Manager Report

Wind Power Pollution?

While watching the landscape of North West Missouri continuing to change as another Wind Turbine field goes up I couldn’t help but share some of the unintended consequences associated with this renewable energy.  While I believe it’s necessary to investigate all forms of alternative energy, I think we might want to stop and re-examine Wind energy as it might not be quite as good as we think.

In the recent push to save the planet from the impending doom of climate change the world has gone a little carbon crazy. While an overwhelming consensus still have serious doubts about the effect of carbon dioxide on the earth’s climate we will just for a moment assume this argument is valid and that to avoid certain peril we must regulate carbon output. The first step was to reduce the CO2 output of power plants (even though they only contribute about 31% of man-made CO2), which produced two viable new generation options, solar and wind power. Although solar can lay claim to winning in the efficiency battle, the vast amount of renewable energy produced comes from wind.

With a total of 84,000 MW of wind capacity added over the past 17 years here in the United States, climate change advocates are feeling pretty good as wind energy is totally free, abundant and completely carbon free. Obviously this clean and green energy would cause the total CO2 output from power plants to be significantly reduced. Right? Well not so fast.

 If we truly look at the overall impact that wind power has on the electric grid just the opposite seems to be true. When wind turbines are employed it is true that they have no carbon dioxide output, but by utilizing them in conjunction with our electric grid, and our desire to have reliable electricity every minute of the day, they actually increase CO2 output.  How is that possible? Well its much like driving your car. When you purchase a vehicle, you see two gas mileage ratings, one for city driving and one for highway driving. The start/stop driving and multiple accelerations of city driving negatively impacts both your fuel mileage and pollution output. Power plants work much the same way. When they are running near capacity they are much more efficient and emit less pollution than when they are cycled up and down or idling in standby mode. Renewable energy is very difficult to schedule and it’s not uncommon to have the wind suddenly stop or the sun to stop shining. When they do, traditional power plants must be there to pick up the slack. Thankfully they are or you would only have power around 25-30% of the time.

So, what’s the final verdict on Wind energy? Well it does produce some energy and if it’s the only thing available it might be a perfect fit. However. trying to utilize it as part of the traditional grid seems somewhat pointless. It does not reduce pollution so the CO2 argument seems to be invalid, it causes traditional power plants to work much harder to handle the intermittency of wind, it is by no means cheap and if not for heavy government subsidization (that’s your and me) it would not exist in the marketplace at all. Other than that, it works well.