A Little knowledge is a dangerous thing. That is essentially how one should read Delmarva’s letter to the General Assembly done under the auspicious penmanship of Harris McDowell and co-signed by Ms Hudson.

In Ms Hudson’s case, perhaps she was misled. That is easy to do when one studies for the first time, the problems of wind power in depth . If one looks at wind power, there are indeed some considerations that may give you a “Halloween scare” at first. But if you lift up the costume, you find it really isn’t as scary as some juveniles try to make it out to be……….

One of the aspects of wind power that those in the pocket of Delmarva have been whispering around Legislative Hall, is that during the summer months, when electrical usage peaks, the wind just isn’t there. That stacks well with the common human experience: when it is too cold, the wind always blows hard making one feel colder. Brrrr. But when laying on the beach in dire need of a breath of wind to blow, stirring the tepid air and cooling things off,… it is nowhere to be found. Such is life.

So is “the letter” fact?.. Or fiction?… A little of both would be the appropriate answer. First, if you click on this link you will see the Delaware portion of this map showing the average wind data determined from studies of wind data over the last several years.

Average Wind Data for Delaware and Maryland

As one can see, the Delaware coast averages in the class 3 zone of wind, and it even has a pocket for future development, of a class 4 just off the coast of Lewes. This is the yearly average, taken from data during the autumn, winter, spring and summer months.

If you check each of these maps (4 links above), the summer months are quite weak compared to the rest of the seasons. This is also unfortunately, the time when air conditioners work the hardest and draw the most energy from the grid per entire year.

In “the letter” McDowell offers to counter the Blue Water proposal by buying power from the ridge lines of future Wind turbines in western Maryland and West Virginia. But as the map shows, they have just as much capacity as does the off shore farm during the summer months. In fact the nearest place to get better wind, would be off Cape Cod or from Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, both of which are a long distance away. The new Vestas V90 and most particularly the newest GE 3.6 MW turbines, can still create adequate electricity during Class 2 winds. Therefore, even though the wind is lighter during the summer months, power will continue to be generated during those moments when the wind drops below 11.5 mph. As I proposed before, were we to build an even bigger 600MW capacity farm,…. during the summer more turbines would be on line to turn (more slowly of course) but still by their increased numbers, more additional power would be generate towards the grid.

For those of you concerned about global warming and the amount of carbon rising out of Edgemoor and Millsboro even as we speak, the very fact that wind is stronger in winter, causes less carbon to be liberated from fossil fuels than if it were the opposite scenario, winds stronger in summer. According to this recent MIT study, who studied the possibility of wind power off the coast of Massachusetts, he noted that due to economics, when wind came on strong during the winter months, the energy source that would be the first choice to be taken off line, would be that of coal.

You would think that wind power is not a good fit for New England because it’s not there when you need it most—midday during the summer when demand and prices are high,” said Mr. Connors. “But from an emissions-reduction perspective it actually fits very well.”

That is because the price of natural gas peaks during winter, and less natural gas is used for power generation then, since its supply must be split with that used for heating homes during that time of year. Power companies keep the gas turbines on standby only and run their coal plants to support the bulk of their power load. Therefore when the wind blows strongly, taking the coal plants off line is the first choice utilities companies predominantly make. Contrary to this, during the summer months, utility companies predominantly use gas turbines as their number one choice to cut back, since they are in place only to cover the increased peaks of demand. If demand surges, gas turbines are the fastest way to get power on line. Therefore whenever the wind blows more during the summer, the expensive gas turbines are first to be taken off line and the impact of drastically reducing CO2 levels is minimized, since the cheaper coal fired power plants are belching smoke and poisons 24/7 to keep up with demand. It is ironically interesting how that supposed weakness, less wind in summer, actually plays out.

In fact, not only is less CO2 given out into the atmosphere, because the wind blows stronger during the winter months, but fewer consumer dollars escape our pocket books as well. According to the 2006 data, compiled by General Electric for the state of New York:

A recent landmark study of wind integration into the New York State electric power system, looking at a 10% addition of wind generation (3,300 MW of wind in a 34,000-MW system), projected a reduction in payments by electricity customers of $305 million in one year.”

Although the economics of scale will play a part, one can expect that a 600MW wind farm would save 1/5 of that number, or $65 million a year, or the proposed 300 MW version would save a little less than 1/10th or $30 million a year. Both are valuable points to be considered as we go forward.

Another problem associated with wind power that surfaced during my analysis, was the difficulty caused by the lack of adequate transmission lines. All the raw data of wind efficiency from Denmark is faulted by the fact that Denmark is electrically split into two halves: one half being rural, and that is where the wind farms are, and the other half being heavily populated. There is, I think, only one antiquated cable that interconnects the two power grids. Therefore whenever the wind blows, the excess is farmed out to Norway, Sweden, and Germany. Those nations have a higher grade of transmission lines connecting to the peninsula of Denmark than does the other half of Denmark, located on the islands. Keep that in mind should you ever hear of how much of the Danish wind energy is not used by the Danes themselves.

Transmission lines, or lack of them, play a very important role in the cost of transmitting German wind energy as well. For some reason, and I am curious as to the historical significance as to why, there are very few connections between northern and southern Germany. I was surprised, that because of the high capacity level of the Netherlands’s transmission lines, that when the wind strongly blows in Germany, and power needs to be alleviated rapidly, that it is looped around to southern Germany via the Netherlands. It is this the aggravating problem that has caused some consternation within the German parliament over future subsidies towards the funding of wind generative power. When it comes to power, having too much in one place (zap), can be quite costly.

The electricity industry points out that the obligation to feed in electricity generated by windmills has increased infrastructure costs due to the fact that windmills have to be situated according to prevailing wind circumstances, which are often far from the consumption site of the electricity. The obligation to feed in electricity generated by windmills is apparently also used by the industry to refuse the connection of new generation capacity, or enable it only on condition that a capacity study is paid. According to some network users, these arguments might sometimes also be (mis-) used with a view to justifying refusal of access.

Delaware is soon to receive high transmission lines that run from Salem Nuclear Plant, down to Indian River, and across the peninsula over to Washington, DC. The Blue Water Wind farm generated power can tie in near Indian River, and when the wind blows at a Class 4 or Class 5, the excess power can be in DC in less than one second. The building of these transmission lines is critical if Blue Water Wind is to go forward. Hopefully one day the lines can be extended north to NYC, should we ever go green on the expansion to 600MW. High transmission lines are critically necessary for keeping wind power at its cheapest.

The New York study which I mentioned above also notes that the wind blows in Buffalo, yet the power is needed in NYC. The study mentions the need for better lines across the Empire State, but still, even with the existing infrastructure, money and CO2, and SO2 emissions are saved whenever the wind blows.

Wind generation has the potential to significantly reduce the cost of system operation in New York while also reducing emissions and dependence on fossil fuels. The zonal spot prices would decrease by a few percent to as much as 10%. The SOx emissions in New York could reduce by 5% and the NOx emissions by 10% with the addition of 3,300 MW of wind generation. While there was some increase in transmission congestion due to the fact that most of the proposed wind sites are in upstate and western New York, the bulk of the increased flows occurred during times that the interfaces were not fully loaded. In fact, despite the location of the wind farms more downstate thermal generation was displaced than upstate.

The above study is also the first attempt I have seen on how to control the variances caused by relying on nature, when one relies on wind for their electricity. They propose a bid summary, I think more complicated than the one on the table in Delaware, but probably more accurate and effective. Basically the wind company would propose how much power they would produce the next day, the next hour, the next 6 minutes. Should more than that amount occur, they would take themselves off line. Should less than that amount occur, they would owe the transmission company compensation for “subbing” their low cost power with a higher cost source. This would cause wind companies to underbid their potential: better to waste free energy, than pay through the nose for being wrong…… Since I have become interested in wind power, thanks to that wonderful picture in the News Journal showing the artist rendition of windmills off Rehoboth Beach, I have been tracing the amounts of wind predicted the day before and actual a day later. The forecasts have been remarkable accurate. And that is just from meteorologists!.

The ability to accurately forecast the wind generation for the day ahead market can greatly enhance its value. Roughly 25% of the system cost reductions between the “no wind” and “actual wind” cases results from the ability to predict the wind ahead of time and reflect its generation in the commitment of the rest of the system. The existing forecast accuracy seems to pick up 90% of that difference, but the remaining 10% is worth about $1.50/MWh of wind generation.

When ever one wonders what the cost of wind will be, one hears how expensive electricity is in Denmark, and thanks to a taxpayer junket in “real friendly” Amsterdam (try this, it’s really good stuff), we are now hearing how expensive electricity is in the Netherlands. No argument: both of those countries have the highest prices in Europe……

Graph showing Taxes, VAT, inclusions of Europes Energy Costs

When you hear that factoid, however, do yourself a favor…….do not jump to the conclusion that those high costs are because of wind. For in truth, if truth must be told, ………….their prices are high because of…. “socialism.” Those two nations force the cost of energy higher with various taxes to create efficiency in heating, to limit pollution, to minimize CO2 emissions, and use that tax revenue to subsidize a variety of services giving both of those countries the highest standards of living in the world. If living well, ever becomes one of your lifelong goals,… then those are the two best countries to study. However, should one ever investigate the truth about Denmark, which has the highest electrical cost in Europe, the actual cost of the energy itself, is right near the midway point of all of Europe. This graph shows exactly that (page down to Graph 3). Natural gas is expensive in Western Europe. It is shipped in LPG ships from the Persian Gulf. Gas is cheap in Eastern Europe. It is piped through the old Soviet pipelines at rather low prices. Denmark’s actual cost of energy, is almost equal to that of Estonia. Compare that to those other nations who are primarily using natural gas to power their turbines, the way Delmarva wishes to go right here in Delaware………..Wind is cheaper……by a long shot…..

So when you hear that electricity is 30 cents a kilowatt in the Netherlands, remember it is because of the high cost of natural gas, and taxes……….not free wind.

When wind farms were first developed off the coast of Denmark, it was common during the experimental phase for some wind turbines to produce electricity at a cost close to 30 cents per kilowatt. Keep in mind that was then, Remember what a 125 megabyte computer USED TO COST? Well the same principle is true in the world of wind generation technology. The newest GE 3.6MW turbine, partially developed right here in the USA, has a generating cost as low as 2.3 cents a kilowatt hour. Just as no one uses a 125MB computer anymore, nor do wind farms use 30 kilowatt/hour turbines either………..

Another assertion made by McDowell in “the letter“, is that instead of having our own cheap form of electricity that reduces our carbon footprint, we could easily buy someone else’s wind power and be happy knowing that we helped the environment. I confess. I do not see the wisdom of such an adventure for a number of reasons.

Number one, assuming that decreasing our carbon footprint is a viable goal, doesn’t it make sense that having two wind farms generating electricity, thereby replacing twice as much carbon fuel burned, would save more carbon from being burned than one wind farm, on whose energy everyone would then bid upon?

Secondly, I am not sure of his grasp of economics. But from my point of view, it has always been cheaper to “grow your own” than buy it from an outside supplier. Just look at how cheap gasoline was when it came from Texas….. Of course the sliding scale of economics can play a role here. Raising beets in my backyard would be more expensive if all I wanted was one beet. I would be better off getting one in the “green” Walmart’s produce department. But if I want a large supply, I am financially better off to buy a pack of seeds, and do a little work in my backyard, and have many beets for a little more than the price of one……..The same plan works regardless of scale. Over time, and on a very large scale, it is cheaper to grow your own energy, than buy and pay the asking price of someone else’s work……….irregardless…….

Thirdly, remember the largest problem was moving energy from where the wind turbines had to be located in order to catch the prevailing winds, over to where the demand (heavily populated areas) needed the energy consumed. McDowell’s wish to use sources from “far, far away” add prohibitive costs that Delawareans would not otherwise pay, if they had wind power spinning daily in their own backyard.

Fourth, if I could again quote the New York Study mentioned above, having a Delawarean wind farm would actually be VERY GOOD for the Mid Atlantic grid as a whole. Remember how the biggest headache caused by wind, is its intermittent tendencies. As the New York study points out, it could certainly happen that a doldrum appears out of nowhere and shuts down a wind farm. Zero. Nada. Anyone who has relied on wind to cross one of the seven seas, knows first hand that this is a reality……But for an event to occur, where every wind farm across the Empire state were to suddenly lose wind at the same moment, has a probability ranked close to impossible. Therefore geographically balancing the locations of wind farms over a wide area, increases the chance of consistent power generation, and reduces the risk of power fluctuations caused by natural unavoidable events. As you can see from the map near the top of my post, most of the land based wind farms will be located on top of the Appalachian chain. Quite possibly that whole area could experience a lull. But usually, due to the distance between the mountains and the shore, we are rarely simultaneously affected by the same weather system. When we have a low, they have a high; when we have a high, they have a low. (Lows are good: highs are bad.) Therefore building a Delaware wind farm is imperative if we seriously seek to balance the grid in order to utilize renewable energy in our future. It evens the risk. As my gambling buddies will attest, you gain much better odds at conservatively playing 5 hands of black jack simultaneously, then you do just playing one single hand………..

Based on the data provided, day ahead forecast accuracy is fairly high when viewed across a projected 3,300 MW of wind capacity spread across the state. The accuracy for individual wind farms will not be as high and it may be appropriate for multiple wind farms to merge their forecasts on a zonal or regional basis.

Another aspect of “the letter is misleading.” In the comparison between the expense of onshore versus offshore wind farms, McDowell makes the case that on shore is cheaper. Hopefully most readers have a general knowledge of geography of the Netherlands. It is quite flat. Now look again at the map near the top of this post, the one showing the average wind speed over Delaware and Maryland. If you were investing your own money, where would you chose to build your wind farm…..surely not outside of Laurel, Delaware? Obviously you would chose to build it where the wind was: at the top of the Appalachians where the wind class averaged a 5. Now I am not sure how familiar you are with the geography of that region, but the wind farms will be built where there are no roads, on top of 4000 foot mountains, often in pristine wilderness unseen by humans except for an occasional hiker, or hunter. Into this natural habitat belches earth moving machinery,to scalp and flatten the mountain top, making way for giant towers with three propellers. If one culls through the “not in my backyard” literature of land based opponents of land based wind farms, one realizes that the costs and damage caused by wind farms on mountain tops, is severe. With mountain top removal, the effect of wind farms to locations downstream, is similar to that of strip mining.

Furthermore, developing land based wind farms in areas currently protected by parks and National Forests, calls into question the very benefit of reducing ones carbon imprint. If you remember, one of the fifteen wedges required to reduce the carbon ppm’s in our atmosphere, was to immediately stop the removal of trees, and begin seriously reforesting those areas that have none. Trees are nature’s sieve that remove CO2 and replace it with O2, from which we benefit greatly. Therefore, since renewable energy is designed to lessen our carbon imprint, construction of mountain ridge wind farms is a step in the wrong direction……

On the other hand, an offshore wind farm is good for underwater ecology. Life flourishes under the towers. Of course as word gets out in “shark world” about the bounty off Rehoboth Beach, we may get more “dorsal fin” sightings, but sometimes one has to take the good with the bad. Economic benefits associated with underwater life forms (fishing) naturally follow. Bottom line, offshore wind farms are good for the environment. Onshore wind farms, such as those proposed by McDowell, are not……….

The letter asks that all members of the General Assembly consider wind power to be experimental….and the correct response should be experimental to whom? For wind power has been around since 1888; the first wind generator was invented by a Clevelander George Brush, (a probable Cy Young fan). Wind generated electricity throughout the midwest during the 30 ‘s. Currently offshore wind farms are up, or going up in almost every industrialized nation on the planet. The only place such technology could be considered experimental, would be in the US. Even so, on the books are plans for offshore wind farms off Texas, off Massachusetts, off New York, and recently we learned, off Maryland. If Delaware delays, the rest of the world is moving forward fast. By doing nothing, we are quickly falling behind. If we fail to move forward quickly,we will find ourselves in wind’s back eddy. Large wind farms dot the shores of Denmark. In less than four years, Britain will have the largest wind farm in operation in the Thames estuary. Experimental, by definition, means new and unaccepted methods. However, that definition would fall short when describing off shore wind, because every major government, every major energy corporation, has seriously invested in wind. Are we to presume that McDowell has a better grasp upon wind technology, than say Royal Dutch Shell, which has chosen to invest 1 Billion in the London Array itself?

And this tidbit from General Electic, just in today:

Energy more than doubled in the quarter, over $4 billion of orders driven by tremendous performance in thermal and wind,” Chief Financial Officer Keith Sherin said in a conference call with investors

When told wind is experimental, one should question whether or not sequestration of CO2, in itself is not also experimental, or whether or not the result of tax breaks for roof=top solar panels, in itself is not also experimental? Can one truly expect average consumers to willingly give up the energy savings they worked so hard to save, to an SEI fund? Is that in itself, not also experimental?

Good advice would be…..when told wind power is experimental, to ask….” experimental for whom?”

Finally “the letter” calls for more detailed studies to be made on the effects of a wind farm. Excuse me, but these studies WERE ALREADY DONE!!! Ever since the picture in the News Journal captured the imagination of Delawareans last February showing wind turbines off the coast of Rehoboth, Delaware has been embroiled in an openly transparent quest to determine the best energy option for Delaware’s future. The best studies that money could buy, funded by Delmarva, Connectiv, Pepco, and NRG, all attempted to discredit Bluewater Wind……AND THEY ALL FAILED. Despite all attempts, wind power was deemed by all four parties responsible for making the decision, to be THE BEST CHOICE FOR DELAWARE!!! This call for more detailed studies, is complicit with Delmarva’s obvious strategy of delay, delay, delay. Just as an tobacco company, obviously in the wrong, extends the court calendar with extension, after extension, after extension, after extension, so is Delmarva, using the same strategy by first filing nuisance lawsuits, second refusing to negotiate on good faith, and now thirdly, using its cronies to revisit in the General Assembly, which I should add, is a DIRECT VIOLATION OF HOUSE BILL 06. This bill (in order to prevent such a last ditch attempt to sabotage the will of the Delawarean people) clearly outlines the responsibility lies solely with the Public Service Commission to make all determinations in regards to our future energy supply…….Just as an insurance company drags its feet in paying off a claim, meanwhile continuing to overcharge its clients to generate excessive income, so is Delmarva doing exactly the same. Into their hands, six legislators have either innocently or maliciously, decided to play along………This constant delay, delay, delay can be alleviated simply by implementing a counter suit against Delmarva…..Such action should be implemented immediately. The Term letter agreement with Bluewater wind stipulates that if the wind farm is not completed on time, a 68 million dollar penalty is due from Bluewater wind, payable to Delmarva. Obviously, any fool can see this incentive for Delmarva to drag its feet! Except for, I guess, those legislators with hands deep into Delmarva’s pocket……..

Finally one has to ask, in relevance to this Ruth Ann Minner junket to investigate the power of wind, …..why Amsterdam?
They have one offshore wind farm that is experimental. Why not Denmark, with the oldest, and largest number of off shore turbines? Why not Germany, which is the number one producer of wind power in the world, which produces 16% of all their power by wind? Why not quiet Spain, which is the number 2 wind power producer, and just this summer, decided to develop offshore potential as well, in a big way….3000 MV? Why not study the land wind farms of North Dakota, which from the maps above, have remarkable potential to supply much of Americas future power needs? Why not California, which has the highest MW from wind by any state? Why not Texas, which is second, or Iowa (3), or Washington (4)? One would certainly expect such, if one truly wanted to study the impact of introducing and controlling wind power within the current grid.

Was Amsterdam culled from a list of potential candidates, and picked in order to discredit wind, with what Emily Dickinson called “a certain slant”. Or was it picked for other reasons. All I can say, is based on a rather loose critical interpretation of “the letter” there must be some “really good stuff” in Amsterdam.