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February 24, 2008

Wind Energy

A N.Y. Times article about wind energy production in Texas, where 3% of electricity is generated by wind turbines. Nationally, about 1% of electricity comes from wind. Texas surpassed California in wind energy production in 2006 with 4,356 megawatts compared to California’s 2,439 megawatts. Dimensions of the wind turbines being installed in Texas are given as the height of a "20-story" building, "twice as high as the Statue of Liberty," and blades spanning a distance as "wide as the wingspan of a jumbo jet." What became of objective measurements? This seems to be an expansion of Apple's advertising that an iPod can hold so many thousands of "songs," even though there is no standard size for one song.

The overall height of the Statue of Liberty is about 305 feet measured from the foundation of the pedestal. But if you are talking strictly about the copper statue itself, that's about 151 feet high.

The article on Texas wind energy points out the potential problems caused by insufficient transmission capacity, which applies to all forms of electric production, not just wind. We've seen those problems here in southern California as proposals have been fielded to build new transmission lines through Anza-Borrego state park and through Big Morongo Preserve and Pipes Canyon Preserve. The article says "Texas is better equipped to deal with the transmission problems that snarl wind energy in other states because a single agency operates the electrical grid and manages the deregulated utility market in most of the state." Sic. If you have a state agency managing a utility market it can't also be a deregulated utility market.

Meanwhile, check out this interesting video of a Danish wind turbine spinning itself into destruction.

You should ask yourself at least one question after viewing that. "Why did they have a camera pointed at it at the moment of failure?" If you read through the many vapid comments (don't do it, I've saved you the trouble) you will find a couple of comments from the poster saying that the brakes and/or feathering mechanism had failed and they knew this windstorm would bring about its inevitable demise.

Here's a report on a Danish television site. The computer-generated translation into English:

See Video: Runaway windmill overturned

Windmill run away on Djursland (22/2)

The windmill, which Friday noon came out of control, overturned a short time ago in Hornslet.

The mill on Hyacintvej in Hornslet went out of control shortly before noon on Friday, when a brake system at the mill failed.

After few hours the mill in the heavy wind overturned.

It was according to the temporary information Vesta-technicians up at the actual mill, when the brakes broke down.

They quickly left the work-area, and after that the area was blocked by safety considerations.

The heavy fighting didn't straight ahead improve the situation, thus there wasn't a lot of other things to do than waiting and see whether it'd overturn.

And it did.

destroyed wind turbine
Photo by Rudi Daugsch.

And finally this:
Wind Energy (8355)
Photo of a poster displayed outside the Vons gas station
. I've had this for awhile, waiting for the appropriate time to gripe about it. The poster says, in part:

This station is 100% powered by wind energy.

- All our U.S. Fuel Stations are now powered by wind energy.

When I read that I walked over closer, expecting to see an asterisk and a footnote explaining what they meant in real terms, but there was no such footnote. Of course, no place in the United States is 100% powered by wind energy unless it's got a bank of batteries that are connected solely to a row of wind turbines as their power source.

If you go to the website listed on the poster you will find this statement "We buy enough wind energy to power all of our fuel stations and all of our stores in San Francisco, CA, Boulder, CO, and our Pleasanton corporate offices." [Safeway and Vons are the same company.] That sounds more like an accurate statement. This press release gets even closer to the truth. Digging down through the public relations BS (BYO shovel) you will find this sentence: "Purchasing green power in the form of energy certificates decreases the need for non-renewable power and thus promotes a cleaner environment." Googling "green power energy certificates" brings us to this Wikipedia entry which helps to clear things up.

A wind energy producer (i.e., the guy who owns the wind turbine) gets one Renewable Energy Credit for every megawatt hour of electricity produced. The REC can be sold. The Wikipedia article says in 2006 the price ranged from $5 to $90, with a median price of about $20 per REC. Safeway says they agreed to purchase the equuivalent of 78 million kilowatt hours, or 78,000 MWh. Using the prices given, that could have cost anywhere from $390,000 to $7,020,000, or using the median price, $1,560,000.

And why would you buy a REC? Maybe out of the goodness of your heart, but more likely because the purchaser "can claim to have purchased renewable energy." IOW, you can state something not quite true without getting into any legal trouble. You may say, "The words don't matter, since Safeway has, indeed, put a considerable amount of money into subsidizing the wind energy industry." And that may be the right way to look at it.

How about the Department of Labor, in an effort to increase American employment, comes up with something called American Labor Certificates. Let's say every employer who employs 10 full-time employees for one week in America gets one ALC, and he can sell that ALC on an open market. Anyone who possesses that certificate can say his products or services are "made in America by Americans" so long as he possesses enough certificates to equal the amount of work hours that went into creating his product or service. Wal-Mart could, for example, buy up great loads of these certificates, thereby subsidizing employment in America, and then advertise "100% Of All Of Our Merchandise Made In America By Americans," even though it is quite obvious their stores are filled with goods from Asia and Mexico. Would it make a difference to you?

Wouldn't it be more honest if the poster at Vons simply said that Safeway had invested so-many-millions of dollars in wind energy to offset the electricity consumed by their stores? It's still a positive statement and one, presumably, that their competitors could not make.

Filed under Coachella Valley,Technology | permalink | February 24, 2008 at 11:13 AM


"Wouldn't it be more honest if the poster at Vons simply said that Safeway had invested so-many-millions of dollars in wind energy to offset the electricity consumed by their stores? It's still a positive statement and one, presumably, that their competitors could not make."

Sounds like a case of marketing when the truth would have done them good.

Posted by: Russell Betts at Feb 25, 2008 2:58:00 PM

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