Too Much Wind a Bad Thing?


Trying to find a compromise when it comes to wind power has proven difficult. Few can argue with the fact that wind turbines and the power they generate are a good thing, diversifying our energy mix. The point of contention has been between those who believe wind and other renewable can replace coal (and other traditional sources) and those who are not "blown away" by the wind or "overheated" by solar’s potential.

Now there is a new argument, courtesy of a recent study, that the unpredictable nature of wind is causing an actual increase in carbon dioxide emissions. I’ll let the expert, James Taylor of the Heartland Institute, explain. The bottom line, as Taylor points out, is that Washington just might need to slow down on the emission regulations and the renewable mandates.

Government policies designed to fight global warming by encouraging, subsidizing, or mandating renewable power may be making global warming worse.

In a published paper, electrical engineer Kent Hawkins shows when wind power surpasses 5 percent of power generated, the frequent ramping up and ramping down of other power sources to compensate for wind’s unpredictable variability causes such inefficiency in power generation that overall carbon dioxide emissions rise.

For a good analogy, consider this: A driver who keeps his or her speed at a consistent 60 miles per hour will get better gas mileage than one who frequently accelerates and decelerates between 45 and 75 miles per hour. The inefficiency of frequently ramping up and ramping down vehicle speed is substantial enough that the vehicle driving at variable speeds will burn up more gasoline than many vehicles with a lower fuel economy rating.

The same appears to hold true for power generation. Power plants in the Netherlands, Colorado, and Texas switched some of their generation from coal and natural gas to wind power. Because wind speeds are variable and unpredictable, plant operators were forced frequently to vary the ordinarily steady, constant generation of baseload power to back up variable wind power. Whereas a small amount of wind power generation helped reduce carbon dioxide emissions, those emissions began surpassing prior levels once wind power exceeded 3 percent of the power mix.

If the proponents of federal legislation to force reduction of carbon dioxide emissions are sincerely concerned more about alleged global warming than the accumulation of government power to hand out money and favors to preferred industries and contractors, these real-world carbon dioxide facts should put an immediate freeze on renewable power subsidies, renewable power mandates, and cap-and-tax global warming plans. How Congress responds to these new findings will tell us much about the true motivation behind proposed global warming legislation.

In the lawmaking process, as in life itself, rushing to enact "solutions" to speculative problems before the facts are known usually produces more harm than good. Keeping this axiom in mind, Congress need not rush to enact carbon dioxide restrictions on the American economy. After all, total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are falling, not rising, and they have been declining for the past decade. To the extent global emissions are rising, the fault does not lie with the United States. 

One thought on “Too Much Wind a Bad Thing?

  1. You can always tell when innovation starts to make inroads and challenge the “old way” of thinking. This type of argument demonstrates the success and momentum of wind and solar, and how those with an investment in the traditional approach are threatened. This study is good news for wind and solar.

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