It is the irony of ironies. Taxpayer and ratepayer-forced subsidies for utility-scale windpower also subsidizes emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2). The same would be true under a national renewable portfolio standard as proposed in pending federal legislation.
This is the conclusion that Kent Hawkins reached after a four part study on “Wind Integration Realities“. Mr. Hawkins holds electrical engineering degrees from Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University.
In his professional career, Mr. Hawkins specialized in communications systems engineering, operations research, and management consulting. The majority of his working life was in the information technology industry with such companies as IBM and EDS.
In referring to his studies, he had this to say:
In general, the studies show that as wind penetration increases, the effect on fossil fuel and CO2 emissions worsens. Specifically, at wind penetrations of about 3% (as is the case in the Netherlands), the savings are zero. At 5-6% (as for Colorado and Texas) the “savings” become negative, that is, emissions actually increase due to the presence of wind power.
Of course this sounds counter intuitive, but here is how an August 2010 Heartland Institute article explained it:
In a paper published at the Web site Master Resource, electrical engineer Kent Hawkins shows when wind power surpasses 5 percent of power generated, the frequent ramping up and ramping down of other power sources to compensate for wind’s unpredictable variability causes such inefficiency in power generation that overall carbon dioxide emissions rise.
The effect is similar to that of automobile gas mileage. A driver who sustains a consistent speed of 60 miles per hour will get better gas mileage than one who frequently accelerates and decelerates between 45 and 75 mph. The inefficiency caused by frequently ramping up and ramping down vehicle speed is substantial enough that the vehicle driven at variable speeds will burn up more gasoline than one with a lower fuel economy rating driven at a consistent speed.
Hawkins found the same effect when studying power plants in the Netherlands, Colorado, and Texas which switched some of their generation from coal and natural gas to wind power. Because wind speeds are variable and unpredictable, plant operators were forced frequently to vary the ordinarily steady, constant generation of baseload power to back up variable wind power. Whereas a small amount of wind power generation helped reduce carbon dioxide emissions, emissions began surpassing prior levels once wind power exceeded 5 percent of the power mix.
Of course reducing CO2 emissions is one of the arguments made by those who favor replacing Vermont Yankee with wind power. Even those who admit that wind power may cause more of a local impact on the environment due to excessive land use needed to provide the needed power, argue that that the bigger picture of reducing CO2 emissions more than balances out the drawbacks. Perhaps we should examine this argument a little closer before buying into it.