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Wind: the next subprime swindle

During the presidential campaign, John McCain and Barack Obama used backdrop images of towering wind turbines to symbolize their commitment to renewable energy. Both candidates promised to increase federal spending on renewables to combat global warming.

In August, billionaire oil investor T. Boone Pickens made news as a convert to wind energy, lobbying Congress to permanently extend federal subsidies to the wind industry and to pass national renewable energy standards in order to "stabilize the investment climate."

New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman was on tour promoting his book "Hot, Flat and Crowded," making the argument for changing the way we create, distribute and use energy, citing Denmark's heavy investment in wind power as a model. The wind industry joined in with a media blitz of full-page ads in magazines, newspapers and TV. The blitz continues, focused now on what Congress might bestow on the wind industry in the coming year.

Vestas, the world's largest wind turbine manufacturer, closes its TV commercials with a reassuring voice intoning the company mantra, "Believe in the wind," possibly encouraging some viewers to join the company church or at least to invest in Vestas... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

During the presidential campaign, John McCain and Barack Obama used backdrop images of towering wind turbines to symbolize their commitment to renewable energy. Both candidates promised to increase federal spending on renewables to combat global warming.

In August, billionaire oil investor T. Boone Pickens made news as a convert to wind energy, lobbying Congress to permanently extend federal subsidies to the wind industry and to pass national renewable energy standards in order to "stabilize the investment climate."

New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman was on tour promoting his book "Hot, Flat and Crowded," making the argument for changing the way we create, distribute and use energy, citing Denmark's heavy investment in wind power as a model. The wind industry joined in with a media blitz of full-page ads in magazines, newspapers and TV. The blitz continues, focused now on what Congress might bestow on the wind industry in the coming year.

Vestas, the world's largest wind turbine manufacturer, closes its TV commercials with a reassuring voice intoning the company mantra, "Believe in the wind," possibly encouraging some viewers to join the company church or at least to invest in Vestas stock, which has dropped 60 percent from a year ago.

With Congress back in session, the wind-power faithful are fully mobilized. Having gotten an extension of production tax credits tacked on as an amendment to a budget bill in October, attention is focused on passing national renewable energy standards. This will guarantee profits to investors in industrial wind, forcing power companies in every state to obtain and distribute set percentages of "green" energy from approved sources, primarily wind.

This might be justifiable if wind could deliver what its proponents promise. Wind energy is intermittent and variable. Its most appropriate use is for home-scaled, remote, off-grid locations, charging storage batteries that provide steady but limited power.

Steady, abundant power is what we have come to expect from on-grid energy suppliers. They provide it using large coal-fired, hydro or nuclear power plants. Peak demand is met by bringing gas-fired generators, with their quicker response time, online as needed. To further ensure stability, some quick-response generating capacity runs in spinning reserve, ready to be dispatched in an emergency. Wind turbines can't do that - they are not dispatchable. To compensate for that obvious shortcoming, the wind lobby, years ago, got the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to change its rules and allow intermittent generating facilities to inject their energy into the grid whenever it was available. That rule change has the potential to cause severe disruptions to the stability of the power grids.

For now, this is not a problem because wind accounts for only 1.25 percent of U.S. generating capacity. When wind energy comes on the grid, the operators treat its fluctuating levels as demand flux, and they use the generators at their command to balance demand with supply. This will change as more industrial wind facilities come online. If their numbers quadruple and their output approaches 5 percent, grid operators will be forced to take emergency measures to keep the grid from going down when 5 percent of the power suddenly disappears. Be prepared for brownouts, rolling blackouts and system failures if large amounts of fluctuating wind energy are let loose on the power grids. California and Texas have already gotten a taste.

True believers have proposed various fixes. One would be to increase the number of quick-response gas-fired generators linked to the grids as more industrial wind facilities are added. The flaw is that it asks private investors to build costly power plants to be inefficiently used solely as backup to wind, without a predictable return on investment. Another flaw is that the backup energy will come from burning natural gas, itself a source of CO2, thus negating claims made by wind advocates of how much carbon they are keeping out of the atmosphere.

Given the current investment climate it's unlikely that private money is going to support questionable, experimental ventures such as giant storage batteries or the demonstrably ineffective industrial wind projects unless the federal government puts taxpayers on the hook, too. President-elect Obama has said economic-stimulus programs should spend tax dollars on infrastructure and activities that produce tangible, long-term benefits for the country. That requires clear analysis and a regard for facts rather than a simple call to believe in something.

Wind is a subprime energy source and taxpayers need to caution Congress about making that investment. Both Congress and President Obama would be well advised to acquaint themselves with the analysis presented in two recent books: the serendipitously titled "Physics for Future Presidents" by Richard A. Muller and "Terrestrial Energy" by William Tucker. Then Congress should set about to enact a national carbon-free, clean-energy bill rather than a national renewable-energy bill. The difference is that the former will actually achieve the goal of reducing CO2 in the atmosphere; the latter will not.

Carbon-free, clean energy is produced by nuclear power and is the reason that Sweden and France have the lowest carbon emissions of any industrialized countries in the world and why non-nuclear Denmark has among the highest. Were Congress to favor a "clean" energy bill over a "green" energy bill, the strong whoosh of air felt on Wall Street would be from the rapid deflation of the wind industry's bubble of hype and exaggeration.

Hooton, of Pendleton County, is a member of Friends of Beautiful Pendleton County, a citizens group opposed to industrial wind development in the surrounding Potomac Highlands.


Source: http://wvgazette.com/Opinio...

JAN 18 2009
https://www.windaction.org/posts/18652-wind-the-next-subprime-swindle
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