Olson sells wind power short

In an article on U.S. News & World Report’s "Debate Club" blog, Jon Olson, an associate professor in the Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering Department at the University of Texas at Austin, compared wind turbines unfavorably to natural gas. The following response was posted as a comment.

It’s my hope that Dr. Olson sees that clean, homegrown American wind energy actually does work today!

First, please note that Dr. Olsen’s wind farm capacity numbers are actually low by 50%. The average capacity factor for wind farm in Texas is over 30%, which means the fleet of 10,000 MW produced over 3,000 MW on average, not the 2,000 he claims, and a 2-MW wind turbine produces .6 MW on average.

To further address Dr. Olsen’s concerns about wind energy availability, consider this: To reach the Department of Energy’s goal of supplying 20% of electricity in the U.S. with wind turbines, roughly 300,000 MW of wind power would be needed.

That is only a small fraction of the total U.S. wind energy potential of roughly 15 million MW. If there were enough transmission lines in place to carry the electricity, 300,000 MW of wind power could be installed in Texas alone. Or Kansas. Or any of several other states. Abundance of wind is the least of our problems.

Besides, the varying output from wind farms is relatively easy for system operators to integrate, because changes in wind energy output occur slowly and are predictable. Grid operators can accommodate wind and solar with slower types of reserve generation that usually cost 97% less than the fast reserves used to accommodate fossil and nuclear plant outages.

In fact, it would be far more appropriate to talk about the need to back up large fossil and nuclear power plants, as those plants are the ones that experience large, immediate, and unexpected outages, requiring grid operators to keep 1000+ MW of fast-acting, expensive, and inefficient standby generation ready 24/7/365 in case one of those plants goes down.

Regarding the environment, it’s not even close; wind power won’t produce any pollution–today, tomorrow, or over the next 10 years or 20 years.

Wind energy is abundant, affordable, and readily available. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to increase U.S. wind energy to 20% of our electricity needs and get our economy back on track.

Look at the facts – wind energy works today. It will work even better tomorrow.

Tom Gray, www.awea.org/