Economist Jonathan Lesser, who authored a recent report on wind power for Exelon Corp. as part of its campaign against the federal wind energy Production Tax Credit (PTC), made a number of misstatements about wind at a Capitol Hill briefing sponsored by Exelon and the Heritage Foundation.
As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." Here are some facts of which Mr. Lesser seems unaware:
Variable electric generation from wind farms can be integrated readily into utility systems with virtually zero increase in the need for fast-acting reserves or "backup" generators. 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. Tellingly, Mr. Lesser had no response to our main point that the grid integration costs for large coal and nuclear power plants, such as those operated by Exelon, are far larger than the integration costs for wind.
Wind power saves consumers money because it costs very little to operate a wind farm, and wind turbines need no fuel. When the wind is blowing, utility system operators turn down, or turn off, the output from the most expensive power plants on the system to save on fuel costs. For example, here is what Joe Gardner, Executive Director of Real-Time Operations for the Midwest Independent System Operator (MISO), said recently about wind generation after it reached a peak of more than 10,000 MW on the MISO system:
“Wind represents one of the fuel choices that helps us manage congestion on the system and ultimately helps keep prices low for our customers and the end-use consumer. When we have significant quantities of wind being generated, we use less of other, more expensive, generation types to keep the system in balance."
Adding wind power to a utility system actually improves average fossil power plant efficiency while also reducing pollution. The reason for this is the same as the reason wind power saves money: when the wind is blowing, wind generation displaces the output of the most expensive, and therefore least efficient, fossil-fired power plants first. Typically these are the older plants that also pollute most, which means that wind power is very effective in reducing pollution. All government, utility, and grid operator data and studies confirm that adding wind energy to the grid significantly reduces fossil fuel use and pollution.
Large quantities of wind energy can be reliably integrated onto the power system through the use of wind energy forecasting and other grid operating tools. I wrote here recently about new wind generation records being set by the ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas)(8,521 MW, or 28 percent of total electric generation) and SPP (Southwest Power Pool)(5,215 MW, or 21 percent) systems. As other examples, Xcel Energy’s utility system in Colorado frequently obtains more than 55% of its electricity from wind energy, and Portugal’s utility system has regularly exceeded 90% wind energy, all without any reliability problems. For all of 2011, wind energy provided about 20% of the electricity produced in Iowa and South Dakota. (See p. 9 of linked report.)
As I have stated previously, Mr. Lesser is overstating current wind integration costs by a factor of five–they are roughly $100 million, rather than the $500 million he claims. My source for this data is a summary of more than a dozen wind integration studies (see p. 64 of linked document) presented in the annual wind market status report prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). Mr. Lesser is referencing a National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) study, but that study is examining a projection in which wind supplies 30 percent of the electricity on a utility system. In fact, today wind provides 3 percent of our electricity supply. While integration costs do rise as the share of wind generation on a system increases, we are still a long way from 30 percent today.
Geographic dispersal of wind farms makes their aggregate electricity production less variable and more predictable. (See pp. 21-28, http://www.vtt.fi/inf/pdf/tiedotteet/2009/T2493.pdf. This is something that seems intuitively obvious–the wind is usually blowing someplace, and the larger the geographical area being considered, the more likely that will be the case–and has been documented by a host of studies.
ERCOT, SPP systems see record wind generation levels, November 21, 2012
Fact check: Exelon-funded report inflates wind integration costs, November 2, 2012
Fact check: Reason Foundation FAIL on wind and emissions, October 11, 2012
Alabama Power 'doubles down' on wind, October 9, 2012
Fact check: Post repeats false claims on wind and emissions, July 3, 2012
Texas system operator tallies new record: 8,368 MW, June 21, 2012
Fourteen wind energy myths debunked, June 20, 2012
WINDPOWER 2012 Update: Xcel Colorado sets new mark with 56.7% wind, June 5, 2012
Fact check: Elliott off target on wind and cost savings, June 4, 2012
Fact check: Coverage of Argonne wind and emissions study flawed, June 1, 2012
Fact check: Bell missteps on utility integration of wind power, May 24, 2012
New study: Wind power can save Midwestern consumers between $3 billion and $9.5 billion annually by 2020, May 23, 2012
Wind generation sets new records in Texas, Spain, May 22, 2012
Fact check: Lomborg lacking on wind's economics, emissions reductions, March 23, 2012
Fact check: Silverstein off base on transmission for wind, March 22, 2012
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
Fact check: Trzupek Washington Times op-ed off base on wind's cost, utility integration, January 25, 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
More wind power and utility integration: A question already being resolved, October 19, 2011
Fact check: Hayward misleads on wind and utility systems, October 7, 2011
Fact check: Michaels errs on wind's contribution, October 3, 2011
Fact check: Fred Udo's bogus numbers on wind and emissions savings, September 9, 2011
Fact check: Bryce whiffs on wind power and Texas heat wave, August 12, 2011
After a scorching week, wind power lessons from the Texas heat wave, August 11, 2011
Wind helps meet new Texas record for electricity demand, August 4, 2011
As Texas utility system is stressed, wind generation shows up on schedule, August 3, 2011
Fact check: Former oil exec misleads on wind reliability, emissions cuts, July 28, 2011
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