Probably from heart attacks when we open our electricity bills
The graphic above was the lead image for a lecture I gave (and was actually paid for!) in October 2012. My brief was to present a 2 hour University level lecture on Wind Energy to a crowd of intelligent and inquisitive over-50s. The organisation which staged it – Later Life Learning:
” …offers the retiree and mature audience a public forum in which prominent speakers and experts discuss an enriched variety of interesting topics. Past lectures have touched on local, national and international issues: politics, economics, labour relations, new technologies, health and life issues as well as the arts. “
Yes yes, I know, how the hell did I get lumped into the category of ‘…prominent speakers and experts’? Well, when I was invited to speak I was sitting as co-Chairman of the Kingston Environmental Advisory Forum and had been exercising my brains and capability to annoy people and trying to influence local environmental policy (for the better obviously).
That was not an easy task, like all administrations there are political realities and resource constraints that hold back even the best initiatives, and these problems are exacerbated in multi-level democracies like Canada, as often the different levels of Government are at odds with each other. It pissed me off so much that eventually I resigned from KEAF, got ready to move back to Hong Kong and, as is my wont, shot my mouth off about it in the local press. A fairly restrained diatribe for me, I stayed away from naming local politicians who had been particularly obstructive and from blasting the higher levels of Government for the obvious corruption and influence peddling that permeates most of the Western so-called democracies and is especially prevalent in Canada. But I digress.
One of the hot topics that we dealt with on KEAF during my time thereon was so-called ‘renewable energy’, in particular Industrial Wind Energy, characterised by Industrial Wind Turbine (IWT) ‘farms’ as they are often called. IWT’s and solar photovoltaic (PV) had been making inroads in the energy industry worldwide, aided by generous subsidies to make them competitive with conventional energy sources.
However, in 2009, the Liberal Ontario Provincial Government passed the Green Energy and Green Economy Act, 2009 (The GEA), intended to expand renewable energy production, encourage energy conservation, assist in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, wean Ontario off of coal fired power and create green jobs. All very admirable. However, as Samuel Johnson reportedly said:
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”
In retrospect, as regards the former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals (or the McGuilty Fiberals) as they are better known, I would say that in the case of the GEA, the Road to Hell was paved with incompetence, political influence peddling, collusion, biased decision making, coverups of unfavorable scientific evidence and probably bribery. But I am getting ahead of myself.
In 2008 when I was invited (due to my …Ahem, vast and broad-based International experience as a professional environmentalist) to sit on KEAF (not making this up) I knew the basics about IWTs and renewables.
I knew that the modern interest in Wind Energy was sparked by the oil crisis of the 1970s but more importantly, that Wind Energy had been used since the earliest human civilizations.
The first recorded use of wind energy was in sailboats with woven reed sails, first appearing in the early Babylonian civilizations. This guy was probably sailing on the Euphrates River.
Sailing is still popular today, but as any sailor is well aware, there is a major problem with harnessing wind energy… intermittency. Sometimes there isn’t any. I’ll come back to that.
Throughout history, humans have put a lot of effort into developing technologies to harness wind energy. The Chinese claim to have been using vertical axis windmills to pump water since about 1700 BC but the evidence is sparse.
Here’s a wind powered machine designed in the first Century AD, by the chap who is also credited with the first steam engine and the first vending machine, amongst other marvels. It’s a wind powered organ. God knows what tunes it played.
And here’s something a little more recent and a little more utilitarian:
Apparently, similar machines have been in use since about 500 AD in Persia.
Windmills (and to some extent water mills) were arguably responsible for the first major Industrial Revolution, which took place in Europe, in particular Holland beginning in the 14th Century.
For the first time in human history (at least as far as we know), large scale concentrated industrial processes were powered by other than animal power.
Spanish and Dutch Windmills
Map of Windmills Near Amsterdam 1500s (I think)
History however, does not count this as an Industrial Revolution, that appellation is reserved for the process that began in England in about 1760 from when machines started to be used in manufacturing. But I am digressing again. The fact is that wind energy powered a lot of industry through the late middle ages up until it was supplanted by steam power and then electricity.
Water energy has retained it’s place throughout history as other energy forms (wait for it) ebbed and flowed. Arguably, this is because, in most well sited water mills, be they medieval grist mills or modern dams, power from water mills is not generally intermittent (except in the case of large scale drought) and is at all times ‘dispatchable’.
That quite simply means that energy will be there when you flick the switch. If the grid signals it needs more power you can open the floodgates further, ramp up another turbine or crack the whip on the horses.
And therein lies the basic problem with wind energy. It is not dispatchable. You can’t guarantee it will be there when you need it. Just like the sailboats in the right hand picture above. It is fair enough if you are a sailor to be becalmed now and again (if very frustrating) and as long as you are not racing you can always fire up the donk (ie put on the engine – or in more technical terms, engage a dispatchable power source), but intermittency is not compatible with modern civilization.
When Aunt Madge and Uncle Henry show up for Christmas dinner you don’t want to have to say ‘sorry, the turkey isn’t cooked because there wasn’t enough wind’. Here is a nice little succinct note on dispatchable power. But I am getting ahead of myself again. Back to the history of wind energy.
The world’s first automatically operated wind turbine was built in 1888 by Charles F. Brush in Cleveland. It was 60 feet tall with a diameter of 56 feet, weighed 80,000 pounds and had a 12kW dynamo which charged the home’s 12 batteries. The batteries solved the intermittency problem and his was the first electrically powered home in the city. The turbine operated for 20 years.
Small wind turbine electrical generators were popular in remote off grid areas from the early 20th Century and wind power is still used to pump water on farms. Think of the water storage tank as a giant battery. Again, the intermittency problem needs to be addressed through some form of energy storage.
Here are some examples of largely experimental wind turbines, a 1.25 megawatt turbine built during WWII to generate power for the local grid in Rutland Vermont (it failed and broke up after 1100 hours), experimental turbines erected by NASA in the 1970’s and one of the world’s first commercial wind farm built at Altamont Pass in California in the 1970s.
Altamont has been a disaster for local bird life, killing an estimated 1300 raptors a year, including on average about 70 Federally protected Golden Eagles. It is still operating but the older smaller turbines are being replaced with larger modern models which are supposed to be more ‘bird friendly’. Yeah, right.
Here’s what a modern wind turbine looks like in detail:
This is a fairly typical wind turbine for modern onshore industrial wind energy production. They are normally in the range of about 2 MW nameplate capacity (ie, their rated power output operating in optimum conditions). And believe me, these puppies are BIG.
I borrowed these simulations from a friend of mine over at Wind Farm Realities.
This is absolutely the best site around if you want to really learn about everything that is wrong with wind energy. I’m only going to touch on most of the negatives in this post – where I really want to go to town is the absurd economics, the obvious political corruption (in Ontario at least) and the vanishingly small effect they have on carbon emissions.
But first, here are some of the proven negative impacts of wind energy:
Noise, Shadow Flicker and Health Issues
In Ontario, it was shown by the leaked Hall Memorandum that experts in the Ontario Ministry of the Environment found errors in the calculations used to determine the legal setbacks from ‘sensitive receivers’ (ie people), for operating wind turbines when those setback regulations were published. It has been suggested that the highest levels of the Government buried these negative views while the GEA was implemented. It is likely the decision was made by John Gerretsen, the Minister of the Environment and MPP (Member of Provincial Parliament) for Kingston at the time, the father of Mark Gerretsen the current Kingston Federal MP. Based on the Hall Memorandum, the setbacks were put into Regulation by senior decision makers who were aware that people would be subjected to Noise levels above World Health Organisation guidelines. Gerretsen Senior was the guest of honour when they opened the 86 Turbine Trans-Alta project on Wolfe Island, which I can see from SDM.
In any event, do you think you could live with this, 24/7, 365?
Despite vehement denials by Big Wind (and boy, there are some big number$ involved), it’s clear that anyone unlucky enough to have one 0f these things installed anywhere near where they live is going to suffer. In Ontario the legal setback distance is 550 meters. Some jurisdictions, including (I think) New Zealand and Victoria Australia require 2 km.
BTW, one of the apparent corollaries for the implied (and buried) Hall Memorandum scandal noted above is that some commentators have calculated that had the computed setback been any greater than 550 meters it would not have been possible to site an economically viable turbine grid within any of Ontario’s rural areas, where concession roads (and sensitive receivers) are governed by the 19th century one mile road grid.
There has been huge debate about the health impacts of the nuisance caused by these things, with many studies funded by wind industry proponents (ie industry lobby groups) saying that the impacts are purely psychological, there is no real health impact, blah blah blah.
But people who are forced to live too close to these things are getting sick. As far as I am concerned, it doesn’t matter if the scientists can’t agree what the mechanism causing the health impacts is, it’s clear that if you have one of these things too close to you you will probably suffer health impacts. It took them 40 years to agree that cigarettes cause cancer, do we have to wait that long to agree why wind turbines ruin peoples lives?
I’ve actually got a dog in this particular fight. If you can stand the shameless self promotion on my LinkedIn page, you may note that one of the most recent projects I list is as an Expert Witness for an Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) Hearing on a proposed IWT installation in a sensitive and important habitat on the North Shore of Lake Ontario.
I roundly criticised the conduct of the Environmental Assessment on technical grounds in particular as it dealt with the effects on the local ecology. The Tribunal listened to me (surprising as my testimony was given late at night our time over a computer link and I had indulged in a few bevvies prior to the session), and thence paid attention to a report prepared by others on the potential impacts on a threatened species (Blanding’s Turtle). To everyone’s surprise, the ERT agreed the project would likely cause irreversible harm to the threatened populations of turtles and revoked the GEA Approval for the project. First time ever.
The developer was unfortunately only delayed and has gone back to the courts – the approval is still sub judice but I often pat myself on the back for allowing a few more years of life for these poor turtles. And for setting a legal precedent against rubber stamp IWT approvals. Back to the facts.
The facts are that IWT installations kill huge numbers of birds and bats. IWT proponents claim that cats and lighted buildings kill far more birds and that’s true. Cats and skyscrapers kill sparrows and robins. But cats don’t kill golden eagles, short eared owls and red-tailed hawks. IWTs wipe out the top avian predators. See the video I posted above.
Read more over at Wind Farm Realities.
Studies published by researchers funded by Big Wind show there is no effect on property values. They normally take an extremely large sample of properties, some close to turbines and some not so close. Their distances are usually set at about the ten km mark where people can see turbines. One recent study which received a lot of press in Ontario surveyed over 5000 property sales, but only 123 of them were within 5 km of a wind turbine. Not surprisingly no significant effect was found. This is the sort of thing typically published by academics and researchers funded by the industry.
However, a simpler approach was taken in Ontario by a real estate professional, Ben Lansink, who looked at actual sales prices of homes before and after IWTs were installed nearby. He only had a small sample, but nonetheless, his real world non-statistical, non-hedonic analysis showed an average 37% drop in price.
It is actually quite difficult to find figures on sales of homes affected by IWTs. Quite simply, no one is prepared to buy them.
Incidentally, there have been lots of cases of IWT developers buying out homeowners who complained loudly enough. These people are all, without fail, required to sign non-disclosure agreements related to price and health impacts before they get paid. Lots more information on Wayne’s site at Wind Farm Realities.
What happens when you have 200 tonnes of complex machinery suspended 300 feet above ground in 40 knots of wind in the dead of winter, rotors whirling round at maximum (about 15 – 20 RPM) blade tips scything the air at ¼ of the speed of sound, generator turning at 1800 rpm, putting out 2,300 kw at 690 volts…
…and something goes wrong?
These are not isolated incidents.
Social Justice and Other Issues
The imposition of the Green Energy Act in 2009 effectively took local planning authority from communities and transferred it to provincial authorities.This has resulted in marginalisation of local community stakeholders in favor of corporate wind industry interests and has caused rifts in communities.
The effects of this have not been well analyzed to date but are being seen in increasing civil protests and court actions against the imposition of IWT developments.
As far as being a ‘green’ industry, well – look at what they do to bird and bat populations. And if you really want to see some horrific environmental degradation, look at the impacts in the areas in China where they mine the rare earth elements necessary for the technology involved in IWTs. Here’s a sample.
Okay, this is all gilding the lily.
My main issue with IWTs is simply that they are a complete and utter WOFTAM.
They do NOT result in a significant reduction in carbon emissions and they do NOT produce reliable dispatchable energy. Their only effect on the grid is to raise electricity prices to unsustainable levels (and increase maintenance costs on the conventional power sources used to back them up). Most of the jobs they create are temporary and studies in Europe have suggested that for every ‘green’ job created, 2 conventional jobs are lost due to increased electricity prices.
Let’s take these points one at a time.
That’s what it’s all about, right? This is the reason we pay higher prices for so-called Green Energy, right? And the Wind Energy proponents are happy to tell us just how much carbon they are saving.
But the fact is, it’s a lie. IWT proponents ALL (and this is worldwide) routinely calculate their stated carbon savings by the simple expedient of assuming that every watt of power generated (and sold to the grid) is replacing a watt generated by unregulated dirty coal. Of course, that is not the case. In Ontario for example, Wind is usually replacing much cheaper (and really green) hydropower and nuclear. What other evidence do they offer other than these unsubstantiated and unsound claims? Why, none whatsoever.
Here’s an essay discussing this in detail.
In the more than forty years that wind energy has been forced onto the grid, there has n0t been one single independently audited study (that I can find, and believe me I’ve looked as have many other investigators) showing the grid scale effect on carbon emissions of adding IWTs – with a single exception: the Bentek Study.
This study was carried out by a gas industry consultant who looked at real world data from Colorado and Texas. It was carried out to demonstrate that gas turbines make a better backup for wind than coal plants and it did that. It also demonstrated that the effect on CO2 emissions of adding Wind to the grid is essentially non existent.
In fact, real world experience shows that for various technical reasons, in most cases IWTs produce negligible savings and in some cases IWTs on the grid can increase emissions.
Here’s a nice little video showing a couple of real world examples of how different energy technologies produce very different results on carbon emissions.
That video came from the website Brave New Climate which is run by Dr. Barry Brooks, Professor of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania, and an excellent source of hard facts on climate change and renewable energy.
Dispatchable Power – the ‘Backup’ Problem
Currently there are no reliable and large scale technologies to store energy (other than pumped storage and most of the good sites around the world have been developed). Most of the other methods discussed by wind proponents (giant flywheels, molten sulphur batteries, compressed air) are currently science fiction. It may be economic to use battery storage for small scale and off grid uses (ie at your cottage in the woods) but for large grid scale developments forget it.
Because of the problem of intermittency as noted previously, without a means of storing the energy produced by wind turbines they have to be balanced on the grid with conventional fast response power plants, usually either coal or gas. Since these plants have to be able to come on line in seconds when the wind energy drops, they have to be kept powered up, which increases wear and tear, maintenance costs and emissions.
The graph above, from real world data on the Ontario grid shows this problem, and also points out the issues with the capacity factor of IWTs, 13.5 % in the example above. Simply put, these developments come nowhere close to achieving their maximum rated output. On average IWTs operate at about 30% of their rated capacity as opposed to conventional power plants which operate at anything from about 50% to 90%.
What this means in real world terms, is that if you need 1000 megawatts on the grid, you can build a conventional 1000 MW of power generation with a high capacity factor, like fossil fuel plants or nukes. Or you can build 3000 MW of wind (again, you can’t expect to get better than about 30% of nameplate capacity), but you will still need 1000 MW of backup conventional power for when the wind ain’t there. By the way, while I have not been addressing solar photovoltaic in this post, the exact same arguments apply.
Wind energy proponents argue that if only the grid is large enough, the wind is always blowing somewhere.
Here is real world data from one of the largest interconnected IWT grids in the world
Now to get to the nitty gritty:
It beggars belief, but the GEA was put in place in Ontario without any cost benefit analysis and the effect on energy prices in Ontario has been catastrophic. That benighted province has gone from having just about the cheapest electricity prices in North America in the early 2000s to being amongst the most expensive. No wonder all the industry is folding up.
But don’t take my word for it, here’s what the press reported when Ontario’s Auditor General weighed in last December. And here’s a somewhat more detailed analysis offered by the Fraser Institute – a heavyweight think tank. As pointed out in this article, the politicians are simply lying about it.
And what else are they doing? Why offering up further ‘renewable’ energy contracts of course.
The press releases from the Government are crowing about how ‘economic’ these new projects will be. Why, consumers will only be paying about 9 cents per kilowatt hour compared to the 13.5 cents on the earlier contracts. What a tremendous saving, until you consider that the gas, hydro and nuclear these contracts will displace typically sell power to the grid at 2 cents per kilowatt hour.
I could go on an on but I am heartily sick of the stupidity and venality being shown by the so-called political leaders who have foisted this sham on their societies.
What’s happened at Ostrander Point on Lake Ontario since I did my bit to stop that project in 2013? The developers are still fighting to take the project forward, but the local communities are putting up a better and better fight. Here’s a good summary of the whole issue by the president of the Prince Edward County organisation trying to stop those projects.
One final word: Why are the Liberal politicians who run Ontario so committed to these wasteful and harmful renewable energy projects?
Here’s one possible answer:
This is Kathleen Wynne – she’s the Premier of Ontario having taken over from Dalton McGuinty who put these ridiculous policies in place.
The woman in the background is Premier Wynne’s ‘wife’, Jane Rounthwaite.
And here’s Premier Wynne’s ‘Brother in Law’:
I couldn’t give a toss about her domestic arrangements, here’s what really makes me sick
That’s right, he sits on the Boards of a number of so called ‘renewable energy’ companies.
Enough, time for a tasty beverage or two to wash the bad taste out of my mouth.
Finally, a few last images taken from my friend John Droz Jr’s website devoted largely to the folly of IWTs.
And finally, finally – if anyone of my vast readership is interested enough in this issue to want to view all of the slides from my presentation to Later Life L:earning back in 2012, they are available on-line. You are welcome to ‘borrow’ any of them but an attribution would be nice.