Energy

And the Wind Cries "Subsidy"

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Robert Bryce at Slate huffs and puffs and blows wind power down, using the hot Texas summer and its supposed 9,700 megawatt wind power potential as a teaching moment:

On Aug. 4, at about 5 p.m., electricity demand in Texas hit a record: 63,594 megawatts. But according to the state's grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state's wind turbines provided only about 500 megawatts of power when demand was peaking and the value of electricity was at its highest.

Put another way, only about 5 percent of the state's installed wind capacity was available when Texans needed it most….

Why does Texas get so little juice from the wind when it really needs it? Well, one of the reasons Texas gets so hot in the summer is that the wind isn't blowing. Pressure gradients—differences in air pressure between two locations in the atmosphere—are largely responsible for the speed of the wind near the Earth's surface. The greater the differences in pressure, the harder the wind blows. During times of extreme heat these pressure gradients often are minimal. The result: wind turbines that don't turn…..

Imagine a company proposed to construct a bridge in Minneapolis, or some other major city, that would cost, say, $250 million. The road would be designed to carry thousands of cars per day. But there's a catch: During rush hour, the thoroughfare would effectively be closed, with only 5 percent, or maybe 10 percent, of its capacity available to motorists. Were this scenario to actually occur, the public outrage would be quick and ferocious….

Despite the fact that the wind-energy sector, through the$0.022 per-kilowatt-hour production tax credit, gets subsidies of about $6.40 per million Btu of energy produced—an amount that, according to the Energy Information Administration, is about 200 times the subsidy received by the oil and gas sector—wind-energy lobbyists are calling for yet more mandates.

And until our battery storage capabilities get way better fast, wind's fecklessness will continue to be true, no matter how much special tax treatment it gets or how many power companies are ordered to use it.

Back in February 2008, I interviewed Bryce for Reason Online about the myth of energy independence.

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  1. Meanwhile, Doc Brown is able to create 1.21 gigawatts with a fucking DeLorean.

    1. Yeah, but the flux capacitor uses rare earth minerals that only the Chinese are currently mining.

      1. Don’t worry – we’re building up a sizable reserve of precious and rare elements – in our landfills.

      2. Don’t forget about that Palestinian plutonium. Where is MNG when we need his humor?

  2. …without government subsidies, I might add.

    Although, they never touch on how he disposes of the nuclear waste which leads me to believe he will be facing a govermnent cease and desist order in the near future.

    1. That’s why he installed the Mr. Fusion.

      “I’m sure in 1985 plutonium is available at every corner drugstore, but in 1955 it’s a little hard to come by.”

      1. Nice do you ever post a Fucking thing of substance?

      2. Yeah, Epi, you fucking fuckwad. Post something about substances. Is Ambien as fun as I hear?

        1. No. it just puts you into a wonderful sleep. It is okay. Great for overnight flights. But I wouldn’t call it fun.

    2. Although, they never touch on how he disposes of the nuclear waste which leads me to believe he will be facing a govermnent cease and desist order in the near future.

      He probably drops it off in 2085.

    3. they never touch on how he disposes of the nuclear waste

      The small amount created can be Recycled and/or stored on site.

      Way better then the tons of radioactive waste left over, much of it spewed into the air, from coal generated power.

    4. Can’t he just go back in time and give himself an exemption in the legislation or murder congress critters as children?

      1. That storyline works better than going back for Mary Steenburgen, IMO.

      2. Hey retard, anything you traveled back in time and did is reflected in the present. If you killed Hitler, it was in the bunker wit Ava, fucking idiot.

        1. Bullshit. Then explain to me how Marty McFly had a nicer house, a new truck and his dad was a great writer when he came back. Oh, and explain how come Biff went from being a condescending fuckwad to being George’s lackey…even going so far as to waxing his car, even if it was a half-assed job and he got called out for it.

          You know very little about the dynamics of time travel apparently.

          1. yea, but when future Biff gives 1955 Biff the sports almanac, his dad is dead and his mom marries 1985 Biff who hass a bitchin’ penthouse on top of a casino.

            1. Yeah, but that history is also altered once Marty gets the book back. Of course, he ends up with a different 1985 then as well, based on future events, thus proving the space-time contiuum is actually sausage-shaped.

              1. No. It is shaped like a multidimensional pachinko machine, and our consciousnesses are the pachinko balls. All the time-travel that seemed to be going on was merely Marty and Doc Brown nudging the pachinko balls representing themslves down one path or another (or popping them back “up” to fall through again).

    5. Unless you don’t think the Libyans in the first movie were not representing the Libyan government.

  3. Couldn’t they put big rubber bands inside the turbines so that when they turn and they aren’t needed, the rubber band can tighten. Then in the summertime when the wind is dead and the demand is high, they can let the blade go (wheeeeeee), and watch that sucker spin free power for the subsidized masses?

    It worked on those old balsa wood model planes you used to be able to find.

    1. There are pumped storage hydropower facilities that ever so slightly resemble that .

      1. Worked great in the atlanta olympics.

    2. sloopyinca

      I am glad you posted that here and not at, say, Huffington Post.

      1. If you could provide a link to a story on huffpo, I’d be glad to trot on over there and make some heads ‘splode.

        1. Shit no!

          They’d think it was a great idea and start calling for subsidies for development of rubber-band based storage facilities.

          1. Yeah, but at least a few of their hears would blow up first, thus thinning that herd.

            Speaking of which, I wonder how long it’ll take Organic Girl to comment on what a good idea it would be…but only if the turbines were made of bamboo and the bands came from actual gum trees grown harmonically with hindu cows.

            1. I hate to sound superstitious, but, like the devil of medieval christianity, speaking her name seems to summon her.

              She shows up so readily on any post dealing with GMO that I suspect that she has Ron Bailey’s name or the word “Reason” combined with “biotech” or “GMO” set up as one of her standard searches.

    3. They have flywheels, but they just don’t have a lot of capacity. There’s pumped storage (as SIV points out), but Texas isn’t exactly known for its ample supplies of water.

      Given its location, I don’t know why Texas doesn’t use solar — wind tends to produce the most energy precisely when it isn’t needed, no matter where it goes. Solar rises and falls with load, which means that more efficient sources like nuclear or coal can provide baseload. That said, I understand that plant-scale solar generation is also water intensive.

      One other thing about Texas — while most of the Eastern US is interconnected with AC transmission lines, Texas is separate, and has to import power through DC lines. That makes it a little harder to just lean on other power producers during the day (although, given that demand is highest then, that’s an expensive course of action regardless).

      1. They have plenty of water in Galveston. Don’t believe the gulf oil rumors.

  4. Imagine a company proposed to construct a bridge in Minneapolis, or some other major city, that would cost, say, $250 million. The road would be designed to carry thousands of cars per day. But there’s a catch: During rush hour, the thoroughfare would effectively be closed, with only 5 percent, or maybe 10 percent, of its capacity available to motorists. Were this scenario to actually occur, the public outrage would be quick and ferocious….

    The key to success would be to spend tens of billions of dollars and then 20 years later still not have a train…I mean bridge.

  5. And until our battery storage capabilities get way better fast

    There are other ways to store energy other then batteries.

    Believe it or not water can be pumped up hill and stored.

    But yeah subsidies are bad.

    1. Potential eneergy can be stored using water, as long as you have few things: A source of water, the land area to build a reservoir, and a sufficient change in elevation to send the water down to convert the potential energy to kinetic. The first and last requirement may be difficult to come by in places like Texas.

      1. But you do have a lot of old wells, which you could pump compressed gas into.

        I wonder if you could use water for that – I guess you’d have to force it down into the rocks. It probably won’t just flow via gravity.

        1. I suspect the efficiency of that kind of storage would be very low.

        2. You can’t do that with water–it’s an incompressible fluid.
          However, my employer, a large energy company, has purchased the property to build a subterranean compressed gas storage facility. The idea is to compress the gas during off peak hours and then expand it through modified gas turbine-generators.

          We also have some pumped hydro storage, which is highly flexible. If you look up the difference between on-line and off-peak electricity prices on the PJM or MISO markets you can see how profitable it can be as well.

          Transmission constraints are what harm pumped or compressed storage scenarios, though. You have draw hundreds or thousands of megawatts at night to charge the storage, and sometimes the transmission lines are congested at very inopportune times.

      2. A source of water, the land area to build a reservoir, and a sufficient change in elevation to send the water down to convert the potential energy to kinetic.

        Fun fact:

        Wind is most constant where there are changes of elevation and where land meets water.

        Fun Fact 2: Electricity with the use of metal wires can be transported over wires from flat land to elevated lands.

        1. the land area to build a reservoir,

          Fun fact3: Water front property is very valuable.

          Fun fact4: Water reservoirs protect against drought.

          1. Fun fact3: Water front property is very valuable.

            Not with the water level fluctuations of a pumped storage facility reservoir.It’s fun to watch the ducks fight the whirlpool during peak demand though.

            1. The company I work for developed and sold Columbia river front lots for $300,000+ each.

              You know the Columbia river….the one with all the dams that power Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Major parts of California.

              I don’t recall the Army Corp of engineers ever talked about loosing ducks to the dams.

              1. A completey artificial power reservoir does not equal a dammed natural river for scenic beauty. Depending on how it is built, you may not be able to have any construction avaible to the public on the sides.

                1. Especially when it is drained nearly to the bottom during peak demand. People don’t like to look at empty lakes much.

        2. With how much tranmission loss? And how much will it cost to to build a transmission system from your wind farms to your reservoir?

          I’m not saying that water reservoir energy storage is impossible or an completely unworkable idea. It just may not be practical in areas like the interior of Texas.

          1. about 50% loss of electicty for every 100 miles of transmission…superconductors or lots more silver would take care of a lot of problems.

    2. Subsidy energy beats potential energy every time. That’s basic public school physics.

    3. FUCK!

      I should read ahead.

      1. Nah mention it as much as possible.

        I am sick of the batteries aren’t good enough argument.
        It is better to stick with the tried and true economic arguments of subsidies create perverse incentives promote graft and punish efficient enterprises.

        1. True; to some the logical result of that problem would be to subsidize battery development.

          1. Fun fact:

            Exxon funded the research which led to the development of Lithium Ion batteries.

        2. Already done. It’s sad, really.

          1. Already done. It’s sad, really.

            I wonder if i can get subsided for mining the minerals needed to build the batteries?

            1. I wonder if i can get subsided for mining the minerals needed to build the batteries?

              I wonder if I can get subsidized for building the equipment used in the excavation of those minerals used in those batteries?

              1. I wonder if I can get subsidized for building the equipment used in the excavation of those minerals used in those batteries?

                I wonder if i can get subsidies for building the batteries for the equipment used in mining of the minerals used in those batteries?

                1. And thus the Multiplier effect is proved.

    4. You’re going to lose most of the energy in the process due to friction both ways, and mechanical inefficiency of the pumps on the way up and the turbines on the way down.

      Charging and discharging batteries also wastes energy, but I seriously doubt it’s nearly as much.

      1. This sounds almost like a DeSelby invention from “The Third Policeman.”

        Waterbox, anyone?

      2. Also, Tulpa, isn’t there a way to utilize the friction that is caused on the upward leg of the trip to generate some heat and diminish the energy lost? Also, they could heat the water more on the way up with solar panels under the surface of the water. I don’t know if there would be any benefit to this other than to make the water more sterile, but the panels would look cool (and there are bound of companies that haven’t been able to participate in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act yet that could benefit from….oops).

        Anyway, the friction on the way down would invariably be used to turn the turbines to generate power. I actually think they are doing some of this on the grapevine in California, but I may be mistaken. The pipes may be going downhill as well at the open canals.

        1. I’m talking about friction between the water and the pipe and friction/viscosity occurring inside the water itself. There’s really no way to recover useful energy from these processes, as I don’t think heat is going to be in short supply in Texas in the summer.

      3. Large pumps and water turbines are at least 90% efficient.

        1. OK, so doing both is going to drop you down to 81%. Then you have to worry about evaporation, especially in a Texas summer. Friction could probably be minimized by choosing the right materials for the pipes, but it’s not going to be zero.

          1. “Friction could probably be minimized by choosing the right materials for the pipes”

            Yea probably. Moving water is a brand new undertaking though so you can’t know for sure.

  6. I’m telling you people, the answer is to strap windmills on top of monorails.

    1. Windmills do not work that way!!

  7. Good title. But Mary’s gone; the subsidies ain’t.

  8. And until our battery storage capabilities get way better fast, wind’s fecklessness will continue to be true, no matter how much special tax treatment it gets or how many power companies are ordered to use it.

    This makes no sense. I’m sure Texas consumes far more power than the windmills generate even on the lowest-usage day, so it’s not an issue of the power they generate being wasted. Just lower or raise the power produced by coal or nuclear plants depending on how much the windmills are generating.

    1. You can’t change loads that quickly.

      1. I can change loads that quickly. Hell, I have to.

    2. That’s already done. On the windiest days electricity price in West Texas actually goes negative – which means that power plants have to PAY in order to be able to inject power into the grid. Why do wind mills continue to operate then? Well because they get the federal subsidy of 2.2 c/kWh regardless of whether or not electricity is actually needed in the grid.

    1. Speaking of loads…….

  9. Metric and English in the same article. BOOOOO

  10. Why didn’t they report on the daily output of the nuclear plants in the state?

    Ohhhhhhhh.

    1. I work for a power company in Texas that uses nukes, natural gas, coal and wind turbines to generate electricity. This time of year when its 105 and there is the greatest demand for power, the wind is hardly blowing in West Texas where most of the turbines are located. They do much better in the spring and fall but of course that’s when the electricity demand is much lower. If I recall correctly sometime in March of this year the turbines broke a record of about 20% of the electricity production. Of course no one was running air conditioners in Dallas or Houston at that time.

      1. Again, I repeat….where are the numbers for the Nuke plants?

        If they put a half dozen nuke plants with 4-5 reactors each, they could power each home and business west of the Mississippi River for about $20/month on average for the first 5 years dropping to $5/month shortly after the initial investment is paid off.

        And the beauty of it is that the companies would do it without it being subsidized by the taxpayers….if the feds would simply get out of the way and let them.

        1. And the beauty of it is that the companies would do it without it being subsidized by the taxpayers….if the feds would simply get out of the way and let them.

          I don’t know if this is true. S&P says otherwise. Plus, the companies need federal protection through the Price-Anderson Act.

          1. If you allow them to act in a competitive marketplace and get rid of this public trust bullshit then very few government protection would be required. Actually, none would be required.

            Of course, you are right about the current climate, but that’s the problem to begin with. The government over-regulates so it is required to subsidize in the first place. It’s like an ouroboros form of government economic policy…or some shit that Krugman would endorse. Either way, it’s shit.

        2. Building nukes doesn’t actually solve the issue of power shifting — nukes don’t vary a lot in their power output (I’m not sure if it’s due to regulations or to physics), but load varies a hell of lot in power consumption over the course of 24 hours.

          Either you’re building enough nukes to meet average demand, and adding a lot of pumps to store excess energy, or you’re building enough nukes (and coal) to meet base demand and adding lot of gas turbines to get some extra energy during the peak hours. Neither option is cheap.

          1. It’d still be a lot cheaper than the alternative, which is basically to print money and flush it down the shitter.

            Remember how much cable TV cost before there was competition in the marketplace…or telephones. These public trusts are a joke and they have no incentive to act with any fiscal sense.

            Exhibit A: Amtrak.

          2. Nuclear plants can run up and down over several orders of magnitude in power output. And can do so on a time scale not a lot slower than other steam plants.

            But…

            1. It is not quite as efficient as running them steadily.
            2. It is only very, very safe, instead of very, very, very safe to run them that way.

            EDF (the French nuclear power utility) runs a some plants in variable mode, and some in fixed (i.e. maximum output all the time).

            I don’t know what mechanism they use to pick which units run which way.

            1. I don’t know anything about nukes, but it takes 12 hours to start a coal unit.

              1. Cold starting any steam plant takes a while (longer still for nuke), but don’t confuse the cold start time with the time for varying the thermal power once you are up and running.

                1. I know. It was just to illustrate that the timescale isn’t like wind or even gas turbines. IIRC it takes about 30 minutes to drop 1 of 8 mills.

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  12. So, when are you guys FINALLY going to start complaining about the massive subsidies fossil fuels receive, which utterly dwarf anything renewables do?

    Econ 101 says “Polluters must pay”. Why do you disagree with textbook econ?

    1. Then let them pay when they choose to pollute, not when the government says they were deemed to have polluted.

      Do you have any of the stats on fossil fuel subsidies that you could link to? I wonder if they come close to offsetting the taxes put on said fossil fuels on the front and back-end.

      1. Your argument doesn’t make a lick of sense.

        What does “choose to pollute” mean? That if they accidently pollute, they shouldn’t pay? And apparently, you believe they should be able to self-determine if it was an “accident” or not. lol…that will work.

    2. They should pay for pollution known to be harmful…which doesn’t include CO2.

      1. Yeah, think of teh treez.

      2. Sorry, but we clearly meet the “preponderance of evidence” standard. Actually, we exceed it by a wide margin. Please try again.

        1. “Sorry, but we clearly meet the “preponderance of evidence” standard. Actually, we exceed it by a wide margin”

          Sorry but you clearly cannot prove a single word of that sentence to be fact.

    3. “Despite the fact that the wind-energy sector,…is about 200 times the subsidy received by the oil and gas sector?wind-energy lobbyists are calling for yet more mandates.”

      The article disputes your claim that fossil fuels recieve massive subsidies relative to renewables. Possibly on a total basis, but that’s would largely be because fossil fuels are more reliable sources of energy and therefore are more widely used.

      Economics also says that the less flexible a source of a commodity is, the less it makes sense to use that source.

      1. Bryce is just defining “subsidy” very narrowly (direct handouts from the government), and not including other forms, particularly the ability to dump one’s garbage on other peoples’ property without being held liable. This subsidy is enormous. In the case of coal, it is near $.10/kwh.

        When your pretty little head is capable of grasping the fact that subsidies can occur because of government INACTION, not only government action, let me know.

    4. I’m just curious Choad. Do you EVER RTFA before you start spouting your nonsense?

      Despite the dismal economic news, despite the fact that the wind-energy sector, through the $0.022 per-kilowatt-hour production tax credit, gets subsidies of about $6.40 per million Btu of energy produced?an amount that, according to the Energy Information Administration, is about 200 times the subsidy received by the oil and gas sector?wind-energy lobbyists are calling for yet more mandates.

      1. I’m very skeptical of the massive subsidies for wind and solar (which is much worse due to water requirements). But to act like the numbers given in that article are correct is being intellectually dishonest. Our foreign policy and military protect our interests in oil. When you start talking about our national priorities, defense budgets and more the true subsidies for oil become very large very fast. This doesn’t include liability limits like we’re seeing with the Gulf oil spill and other such shenanigans. Oil subsidies are over the top and probably dwarf any other subsidy on the books, save those for the defense industry.

  13. I work in the Texas electric power industry and I will concur that wind and solar are boondoggles when it comes to utility load management. The ONLY way they can manage all of that wind is to have natural gas generators standing by to pick up the slack (coal and nukes simply aren’t flexible enough).

    And what’s nasty for consumers is that with the wind blowing so much in the spring and fall, it displaces the natural gas capacity that would otherwise be running and forces the natural gas generation owners to charge more to make up for it when they do run in the summer. So in reality, consumers’ bills end up being higher because of the renewable requirements AND because of the way the wind distorts the natural gas supply curve.

    And none of this even gets into the debate that’s raging here about whether to charge wind operators the same non-availability charges that owners of other (fossil) facilities have to pay when their promised generation doesn’t show up. Obviously, the wind operators say it’s not fair to charge them for something that’s beyond their control (the weather) while the fossil operators complain that the double-standard distorts the market even more.

    About the only “good” form of renewable energy (in Texas, anyway) is biomass from waste sources, because it’s always available, much like a coal plant. The problem is, Texas is quickly running out of annual streams of biomass to run these plants, AND, even more infuriating, the greens are pushing changes to the renewable portfolio standard that would encourage solar and wind at the expense of biomass, basically by putting a cap on the price that biomass producers can charge for their product so as to ultimately make solar panels more lucrative for developers. So not only are we going to subsidize inferior forms of energy compared to fossil fuels, we’re going to go further and subsidize even more the most inferior form of the inferior form of energy. BRILLIANT!

  14. If windmills will solve the energy problem then why not giant dehumidifiers to solve the global warming problem? Water vapor make up 95% of GHGs? If the greenies can subsidize fantasy why can’t I?

    1. I’m all for this. DHMO is super dangerous. Have you ever tried to breath that stuff? Do you know that it’s in every lake and aquifer in the US?

      1. People have died from dihydrogen monoxide poisoning.

        I’m waiting for the anti-nitrogen crowd to start circulating petitions.

        1. Wait until the greens figure out Oxygen is flammable.

          1. I prefer to blame phlogiston: there’s no phlogiston lobby to complain.

    2. Intesting. A nutjob comes in and repeats a stupid denier talking point that has been repeatedly and repeatedly and repeatedly refuted by scientists. I could link twenty refutations of this argument, but it wouldn’t do a lick of good because you would neither read them, nor admit how utterly they refute what you say.

      Yet THREE MORE of you nutjobs respond, and none of you point out that the original poster was lying. Why is that?

      1. Then link to them, dipshit.

        1. Heck, this particular denier talking point is so wrong that is what I call “Wikipedia wrong”. Go there and type in “greenhouse gas” and see for yourself.

          But normally I suggest you start with skepticalscience. They have the general beatdown on every denier argument out there, in an easy to find format and typically with plenty of links to actual refereed journal articles.

      2. And I could link twenty scientific refutations to your refutations, and it wouldn’t do a lick of good because you’d simply resort to SOP ad hominems about the source of my refutations, as though it’s relevant in any way to discussions of facts. So fuck your mama, you self-righteous cocksucker.

        1. Let me guess….you would cite 20 crackpot websites and no scientific journals whatsoever.

        2. Don’t make fun of Chad’s religion.

  15. Never seems to fail now does it?

    Lou
    http://www.be-anonymous.se.tc

  16. Wind works better elsewhere, such as Ireland, where demand is more constant and modest peaks occur in the windier months. Texas may be a ‘teaching moment’ for wind power, but you can’t exactly draw a general conclusion from a hot summer in a flat, inland, low-mid latitude region.

    1. I think it probably works better in parts of the United States-for example California, where the wind farm outside Palm Springs is in a canyon, which I believe makes the area windy even when the area is hot.

      1. In general renewables benefit from a national perspective. Maybe the wind isn’t blowing as much in Texas, but go up to the Dakato’s and it’s blowing plenty.

        Plus you mix it with solar, and you have energy in the day and night.

        Wind and solar aren’t still aren’t as cheap as coal (although at times wind can be cheaper than NG), at least not wihout counting exteranlities.

        But wind and solar prices keep coming down, and fossil fuel prices will keep going up (rising fuel costs).

        First wind, then solar will achieve cost parity. Wind probably within 5 years, solar in 10-15.

  17. Sean,
    This is not a teaching moment…this is a I told you so moment. Humans have known that it gets hottest when the wind stops for a long time. The utilization of wind turbines has been mismatched with demand in the hottest regions forever and people in the industry have talked about this forever and it is ignored, because we make money off these stupid subsidies…we know the public is dumb and we try to tell them, but when they insist on giving us money we take it.

  18. Wind doesn’t work because they’re doing it wrong. Bad designs sited at inappropriate locations. The article is correct that storage is key, due to the natural fluctuations of availability, even at optimal locations. Batteries ain’t it, though. Oh, and Tesla was right.

  19. Hendrix is awesome.

  20. maybe god wants us to meet a few wrong people before meeting the right one, s o that when we finally meet the person, we will know how to be grateful.

  21. During rush hour, the thoroughfare would effectively be closed, with only 5 percent, or maybe 10 percent, of its capacity available to motorists. Were this scenario to actually occur, the public outrage would be quick and ferocious….

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