The Detroit Free Press has reported on the initial Ludington and Pentwater resident reaction to a massive wind turbine installation construction proposal. If allowed to move forward, advocates claim the installation is capable of producing 1,000 megawatts of power while crowding more than 100 square miles of Lake Michigan. At a meeting in Ludington last week, residents gasped and jaws dropped after wind project proponents unveiled drawings showing 100 skyscraper-sized turbines spinning sometimes within sight of Lake Michigan beaches.
The proposal raises questions that have yet to be answered about offshore wind power in Michigan, such as where turbines belong, how leases would work and who would issue permits. More importantly, will they do any good?
Wind turbines cannot reduce imports of foreign oil, simply because there is effectively no oil used to generate electricity in the United States. In 2007, Michigan used petroleum for less than 1 percent of its electricity, and that was primarily for maintaining balance on the grid in response to fluctuating demands and supplies.
Wind is inherently volatile, subject to gusts and lulls. In most areas of the world (other than those blessed with hydroelectric), balancing the fickle output of wind turbines requires stop-and-go operation of fossil-fired units. Those power plants lose efficiency when operated in such a fashion, much like your car in stop-and-go traffic compared to highway cruising. This results in increased fuel consumption and emissions, due to the “ramping” efficiency degradations caused by the wind.
Several recent technical analyses have shown just such an effect, depending on the level of wind in a particular region. In addition to a study in Germany, one from The Netherlands and another from Canada (reported at Master Resources in four parts) show how ineffective wind is in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants, and may frequently increase such emissions, especially when used in large quantities.
Wind-generated electricity is available only in certain months which also happen to be periods of low use of electricity. There is an almost perfect counter-cycle between winds and electricity demand. The wind blows when the electricity is not needed. This increases its costs but reduces its value.
At the very least, Michiganders should demand a credible third-party analysis of the grid impacts (along with necessary environmental reviews), which takes account of the ramping impacts and the correlation of windiness and electrical demands, before allowing destruction of the Lake Michigan vista. That analysis should not be left to the wind advocates at the Department of Environmental Quality.
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