I came across a thought provoking article on Alternet by Peter Asmus titled Texas Blows by California in Wind Energy. Normally, I am not much of a fan of Mr. Asmus. After all, he was the author of a December 2005 article on Alternet titled Loving Nuclear Power in which he posed the question
Why are growing numbers of ‘green’ visionaries hopping on the bandwagon of the most ill-conceived and dangerous energy source in the world?
That article indicated serious contentions between his thought patterns and mine. Disagreeing with someone on one (or even many) issue, however, is no reason to stop reading their work as long as it is well written and potentially informative. After all, it is pretty hard to learn from someone who thinks exactly the same way that you do.
The article about Texas wind power is worth a very close read because it provides some facts that can help decision makers that are responsible for making future plans about energy. It is important to pay attention as you read the article; Mr. Asmus has an agenda that is not necessarily in line with the facts that he presents quite well.
As a teaser to encourage you to go read the article, I will share the comment that I posted on the comment thread there this morning.
The quote below was originally posted as a comment in response Texas Blows by California in Wind Energy dated 26 July 2006.
Though the title and thrust of the article indicate that the intended story is that Texas is heading away from fossil fuels and to an era where sources like wind provide substantial portions of its electricity, the excellent details provided paint a different picture upon a closer reading.
1. Wind energy costs are increasing because of increases in raw materials like steel and concrete.
2. Though wind is growing rapidly in Texas on a percentage basis, the actual production by wind turbines is less than that of a single large coal or nuclear plant. (The article reports a total capacity of 2500 MW of wind, some of which is admittedly transmission constrained. That leads to me computing a total production of something like 600 to 1000 MW on average since wind capacity factors are about 25-30% in good locations and less in less favorable locations.)
3. The wind projects are being constructed in a state where 17 new, very large coal projects are already permitted with new announcements being made with depressing regularity. Some of those will burn lignite, which is also known as “brown coal” which tends to produce huge emissions that are not limited to CO2, but include SOx, NOx, mercury, fly ash, and uranium. (Uranium and thorium are both present in small quantities in coal; when you burn tens of thousands of tons per day, quite a large total mass of those materials is released.)
4. California wind capacity built in the 1980s ended up costing about $1.8 Billion per 1000 MW of electrical capacity ($1 billion in federal and state tax money plus $2 billion in private investment for 1700 MW) which now operates with a capacity factor of about 20%. (All of those numbers are directly out of the article.) This means that the capital cost required to PRODUCE an average of 1 MW over time is about $9,000. ($1,800 per MW of CAPACITY x 5 to account for the fact that the capacity only produces for 20% of the time.)
5. The effort to stop nuclear power in California not only led to the development of perhaps 2,000 MW of wind capacity, but also to enough new coal fired capacity within the state to increase coal fired electricity production from 16% to 21%.
Bottom line – there is no reason to get jealous of Texas progress in supporting a few wind farms. It will remain a state where fossil fuel is king, fossil fuel purveyors make tons of money, the air is less than healthy, and electricity is used in massive quantities to overcome some of the very damage that producing it causes. (People living in an artificially warmed climate that happens to be a bit dirty are far more likely to turn down the thermostat and stay indoors.)
Update: July 27 2006 9:06 PM EDT
Peter Asmus responded to my comments on his article with a bit of waffling and wind cheerleading. Of course, I could not remain silent. I hope that others weigh into the exchange!