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Wind Energy is Expensive

Willem Post's picture
President Willem Post Energy Consuling

Willem Post, BSME'63 New Jersey Institute of Technology, MSME'66 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, MBA'75, University of Connecticut. P.E. Connecticut. Consulting Engineer and Project Manager....

  • Member since 2018
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  • Jul 26, 2011

As the US moves to increased use of renewable energy to reduce CO2 emissions, it is important to recognize efficient technologies, such as gas-fired, advanced, 60%+ efficient, combined cycle gas turbines, CCGTs, that emit about one third the CO2 per kilowatt-hour of a coal plant.


The more cost effective renewables should have incentives towards deployment. The less cost effective renewables should have incentives towards further development. 


An undesirable situation would arise if politically-inspired deployment would occur prior to a renewable being ready for deployment, as was, and still is, the case with ethanol-from-corn which costs not only billions of dollars in subsidies each year, but does not even reduce CO2 emissions; a most egregious policy disaster.


Comparison of Wind Energy with Advanced CCGT Energy 

The US Energy Information Administration projects levelized production costs (national averages, excluding subsidies) of NEW plants coming on line in 2016 as follows (2009$):

Offshore wind $0.243/kWh


PV solar $0.211/kWh (significantly greater in marginal solar energy areas, such as New England)


Onshore wind $0.096/kWh (significantly greater in marginal wind energy areas with greater capital and O&M costs, such as on ridge lines in New England; less in the Great Plains states)


Conventional new coal (base-loaded) $0.095/kWh


Advanced 60%+ efficient CCGT (base-loaded) $0.0631/kWh.

Without subsidies, the US average LCOE of onshore wind energy is about 0.096/0.0631 x 100% = 52% greater than advanced CCGT. 

Without subsidies, the US average LCOE of offshore wind energy is about 0.243/0.0631 x 100% = 385% greater than advanced CCGT, because of much greater (owning + O&M) costs. 

The below table summarizes capital costs, O&M, capacity factors and unsubsidized LCOEs for recently-built/proposed IWT systems in different regions. The Great Plains, GP, has the least cost O&M; it is set at 1; New England, ridgeline O&M is about 2x GP; New England, offshore O&M is 3-4 times GP.

                                      Cap Cost          O&M         CF        LCOE      LCOE

                                         $/kW                                       $/kW       $/kW

                                                                        WO/sub  W/sub


New England grid price                                                                     0.055                 

Great Plains                       1,800                 1         0.40      0.085   0.700

New England, ridgeline        2,500 – 2,800    2         0.32      0.150   0.100

New England, offshore        4,200                3-4      0.40      0.243   0.170

Note: The above wind energy LCOEs do not include all of the LCOEs listed under “CO2 Emission and LCOE Comparison of Wind and Gas Turbine Energy to Replace Coal Energy” in this article: 

Without subsidies, the LCOE, NE ridgelines, would be at least 0.15/0.0631 x 100% = 238% greater than advanced CCGT.

With subsidies, the LCOE, NE ridgelines, would be at least (0.092/0.0631) x 100% = 46% greater than advanced CCGT.


If the production tax credit of $0.022/kWh expired, the LCOE would be about {(0.092+0.022)/0.0631} x 100% = 81% greater than advanced CCGT.


– Maine wind turbine facilities have an average installed cost of about $2,500/kW and an average capacity factor of 0.32. 

– The Granite Reliable Power Windpark, Coos County, NH, has 33 Vestas units @ 3 MW each, capital cost $2,778/kW.


Onshore Wind Energy is Expensive


Kibby Mountain Wind Turbine Facility: TransCanada Power which owns the 132 MW Kibby Mountain Wind Facility in Maine has a 10-yr PPA with NStar, an electric utility, at a flat $0.105/kWh, plus the associated renewable energy certificates.

Power production is estimated at 132 MW x 8,760 hr/yr x CF 0.31 = 0.357 GWh/yr.

Capital cost is estimated at $320 million, or $2,424/kW. 


The Kingdom “Community” Wind Project: The Green Mountain Power-proposed 63 MW Lowell Mountain wind turbine facility with (21) 3 MW Danish, Vestas V-112 wind turbines, 373-ft (112 m) rotor diameter, 280-ft (84 m) hub height, total height 466.5 ft, stretched along about 3.5 miles of ridge lines. The housings, 47 ft (14 m) long, on top of the 280-ft towers are the size of a greyhound bus.

With subsidies the levelized energy cost would be about $0.096/kWh, according to GMP

Power production is estimated at 63 MW x 1 GW/1,000 MW x 8,760 hr/yr x CF 0.32 = 176.6 GWh/yr

Capital cost is estimated at 63 MW x $2,500,000/MW = $157.5 million, excluding grid modifications. 

Useful service life is estimated at 20 – 25 year. However, gearboxes and blades sometimes fail within 5-10 years. Standard manufacturer warrantees of blades and gear boxes are about 2 years.


Offshore Wind Energy is Very Expensive


Cape Wind: Cape Wind Associates, LLC, plans to build and operate a wind facility on the Outer Continental Shelf offshore of Massachusetts. The wind facility would have a rated capacity of 468 MW consisting of 130 Siemens AG turbines each 3.6 MW, maximum blade height 440 feet, to be arranged in a grid pattern in 25 square miles of Nantucket Sound in federal waters off Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket Island; the lease is for 46 square miles which includes a buffer zone. 


The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities approved a 15-yr power purchase agreement, PPA, between the utility National Grid and Cape Wind Associates, LLC. National Grid agreed to buy 50% of the wind facility’s power starting at $0.187/kWh in 2013 (base year), escalating at 3.5%/yr which means the 2028 price to the utility will be $0.313/kWh. The project is currently trying to sell the other 50% of its power so financing can proceed; so far no takers.


A household using 618 kWh/month will see an average wind power surcharge of about $1.50 on its monthly electric bill over the 15 year life of the contract; if the other 50% of power is sold on the same basis, it may add another $1.50 to that monthly bill.

Power production is estimated at 468 MW x 8,760 hr/yr x CF 0.39 = 1.6 GWh/yr. 

The capital cost is estimated at $2.0 billion, or $4,274/kW. Federal subsidies would be 30% as a grant.


Block Island Offshore Wind Project: The 28.4 MW Block Island Offshore Wind Project has a 20-yr PPA starting at $0.235/kWh in 2007 (base year), escalating at 3.5%/yr which means the 2027 price to the utility will be $0.468/kWh. A State of Rhode Island suit is pending to overturn the contract; the aim is to negotiate to obtain a lower price.

Power production is estimated at 28.4 MW x 8,760 hr/yr x CF 0.39 = 0.097 GWh/yr.

Capital cost is estimated at $121 million, or $4,274/kW. Federal subsidies would be 30% as a grant. 


Delaware Offshore Wind Project: The 200 MW Delaware Offshore Wind Project has a 25-year PPA starting at $0.0999/kWh in 2007 (base year), escalating at 2.5%/yr which means the 2032 price to the utility will be $0.185/kWh.

Power production is estimated at 200 MW x 8,760 hr/yr x CF 0.39 = 0.68 GWh/yr.

Capital cost is estimated at $855 million, or $4,274/kW. Federal subsidies would be 30% as a grant.


Wind Energy O&M Costs


O&M costs are related to a limited number of cost components, including: insurance, regular maintenance, repair, spare parts, and administration.


The standard warranty of an onshore, utility-scale wind turbine is about 2 years. After that period owners are vulnerable to significant O&M costs for gearboxes, generators, drive trains and blades. For example: A gearbox changeout may cost $500,000 and up, plus about 30 days of down time. Gearboxes and blades sometimes fail within 2 -3 years. Extended warranties are available at significant fees.


The average O&M costs of onshore, utility-scale wind turbines is about 2.7 cents/kWh; the O&M costs are from actual cost data of existing wind turbine facilities throughout the world. See below websites.


The 2.7 cents/kWh is about 3 to 5 times the values used in spreadsheets of wind turbine vendors and project developers  to attract investors, secure financing and obtain government approvals.


On ridge lines of New England O&M would be about 2 times the average. Offshore it would be about 3-4 times the average.


O&M increases with wind turbine age: a lifetime average of 20 – 25 percent of the levelized generating costs, starting at about 10 – 15 percent for unsubsidized newer units, gradually increasing to 20 – 35 percent for unsubsidized older units.


Wind Energy and Subsidies; a partial list


Wind turbine facilities receive federal and state subsidies equivalent to about 50% of the capital cost.

The object of the subsidies is deployment of wind turbines. The laws that establish the subsidies do not have a performance standard regarding CO2 emissions reduction/kWh based on measured fuel consumption/kWh and CO2 emissions/kWh of the wind energy balancing plants. This enables wind proponents to claim CO2 emissions reductions/kWh without any factual basis. With enough PR, they have fooled almost everyone, including legislators, who oblige by passing more subsidy laws. The following is a partial list of subsidies:


– Federal grant for 30% of the total project cost which also applies to Spanish, Danish, German and Chinese wind turbines thus creating jobs in those nations instead of the US. These nations would not dream to have such a measure benefitting US wind turbine companies.


– Federal accelerated depreciation allowing the entire project to be written off in five years which is particularly beneficial to wealthy, high-income people looking for additional tax shelters.


– Federal production credit of $0.022/kWh of wind energy produced.


– Owners of wind turbine facilities receive Renewable Energy Certificates which they can sell on the open market. The RECs are subsequently bought by polluting companies that find it less expensive to buy the RECs than clean up their pollution.


– State legislatures and state agencies are pressured to provide above-market feed-in-tariffs, FITs, and to approve generous power purchase agreements. 


– State legislatures and state agencies are pressured to provide increasingly greater state incentives to politically well-connected renewables vendors, developers, financial entities and high-income future wind facility owners.


– State legislatures and state agencies are pressured to pave the regulatory ways to essentially circumvent state environmental and quality of life laws. Pro-forma hearings, usually required by law, are held to create a semblance of democratic process but effectively are rubber-stamp approvals of pre-ordained decisions.


Wind Energy Variability; a burden on electric grids


As wind speeds are highly variable and wind energy is proportional to the cube of the wind speed, a doubling of wind speed causes an 8-fold increase in highly-variable wind energy. As a result, wind energy consists of irregularly-spaced, sporadic spurts varying in amplitude and duration. About 10 to 15 percent of the year no wind energy is produced because of insufficient wind speeds or too high wind speeds. 


Wind energy curtailment by feathering the blades or stopping the wind turbines is often used to limit wind energy surges, because grids have insufficient quick-ramping balancing plant capacity.


Wind energy by itself would be a disturbing influence on the grid. However, if the wind energy is correctly combined with the energy from balancing plants, it would be seen by the grid as a constant-output, base-loaded plant.


Wind Energy; low windspeed conditions


Low windspeed conditions can occur at times of peak demand over very large geographical areas. For example, at 5:30 PM, 7 December, 2010, the UK demand was 60,050 MW, the 5,200 MW of UK wind turbines was producing about 300 MW, i.e., 5.8% of rated output. The 322 MW Whitelee Wind Turbine Facility was producing about 5 MW, i.e., 1.6% of rated output.


At the same time, the wind energy of other European nations was as follows: Ireland 18% (261 MW/1,425 MW), Germany 3% (830MW/25,777 MW), and Denmark 4% (142 MW /3,500 MW).


The above indicates:


– eventhough more and more wind turbine capacity is being added, the UK, and other areas, such as New England, could not rely on wind energy being “there” in significant quantities at least 10 -15 percent of the time (windspeeds would be too low to turn most of the wind turbine rotors) and therefore they would likely not be able to reduce the capacity of their existing coal, gas, nuclear and hydro plants. In fact, they would likely have to ADD quick-ramping, gas-fired CCGT capacity to provide wind balancing energy. 


– whereas widespread interconnection via a European Supergrid may reduce wind energy variability, its supply to the grid could be extremely low over large geographical areas influenced by the same weather system. The thinking of connecting wind turbine facilities covering multiple medium-size weather systems would require a huge, nationwide HVDC transmission infrastructure on 80 to 135 ft high steel structures. Large and very large weather systems would continue to provide additional challenges.


– additionally, as records of the UK, Ireland, Denmark, Germany, etc., show, the total wind energy produced can vary significantly due to changing weather patterns from year to year.


Balancing Energy


The balancing energy for a year is about (1.0 – 0.30)/0.30 = 2.33 times the wind energy for a year, if the wind facility capacity factor = 0.30. This assumes the wind turbine facility would operate near 100% of rated capacity a few times of the year. 


However, the highest observed capacity percent for areas with many wind turbines, such as northwest Germany, is about 90 percent of rated capacity. This happens when a weather front moves through such an area, as often happened across the Iberian (Spain/Portugal) peninsula.


The adjusted balancing energy for a year becomes (0.90 – 0.30)/0.30 = 2 times the wind energy for a year. This means at 20% wind energy penetration in New England, as envisioned by the New England Wind Integration Study by GE-Wind, about 40% would be balancing energy, for a total of 60%. All remaining plants would supply only 40% of the energy to the grid. 


It may be assumed about 90% of rated capacity is the maximum wind surge or wind ebbing. Almost all wind surges and ebbings are much less. Their amplitudes (horizontal axis) and frequencies (vertical axis) can be presented as a normal distribution with standard deviations. In New England large and very large wind surges and ebbings occur about 1 to 2 percent of the time, or about 85 to 175 hours per year.


Balancing Plants


Balancing plants accommodate wind energy to the grid and thereby help maintain voltage and frequency at target values, i.e., they ramp down corresponding to an incoming wind energy surge and ramp up corresponding to a wind energy ebbing. 


Balancing operations require the balancing plants to operate at a percent of rated output which is inefficient, and simultaneously ramp up and down which is even more inefficient.


The balancing plants usually consist of gas-fired, open cycle gas turbines, OCGTs, and combined cycle gas turbines, CCGTs. Hydro plants are also used for balancing wind energy, but their use is limited to relatively few grid areas with significant hydro power plant capacity, such as the Bonneville Power Authority, Hydro-Quebec, and Denmark using the hydro plants of Norway and Sweden, and Spain and Portugal using their own hydro plants.


At wind energy penetrations of less than 1%, existing spare, quick-ramping, gas-fired gas turbine capacity will be adequate for providing the balancing energy on many grids. On the New England grid, currently with about 0.5% penetration, the presence of wind energy is not yet “noticeable”, according to ISO-NE personnel. The main reason it is not yet noticeable is because of a lack of proper measuring and recording of power plant and wind turbine facility operating data.


At wind energy penetrations up to about 2%, more existing spare, quick-ramping gas turbine capacity will be needed for balancing operations.  


At wind energy penetration greater than 2%, the existing spare gas turbine capacity will have been used up and additional quick-ramping gas turbine plants will need to be added to each grid. The installed cost of CCGT plants is about $1,250/kW.


Attempts to use existing, slow-ramping plants, such as coal plants, as balancing plants during periods of larger wind energy surges and ebbings have been less than successful, as experienced by Colorado and Texas. See Bentek report.


This lack of success is a serious issue and should not be dismissed by the American Wind Energy Association as “excessive focussing on outlier events”, i.e., larger wind energy surges and ebbings, because as wind energy penetration increases, such “outlier” events will become more frequent and severe, if gas-fired, quick-ramping CCGT facilities are not added to the grids to correctly balance wind energy. These facilities must be utility-owned to ensure control over their operation. See Bentek report.


Many grids have wind energy penetrations greater than 2%, but most utilities on those grids have not yet added balancing plant capacity hoping other, less expensive “fixes” will show up, such as weather prediction, smart grid, demand/supply management, storage, etc. Such fixes are a decade or more in the future, whereas the lack of adequate, quick-ramping balancing capacity exists now.


Will wind turbine facility owners be charged a percentage of the cost of the additional CCGT facilities, or any of the other “fixes”, or will they all become additional hidden subsidies? 


Increased Owning and O&M Costs Due to Balancing Wind Energy


If each up or down ramp lasts, say 5 minutes, there will be 12 x 24 = 288 ramps a day, or about 100,000 ramps per year. If 10 minutes per ramp, then about 50,000 ramps per year. In any case, major wear and tear of balancing plants which will result in increased owning and O&M costs due to shortened useful service life and increased O&M.


Those costs have not been adequately quantified by utilities and are not charged, or not fully charged, to wind turbine facility owners as wind energy accommodation fees; a hidden subsidy for wind energy. Political winds may prevent any charges.


Increased Fuel Consumption and CO2 Emissions Due to Balancing Wind Energy


Gas turbines are about 15% less efficient at 50% of rated output than at rated output; ramping up and down further reduces their efficiency. From turbine performance curves one can infer a heat rate degradation of about 20% due to balancing operations.


The about 20% heat rate degradation requires increased fuel consumption/kWh and produces increased CO2 emissions/kWh. These increases offset nearly all of the reduction of fuel consumption and CO2 emissions claimed by wind energy proponents.


Because of a lack of real-time measurements of fuel consumption and CO2 emissions of the balancing plants before and after wind energy, these quantities have not been adequately quantified. Political winds may prevent any quantifying.


The extra fuel costs are not charged, or not fully charged, to wind turbine facility owners as wind energy accommodation fees; a hidden subsidy for wind energy. 


Energy Used by Wind Turbines (Parasitic Energy)


One of the big secrets of the wind industry is wind turbine parasitic energy. Little information can be found on the internet. Yet, all of the information would be revealed if a proper wiring diagram were published and some real-time measurements were made.


Parasitic energy is the energy used by the wind turbine itself. During spring, summer and fall it is a small percentage of the wind turbine rated output. During the winter it may be as much as 10 to 20 percent of the wind turbine rated output. Much of this energy is needed whether the wind turbine is operating or not. At low wind speeds, the turbine output may be less than the energy used by the turbine; the shortfall is drawn from the grid. 


In winter, the wind speed has to be well above 4.5 m/s, or 10.7 miles/hour, to offset the parasitic energy. Speeds less than that means drawing from the grid, speeds greater than that means feeding into the grid. 


This will significantly reduce the net wind energy produced during a winter. On cold winter days the nacelle (on utility-scale turbines the size of a Greyhound bus) and other components require significant quantities of electric energy.


Below is a representative list of equipment and systems that require electric energy; the list varies for each turbine manufacturer.


– rotor yaw mechanism to turn the rotor into the wind

– blade pitch mechanism to adjust the blade angle to the wind

– lights, controllers, communication, sensors, metering, data collection, etc.

– heating the blades during winter; this may require 10 to 20 percent of the turbine rated output

– heating and dehumidifying the nacelle; this load will be less if the nacelle is well-insulated.

– oil heater, pump, cooler and filtering system of the gearbox

– hydraulic brake to lock the blades when the wind is too strong

– thyristors which graduate the connection and disconnection between turbine generator and grid

– magnetizing the stator; the induction generators used to actively power the magnetic coils. This helps keep the rotor speed constant, and as the wind starts blowing it helps start the rotor turning (see next item)

– using the generator as a motor to help the blades start to turn when the wind speed is low or, as many suspect, to create the illusion the facility is producing electricity when it is not, particularly during important site tours. It also spins the rotor shaft and blades to prevent warping when there is no wind.


Do wind turbine facility owners pay for the energy drawn from the grid, or is this just another hidden subsidy?


A Lack of Real-time, 1/4-hr Data Hampers Proper Inquiry


The above study of the Irish grid could only be performed, because EirGrid publishes real-time, 1/4- hour grid operations data. Almost all grid operators HAVE those data, as they need them to properly operate their grids and for economic dispatch, but do not publish them because:


– they are not required to, or they do not want to.

– wind turbine owners claim their data are proprietary.

– wind turbine vendors and owners have lobbied legislatures to maintain the “do-not-tell” status quo. 


Note: RE departments of governments and other organizations are filled with people who would not have their wind energy jobs and federal and state wind energy subsidies would be at risk, if grid operators were required by law to publish real-time, 1/4-hr grid operations data,  


Because the real-time, 1/4-hr grid operations data is generally not made public, it became possible for government leaders and wind energy promoters to make unrealistic CO2 emissions reduction claims, such as the 1 : 1 ratio, using studies based on estimates, probabilities, algorithms, assumptions, grid operations modeling, weather and wind speed forecasts, etc., and thereby maintain a spell of deception and delusion regarding the claimed CO2 emission reduction benefits of wind energy.


Whereas such studies are costly, complex, look impressive, and create the appearance of serious inquiry to the lay public (many of those studies are performed and/or financed by wind energy promoters, such as the AWEA, US DOE, NRELs, et al), simulation studies usually introduce subjective elements (such as minor tweaking of the values of the study parameters or omitting certain aspects) that skew the results and conclusions more favorable to wind energy. 


The performers of such studies usually claim they have to do them the simulation way, because real-time, 1/4-hr data is not available. However, they are well aware, as are most energy systems analysts managing electric grids, real-time, 1/4-hour grid operations data, as published by EirGrid, are superior to any simulations for performing wind energy studies, an inconvenient truth for wind energy promoters. 


As a result of the similar methodologies, these simulation studies tend to produce similar outcomes in favor of wind energy, which reinforces the orthodoxy of wind energy promoters, such as the AWEA, US DOE, NRELs, et al. Any study at variance with their orthodoxy, such as of the Irish grid, are readily denounced/debunked as biased, a special case, cherry-picking, using statistical trickery, etc.

Ignorance of the people, maintained with deceptive PR slogans (“so many households served, so much CO2 reduced, grid parity in a few years, its renewable, energy independence, etc.”) means continued bliss of subsidies and profitability for vendors, project developers and financiers and reelection of legislators, but increasing pain due to higher electric rates, lower living standards and adverse impacts on quality on life (noise, visual, psychological and health), property values and the environment for everyone else.


Projected Capital Cost of Wind Energy in the UK


The UK has an ambitious and controversial goal of 33 GW of onshore and offshore wind turbines by 2030. The goal would require the following: 


– at least 11,000 wind turbines @ 3 MW each, each at least 465-ft tall, at a cost of about $99 billion @ $3,000/kW (average on/offshore cost)


– about 33 x 0.9 = 29.7 GW of quick-ramping CCGTs for balancing at a cost of about $37.1 billion @ 1,250/kW. Whereas the UK has a significant capacity of CCGT plants, most of it may not be available for balancing operations during larger wind energy surges and ebbings which can occur at any time during a day, including during higher electric demand periods. 


– reorganization of the grid, including HVDC lines on several thousand towers that are 85 to 135 ft tall from Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and offshore wind turbine facilities to England, at a cost of at least $30 billion


The total cost will be at least $175 billion, a sizable investment that will have a useful service life of about 20-25 years, about the same period it will take to build the wind turbine facilities.


People living within about 2 miles would be disturbed by an around-the-clock machinery noise and an irregular din of whoosh-type sounds, especially during nighttime. The noise will be similar to Greyhound buses, on top of 280-ft towers, spread out throughout the countryside, simultaneously and continuously running their engines at a distance, 24/7/365 for 20 or more years; a total madness. See “Increased Energy Efficiency” below.


Having No Wind Energy is More Economical for the UK


The 33 GW of gas-fired, 60% efficient CCGT balancing plants would be able to produce all of the wind energy PLUS all of the balancing energy, at a much lower installed cost ($37.1 billion) and at a much lower cost/kWh with only a few percent of additional fuel consumption/kWh and a only a few percent of additional CO2 emissions/kWh, if they were operated at about 60% efficiency, at rated output, in base-loaded mode. 


This would be accomplished without adverse impacts on quality on life (noise, visual, psychological and health), property values and the environment.


New GE CCGT Plant


GE is marketing a new CCGT plant and has sold a few of them. The new “GE FlexEfficiency 50” plant has a capacity of 510 MW and a 61% efficiency at rated output. Its design is based on a unit that has performed utility-scale power generation for decades. The plant fits on about a 10-acre site. 


It is quick-starting: from a cold start, it reaches its rated output in about one hour. Various options are available to reduce the start up times to as little as 30 minutes. 


Its average efficiency is about 60% from rated output to 87% of rated output (444 MW) and about 58% from 87% to 40% of rated output (204 MW). It can be ramped at 50 MW/minute. 


Without wind, the GE unit is designed to efficiently produce electric energy in base-loaded mode and daily-demand-following mode. 


With wind, its high ramp rate enables it to also function as a cycling plant to accommodate the variable energy from wind turbine and solar facilities, albeit at reduced efficiency. Below 40% of rated output its efficiency decreases rapidly, as with all gas turbines. This means its economic ramping range is limited.


Using the new GE CCGT plant for wind energy balancing would be technically and economically an incredibly irresponsible thing to do. Consumers and taxpayers would be paying the owning and O&M cost of: 


– the CCGT plant, which, by itself, could produce the wind energy + balancing energy at a lower cost per kWh than the wind turbine facility at a slightly greater fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. 

– the wind turbine facility 

– the reorganization of the grid.


Three Better Alternatives to Wind Energy


60% Efficient Combined Cycle Gas Turbines


The Green Mountain Power-proposed 63 MW Lowell Mountain wind turbine facility with (21) 3 MW Danish, Vestas V-112 wind turbines, 373-ft rotor diameter, 280-ft hub height, total height 466.5 ft, stretched along about 3.5 miles of ridge lines. The housings (nacelles) on top of the 280-ft towers are the size of a Greyhound bus.


The wind energy production would be about 63 MW x 1 GW/1,000 MW x 8,760 hr/yr x capacity factor 0.32 = 176.6 GWh/yr.


The capital cost of the wind turbine facility would be at least 63 MW x $2,500,000/MW = $157.5 million, excluding grid modifications. 


The Lowell wind turbine facility facility would have a 20 – 25 year useful service life. However, gearboxes and blades often fail within 5-10 years.


For the same capital cost a new 60% efficient combined cycle gas turbine facility, operated at rated output, in base-loaded mode, would produce about ($157.5 million/$1,250,000/MW) x 1 GW/1000 MW x 8,760 hr/yr x CF 0.90 = 993.4 GWh/yr, or 993.4/176.6 = 5.63 times the electrical energy per invested dollar. The facility would have a 35 – 40 year useful service life.


The levelized energy cost for advanced 60% efficient CCGT would be about $0.0631/kWh, according to the US Energy Information Administration.


Some of the advantages of a gas-fired CCGT facility are: 


– No grid modifications would be required

– No inefficient operation of gas-fired wind energy balancing facilities would be required

– Impacts on quality of life (noise, visual, psychological and health), property values and the environment would be minimal

– The facility would take up only a few acres

– The electrical energy would be low-cost, steady 24/7/365, reliable and dispatchable

– Low CO2 emissions/kWh; about 1/3 the CO2 emissions/kWh of coal plants 

– No particulate emissions

– Domestic energy supply, good for energy independence, national security


Increased Energy Efficiency


The real issue regarding CO2 reduction is energy intensity, Btu/$ of GDP; it must be DECLINING to offset GDP and population growth. To accomplish this energy efficiency needs to be at the top of the list, followed by the most efficient renewables of which hydro power is the best and residential small wind is the worst, in fact, it is atrocious. EE is so good that it should be subsidized before any and all renewables, because it is much more effective per invested dollar. 


Effective CO2 emission reduction policy requires that all households eagerly participate. Current subsidies for electric vehicles, residential wind, PV solar and geothermal systems benefit mostly the top 5% of households that pay enough taxes to take advantage of the renewables tax credits, while all other households are required to pay for them by means of fees and taxes or higher electric rates; the net effect is much cynicism and little CO2 reduction. Improved energy efficiency policy will provide much greater opportunities to many more households to significantly reduce their CO2 emissions. 


Energy efficiency will have a much bigger role in the near future, as energy system analysts come to realize that tens of trillions of dollars will be required to reduce CO2 from all sources and that energy efficiency will reduce CO2 at a lesser cost and more effectively. Every household, every business can participate.


For example: there is a massive energy source right at our fingertips — but, so far, this resource remains largely untapped. This energy resource is available in every state, every city and every town, does not require mining and drilling and costly power plants, makes no noise, is invisible, does not harm the environment and fauna and flora and creates more jobs than renewables per invested dollar. 


The majority of our existing building stock is old and most are inefficient buildings that are destined to be in service at least 25 years or longer. Reducing the energy that is normally wasted in existing buildings offers more potential for cost-effective energy savings and CO2 emission reductions than any renewables strategy. 


Energy efficiency projects:


– will make the US more competitive, increase exports and reduce the trade balance.


– usually have simple payback periods of 6 months to 5 years. 


– reduce the need for expensive and highly visible transmission and distribution systems.


– reduce two to five times the energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions and create two to three times more jobs than renewables per dollar invested; no studies, research, demonstration and pilot plants will be required. 


– have minimal or no pollution, are invisible and quiet, are peaceful; no opposition groups demonstrating against them, something people really like.


– are by far the cleanest energy development anyone can engage in; they often are quick, cheap and easy.


– have a capacity factor = 1.0 and are available 24/7/365.


– use materials, such as for taping, sealing, caulking, insulation, windows, doors, refrigerators, water heaters, furnaces, fans, air conditioners, etc., that are almost entirely made in the US. They represent about 30% of a project cost, the rest is mostly labor. About 70% of the materials cost of expensive renewables, such as PV solar, is imported (panels from China, inverters from Germany), the rest of the materials cost is miscellaneous electrical items and brackets.


– will quickly reduce CO2 at the lowest cost per dollar invested AND make the economy more efficient in many areas which will raise living standards, or prevent them from falling further. 


– if done before renewables, will reduce the future capacities and capital costs of renewables. 


Motor Vehicles


Before embarking on heavily-subsidized, expensive electric vehicles that would be charged with electricity from CO2-producing fossil-fueled plants, some low-cost and quick measures to reduce CO2 are:


– high-efficiency diesel engines in passenger cars getting 50 to 60 mpg are widely used in Europe. This should be implemented in the US before PEVs; a fully mature technology, no-fingers-crossed situation and no subsidies.


– next hybrid/diesel-powered vehicles that get about 60+ mpg; again a fully mature technology, no-fingers-crossed situation and no subsidies.


– next plug-in-hybrid/diesel-powered vehicles that have a 40-mile electric range; again a fully mature technology, no-fingers-crossed situation and no subsidies. The benefits are less diesel fuel consumption, but for at least the next 10-20 years more coal-generated power consumption to charge the hybrids, until renewables and natural gas become a greater percentage of US power.


– improving worldwide mpg of future gasoline-powered vehicles. This is an on-going effort that should be accelerated with subsidies. Cars with high mpgs usually are small and low-cost. If tens of millions/yr are sold worldwide, it will have a major impact on reducing CO2.









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Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jul 26, 2011

So fossil fuel power is cheaper than clean energy? No big surprise there. I think it is surprising how much cheaper natural gas is than other new-build technologies (wind, geothermal, biomass, nuclear, and also coal are all in a tight grouping, with natural gas about 30% less). see:

Of course, there is the small problem of energy security and oil wars, and the fact that natural gas is the second best transportation fuel (after petroleum products).

Stephen Gloor's picture
Stephen Gloor on Jul 26, 2011

Willem Post – “Please explain to me why anybody is still “doing” wind? “

Because your analysis is wrong. 

Charles Barton's picture
Charles Barton on Jul 26, 2011

Stephen, Saying “your analysis is wrong” does not demonstrate errors in the analysis, that requires identification of demonstrably incorrect statements of facts, and/or errors in logic.   

Amelia Timbers's picture
Amelia Timbers on Jul 26, 2011

Stephen, ditto the objections below. This isn’t technically spam, or technically offensive, but in the future comments like this will be barred if they are criticism without substantive reasoning. Thank you.

Mario Montero's picture
Mario Montero on Jul 26, 2011

We regulate wind with hydropower here.  The hydrogenerator governor unit takes care of the fluctuations costing virtually nothing to do.  Both are connected to the same substation.  Plus we stabilize wind with renewable energy.



Stephen Gloor's picture
Stephen Gloor on Jul 27, 2011

willem Post – “Please make a list of items that are incorrect in your opinion.”

Most of what you have here is a rehash of a previous post that I provided a quite detailed answer to.  As this made no difference, since you simply trotted out the same arguments, detailed facts obviously make no impression.

I will however do one more that will illustrate that you seem to skim over details.  The GE gas turbine that you reference the “GE FlexEfficiency 50” has several options that you seem to have missed.

In this document:

There are a number of startup options on Page 6.  The fast start option has 50% power in 20 mins and full power in under 30 mins.  Only one profile has a startup time of 60mins and that is the baseload configuration which would never be used for a cycling plant.  I present this as an example of cherry picking information or an unwillingness to research thoroughly the technology you are presenting.

Please refer to my previous answer to the last time you tried a beat up of wind for the same answers to the same wrong statements.

The only thing I agree with you is about energy efficiency.


Paul O's picture
Paul O on Jul 27, 2011

The Ge Pdf says……………

“With the FlexEfficiency 50 plant, operators will have the choice of four unique 

start-up options that allow them to rapidly respond to electrical industry conditions, 

limits on air emissions and power demands—all while improving their bottom line. 

After completion of pre-start conditions, all options are initiated with one-button 

push-start, enabling automatic plant start-up”


Then a graphic shows that the:

 Rapid Response w/ Purge Credit  having startup time close to 20 mins at 50% power and 40 mins at 100% power


Not sure I know what the pre-start conditions or purge credit means.

With the FlexEfficiency 50 plant, operators will have the choice of four unique 
start-up options that allow them to rapidly respond to electrical industry conditions, 
limits on air emissions and power demands—all while improving their bottom line. 
After completion of pre-start conditions, all options are initiated with one-button 
push-start, enabling automatic plant start-upWith the FlexEfficiency 50 plant, operators will have the choice of four unique start-up options that allow them to rapidly respond to electrical industry conditions, limits on air emissions and power demands—all while improving their bottom line. After completion of pre-start conditions, all options are initiated with one-button push-start, enabling automatic plant start-up”


Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jul 28, 2011


Some clarifications:

VAR support and reactive power capabilities are not unique to wind turbines, and in fact are provided by all thermal generators (i.e. gas, geothermal, nuclear), as well as PV.  Reactive power issues are usually caused by large inductive motors, long transmission lines, and lightly loaded transformers. 

VAR support is called out as a feature of modern wind turbines only because most older generation turbines (sub MegaWatt size) lacked this feature.  These older wind turbines (which used constant blade speed) were unique amongst all generators in that they used induction (aka asynchronous) generators, which cause the same VAR problems as induction motors. 

Modern turbines are mostly variable speed (using permanent magnet or “doubly fed” induction generators), which improves efficiency at low and high wind speed, and makes them quieter at low wind speed, but adds the cost of power electronics to correct the frequency (hence the VAR correction capability).

Also, run of the river hydro is not complementary with wind.  Without large dams, hydro produces most annual output in the spring, when the wind is strongest and electrical demand lowest.

And energy storage makes energy from wind and PV much more expensive, due to the capital cost of the storage system and the energy losses.  Fortunately, storage is not needed when fossil fuel provides most of the energy in a combined wind+backup system. 

The bad news is that wind and PV cannot be used in a system with low fossil fuel contribution unless storage is provided.  This means that even though wind is cheaper than nuclear (a competing non-fossil technology) at low penetration, it is much more expensive than nuclear at high penetration.

Rob Freda's picture
Rob Freda on Jul 28, 2011

Couple of quick comments that you missed in your analysis.  

On the wind positive side:

First off peaking gas plant LCOE is around $15-20 cents per KWh.  Baseload gas is in the lower range that you quote.  

Gas requires … well gas.  Fuel is a highly fluid variable cost based on supply and demand and extraction and transport cost (e.g. if the price of oil goes up so does the gas price which is not true of already installed wind given that is has fractional O&M costs).  Right now gas prices are low based on fracking exploitation, but there is little or no assurance that the condition will remain stable for the 30 year lifetime of a plant.  This variability in terms of fuel costs does not exist in wind or solar.  Wind and solar specifically actually build in long term price stability if they can be integrated properly (which as you rightly point out is a thorny problem).

Regarding the 5-10 year maintenance issues, two things there.  One that cost is already built into the numbers you are quoting hence “Levelized” Cost of energy, and two this is far less of a problem with the direct drive machines from manufacturers like Seimans.

Also in terms of variability I have a friend that runs a CCGT plant.  He has told me that gas can be variable (though not to the extent of wind) based on the fact that the pipeline pressure varies quite a bit based on demand which directly effects his output.  This is anecdotal of grain of salt.

Wind is still by far the best clean option around.  It’s ICC is almost half most other options.  It’s energy density is roughly 5 times that of solar and its conversion rate is roughly twice that of solar.  Also winds conversion efficiency does not degrade with time as solar’s does.


On the wind negative side:

Big issue is – good wind is in the middle of nowhere so transmission capacity is simply not available to get the energy to where it is needed during peaking. A lot of wind energy never gets used. (that said large coal, nuclear, and gas plants have the same problem)

ICC is definitely lower for gas (though not for coal or nuclear) so there may be some economic advantage in the gas scenario as the upfront risk is lower.

Capacity factor is not bad for a natural resource but compared to other options it not good except in class 7 sites

Per the transmission problem 95% of Americas load centers (metro areas) have very poor wind resources, generally around a class 3. (that said same problem for solar, biomass, and geothermal)


General comments:

Energy efficiency is problematic over say a 10 year time horizon.  Our financial markets are based on growth and forward looking valuations which forces a maximization principle that will fill any vacuum left in either existing or potential capacity. Efficiency might produce some short term help but inevitably our system will force the building of more capacity to the levels that would have originally been installed without the conservation.  Whether this is a good or bad thing I cannot really say but efficiency will only produce a slight dip not a long term reduction.

By way of explaining this arcane view, I would say that assuming that efficiency will results in lower production of energy needs over the long term is a little like saying that reducing the price of computers will lead to lower computer sales.  

Markets will instead force higher growth as the cost of growth will reduce overall.

Do not get me wrong.  I think efficiency is great, but I just do not believe it will lead to any type of solution, be it energy independence or carbon reduction.

Rob Freda's picture
Rob Freda on Jul 29, 2011

Hi Solarridge,

Not to argue against wind, but VAR and grid stabilization are not “benefits” of wind.  Var as pointed out is a completely separate tech that applies to other areas.  

Wind or solar at above a 5%-15% penetration (depending on the study) is a grid destabilizer, at least with the current grid structures.  That said there is some evidence from Livermore Berkeley analysis that at high penetration and geographic dispersion its variability normalizes which would then turn it back into a stabilizer, but that is not proven.

Nice point on the hydro by the way.  To your point I think this article might be a little skewed toward gas’ and coal’s favour. Author fails to point out that a large bog standard coal plant has an install cost of $2500 as well.



Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jul 31, 2011

Solarridge, I would certainly agree that it is possible to build an electrical power system composed of 30-40% variable renewables (wind, local solar, run of river hydro), with the remainder composed of dispatchable power (fossil fuel and big dam hydro). This is supported by work from the DOE NREL.

Big hydro currently supplies only about 6% of the US electrical demand, and is not likely to grow much. A little appreciated fact is that when a big chunk of the load is supplied by variable renewables (wind and non-desert solar), all forms of baseload power become less economical, because they are forced to operate at lower capacity factor. This applies to geothermal, biomass, and desert solar with storage, as well as nuclear. The result is the economic lock-in of fossil fuel.

A renewable-rich power system will always have over 50% contribution from dispatchable sources (mostly fossil fuel, plus some hydro).  Of course if we achieve a tremendous breakthrough in efficiency, and drive demand down by 90%, then hydro could provide all of the dispatchable power needed to balance the variable renewables.  Or if people chose to embrace the smart grid, and stop using electricity when variable renewables are unavailable, dispatchable power could be unneeded.  But I have seen no reason to believe either of these will happen.

The only real world electrical system today with low fossil contributions (less than 10%) are those like the French and Swedish, which use a combination of nuclear and hydro.  For countries like the US which 1) have nuclear technology, and 2) are willing to use clean energy only if it is cost competative, more variable renewables means more fossil fuel use.

Amelia Timbers's picture
Amelia Timbers on Aug 2, 2011

@Willem – TEC welcomes commenters of all stripes. One need not be an engineer or power plant operator to participate intelligently in our forums, and on those topics. Let’s stop using the ‘you’re not an engineer’ card on TEC.

Mike Barnard's picture
Mike Barnard on Jun 4, 2012

This article starts from many faulty assumptions using data, often old, from questionable sources. Unsurprisingly it arrives at an inaccurate conclusion.

Actual price of wind

Wind energy in the US in 2012/2013 time frame will average 6-7 cents per kWh cost without subsidies with capacity factors in various wind categories from 35%-47%; Brazil has exceeded this with 5.5 cents per kWh in recent energy auctions. This is comparable with new nuclear, new coal and new hydro.  Natural gas prices are artificially low at present, but future estimates of potential prices cover a very broad range, where the future price of the wind blowing remains zero. Wind costs have dropped 14% for every doubling of capacity and there is four times as much generating capacity today as there was in 2005. Assertions that wind is expensive ignore continuing LCOE projections from very credible, independent organizations in favour of historical cherry-picking from anti-wind sources.

Subsidy comparison

Wind and other renewables have very small subsidies and favourable treatment compared to ongoing favourable treatment for other forms of generation.  What subsidy mechanisms exist barely level the playing field for wind energy. And this is before the significant negative externalities of fossil fuels are added in, 17.8 cents per kWh for coal and likely 5-10 cents per kWh for natural gas.

Actual backup required

If wind backup requirements were significant compared to existing backup for major plants that could go offline at any moment, this article might have an argument.  As it is, at 20% generation penetration, backup would be in the range of 4% of total grid energy according to major grid operator studies in the UK and Finland.  As every grid manager must maintain sufficient hot backup to deal with catastrophic loss of major generation plant in the 1000 MW range, wind energy at reasonable penetrations is a non-starter as an issue.

Parasitic energy

This article really jumps the shark with the argument on wind turbine parasitic energy.  It is copied whole without attribution from the website, an anti-wind site maintained by one Eric Rosenbloom.  Mr. Rosenbloom’s sources are an unnamed Swedish graduate student on a defunct discussion forum and unlisted personal correspondence. Note Mr. Rosenbloom’s credentials; he is a graphic designer and editor, running a small business in that field, and is on the board of directors of an anti-wind advocacy group, National Wind Watch. Industry ISO standard lifecycle cost assessments, publically available and reviewed by independent sources paint a very different picture: so called parasitic energy is so minimal it is ignored in LCAs which go into excruciating detail on maintenance visits to remote wind turbines.


As with the unattributed material on parasitic energy, much of this article is without citation or attribution. While some of sources listed are credible, others are specifically anti-wind advocacy groups such as The Coalition for Energy Solutions and Wind Watch.


The article is correct if remarkably naive in calling for wide-scale energy efficiency programs.  While noble, any solution which requires changes to human nature is doomed to fail.


There are 165,000 wind turbines generating clean, safe, CO2-free, economic electricity world-wide. This article would have us believe that all of those deeply intelligent power engineers and grid managers are wrong.  I would suggest an alternative to that belief.

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