Article by George Browne
The recent article “Goulais project set to harness Superior’s winds” by one of the stenographers at Soo Today was depressing to read; it is the same old inaccurate and misleading claims about wind power, uncritically parroted by people who should know better, or should at least do some research and fact checking.
Let us look at some of the claims made in Capstone’s media release that, “the Goulais Wind Farm along the pre-Cambrian shield north of Sault Ste. Marie will generate enough electricity to serve the needs of 12,000 households.”
The average Canadian home uses anywhere from 800 to 1,000 kWh (kilowatt hours) per month, depending on whose statistics you use. Let us consider their claim using the 800 kWh number as it gives them the benefit of the doubt.
Approximate electrical consumption of 1 home/year: 800 kWh x 12 = 9,600 kWh or 9.6MWh
In general wind power in Ontario operates at around 26.5% capacity over the year. From 2006 to the end of 2013 Prince Wind operated at an average capacity factor of 27.5%. The Goulais wind project is basically an extension of the Prince Wind plant and it is reasonable to anticipate that it will operate at the same capacity factor. This means that over the course of a year the Goulais project will only produce on average 27.5% of its nameplate power.
The Goulais project’s nameplate power is: 2.3MW x 11 turbines x 24 hours/day x 365.25 days/year (the .25 day accounts for a leap year every 4 years) = 221,779.8 MWh
At 27.5% capacity factor the Goulais wind plant will produce: 221,779.8 x .275 = 60,989 MWh
So the number of homes the Goulais wind plant is likely to be able to supply based on its capacity factor is; 60,989 ÷ 9.6 MWh = 6,353 homes, about half what they claim.
Per year 12,000 homes would use: 800 kWh x 12,000 homes x 12 months = 115,200,000 kWh of electricity or 115,200 MWh (Megawatt hours, 1 MWh = 1,000 kWh)
In order to supply 12,000 homes the plant would have to operate at: 115,200 ÷ 221,779.8 = 51.94% capacity factor, which no onshore wind plant has ever achieved.
However the wind does not blow constantly and some seasons are far less windy than others.
Based on Prince Wind plant’s production from 2007 to 2013 we can expect the Goulais Wind plant to produce as follows:
- On average 9.34% of the year it produced 0 MWh, that represents 819 hours or 34 days of the year when 0 homes will get power from the project.
- On average 26.61% of the year it produced under 5% capacity, or 1.265 MWh, that represents 2,333 hours or 97 days of the year when it can power fewer than 1,155 homes.
- On average 37.29% of the year it produced under 10% capacity, or 2.53 MWh, that represents 3,270 hours or 136 days of the year when it can power fewer than 2,310 homes
- On average 47.03% of the year it produced under 15% capacity, or 3.795 MWh, that represents 4,124 hours or 171 days of the year when it can power fewer than 3,465 homes.
Furthermore wind tends to produce the most between the 8pm to 4am and during the Spring and Fall. This means that between 4am to 8pm, when our demand for electricity increases, especially during the Summer and Winter, it is likely that the output from the Goulais Wind plant will not even be able to meet the needs of theoretical number of homes above.
According to Dave Eva, vice president of Capstone Infrastructure Corporation, owners of 51 percent of the project,“the decibel levels will be barely a whispered conversation on the other side of a large room”.
This statement is based on theoretical calculations, which are recognized by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) experts as under-predicting actual noise levels by 5 to 10 dBA. Furthermore no consideration is given to the impulsive nature of wind turbine noise in these calculations. The calculations also completely ignore the low-frequency and infra-sound components of the turbine noise. Actual sound levels at Beaumont could be 5 to 10 times louder than predicted. It is worth noting that this same claim of whisper-quiet turbines has been made by developers of other wind plants in Ontario. The people who complain vainly to the MOECC or abandon their homes due to the noise from wind turbines find the actual noise levels very intrusive. Residents of Prince Township living on the shore of Prince Lake, 1.5Km from the nearest Prince turbines have likened the noise to a 747 sitting over the lake all night long.
Time will tell how quiet the Goulais turbines will be, not only for the first year but in following years as they age. However based on the experiences of people living near existing projects, they will not be as quiet as suggested.
Mr. Eva added, “Wind energy generation does not pollute the environment, nor contribute to climate change, unlike coal or biomass or nuclear fuelled power plants. Wind power’s price is fixed and known for years in advance, whereas other forms fluctuate, mainly upward as raw resources supplies and demand dictate. Solar energy is more expensive than wind generated power. We are coming very close to cost parity now, with conventional forms of energy.”
The claim that wind energy is “green” or “environmentally friendly” is laugh-out-loud hilarious – except for the fact that the reality is not funny at all. Consider just one part of a turbine, the generator, which uses considerable amounts of rare earth elements (2000± pounds per MW).
The mining and processing of these metals has horrific environmental consequences that are unacknowledged and ignored by the wind industry and its environmental surrogates. For instance, a typical 100 MW wind project would generate approximately:
- 20,000 square meters of destroyed vegetation,
- 6 million cubic meters of toxic air pollution,
- 33 million gallons of poisoned water,
- 600 million pounds of highly contaminated tailing sands, and
- 100,000 pounds of radioactive waste. (See this, and this, and this.)
“This vast, hissing cauldron of chemicals is the dumping ground for seven million tons a year of mined rare earth after it has been doused in acid and chemicals and processed through red-hot furnaces to extract its components.”
So, you’re still convinced this is the clean, green energy of the future? This makes the oilsands look pristine.
“Rusting pipelines meander for miles from factories processing rare earths in Baotou out to the man-made lake where, mixed with water, the foul-smelling radioactive waste from this industrial process is pumped day after day. No signposts and no paved roads lead here, and as we approach security guards shoo us away and tail us. When we finally break through the cordon and climb sand dunes to reach its brim, an apocalyptic sight greets us: A giant, secret toxic dump, made bigger by every wind turbine we build.”
And here in Ontario, we’re building them by the thousand. What’s our share of this mess?
The story quotes retired farmer Su Bairen, 69: “At first it was just a hole in the ground,” he says. “When it dried in the winter and summer, it turned into a black crust and children would play on it. Then one or two of them fell through and drowned in the sludge below. Since then, children have stayed away.”
Plants withered. Livestock died.
“Villagers say their teeth began to fall out, their hair turned white at unusually young ages, and they suffered from severe skin and respiratory diseases. Children were born with soft bones and cancer rates rocketed.”
While wind turbines don’t create CO2 or other emissions while operating, their fabrication and construction emits large amounts of CO2 as well pollutants. Their installation fragments ecosystems and reduces local bio-diversity.
Furthermore almost all the electricity generators (nuclear, natural gas, hydro or otherwise) from which the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) purchases power have multi-year fixed price contracts, just like the wind industry. The IESO knows what power will cost years into the future.
As for the claim that wind power has almost reached price parity with conventional forms of generation, this is a claim that relies on levelized cost estimates which price variable, unreliable and non-dispatchable wind power at the same value as reliable and dispatchable conventional forms of generation. When evaluated from the point of view of EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested) wind power reveals itself to be far costlier than conventionally generated electricity. Even when using the levelized cost approach, if one considers the added costs required to backup and integrate unreliable, unpredictable and non-dispatchable wind on the grid, the cost of electricity generated by wind is far higher than that generated by conventional generators. It is a complex topic and to do it justice requires a separate article.
The fact remains, if wind were so competitive with conventional generators, why does the wind industry require continuing large production subsidies in order to remain in business?
Some articles of interest on these topics are:
Environmental Defence Fund Gets Schooled on Wind Power Costs:
Texas Comptroller Report Destroys Wind Industry Claims: http://news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/2014/10/21/texas-comptroller-report-destroys-wind-industry-claims
All megawatts are not equal: http://judithcurry.com/2014/12/11/all-megawatts-are-not-equal/
The Appalling Truth About Energy Subsidies: http://euanmearns.com/the-appalling-truth-about-energy-subsidies/
Texas wind doesn’t work: https://www.wind-watch.org/documents/texas-wind-doesnt-work/
More renewables? Watch out for the Duck Curve: http://judithcurry.com/2014/11/05/more-renewables-watch-out-for-the-duck-curve/
Wind farms generate below 20% of their supposed output for 20 weeks a year, a new report finds: http://www.adamsmith.org/news/press-release-wind-farms-generate-below-20-of-their-supposed-output-for-20-weeks-a-year-a-new-report-finds/
Readers may also want to check out Save Ontario’s Algoma Region’s response to the same article. Goulais Wind Farm: The Other Side of the Story