Fact check: NYT article misses larger story of wind's reliability

15 August 2013 by Michael Goggin Michael Goggin
A recent New York Times article by Diane Cardwell ("Intermittent nature of green power is challenge for utilities," August 14) goes astray by zeroing in on unique and temporary circumstances affecting 25 wind turbines in Vermont. In doing so, it misses the more important story of how America’s 45,000 other wind turbines are reliably providing more than 10% of the electricity in nine states, reducing household electricity bills, and cutting the nation's emissions of carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas, by almost 100 million tons per year.

In Vermont, two newly installed wind projects have had to reduce their output on a few occasions because the local electric transmission system, in a relatively remote rural area, is weak. That's unfortunate, but the regional power system operator (ISO New England) has indicated that the problem will be resolved by the end of this year when the transmission network is strengthened.
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
What does this situation tell us about the other 99.9% of wind turbines in the U.S.? Not much. Some key takeaways:

Wind power is producing large amounts of electricity reliably. Iowa and South Dakota now produce more than 20% of their electricity from wind energy, while the main utility system in Colorado has obtained more than 55% of its electricity from wind on some occasions, achievements that naysayers would have called impossible just a few years ago.

Integrating wind power is not a serious problem for utilities. Utilities have always had to cope with constantly changing levels of customer demand from day to day and season to season. To integrate wind, utility system operators are simply using the same set of tools they have used for more than 100 years to accommodate fluctuations in electricity demand and failures at conventional power plants. In fact, changes in wind energy output occur gradually and are predictable, in contrast to the instantaneous failures often experienced at conventional power plants. As a result, Texas and Midwest grid operators will tell you that they have each been able to add more than 10,000 MW of wind with minimal increases in the need for flexible reserves. There is a reason why at least 74 utilities bought or owned wind power in 2012, up 50% from the previous year.
 
Utilities are lining up to buy wind power because of its low cost and ability to diversify their generating portfolios.  What are they saying about this clean energy source? Here's an excerpt from a press release issued yesterday by MidAmerican Energy, the utility which is owned by noted investor Warren Buffett and which plans to install more than 1,000 megawatts of new wind energy over the next three years:

"The wind expansion will enhance economic development and provide in excess of $360 million in additional property tax revenues over the next 30 years. Landowner payments totaling more than $3 million per year also are expected as a result of the expansion. The expansion is planned to be built at no net cost to the company’s customers and will help stabilize electric rates over the long term by providing a rate reduction totaling $10 million per year by 2017, commencing with a $3.3 million reduction in 2015. The rate reduction will begin after MidAmerican Energy installs the first 350 megawatts of generation capacity. During construction, approximately 460 jobs will be added to the Iowa economy, and nearly 50 new permanent jobs will be added when the expansion is complete.

"'The best way to meet our customers’ energy needs is to provide reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible energy through a diversified generation portfolio,' said Bill Fehrman, president and CEO, MidAmerican Energy. 'The wind expansion will help stabilize electric rates over the long term for our customers and also demonstrates MidAmerican Energy’s commitment to lessen the environmental impact created by the process of electrical generation.'"

Photo credit: First Wind

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Utility system in NE Vermont to be strengthened, resolving concerns about new wind power, April 10, 2013
Fact check: Debunking Howard Rich's errors on wind, March 28, 2013
Fact check: Sen. Alexander's claims about wind energy unfounded, March 27, 2013
Xcel Energy achieves wind energy milestone, March 26, 2013