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Fact check: Silverstein off base on transmission for wind

Fact check: Silverstein off base on transmission for wind

Ken Silverstein had a story in Wednesday's EnergyBiz insider questioning the likelihood of adequate transmission capacity being available for new power plants using renewable energy sources such as wind.

A few facts overlooked in Mr. Silverstein's analysis:

More electric transmission capacity benefits us all.  The existing transmission system is antiquated and the addition of new capacity has been very slow in recent decades. This has reduced system reliability and led to some widely publicized outages affecting large regions of the U.S., in particular the West. While renewable energy sources will certainly benefit from a stronger system, so will consumers who expect a reliable electricity supply.

Transmission is being added today at a rate that will permit continued wind power industry growth. The 2011 edition of AWEA's annual wind market report, which will soon be released, includes a review of planned and under-construction transmission lines. That review concludes that there are enough near-term power lines under construction to allow the wind industry to approximately double in size and that the year-over-year addition to near-term transmission under construction was considerably larger than the year-over-year amount of new wind capacity installed.

The MIT symposium on integration of renewable energy did not find that clean energy sources will face "strong resistance." In general, the symposium participants agreed that large-scale storage is not on the near-term horizon, and that capacity and transmission planning will continue to be needed as the renewable energy industries continue to expand.

Variable electric generation from wind farms can be integrated readily into utility systems. Utility system operators already deal regularly with massive swings in electricity demand and in the output of conventional generators. Also, the amount of electricity generated by wind farms changes slowly and predictably; failures at conventional (nuclear and fossil-fueled) power plants occur instantaneously without warning. The fast-acting reserves utility system operators must have on standby 24/7/365 for conventional outages typically cost dozens of times more than the slower-acting reserves needed for wind’s variability. It is more appropriate to talk about the need to back up large conventional power plants than about backing up wind power.

Using more wind power reduces utility system emissions.  Because wind power reduces the use of fossil fuels whenever the wind is blowing hard enough for wind farms to generate electricity, it also (contrary to Mr. Silverstein's assertions) reduces the pollution that comes from burning those fuels. 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, and every independent utility system operator that has examined the issue has found that adding wind energy to the system results in significant reductions in fossil fuel use and emissions. In fact, many of these studies have indicated that the net emissions savings of wind energy are even larger than expected because wind tends to disproportionately displace less flexible and dirtier coal generation, rather than more flexible gas generation.

Related articles:

New technology helps Texas system operator blow through wind generation records, March 12, 2012
Wind tops 25 percent of load on main Texas grid, March 5, 2012
Fact check: Silverstein errs on wind's variability, emissions cuts, February 27, 2012
Fact check: Pavlak errs on wind integration, February 14, 2012
Across the U.S., wind power sets new generation records, February 13, 2012
More savings for ratepayers in Southeast as Louisiana utility ups wind purchases, January 26, 2012
Fact check: New Dutch report misinformed on wind power and emissions, January 13, 2012
Xcel sets world record with 55.6% wind penetration, November 28, 2011
Wind research generates savings for large utility, November 14, 2011
Xcel Energy: More wind, less cost, October 31, 2011
More wind power and utility integration: A question already being resolved, October 19, 2011
After a scorching week, wind power lessons from the Texas heat wave, August 11, 2011
Wind energy integration: Some fundamental facts, June 23, 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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