Nine common myths about wind energy

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By COLE GUSTAFSON

In the last six months, I have devoted most of my time to wind energy because of all the recent development activity in the region. Part of my program entails delivering seminars and workshops on the topic.

It always surprises me the false impressions or myths that some people have about wind energy and its potential.

Common misconceptions

Here is a list of some of the more common misconceptions I encounter:

— Wind energy is free. Naive wind investors often fail to consider the total economic costs of a potential wind investment. It is true that the wind, which powers the turbines, is free. However, costs that usually are overlooked are full investment and ongoing repair costs.

— My utility will buy power back at the same rate I pay. In most cases, utilities only pay a fraction of what consumers pay for power. They incur additional costs for managing any new wind power that is generated, as well as new investment costs in transmission lines to get the power to consumers.

— Wind provides constant power. Electricity only is generated when the wind blows. Moreover, turbines are designed to operate in a range of relatively narrow wind speeds. Unless the tower is in an ideal wind area, the turbine will provide power only about 25-30 percent of the time.

A second complication is that farm and home energy demand varies considerably within a day. This demand is rarely highest at midday when the wind is strongest. Other energy sources must be utilized for storage or as backup.

— Wind towers last forever. Wind turbine technology is changing constantly and wind turbines do wear out. For example, gearboxes generally need to be rebuilt every eight to 10 years. Consequently, a turbine’s economic life is finite. Investors often fail to budget for removal costs.

North Dakota has instituted a decommissioning policy that requires new wind projects to set aside sufficient capital to remove old towers when they no longer are utilized.

— A wind tower affects only me. While a wind tower may be on your property and a considerable distance from the neighbors, the neighbors most likely will be affected by seeing the tower, noise or restrictions placed upon them.

Often overlooked is aerial crop spraying. If the tower is closer than 2,000 feet to a neighbor, pilots may resist spraying a portion of the neighbor’s crop.

— If a wind investment is good for my neighbor, it is good for me. People have differing investment goals, time horizons, risk preferences and discount rates. Everyone needs to perform an individual financial analysis.

— Wind energy provides renewable energy and carbon credits. While both are generated, current legislation allows the wind industry to claim only one credit, either for renewable energy or carbon. In our present economic environment, the renewable energy credit is more valuable.

However, if the federal government adopts carbon cap and trading, it is likely that the carbon credit would be more valuable.

— Signing a wind easement won’t affect my credit. Landowners must read any wind easement carefully and have it reviewed by a knowledgeable attorney before signing.

In a recent New York case, lenders to a wind company in default did go back to the landowners for additional collateral, which compromised the landowner’s credit.

— Wind energy requires federal subsidies to be economical. This is true, but every energy source receives a significant federal subsidy. It isn’t fair to expect wind energy to compete in a marketplace without the federal benefits enjoyed by other established energy technologies.

(Cole Gustafson is a biofuels economist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service.)

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Cole, besides having to rely on wind (constantly) and being an eye sore for many people, I came accross another solution which might fit farmers, the ecosystems and our country in general. Solarbotanic is producing artficial trees that convert light, heat, sound, rain and wind energy into clean electricity. It is said that one tree can deliver up to 6000 kwh per year at a price of 15.000 USd. I think this is a good alternative, at least from an aethetical point of view. These threes can align the freeways and railways to propel our trains while preventing noise.

  2. Cole… so you have dedicated 6 months of your life to wind energy and this is what you come up with. I think we need a bit more information…

    1) Wind is free. As you mention, not exactly, but your “fuel” cost is hedged compared to coal, oil and natural gas. Once the turbines are installed only 20% of the lifecycle cost goes to O&M.
    2) In states with Net-Metering you offset 100% of your wind turbine produced power at 100% of the cost you would have otherwise paid the utility. On large wind farms you rely on competitive pre-negotiated Power Purchase Agreements.
    3) The power output from a wind turbine fluctuates with the wind speed, but that does not mean that the turbine only runs 25-35% of the time. It means that the turbine runs about 30% of it MAX capacity on an annual basis. Reality is that there are very few days where there is not enough wind to make power and even fewer where the is too much wind for turbines to run.
    4) Wind turbines are designed to last 20 years. Some wear and tear components will be replaced 2-3 times during this time.
    5) Wind turbines will affect all people around them. Most people profit greatly from this. Especially the farmers, whose land they are installed on.
    6) I agree.
    7) I agree.
    8) Generally this is good business for the landowner, but read the fine print.
    9) Wind gets about $20 per MW/hr produced. Coal gets roughly $90 per MW/hr produced. SO I guess we are subsidizing our polluting energy sources more than our clean ones… Go figure!

  3. Wind is pure free clean and safe, it is the extravagances of the “American Dream” lifestyle that make all but the most dangerous power sources impractical! It is this “Dream” that will convulse in paradigm shifts and alter the fabric of America as it adapts to steel wheeled rail travel over flying, short-haul battery cars over gasoline guzzlers, vegan diets over unnecessary meat consumption, smaller portions every plate, cheaper, Hemp based clothing from Canada, survival oriented housing in preparation for the next downswing, over McMansions in the burbs, part-time, occasional work over high paying, steady factory jobs, now gone to Asia, longer, harder, hours in better, academics and Science oriented schools, not law and Finance studies, and over sports driven casual sex centers for immature, indolent, slobs, The changes in America are not invited, government enforced, a social trends, or a new cult followings, they are economically enforced, by the pressures of Asian population growth and new Asian proficiencies! Asia, China to be specific has more post-graduate students with IQ’s over 130, vegans, multi-discipline, Multi-lingual, students in Science, Math, Physics, Chemistry, Engineering, than America has high school students, drop-outs included! This is what the great American Neanderthal, unilingual, high caloric intake, uneducated, high maintenance, and spoiled, the fatted calves of the world, are up against for their daily bread! Time for Bull Shiite, pride prancing in uniforms, resting on laurels of a time gone by, and the great American propaganda of superiority are over! so is WWII and all that followed it in America. The dollars, or should we say the “Yuan” are on the table! We must compete, or die! They, the Asians we speak of, make the parts for all the Asian cars we buy – in China, using their “Metric” not our technologies, and these technologies are growing, changing, developing, becoming superior every day! In languages we can’t even read! Two short decades ago this was our story! Stolen by harder work than we were willing to do! Sold to our Capitalists, who moved American Capital to the Beijing, Shanghai, and Hang-Seng markets, converted to “yuan” safety there, from fiat printing of money, Federal Reserve manipulations, government interventions, convenience re-valuations, of the American dollar, and American Shysters! The “American Dream” on its way out, the shifts already started, and a more modest, sustainable lifestyle, Solar, Wind Wave, Tidal, Hydro, and Geo-thermal driven, Nuclear assisted in some cases is in order for America! Like or goddammit! not that is all your ass is worth on todays world market Yankee Doodle, now stop waving your asshole demands, flag, and guns, and get to school, and work and prove yourself or fvcking well starve! Capitalism demands this of you! Wind Mill!

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