In A Year, It'll Be Like Telephone Poles

New York's annual average wind power

Wind power is sweeping New York State. From Staten Island testing it on top of the old Fresh Kills Landfill to a TOD NYC original idea of Lady Liberty's torch being powered by wind to wind farms in the far north of the state near Lake Ontario, Wind is popping up all over the state. New York State is poised to become one of the national wind power leaders. Currently it has an installed capacity of 186MW, with an additional 487MW in various stages of planning and an estimated potential of 4,070MW at peak capacity. (AWEA). But realizing that potential has some hurdles.

The Gotham Gazette did a recent in depth article about the state of Wind Power in the Empire State, touching on the aesthetic debate and The New York Times recently discussed the debate between individual land owners vs. the surrounding folks that seems to be happening in every rural community upstate as some farmers start to invest in wind power as a new cash crop. One quote that I thought really crystalized the whole debate was this:
Martin J. Beyer, a retired farmer who owns a motel and has two turbines on his land said a few local residents, mostly those who do not farm, objected to the turbines, saying they obstructed rural vistas. But they were outnumbered. "Does anybody pay any attention to electric light poles on the side of the road?" Mr. Beyer asked, saying, "That's exactly what windmills are going to be like in a year."

I hope Mr. Beyer is right. His quote also reminded me of Baloghblog's photos on the aesthetics of wind power in upstate New York. Judge for yourself.

Except these poles will be 400 feet high with blades relentlessly turning. And with moving parts that tend to fail, wind turbines will become even more noisy (and dangerous) than when they're new.

The photos you linked to were amusing in a couple of ways. First, wind turbines require building more high-capacity transmission lines. Second, the photos of turbines were made and selected to make them look small and unintrusive (but look at the trees on Tug Hill: like little dustballs among the towers), and those of the utility poles were made and selected to be as ugly as possible. Ironically, the latter all seem to be in industrialized landscapes or suburban sprawl, where they are not odd features (though still ugly), whereas the wind turbines, even if one thinks they are attractive, are intruders in a rural and even wild landscape.

Here's another photo. Like the trees, the utility poles are quite diminished by the giant turbines.

I don't have time for a long rebuttal, (I guess that I did...) but have to ask a few questions to those in rural settings, and/or those who are opposed to wind energy generation:

Do you have a television set, electric lights or or any electrical appliance that does not run on energy that you yourself produce?

If you are 99% of the rural population, not living off the grid, or with adequate solar PV panels, then your answer is yes.

Where does your local power come from?  Do you know the answer to this question?  [FYI I don't know for sure where mine comes from, I purchase 100% green energy (which is a form of a energy credit), but have to imagine that the actual power that is supplied to my house is from Nine Mile Nuclear Plant.]

If you did not have access to the national energy grid, which would you rather have within a 10, 20 or 50 mile radius of your home?  a) Nuclear Power, b) Hydro-power (large scale dam), c) Coal-fired plant, d) Natural Gas fired plant, e) Windmills, f) no available public utilities within 50 mile radius (also no employment, grocery stores, or farms).

The population of your state and the country is increasing.  Where do you build future additional power capability? a) In city centers, high population poorer population, b) Suburbs, middle population density, c) Rural, farming country, d) rural, wildlife area.  You have to choose somewhere, where is it going to be?  There is no "none of the above". (A tough question for everyone to think about.

My point is simple.  If you live in the pristine corners of the state, your power is someone else's blight.  You're options are nuclear waste, air pollution, the damming of freshwater streams/rivers, or wind towers obstructing the view when looking to provide the power that future generations will need.  If you think that a windmill is bad because it can be seen for 10's of miles, how far do you think that a smoke stack, or nuclear steam vent can be seen?

I am not proposing opening up wildlife areas to wind power, nor putting wind towers over the entire rural landscape destroying the natural beauty.  But rural power is going to have to come from somewhere.  Choose your poison.

As far as the pictures are concerned,  I think that the scale of the windmills is adequately represented.  They are large.  They do move constantly.  I'll give you that.  But you have to admit that this picture is taken in the fall with beautiful colors and from a helicopter to show the entire area.  The Tug Hill is very flat actually, and so your field of distance would be much shorter.  Also 1/2 of the year this area is barren trees and 3 feet of snow.  No one is going site seeing there.  They are either hunting deer or riding ATV's or snowmobiles.

For the life of me, I cannot figure out the complaints about the looks of turbines.  I think they're beautiful.  They look to me like immense kinetic sculptures, monuments to human ingenuity and our ever renewable hope for a better future.  All they need is some Philip Glass background music.

I live in NY State, in the flat region along the southern shore of Lake Ontario.  I fully expect to see turbines every-frickin-where in time, from utility-scale white ones like this in the photo above to smaller, vertical-axis models on individual businesses, outlying government buildings, schools, etc., as it's amazingly windy here at times.  (I guess our Canadian friends tend to leave their fans on, all pointing in this direction.)

I can't wait.

All they need is some Philip Glass background music.
That's one way to keep wind farms out:  have them offend the music lovers too! ;-)
Moving from aesthetics to beating one over the head with the need for electrical generation raises the other problem with large-scale wind power on the grid: it doesn't work. NYSERDA, generously assuming a 30% capacity factor for on-shore turbines in New York, figured that their effective capacity would be only 10%. That is, for every megawatt of power you want, you have to build 10 megawatts of wind turbines.

And you still need a complete backup set of other sources not only to balance the variable power from wind but also to provide electricity when the wind isn't up to speed.

At around 50 acres per megawatt, you would indeed have to open up wildlife areas to development and put wind towers over the entire rural landscape. And you'd still require the other blights, since wind can't replace dispatchable and more reliable sources.

Here's another picture from Tug Hill.

another pretty picture:

I still am waiting for real answers to the questions posted above.

FYI - Nuclear Power is much closer to 100% efficiency for energy production, compared with the figures that you quote for wind power.  I guess we should go with that then.

Picture boosted from here

Hiya Balogh et al.  In this debate I agree with George Monbiot.  As long as wind power is just a piece in a policy of endless "growth", it will do nothing to prevent the problems it is supposed to help with.  We'll still build more nuclear and coal plants, etc.  On the other hand, if we were to make NOW the drastic reductions in demand that we'll have to do eventually anyway...

In other words, to quote Albert Bartlett, we don't have an energy crisis, we have an energy scarcity leading to a cultural crisis.  Until we attack the "demand" directly, we're not dealing with the real crisis.  Yes I use electricity from the grid, but about 1/5 of the typical US household, and I do that easily and without any hardship: CFL bulbs, turn lights off when leaving a room, no constant outdoor lighting, recent model fridge, heat water on something other than electricity, no air conditioning.  If half of Americans did the same, we'd have enough electrical power for a long time...

Another issue here is the insistence of the wind power developers on using the technology that maximizes profits, without regard for anything else.  In other words, the same mindset that got us into trouble with the other energy schemes.  We can have plenty of wind power without the problems that those mega-turbines bring, by doing the following:

  • Use smaller turbines.  In the 10-100KW range.   (Of course we'll need to build more of them.)

  • Build them at lower elevations.  (This is relevant to the current debate in Vermont, where the proposals are to build them on the tops of the highest ridges.)

Yes, this will approximately double the money cost per KWH.   (The reduction in the need for large transmission lines, thanks to more distributed generators, helps minimize the difference.)  If we used the electricity sparingly, as if we appreciated the miraculous gift that it is, that price would be good enough, and it would minimize the other, non-monetary costs.

Finally, unless we stop population growth, ALL is lost.  Say goodby to the planet, even if they all drive hybrids recharged on wind power.  Food from where?  We'll have draconian birth control, or we'll have wholesale death.  Pick your choice.

Where do you get the 10% effective capacity from?  Multiplying the 30% capacity factor by itself?  That's faulty (dishonest) accounting.
As I said up there, the 10% effective capacity figure is from an analysis by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority: "The effects of integrating wind power on transmission system planning, reliability, and operations," March 4, 2005, prepared by GE Energy Consulting (an odd choice, since GE Wind is profiting greatly from public policies supporting wind power, but it does make the 10% figure all the more believable and even generous).

The Royal Academy of Engineering in the U.K., the Irish Grid, and a couple of studies in Germany (according to grid manager Eon Netz) all calculate that the effective capacity of wind is about a third of its average capacity.

If you account for the higher losses from power transmission from wind-mills located who-knows-where, the losses for maintaining a spinning reserve or from enforced pumped storage, the thermodynamic losses of rapidly ramping up or down reserve capacity and all others related to wind power variability, the overall efficiency will be well south of 20%.
Sounds like a lack of DSM to me; if the operator could turn water heaters and the like on and off with the variations of the wind, all those problems would disappear.
I just put up a new post that might make this all feel a little more real. The formula is going to have to be something like: Massive conservation and efficiency gains PLUS Quickly ramping up Alternatives. I invite you all over to continue out conversation up there.
So all you need to do is buy an electric car ...

... and all our worries are over ;-)