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The continuing debate over wind power and net emissions

Michael Giberson's picture
Center for Energy Commerce, Rawls College of Business, Texas Tech University

Dr. Michael Giberson is an instructor with the Center for Energy Commerce in the Rawls College of Business at Texas Tech University. Formerly, he was an economist with Potomac Economics, Ltd., a...

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  • Oct 4, 2010

We’ve discussed the complicated relationship between wind power and the net reductions in greenhouse gas and other emissions here previously. Industry viewpoints come to expected conclusions – it is no surprise that the Colorado oil and gas industry promotes the view that wind is less special that claimed, nor that the American Wind Energy Association argues wind is better than the oil and gas industry says.

Among the things that makes the issue complicated is that the answer will depend on a lot of factors – the power system that the wind is connected to, what other generators are doing, how the power system chooses to manage wind power’s variability, just how variable the wind power is, and when it is generated. Answers can vary depending on how you frame the question and what data you turn to for analysis.

Into the mess wades F.P. Shioshansi, and he does a pretty good job of sorting through conflicting claims in a post at the EU Energy Policy Blog. For more, Shioshansi recommends Ross Baldick’s article in the recent USAEE Dialogue, “Wind and Energy Markets: A Case Study of Texas.”

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Bill Hannahan's picture
Bill Hannahan on Oct 5, 2010

Wind power in Colorado is concentrated in the NE quadrant of the state and is funneled into the Denver market. The paper in question claims;

During the years 2006-2009 here in metro Denver (designated a non-attainment area for special monitoring of our air pollution by the EPA), forcing wind into the electric-generation mix actually resulted in higher emission levels of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide, the principal components of ozone and smog, as well as higher emission levels of CO2

The wind supporters respond;

as wind energy jumped from providing 2.5% of Colorado’s electricity in 2007 to 6.1% of the state’s electricity in 2008, carbon dioxide emissions fell by 4.4%, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions fell by 6%, coal use fell by 3% (571,000 tons), and electric-sector natural gas use fell by 14%.

By averaging over the entire state and taking credit for fossil power plant improvements, the effects of the high concentrations of wind power on Denver are hidden. In no way does that contradict the report that is being ridiculed.

Wind enthusiasts claim that Denmark produces 20% of its electricity with wind. When it is pointed out that Denmark exports half its wind kWh’s at fire sale prices because they cannot use it all when wind is good, the response is that it is used to reduce hydropower in neighboring countries. In other words, Denmark is a small piece of a large grid that gets a small fraction of its power from wind and solar. Denmark does not prove that wind can produce a large fraction of total grid power.

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