Fact check: Fossil-funded think tank unreliable on reliability

9 October 2013 by Michael Goggin Michael Goggin

The misnamed Institute for Energy Research (IER), a fossil fuel-funded group that generates occasional fact-free attacks on wind power, has a new one on its blog that focuses on wind's reliability. The following response, which expands on an online comment I made, corrects five errors that IER managed to fit into the two substantive paragraphs of its post.  Below, I go sentence by sentence through IER's post to correct the mistakes, with the facts in bold.

1. The capacity factors of wind farms, which range from 25% to 45%, are comparable to those of other power plants. IER's claim that "natural gas, coal, and nuclear generators" have "85 to 90 percent capacity factors" is false. The actual capacity factors for those generators, as documented by the U.S. Department of Energy data linked below:

Natural gas: 24.2%
Hydroelectric: 40.4%
Coal: 57.6%
Nuclear: 82%

Thus, IER is way off when it says "[Wind] also consistently underperforms reliable electricity sources in terms of capacity factor."

DOE data here (I used data for 2011, the most recent year for which capacity data is available):
http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.cfm?t=epmt_1_1  
http://www.eia.gov/electricity/annual/html/epa_04_03.html

2. Utility system operators do not need large amounts of extra reserves to make use of wind power. The Midwest system operator MISO, which now has more than 10,000 MW of wind energy (enough to power the equivalent of more than 2.5 million homes) on its power system, explains here that the impact of wind power on its need for reserves has been "little to none." http://www.uwig.org/san_diego2012/Navid-Reserve_Calculation.pdf

3. Changes in wind speed and wind power generation are predictable.  System operators can predict changes in wind output using wind energy forecasting, and these changes occur gradually because wind plants are spread over a large area. The failures at conventional power plants are the ones that are sudden and unpredictable, as they occur instantaneously and without warning. See the MISO presentation above explaining that it must keep 2,000 MW of reserves, half of it expensive spinning reserves, on hand 24/7/365 to keep the lights on in case a large conventional power plant unpreditably trips offline at any time.

4. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the Texas utility system, has increased its calculation of the capacity value of wind power.  IER uses old data for ERCOT's capacity value calculation. ERCOT has updated the calculation for inland wind to more than 50% higher than IER's figure, and the figure for coastal wind to 4 times higher.
http://www.ercot.com/content/news/presentations/2013/ERCOT%20Loss%20of%20Load%20Study-2013-PartII.pdf

5. When Texas experienced rolling blackouts a few years ago, wind power helped keep the lights on.  During a sudden cold snap, dozens of fossil-fired power plants broke down, causing rolling blackouts, while wind earned accolades for continuing to produce as expected. Wind energy has never caused an electric reliability problem, something that cannot be said of almost any other energy source.
http://www.ercot.com/news/press_releases/show/377
http://www.texastribune.org/texas-energy/energy/an-interview-with-the-ceo-of-the-texas-grid/

Photo credit: First Wind

Related articles regarding disinformation from IER:

Koch-funded Institute for Energy Research fails on facts, April 18, 2013
Fact check: Graybeal story relies on IER, misses facts, January 29, 2013
Fact check: IER turns back on facts, bashes wind, November 21, 2011
Bradley, IER continue long crusade against clean energy, July 29, 2011
Anti-wind study funded by ... surprise! ... U.S. fossil group, March 19, 2010

Further background on IER: