Alexandra Weit has followed the wind energy industry in the San Gorgonio Pass, California since its beginnings. In 2008, she obtained nine years of production records directly from Southern California Edison that showed both the amount of energy generated by the site's wind turbines and the period in the day when it was produced.
Using this data and other research, Ms. Weit authored an essay titled "OK..., but what happens when the wind doesn't blow?" and submitted it to the Desert Sun newspaper, where it was promptly rejected. The editor wrote "I found that your premise is just too flawed," and shared with her the basis of his claim -- feedback he received from the CEO of a California-based wind energy provider whose e-mail is posted below.
Ms. Weit misstates the facts, I am sure it is unintentional. With regard to her points, the correct information follows:
Wind is not backed up by conventional generators, the utility does not pay twice. Southern California is served by dozens of generating resources, boulder dam, nuclear energy, gas fuel plants, wind, solar and others. Except for boulder dam they are ALL intermittent. Conventional power plants often trip off unexpectedly. The spinning reserve exists to deal with the shortfall from the loss of any of these sources. In fact wind energy is scheduled based on weather forecasts and during the time it delivers it is a most dependable source because with wind it is not all or nothing as it is in a nuclear plant, a few windmills may fail to produce in the forecasted windy time but the vast majority will produce. There is no spinning reserve dedicated to wind power.
2. In our area wind production matches on-peak and mid peak demand 60 percent of the time, when energy is most needed.
3. I am unaware of any $23 per megawatt subsidy for wind unless she means the production tax credit which expired years ago for most of the windmills here. Compare the federal subsidy for Nuclear energy which is $90 per megawatt just in the reprocessing and loan guarantee costs the government assumes.
4. To understand output you must distinguish between "Megawatts of Capacity", i.e. the total size of the generators installed by the wind energy industry, and" Kilowatt hours" which is the measure of energy produced. Ms. Weit's statistics are far off the mark here. Her source is a leading anti-wind energy web site which we have been told is funded in part by the coal industry. It is wildly inaccurate. The San Gorgonio Pass windmills have a total Capacity of 685 Megawatts. Last year they produced one Billion Eight Hundred Million (1,800,000,000) kilowatt hours of energy, enough to meet the needs of 180,000 households. This energy is scheduled and accepted by the utility and the system operator, both of which are actively seeking to purchase more of this clean energy.
5. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Ms. Weit doesn't like the look of windmills, many do. They are a significant tourist attraction here in the valley. Our surveys find that the majority of people like the look and appreciate the clean energy.
6. A word on birds. All independent biological surveys done here confirm our empirical experience, windmills don't kill birds here. This is because, unlike some areas, the game they feed on is not found on the floor of the valley, the raptors just don't hunt near windfarms. And, the studies predicting wholesale slaughter of birds in Northern California have been debunked because they were based in large part on altered data.
If you need any clarification please advise.
Yes, Mr. CEO, we would appreciate some clarification on a few points you raise:
A) Nuclear power is a baseload resource in every region of the country. How can it now be defined as intermittent given plants in the U.S. operate at 90-92% capacity factors? Your contention that nuclear power is on par with low-value wind generation and less reliable than hydro is simply wrong.
B) You argue that wind is more dependable than conventional generating resources, including nuclear, based on a concept that enough turbines erected will assure at least some energy will flow -- this, of course, provided the wind is blowing. But how much, and will that energy flow when we need it? Can you assure us there will be sufficient power to run an economy, or even a small hospital?
C) The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports $23 per megawatt hour subsidy for wind. We encourage you to look at Table ES5 of this recent report. [See editor's note below]
D) Ms. Weit's figures came directly from Southern California Edison. Do you have different, real numbers we might compare? Since the production figures you quoted (1,800,000,000 kilowatt hours from 685 megawatts installed capacity) represent a flat 30% average annual capacity factor, we're assuming you opted for an off-the-cuff industry number just to make a point.
F) And finally, regarding your "word on birds" we would be interested in any details substantiating your claim that "studies predicting wholesale slaughter of birds in Northern California have been debunked." The wind turbines in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (APWRA) have caused annual fatalities of thousands of raptors and other birds. And, despite an Avian Protection Program requiring mitigation measures and eventual repowering to modern wind turbines APWRA-wide fatality rates increased significantly for multiple bird species, including 85% for all raptors and 51% for all birds.
Windaction.org is well aware from talks we've given around the country that Wind Speak as highlighted above is very common. And it doesn't surprise us when a newspaper editor falls prey to it. But there is NO excuse for Mr. CEO's blatant misrepresentations. If his product were as effective as he believes, wouldn't the truth suffice?
Editor's note: The link to the EIA report included in our weekly Wind Alert! was incorrect. It has been corrected here. Our apologies for any inconvenience.