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There are some problems with wind power. First of all, the largest problem is the wind. Sometimes it is there, and sometimes it isn’t. This may not mean much if you know or care little about electricity, except that it comes on when you flip the switch.

The larger problem stems from the fact that electricity can not be stored. It has to be used immediately. And a secondary problem is that if we get too much, or too little, at any time, we go black.

Imagine this scenario:

“Sir: sensors show winds picking up off Rehoboth. We are climbing from 9, 12, 15 19 mph. We show all turbines moving at peak efficiency. Power entering Indian River grid.”

Supervisor: “Pull power plants off line NOW! Shut down Edgemoor and Del City! Are they off line yet? Open connectors to PA and MD now, Get on the phone tell them we have 1.5 megawatts barreling their way! NOW!

Monitor: “Sir, wind speeds dropping off Rehoboth now. We’re at 9, 6, 4 mph. Turbines are shut down and off line. ”

Supervisor: “Damn! We’re going black. Open connectors! Tell Edgemoor and Del City to fire full up: we need full capacity. Tell PA and MD we are on standby to import…..”

Monitor: “Sir, wind speeds are climbing again……..”

Perhaps these few words can describe better than a hundred reports on why wind power is not the most reliable source of electricity. This scenario would instantly change if technology were to produce some type of battery which could store live electricity to be used later whenever it was needed.

Rule one of management has always been to find someone who is doing it right and do what they do. So in an effort to analyze the economics of wind power I turned to Denmark, the leader of Wind power technology and the country producing the highest percentage of its power by wind.

The results seemed promising at first. They have been leading the curve on wind power since the early eighties.

By 2005 they planned to have up to 29% of their power generated through wind. As more wind towers came on line, the more the fluctuations became apparent and the tougher it became to control the grid.

Here is the scoop. Most of the energy is generated during winter and at night. Coincidentally, those are the times of least demand. The excess energy is sent to Norway, Sweden, and Germany at bargain rates. As a part of the whole grid, wind power contributes 1 %. So the entire grid can contain these wild fluctuations with little impact. The sad irony is that in Norway and Sweden, hydroelectric sources are taken off line, and no net reduction in CO2 gases is achieved. The good side is that, even though no coal fired power plants have been idled, less coal and therefore less gases have been released, although not as much as is promised when the statistics are rolled out in community and government meetings.

When wind is not blowing, expensive energy is imported into Denmark from the grid. Consequently Danes pay more per kilowatt for their electricity than their neighbors.

This is reality. In theory, a farm of 200 1.5 megawatt turbines can generate 300 megawatts of energy that, if stable, can take two expensive carbon=burning power plants off line. In theory, the US power grid is large enough that Delaware’s wind farm fluctuations can have minimal impact. In theory, if the wind were consistent, then Delaware would need no power emissions.

But when they say a 1.5 capacity, they speak of just that: “capacity”. When wind conditions are perfect and the turbine is running at full efficiency, then they have a 1.5 megawatts of generated power. But how often do those turbines reach capacity? Based on historical data, over a good year, 20 capacity is one the best figures out there. Perhaps Rehoboth is better. Not every oil well strikes pay dirt, and so it could be with wind turbine locations.

It appears that many countries have rethought wind power. Norway studied Denmark and decided against it. Ireland, Japan, Germany, are just a few countries who have dropped all incentives on new turbines being built in their countries. Denmark, officially continues to promote wind power, despite some unsuccessful attempts within is own parliament to cut back, perhaps due to the fact that Denmark manufactures 80% of the worlds turbines.

There are other problems as well. Theoretically just this past year, measurements of damage to ecosystems from the loss of kinetic energy from the wind as it passes through a wind farm, has been touted. Not to mention a large number of bats and birds have been slaughtered. Right off the migratory bird route of a nation, may not be the best place for a wind farm. But if it is enough off shore, far away from birds flight paths, perhaps no harm is done.

The turbines make a sound, likened to a motorcycle engine with a cutout exhaust system. The newest models brag they cannot be heard over 5 kilometers away. That should be safe for Rehoboth.

Occasionally when the sun hits just right, the turbines throw off a strobe light effect that is particularly annoying. Flash Flash Flash..

Unfortunately there are some serious negatives associated with a wind farm off Delaware’s coast. What seemed like a win-win no brainer when making a cursory scan over the initial sales pitch, becomes a tough choice when all the research has panned out.
It deeply saddens me because ten years ago, as I drove north from Fenwick Island, and saw Indian River behemoth to my left, I too became inspired that what Delaware truly needed was a wind farm off our coast to show America that “yes, we could get energy without any carbon emissions………..”

So, is this the death knoll for wind power here in Delaware?………..Well, I’m afraid……………It’s possible, but …………….Well,… actually……………….

No, it is not the end of the wind power argument.

Danish Windfarm

I have yet to meet anyone not stirred by the News Journal computer enhanced photo showing the wind turbines off the Bethany coast. Similar to any artist’s rendition of any new project, the juxtaposition of a new object against a background of familiar surroundings, excites the intellect and swells local pride.

We have the Saudi Arabia of wind we were told.

However, the counter argument, is that it is untested.

But Denmark has had wind farms in operation since 1991. Currently 29 percent of that nation’s power comes from wind. There are times when just wind supplies all the power to the western half of the country.

Almost no emissions come from the wind turbines. The EU determined that the wind generators had the lowest cost per kilowatt hour than coal or any other energy source.

Similar to Jack Markell’s blog poll results, in Denmark, nearly 86% of Danes support wind energy over all other types of electrical production. The polls show that direct involvement by the citizens has helped with public approval.

At least 150000 Danes are directly invested in wind power and own either a turbine or shares in a wind farm cooperative. Currently 75% of the 5500 turbines in that country are owned by cooperatives.

Likewise most of the employment is situated in sparsely populated counties and contributes greatly to the local economies.

We often hear of the green benefits: CO2 and lack of pollution. But little is said of the economics. And currently the economics are paying off in Denmark.

I don’t know if any of you have been to the Midwest. But in the 1800’s, as the railroad crawled west, every town fought to have it come through their own city limits. Those towns, which wound up not being on the railroad, were forced to haul their goods and services by cart to those very towns that were successful in persuading the railroads to come to them.

Likewise a hundred years later , when the Interstate system was bid,  every town tried to woo the road to its city limit. Those towns which managed to be on the road, prospered; those which did not, collapsed and slowly died.

Today Delaware has the golden opportunity to be the first in what will no doubt, be the next area of major growth and investment: Green energy.

The opportunity to have our own energy needs fufilled by energy created in our backyard, that is altogether clean, cheap, efficient, and beautiful to look at, ……..cannot be passed up.