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Fact check: Former oil exec misleads on wind reliability, emissions cuts

Fact check: Former oil exec misleads on wind reliability, emissions cuts

The following letter to the editor appeared in today's edition of the Baltimore Sun.

As wind energy makes increasing headway in reducing America's dependence on fossil fuels and the harmful emissions associated with their use, the fossil fuel industry has launched an increasingly desperate misinformation campaign to muddy the waters about these indisputable benefits of clean energy.

The latest attack comes in a Baltimore Sun op-ed by Mr. Charles Campbell, a retired senior vice president of the Gulf Oil Corporation ("Wind farms wrong answer to Md.'s greenhouse gas emissions," July 25). Mr. Campbell's op-ed is marred by numerous false statements and a serious misunderstanding of how the power grid operates. One only need to look to Iowa or Texas, which last year produced 15 percent and 8 percent of their electricity from wind, respectively, to see that adding wind to the grid actually improves power system reliability.

Moreover, there is no need to "back up" wind output as he claims. How is this possible? The output of wind plants is aggregated with all of the other changes in electricity supply and demand on a massive interstate power grid. Even though many of those sources of supply and demand are changing unpredictably (think of factories coming on and offline, people turning air conditioners on and off, fossil-fired power plants breaking down unexpectedly), together their combined output is stable and manageable.

Compared to these other changes, both onshore and offshore wind are relatively easy for grid operators to integrate, as changes in wind energy output occur slowly and are predictable. In fact, it would be far more appropriate to talk about the need to back up large fossil and nuclear power plants. They are the ones that experience large, immediate, and unexpected outages, requiring grid operators to keep 1,000-plus megawatts of fast acting, expensive and inefficient standby generation ready 24/7 in case one of those plants goes down.

U.S. Department of Energy data conclusively show that states that have ramped up their wind energy output over the last several years, like Colorado and Texas, have seen major reductions in air pollution emissions. In addition, every independent grid operator that has examined the issue has found that adding wind energy to the grid results in significant reductions in fossil fuel use and emissions.

More reading:

Fact check: Bryce, Bentek miss on emissions, July 20, 2011
Fact check: Utility spokesperson errs on wind integration, July 5, 2011
Wind energy integration: Some fundamental facts, June 23, 2011
New gas industry report misunderstands U.S. power system, misses wind's contribution to U.S. electrical reliability, March 20, 2011
How wind energy is integrated on the grid, March 18, 2011

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Michael Goggin is Vice President at Grid Strategies LLC, a DC-area consulting firm working on grid and markets issues for clean energy clients including AWEA. He was previously head of Research at AWEA.

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