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Wishful Thinking Run Amok: Industrial Wind in Appalachia

Jan 4, 2010

If you own a TV, you’ve seen the advertisements.

The wind power industry talks about wind as if it were The Ultimate Solution to Our Energy Needs. The Answer to Our Prayers for Energy Independence. The Only Way We Can Maintain Our American Lifestyle AND Protect the Environment.

According to industry ads, wind is Free. Easily captured. Endlessly available. And tee-totally Green.

What’s not to like?

Sounds good to me.

Then again, so does World Peace. So does Santa Claus. Liberty and Justice for All. The Lottery.

I mean, there’s absolutely nothing NOT to like about their pitch.

It’s perfect. Pitch-perfect. It’s exactly what I want to hear and so gosh-darn comforting.

The only problem is, it’s not true.

The Industry Claims Wind Power is a Practical Solution to America’s Growing Energy Needs.

Is wind a practical source of electricity?

No, it’s not practical because, bottom line, it’s not reliable.

Just think about it: We depend on electricity to be there, whenever we flip a switch or press a button. But we can’t depend on the wind to blow at a certain rate just because we happen to need it. Wind doesn’t react to our needs.

Wind is, by its nature, variable. It blows…and then it doesn’t. It starts. It stops. Especially here, in the Appalachian mountains, wind is like an unstable relative. You can’t depend on it.

This variability means that wind cannot replace existing sources of electricity, at least, not here, not on our forested ridges.

Why?

It works like this: Our grid doesn’t store electricity, it provides electricity on demand.

So, in order to insure a steady electric power supply to consumers, regardless the strength of the wind, the coal-fired power plants that provide most of the electricity to this region must be kept on-line, ready to power-up whenever the wind powers-down, and vice versa.

Just imagine what would happen if the coal plants weren’t kept on-line. The electrical supply would be as unreliable as the wind itself. Here today—gone tomorrow. And in this region, it would be most available in the winter, when it is needed least.

Why?

The Appalachian region is windiest during winter, when demand for electricity is lowest, since most homes are heated using gas and oil. The wind blows least during summer, when demand for air conditioning, powered by electricity, is highest.

Wind is an unreliable energy source, least available during peak demand, that can’t, by its very nature, replace existing sources of electricity.

Practical? I don’t think so.

But let’s move the conversation into a really personal context.

Imagine buying an electric car. You’re so proud of your green self! No fossil fuels burned on your watch—nosir! Then, as you’re walking out of the showroom, the dealer grabs your elbow, pulls you back into his office, explains the fine print. In order to guarantee that your electric car will run on demand, whenever you need it, you have to keep your old gasoline powered car running on idle in your garage—round the clock. If you turn off the old car, the dealer explains, he can’t guarantee the performance of the new one. He pushes a paper in front of you, holds out a pen. The dealer won’t let you leave until you sign on the bottom line.

If only the wind industry offered such disclosure. Imagine!

Imagine the wind industry admitting that the power they produce depends on the constant availability of an equivalent supply of power they claim to replace?

They can't admit this. Who would? No one would invest in such a high-cost, low-benefit enterprise. It makes no sense.

Yet, to the tune of billions, our government has invested in our names.

Why?

Perhaps because they've seen the advertisements.