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Wind Power Wind Bags

By July 1, 2013November 8th, 2021Energy Efficiency, Energy Rant

Politics exert major forces on energy policies and fortunately, few oppose energy efficiency.  Therefore, I strongly suggest our industry build high walls around energy efficiency and not let controversial things like climate change and even in some cases, renewable energy, into our sandbox.  Case in point: this recent opinion piece by a guy from the Heartland Institute regarding wind power and corresponding rebuttal letters published in The Wall Street Journal.

You may recall that about a year ago, I wrote about a scandal contrived by Peter Gleick, outspoken global warming PhD guy, where he impersonated insiders from the Heartland Institute, a Chicago outfit that thinks global warming is bunk.  The scandal involved forged documents leaked to the press in order to discredit the Heartland Institute as big oil, big coal puppets.  This was very foolish, desperate, and a credibility destroyer.  To be credible, one must report appropriate data as found, objectively.  It cannot be filtered, refiltered, shaken, stirred, or contrived.  Liars figure.


A hack from the Heartland Institute recently soiled their reputation badly, in my view, per the aforementioned article.  Having read opinions, policies, papers, and reports for many things associated with our industry or cousins of it, I can clearly spot agendas, and this anti-wind energy claptrap from the Heartland guy, Jay Lehr, is pure agenda.  The letter responses are also misleading.  I feel like I’m reading or watching campaign ads for corrupt Washington DC posts.

When I make a case for action, I let the facts and physics come to me.  I don’t reach for fuzzy garbage, use half truths, or conceal the other side of the coin.  There is a downside to everything.  Lehr reaches.  First he states “everybody in the industry” knows wind turbines generate electricity 30% of the time. This is not at all accurate.  Indeed, just recently I was researching data on Minnesota’s electrical energy sources and found that the average output of a wind turbine is about 30% of rated capacity[1].  Just a few days ago I was sitting in a meeting with the Iowa Department of Economic Development, and one presenter indicated that Iowa’s wind fleet averages about 35% of rated capacity.  This is far different than operating only 30% of the time.

Second, Lehr states in one paragraph that doubling a turbine’s blade length (or diameter) doubles power, but in the very next paragraph he laments that power varies with the cube of wind speed and thus drops off rapidly as wind speed drops.  This should throw up a red flag for any engineer, although my kneejerk response was incorrect too.  To harness kinetic energy of wind, it passes through the swooped area of the turbine blades.  The swooped area is of course πr2 or πd2/4.  Therefore, power varies with diameter squared, at least[2].  As shown on the chart, power versus wind speed is governed by design and control of the turbine as much as anything.

Lehr states turbines must be shut down lest the blades fly to pieces.  Certainly this is true but only half true.  Modern wind turbines are not the creaky steel structures powering well pumps on the fruited plain like 100 years ago or even today on local Amish farms.  They have sophisticated controls with blade pitch changing three times per revolution to avoid instability.  They ramp up and hold steady power by varying blade pitch to essentially work less efficiently to maintain safe rotational speed.

Finally, Lehr falls off the wagon, lands on his head, and starts gibbering about inefficiencies due to bugs, bird kills, and turbines flying apart.  I have traveled to and spent time around wind farms (my home town is wind alley/farm central).  I’ve never seen or heard of, say, turbine-blade shards scattered about soybean fields, nor have I seen or heard of any sort of collapse from tornadoes and such.

Then we have the half-true rebuttal letters.  The wind industry has been successful; growing from 1200 MW in 1988 (probably all in CA) to 60,000 MW today.  Big deal.  We also have hybrid cars that didn’t exist back then; and capacity doesn’t matter.  Output matters.

Then there is the statement that Warren Buffet is doing it, so it must be wise.  Warren also works hand in glove with the corrupt powers in Washington DC.  Furthermore, Warren also enjoys revenues of $20 billion per year hauling coal with his rail line BNSF, and believe me when I tell you the wind subsidies won’t die on his behalf either.  Watch the hand.  I have nothing against folks playing the hand they’ve been dealt, but Warren makes the rules to suit himself, and I have big problems with that.

[1] Calculated myself with MWh produced and MW capacity installed – from the EPA so it must be right.

[2] The famous affinity laws only apply to pumps and fans moving fluid through enclosed channels (pipes/ducts) with low static pressure.  It can be demonstrated that power varies with diameter to the fifth power in these scenarios.  Not so for wind turbines / and open flow in general.
Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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