Winds of state

The state of wind energy in the world is changing. Wind is beginning to be a significant factor in electrical production in many parts of the world. Rational thinking on the subject is beginning to be the norm rather than the exception. Wind is no longer in the realm of the true believers and is now moving to the realm of accountants. A welcome move. One development is that the federal government of is reducing the amount of money it spends on wind energy research. The amount is small, about 5 percent of the budget spent on wind, which by federal standards is small potatoes. About $40 million total. Why is this good news? It is recognition that the wind industry is now strong enough to stand on its own, which is really excellent news. Wind projects in America are now in the $1 to $5 billion range per year. At $1 a watt capital cost, that means we are now adding 1,000 to 5,000 MW peak a year to wind capacity. Texans are adding 25 turbines to their state total. Why is this significant? After all, Texas already has more than 1,000 turbines, so another 25 is small potatoes. Even the total of 250 projected for the site over the long term will be just a drop in the bucket of Texas development. The significance is that they are all 1.5 MW (peak) turbines. What this means is that the 1.5 MW jobs are no longer being bought on a trial basis but are now in series production. This is very good news because energy from this size plant is now lower cost than the energy from natural gas plants that have proliferated in the last 10 years, driving up natural gas prices. The gas plants, because of their fast start up and shut-down times, are, in fact, compliementary to wind production. So the money invested in them will actually help the transition to a wind economy. And just to pile on the good news, let me quote wind energy executive Jim Walker of enXco: “enXco’s success in, these generation bidding processes is the result of ourability to drive down the cost of energy production, to where we now compete with other power producers and fuel sources.” Capitalism. Ain’t it great? Another exciting development is that the U.K. government plans to install 6,000 MW of turbines in the offshore areas of the country. This would represent 5 percent of U.K.’s electrical production. My guess is that despite the ”displacement of greenhouse gases” rhetoric, a project of this size would not be entertained unless it was at least cost competitive with other electrical sources. Currently, the maximum turbine size available for offshore use is in the 3 to 3.5 MW range. The greater cost competitiveness of this size turbine is offset by the cost of getting the electricity from the turbines to the shore. The really good news here is that experience with larger machines will be gained, and we will be that much closer to 3 MW on shore machines, which will be able to compete with coal electricity without the wind subsidy. When we start getting those size machines in series production we ought to end the subsidy for future projects. While desirable perhaps for the ramp up phase of the market, they will only distort the market and waste money when wind is fully competitive. Expect me to raise this issue even more strongly when the size of production turbines on land goes into the 3 MW range. M. Simon is an industrial controls engineer for Space-Time Productions and a Free Market Green© M. Simon—All rights reserved. Permission granted for one-time use in a single periodical. Concurrent publication on the periodical’s Web site is also granted.

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