Friday, July 18, 2008

Tilting at T. Boone Picken's Windmills

By Alan Caruba

You may have seen the television commercials with T. Boone Pickens, a multi-millionaire who made his money in oil and is now trying to double up selling wind. That is wind as in wind power—as in hundreds and hundreds of wind turbines to generate electricity.

That’s why I find it more than strange that Picken’s television and print ads all start off talking about oil. In the current edition of Business Week magazine he has a full-page ad with a headline that says “It’s time to stop America’s addiction to foreign oil.”

Well, first of all, we are not “addicted.” We buy foreign oil because, back in the 1980s the White House and Congress set out to reduce domestic oil exploration and drilling. It was and it is a deliberate policy in which the U.S. guarantees the security of Middle Eastern nations so they can sell us their oil instead of our being able to compete with them in the global marketplace with our own extensive reserves of oil.

So, no, we are not “addicted.” It turns out that virtually every car, truck, and other vehicle on the roads and highways of America uses gasoline or diesel. That’s not addiction. That’s internal combustion. We don’t drive vehicles that run on lemonade or beer.

Virtually all of the oil we import goes to use for transportation and that includes, of course, aircraft, boats, tractors, off-road and recreational vehicles. There is nothing inherently wrong or sinful in this. It’s the way they’re made.

So why does T. Boone’s ad then go on to say “In 1970, we imported 24% of our oil. Today, it’s 70% and climbing”? Is this some kind of revelation he’s sharing with us? Is there anyone left in America that doesn’t know our politicians won’t let our oil companies drill for our own oil (while blaming them for not doing so)?

Here’s where it gets weird. T. Boone isn’t even interested in oil. What he’s really selling is wind power. If it weren’t for the photo of a wind turbine, you might not know that from his advertisement.

And, guess what? Vehicles, unless they have a big sail attached to their roof, don’t run on wind power.

Wind power is about electricity and, except for limited, small projects like running a farm off of a wind turbine or some other small usage application, wind power is just about the dumbest way to generate large amounts of electricity you can name.

My friend, Robert Bryce, an authority on energy and the author of “Gusher of Lies”, points out that, “even in the best locations, wind turbines produce power only about one-third of the time. And many produce at lower rates.” There is no comparison between the kilowatts generated by wind power and the billions from America’s nuclear or coal-fired power plants.

It’s not like it’s a secret that wind turbines are an unreliable source of electrical power. Bryce points out that, “In July 2006, for example, wind turbines in California produced power at only about 10 percent of their capacity; in Texas, one of the most promising states for wind energy, the windmills produced electricity at about 17 percent of their rated capacity.”

That means that there has to be nuclear, coal-fired or natural gas power plants functioning fulltime as a backup to the pathetically unreliable and inefficient wind farms. Moreover, what electricity they do generate is lost to some degree in the process of transmitting it over long distances to distribution facilities.

No one wants to live near a wind farm. You could have a nuclear power plant in your backyard and not know it was there unless you looked out the window. Wind farms are noisy neighbors and can make people crazy listening to them. Legislatures have to pass laws to exempt them from law suits identifying them as a public nuisance.

I do not fault T. Boone for wanting to make more millions, but his advertisements and public relations campaign talks about oil to divert people’s attention and awareness from what he really wants to do and that is build lots of wind farms and sell electricity. That’s deceptive.

Are we running out of coal in America? Not for hundreds of years. Can we build more nuclear power plants? You bet.

Like all the other hoaxes perpetrated by the environmental movement, “clean energy” is just another way for a few folks to get rich while the rest of us get screwed.


Jack N said...

Spot on!!
T. Boone is a cagey old fox who is cashing in on the hysteria..
As you've stated, the necessity for redundancy makes both wind and solar power a true waste except on a very small scale..
One valid point T. Boone does make is the enormous transfer of wealth..
Of course we only have the m0rons in washington dc to blame for this folly..

Tom Gray said...

You seem to have your mind made up about wind power, so I won't spend a lot of time refuting the errors here. Just a couple of comments:

Robert Bryce is mistaken. At a typical Midwestern wind site, the turbines are generating some electricity 65-90% of the time.

You're right that wind is not well suited for meeting peak power demand. But it still generates lots of electricity, avoiding emissions and saving fuel (which is getting more expensive daily).

Wind will generate about 48 billion kilowatt-hours in the U.S. this year. Still small (about 1% of U.S. electricity), but real numbers nonetheless.

Thomas O. Gray
American Wind Energy Association

Alan Caruba said...

Thank you, Mr. Gray, for sharing the data on wind power and, yes, I have made up my mind about it as a viable alternative to established means of electricity production.

The fundamental logistics of wind power do not, in my view, justify it and a recent loss of power to a major Texas city dependent on it proves my point. Running standard means of production 24/7 as a necessary backup to wind power suggests its contribution is questionable at best.

Wind power depends on government subsidies and mandates. That strikes me as fundamentally unfair and unwise.

Tom Gray said...

Makes perfect sense, except there has been no loss of power in a major Texas city due to wind.

Thomas O. Gray
American Wind Energy Association

Alan Caruba said...

HOUSTON- Feb 24, 2008 (Reuters) - A drop in wind generation late on Tuesday, coupled with colder weather, triggered an electric emergency that caused the Texas grid operator to cut service to some large customers, the grid agency said on Wednesday.

Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) said a decline in wind energy production in west Texas occurred at the same time evening electric demand was building as colder temperatures moved into the state.

The grid operator went directly to the second stage of an emergency plan at 6:41 PM CST (0041 GMT), ERCOT said in a statement.

System operators curtailed power to interruptible customers to shave 1,100 megawatts of demand within 10 minutes, ERCOT said. Interruptible customers are generally large industrial customers who are paid to reduce power use when emergencies occur.

No other customers lost power during the emergency, ERCOT said. Interruptible customers were restored in about 90 minutes and the emergency was over in three hours.

Tom Gray said...

The real story on the Texas event.

Thomas O. Gray
American Wind Energy Association

Alan Caruba said...

Explaining the facts of the energy loss caused by the failure of the wind energy source does not change the fact that it is an inherently unstable source of energy.

I appreciate that you are personally invested in the success of wind energy, but then so is T. Boone Pickens who expects to reap a substantial profit at the same time that reliance on fossil fuel and nuclear energy will not and cannot be reduced.

As a free market capitalist, I have no problem with this so long as his "message" were more transparent, but regretably, it is not.

Tom Gray said...

You said "the recent loss of power to a major Texas city that depended on it" resulted from wind. That isn't correct. (Thanks for digging up the clip about the utility event, though.)

I realize our response is a little dense-pack, so let me break it down for your readers who may not have the patience to wade through it.

1) The wind did die down in the hours before and during a power shortage. However, this event was forecast. Wind forecasting is the recommended method for dealing with wind variations, but the utility, while it had the forecast, wasn't using it to decide what power plants to turn on.

2) The wind died down over a period of hours. A utility system is supposed to be able to deal with the loss of its largest single plant in a matter of seconds. This is typical of variations in the wind--they happen much more slowly than the kinds of instantaneous service outages that happen on a regular basis during a typical month.

3) Immediately preceding the power shortage, wind decreased by 80 megawatts. NON-wind sources, meanwhile were 350 megawatts (more than 4 times as much) below their schedule. You can blame that on wind if you like, but it's hard to see how it makes much sense.

4) The customers who lost power were large industrial customers who pay a lower rate for electricity in exchange for the understanding that their power supply can be interrupted. This is called "demand response" and the utility system operator is to be commended for using it as a tool to manage the system.

Wind is growing not just in the U.S., but around the world, for two simple reasons: it reduces greenhouse gases and it reduces fuel consumption (stabilizing prices).

Thomas O. Gray
American Wind Energy Association

Alan Caruba said...

Justifying wind power on the grounds that it reduces "greenhouse gases" ignores the fact that CO2 represents a mere 0.038% of the Earth's atmosphere and scientists are increasingly releasing data that indicates it plays a minor role as regards the Earth's temperature. Indeed, CO2 increases decades, if not centuries, after a major shift in the Earth's climate. They don't have to be reduced for any logical or scientific reason. Indeed, more CO2 would be beneficial to the increased growth of crops, forests, and every other piece of vegetation on Earth.

Some consumers in Florida who contributed a couple of million to alternative forms of energy discovered that most of the money went to their utilities marketing and operational expenses after an investigation was made regarding how the money was allocated.

The bottom line is that those industrial users experienced a loss of electricity and that is not good for business. And all because the wind stopped blowing.

Filling up the landscape with acres of windmills as opposed to building a single nuclear generation plant does not strike me as a good idea.

Clive Graham Smale said...

The very fact that we have to nit-pick and discuss whether or not a wind was blowing or not or how hard brings home how, in the BIG picture, this methodology is suitable only for localized situations. As a national main method it fizzles.
At least you in the US can decide for yourselves whether or not to implement the damn things. We (well, my fellow countrymen still residing there) have no such choice. The EU, who are now our masters, have dictated that 32% of our power should be by 'renewables by 2020. Our brilliant leader wants to see upwards of 3,000 wind turbines around our shores.
Let's see a few figures on this absurd creation:
- 3MW generated output is the optimal size,so,
-Brown's proposal of 3000 turbines would equate to 9,000MW.
- however, on average, each turbine produces only 1/3rd of its rated output. So, scratch 9,000MW and settle for 3,000MW.
By comparison the Drax coal-fired power station in Yorkshire, England, produces 3,800MW.
Now we start to see the insane thinking behind these schemes. It has to be insane when one itsy-bitsy power station can blow-off 3000 H.G. Wellian wafters.
Then there is the cost. At a basic cost of pounds2.3Million per MW stuff the piggy bank with Pounds 23 Billion - recently, a new build turbine cost pounds 10 Million for a measly max rated output of 3.5MW.
but a real average output of 1.1MW. Lunacy doesn't begin to describe a policy which the whole UK government (in office and the opposition)has agreed in concensus (that word, again).
Next is the back-up system as we are all, now, aware.
The nuclear, gas and coal generators will still be producing reliable power 24/7, long after the whinning windmills have seized up and in the furnace. Well, the good news for the UK project is that they are unlikely to be built - not in the next 20 years, anyway. There is only one special ship for their erection. To meet the 3,000 targets one such turbine would have to be erected EACH DAY for 11 years! I am smiling to myself as I write this comment, that men in such positions of power (well, not as much as before they gave it away to the EU) can actually believe their own hype. But what do they care? The mugs who pay taxes and electricity bills will be stuck for the hidden subsidies, as usual.
Clive,Laoag City, Philippines

Tom said...

Tom Gray, is that the best you can do defending wind energy in the face of mounting evidence that is does not deserve the subsidies it relies on for its ongoing existence? You still resort to claiming moment by moment energy spurts on weather's schedule as something even approaching the value of reliable capacity . . . and to generalize about, instead of quantifying in proper terms, regarding offsetting emissions and saving fuel is further evidence of the industry's impending decline. Try 2% efficiency in coal emissions reduction, increased demand for and reduced efficiency of gas peakers as wind would try to approach double digit percentages of our electricity mix.

Perhaps your post is a sign of an imminent surrender by the wind industry, at least in North America. We are so lucky to have scholars and industry veterans like Glenn Schleede, Jon Boone and Tony Lodge to help the public understand that wind power is not a very environmentally or fiscal efficiency friendly technology at all.

You are right about one thing - we do have our minds made up. . . and we are sharing what we learn with policymakers and your investor base every single day.

Tom Stacy

Tom Gray said...

OK, OK, thanks, Tom. I admit I am rightfully mocked for spending valuable time here attempting to clear up misconceptions. Thanks for showing me the error of my ways, and see you in the funny papers.

Thomas O. Gray
American Wind Energy Association

Alan Caruba said...

Nice try, Tom Gray, but people have figured out that while wind power may work for smaller applications, as a reliable contributor to the nation's vast and growing needs, it simply will not work.

Tom said...

Mr. Gray, Your time must be valuable, indeed, and the funny papers you speak of must be the ones you help dream up ... where wind power deserves 25 times the subsidy rate of reliable sources of capacity. Certainly you have a financial stake in the windustry's propagation and livelihood - an industry that relies more than 50% on sources of equivalent revenue other than proceeds from true market rate electricity sales.

I appreciate your avoidance of any technical rebuttal to my assertions and your further reliance on half truths - the extrapolations of wishful thinking.

Your nervous laughter comes through loud and clear, sir, but I am dead serious about educating the public truthfully, and for no profit of my own. Best wishes in your next endeavor. I hope you find one that stands on its own two feet in the realm of free enterprise.

Lee Hazel said...

Pickens may really be on to something. Wind can work if it is constant. The only location that I am aware of that meets that criterion is Washington DC.

Seriously though I worked for a major semi-conductor firm back at the beginnings of looking at "silicon" and solar energy as a viable source of electricity.

It failed the most basic test any business must rely on, it was not cost effective. The production energey cost to make a silicon energy device was measured in very large multiples of the energy that would be obtained by its uasage.

This is also true of "windmills". An examination of the energy cost to produce a wind machine, turbine, tower, etc combined with transportation and on site construction as well as the extensive "grid" necessary to connect them is many times the reasonable expected return in energy. This "first cost" is the reason these king sized fans can only succeed when heavily subsidized.

There are many possible "additive" electrical generating sources, eg ocean waves, ocean thermal layers, solar concetration mirror technology, space based mirrors, geothermal, etc, etc, and etc.

Most of them suffer the same problem I mentioned above. They are not at this time even remotely "energy cost effective".

Combine the above with the completely insane notion that any of these technologies could be developed in a timely manner and to a degree to replace even a miniscule potion of current electrical demand is sheer stupidity.

Also the idea that CO2 is a pollutant and needs to be "regulated" and paid for as such is the biggest potential scam in world history.

The only reasonable way to get out of the mess we are currently in is to move as rapidly as humanly possible to drill here, build the Nukes, build clean coal facilities, build refineries, increase use of natural gas, develope Shale oil.

Every one of these can be started right now with two basic provisos: The first lawyer who opens his mouth or files suit to stop this "march to oil sanity" is immediatly HUNG. Second, anybody who gets in the way is simply "run over". This probem is in every way a problem vital to our National Security. It should be treated as such.

PC is Thought Control

Alen: thanks for the "podium"

An aside: I can't help but think that had we not halted nuclear energy developement in this coutry that we would have probably by now found the "key" to controllable "Fusion" energy. IIn any event we would be closer than we are at the present.

Lee Hazel said...

A note to my previous comment:
Would someone expain to me how we are going to "substantially reduce our carbon footprint" while still having the electrical energy necessary to manufacture and place into use any or all of these "alternate, renewable " energy sources.
The first response many times is that we will be cutting down substantially in transportation related carbon. Huh!! first of all using what as a replacement, and two, how are all the workers necessary for this huge resource commitment and manufacturing endeavor supposed to get to and from work. Please spare me the "Public Transportation" mantra.

PC is Thought Control (and so is AGW)

Alan Caruba said...

"Carbon footprint" is environ-talk for simply not using energy in one form or another, i.e. the so-called fossil fuels.

I assume it ties into CO2 or carbon dioxide, but CO2 plays no real role in climate change, occurring always long after such things as the last six or so ice ages of the last several million years.

Dan said...

Jon Boone, a scholar? I have yet to see any evidence that this is actually the case.

Alan Caruba said...

You is corn-fused. We're talking about T. Boone Pickens, not Jon Boone or even Daniel Boone.

If Jon is against wind turbines, I like him.

Dan said...

Tom Stacy, above, listed Jon Boone as a scholar. And as I said I have yet to see any evidence that this is actually the case. I encourage someone to show us that Jon Boone has earned the scholarly repuation he has gained on a number of anti-wind websites.

Tom said...

I have heard of you, Dan. If I referred to Jon Boone as a scholar, I apologize. He writes in a scholarly way and I may have picked up the idea he was a "formal sholar," starch and all, from Eric's site. i will point him to your deep creek blog for comment.

So what if Jon is just and ordinary and very intelligent man without the papers? What I find of over riding importance is that I verified his work regarding the usefulness of wind energy with EXPERTS at AEP, PJM, Buckeye Power and EON Netz. Pretty compelling.

So Dan, please tell us, what do you find so RIGHT about wind energy?