Sarah Ross

Why are Governor Ted Kulongoski and the Oregon Legislature spending millions of dollars pursuing what could prove to be carbon-emitting energy? While Oregon’s commercialization of wind power may appear to be carbon-free, it can bring a hidden carbon footprint.

Because of the unreliable nature of wind power, running a backup energy source is necessary at times when wind is forecasted to generate electricity but fails to do so. While wind is unreliable, demand for electricity is constant. Backup sources must remain running to compensate for any spikes in demand and lulls in wind generation. In many areas, this backup energy source, which is generating emissions but no electricity, comes in the form of carbon-emitting fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas.

In the Pacific Northwest, this back-up energy source has been hydroelectricity. This means that wind power is not actually offsetting carbon emissions, but trading one renewable resource for another instead. The Bonneville Power Administration, the federal power authority for the Pacific Northwest, has announced that hydropower may no longer be able compensate for wind’s unreliability, and that BPA is considering utilizing fossil fuel plants as a backup source in addition to other strategies.

Although wind power may seem to reduce carbon emissions, wind power’s unreliable nature makes these carbon reduction claims questionable. Politicians in Oregon should stop funding wind farms that will effectively create more carbon emissions or simply displace hydropower, a carbon-free energy source.

 

3 Responses to “Not a Carbon-Free Breeze”

  1. Ron Corso August 12, 2009 at 5:02 am #

    It’s about time that more people come to realize that wind power is not the perfect fix for our long-term need to find solutions to our energy needs. Yes, it’s renewable, but as your commentary points out it is not dependable power. In addition, it is notoriously unreliable with serious equipment issues that cause breakdowns. Furthermore, it is a costly source of energy that will drive up power rates, especially when considering down time and maintenance costs. And, the pipe dream relies on the so-called smart grid which can never be smart enough to deal with no wind. The recent heat wave on the Northwest saw temperatures reach well over 100 degrees and where was wind power – its 2,000 MW was reduced to 24 MW at the peak temperature period and rendered useless. To add to this problem, consider what the Texas ERCOT has decided, namely that it can only depend on wind power to provide between 3% and 16% of its full rating, and is temporarily using 8.7%. In fact, Electricity regulators and utilities have tried to get a handle on how much energy wind power actually produces, and estimates vary widely—from as low as 5% to as high as 30%. Last year’s NREL report has all the details. It is truly junk energy. We cannot pin our energy future to something that unreliable or we’ll be doomed to roving brownouts.

  2. David Appell August 14, 2009 at 4:27 pm #

    Sarah, I don’t know of anyone who is claiming that wind power (or wind + solar) can replace all of today’s power sources — do you?

    Wind power doesn’t help with the the peak power problem, but does offset carbon burning at the more or less planned rate. And that’s the big goal here: reducing carbon emissions whenever and wherever possible.

    Also, the backup for wind power is not necessarily C-free hydropower. See the recent story from the Tribune, discussed here:

    http://davidappell.blogspot.com/2009/08/this-is-interesting-wind-power-usually.html

    David


    David Appell, freelance science journalist
    e: appell@nasw.org
    w: http://www.nasw.org/users/appell
    m: St. Helens, OR

  3. John Belgarde August 15, 2009 at 1:51 pm #

    Your article makes no mention of the reports by people living near these monstrosities. Many are reporting ill effects caused by the low frequency sound emissions. The same frequency emitted by the windmills is supposed to be similar to the frequency used in sound generators for crowd dispersal.
    Some of the reports point to serious side effects experienced by those who live within a couple miles of windmills. Some of these symptoms are quite serious and debilitating. If there proves to be serious medical concerns it will also effect the people financially as well as medically. Who would want to buy a home that you had to leave because it had become uninhabitable due to environmental concerns. Nothing like seeing the $250,000.00 dollars you spent on your home go up in smoke.
    If it has harmful effects on people you have to wonder how these low frequency sound waves effect the wildlife. Animals have more acute hearing than people. If people find it harmful it surly has a detrimental effect on the local wildlife.

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