclear, hydro or coal-fired generating facility produces about 1,000 megawatts of electricity, day and night. A wind turbine a tenth of a mile high, sitting on the top of a hill or ridge or, say, on Mount Monadnock, will generate an average of 1 megawatt, but depending on the wind, its actual output will vary from 0 (light or no wind) to 3 megawatts (strong winds). The replacement of a 1,000-megawatt power plant requires 1,000 such huge turbines. A UNH study found there may be 1,000 such sites in New Hampshire — if we destroy every scenic elevated site in the state. Their flashing red lights at night would bring the feel of Christmas year round.
Wind turbines produce lots of electricity when the winds are strong, but no electricity when winds are calm. Solar cells have similar, but additional problems — nighttime being the most obvious. But in addition, there are clouds, which have been known to block sunlight, and the low sun angles at dawn and dusk produce little energy. The net is that while wind turbines are only one-third efficient, solar cells are closer to 20 percent efficient. And there are many days that are both cloudy and calm.
The mix of clouds and calm ensures that wind turbines and solar cells will produce electricity varying from many megawatts to 0 megawatts. In order to get any specified average amount of green electricity from either sun or wind, or both, 3-5 times that generation capacity must be installed. But when the wind blows and the sun shines, that excess electricity will blow the grid.
For example, a Keene decision to receive a third of its average electricity from wind and a third from solar will require a wind facility capable of producing three times that average on windy days, to compensate for calm days, and a solar facility about five times that average size, to compensate for nights and clouds. Therefore getting a third of Keene’s average electricity from wind and a third from solar requires a wind facility and a solar facility — each of which will produce 100 percent (or more) of Keene’s electric demand on sunny, windy days, which is more than twice the electricity Keene can use.
An analysis of wind speed data over the entire area covered by the New England electric grid shows that when it’s windy in Caribou, Maine, it’s generally windy in Burlington, Vt., and Bridgeport, Conn., and Providence, R.I. Where should we send all this free electricity?
Since wind and solar can’t work, what about hydro? Enough hydro for cloudy, calm days? If we have 100 percent hydro, we don’t need the turbines or the solar farms. We can do it by flooding the whole province of Quebec, and with five Northern Pass corridors running down the spine of New Hampshire. If that doesn’t thrill you and you still prefer wind and solar, where will you locate the wind and solar production facilities? Mount Monadnock is the perfect site for a few dozen wind turbines. It’s wide open to the wind and close to Keene, requiring short transmission corridors to its users.
A clean, green Keene is an impossible dream.
Fred Ward of Stoddard has a doctorate in meteorology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has been a forensic consultant specializing in weather since 1967.