Monday, March 21, 2016

Wind And Sun

I've never been a big fan (pun alert - wait for it...) of wind farms (hah!). There are several reasons: they're noisy, they're ugly, they (and their associated high capacity power lines) spoil lovely views in remote areas, and to top it off, they adversely affect the health of those forced to live near them.

Oh yeah - and they kill birds.
It’s been five years since BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and released 5 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Environmentalists are highlighting the disaster by pointing to the 800,000 birds that have died because of the spill in the five years since the disaster, but activists have been eerily silent about the fact that way more birds have been killed by wind turbines — a supposedly “eco-friendly” energy source.

A 2013 study found that 573,000 birds and 888,000 bats are killed every year by wind turbines — a figure 30 percent higher than the federal government estimated in 2009. These deaths have likely increased as wind power capacity increases across the country.

In the time since the 2010 BP oil spill, some 2.9 million birds have been killed by wind turbines, using (the study's) figures, compared to only 800,000 that have been killed by the oil spill... It should also be noted that wind turbines routinely kill federally protected birds and eagles.

So what is the federal government's response?
Finally acknowledging that the economically inefficient, noisy, and unsightly wind turbines that they have been strewing across the formerly beautiful countryside have been killing large numbers of eagles and other birds, the bureaucrats have proposed a solution: stop the turbines whenever there is a bird nearby:

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), one of the Department of Energy’s 17 National Laboratories, partnered with industry to gather data about bird flight patterns, which will help the companies develop technology to reduce bird collisions with turbines. …

The ultimate goal is to detect birds flying near a turbine with enough time to for the turbine blades to stop spinning and prevent a collision.
Oh yeah, that'll work great. Have you ever seen a wind turbine up close? They're HUGE. Starting and stopping those things every time a bird flies near would wear those things out within a few months.

A better use for the money would be to send out crews to tear down the hideous wind turbines for scrap metal, so as to spare the lives of raptors and restore the beauty of the scenery. There are far wiser ways to meet our energy needs.
One of my pet peeves is this country's penchant for massive approaches to problem-solving. I get the whole economy-of-scale thing, but IMO a smaller-scale approach would be more effective. For example, I live in a part of the country where there are still plenty of old-fashioned windmills that pump water from wells for livestock.

More modern versions of those could be used in rural and even suburban settings to generate electricity on a local basis, reducing the need for large wind farms and transmission lines.

Along those same lines, massive solar power installations are proving to be economically unfeasible, inefficient, and environmentally unfriendly, while at the same time killing thousands of birds, along with unknown numbers of insects and reptiles.

A federally backed, $2.2 billion solar project in the California desert isn’t producing the electricity it is contractually required to deliver to PG&E Corp. , which says the solar plant may be forced to shut down if it doesn’t receive a break Thursday from state regulators.
Environmentally Unfriendly:
A solar power plant at the center of the Obama administration’s push to reduce America’s carbon footprint by using millions of taxpayer dollars to promote green energy has its own carbon pollution problem.

The Ivanpah plant in the Mojave Desert uses natural gas as a supplementary fuel. Data from the California Energy Commission show that the plant burned enough natural gas in 2014 – its first year of operation – to emit more than 46,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

That’s nearly twice the pollution threshold for power plants or factories in California to be required to participate in the state’s cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions.
A Death Ray...
The Ivanpah solar generating plant is located in California about 50 miles from Las Vegas near the California-Nevada border.  173,000 mirrors are used to concentrate the sun on 3 boiler-towers where water is turned into steam to drive turbines and generate electricity. The mirrors track the sun and concentrate sunlight so that the intensity of light falling on the boiler-towers is about 500 times stronger than sunlight -- a death ray. If a person were to be illuminated by this death ray, 3rd degree burns would follow within a few seconds. Insects that wander into the kill zone are quickly vaporized. Birds are severely burned or killed depending on how long they are in the kill zone.
...That Kills Thousands of Birds
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service previously called Ivanpah — the world’s largest concentrated solar project — a “mega-trap” for birds and insects, although the exact number of deaths has been a subject of fiery debate.
Home-based solar panels, on the other hand, are becoming more and more common, because (1) they work, and (2) they are affordable. (More info here and here.)

The biggest obstacle to more widespread adoption of residential windmills and solar panels is that it reduces the opportunity for large projects and contracts, with the accompanying graft and kickbacks. Until we resolve that issue our elected 'leaders' will continue to pour money down the wind/solar ratholes.


Anonymous said...

If wind power was worth it the Dutch would have built thousands of windmills when Holland was electrified, they've had the technology since the 1500s. Instead of doing that they built coal-burning steam generators and imported the fuel from England, Germany & Poland. Many windmills were converted instead; the fan was disconnected and an electric motor or diesel engine was used to power the mill or pump.

I grew up on a farm with a windmill in the barnyard that was originally used to fill a water trough and also a concrete cooler where the cans of cream waited for the cheese factory wagon. As soon as the electric grid was extended into the country those old windmills were no longer used. Being able to use power at any time is a quality that wind power will never have.


CenTexTim said...

Al, I'm not suggesting that wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources should be used to replace fossil fueled generators. After all, the wind doesn't always blow, and solar panels are useless at night. I am, however, saying that they can be used at individual locations to supplement existing sources of electricity, as opposed to building massive new power plants (either wind, solar, coal, natural gas, etc.). IMO that's worth thinking about.

Old NFO said...

As supplements, yes... But primary power? Not so much.