Emissions Renewables

Does wind power reduce carbon emissions? Counter-Response

About 1 year ago, I posted on BNC two important pieces by Peter Lang – “Does wind power reduce carbon emissions?” and a follow-up reply. Together, these stirred up considerable discussion (about 500 comments to date) and raised important questions about the ability of wind-energy to reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels, when natural gas usage for backup is properly factored. Below is a response sent to me by Michael Goggin, Manager, Transmission Policy, American Wind Energy Association. I look forward to the ongoing debate this will foment on this key topic — I certainly look forwards to joining in.

I’d also like to flag, for those in Adelaide, that #3 in my series “Thinking Critically About Sustainable Energy” is on tonight at the RiAus. Tonight’s topic is “Future Renewables“, covering engineered geothermal, ocean energy and next-generation biofuels. Hope to see some BNC readers there! And for those who can’t make it, there are always the videos.


The Facts about Wind Energy’s Emissions Savings

Guest Post by Michael Goggin. Michael represents the wind industry on transmission matters, coordinates member input on the development of policy positions, facilitates the exchange of information between members, handles press inquiries on transmission-related issues, and advocates policy positions that advance wind industry interests. Through these activities, he works to promote transmission investment and advance changes in transmission rules and operations to better accommodate wind energy in the power system while maintaining system reliability. Prior to joining AWEA, he worked for two environmental advocacy groups and a consulting firm supporting the U.S. Department of Energy’s renewable energy programs. Michael holds a B.A. with honors in Social Studies from Harvard College.

Recent data and analyses have made it clear that the emissions savings from adding wind energy to the grid are even larger than had been commonly thought. In addition to each kWh of wind energy directly offsetting a kWh that would have been produced by a fossil-fired power plant, new analyses show that wind plants further reduce emissions by forcing the most polluting and inflexible power plants offline and causing them to be replaced by more efficient and flexible types of generation.

At the same time, and in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the fossil fuel industry has launched an increasingly desperate misinformation campaign to convince the American public that wind energy does not actually reduce carbon dioxide emissions. As a result, we feel compelled to set the record straight on the matter, once and for all.

The Fossil Fuel Industry’s Desperate War Against Facts

Not to be deterred by indisputable data, numerous refutations, or the laws of physics, the fossil fuel lobby has doubled down on their desperate effort to muddy the waters about one of the universally recognized and uncontestable benefits of wind energy: that wind energy reduces the use of fossil fuels as well as the emissions and other environmental damage associated with producing and using these fuels.

For those who have not been following this misinformation campaign by the fossil fuel industry, here is a brief synopsis. Back in March 2010, AWEA heard public reports that the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States (IPAMS), a lobby group representing the oil and natural gas industry, was working on a report that would attempt to claim that adding wind energy to the grid had somehow increased power plant emissions in Colorado.

Perplexed at how anyone would attempt to make that claim, AWEA decided to take a look at the relevant data, namely the U.S. Department of Energy’s data tracking emissions from Colorado’s power plants over time. The government’s data, reproduced in the table below, show that as wind energy jumped from providing 2.5% of Colorado’s electricity in 2007 to 6.1% of the state’s electricity in 2008, carbon dioxide emissions fell by 4.4%, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions fell by 6%, coal use fell by 3% (571,000 tons), and electric sector natural gas use fell by 14% (Thorough DOE citations for each data point are listed in the hyperlink). Two conclusions were apparent from looking at this data: 1. the claim the fossil fuel industry was planning to make had no basis in fact, and 2. the fossil industry was understandably frustrated that they were losing market share to wind energy.

In early April 2010, AWEA publicly presented this government data, and when the fossil fuel lobbyists released their report later that month it was greeted with the skepticism it deserved and largely ignored. Case closed, right? We thought so too.

After the initial release of the report fell flat, the fossil fuel industry tried again a month later. John Andrews, founder of the Independence Institute, a group that has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding from the fossil fuel industry, penned an opinion article in the Denver Post parroting the claims of the original report. Fortunately, Frank Prager, a VP with Xcel Energy, the owner of the Colorado power plants in question, responded with an article entitled “Setting the record straight on wind energy” that pointed out the flaws in the fossil industry’s study and reconfirmed that wind in fact has significantly reduced fossil fuel use and emissions on their power system. Having been shot down twice, we thought that the fossil industry would surely put their report out to pasture.

Yet just a month later the report resurfaced, this time in Congressional testimony by the Institute for Energy Research, a DC-based group that receives a large amount of funding from many of the same fossil fuel companies that fund the Independence Institute. The group has continued trumpeting the report’s myths at public events around the country and on their website, and these myths are now beginning to spread through the pro-fossil fuel blogosphere. In recent days, these myths have re-appeared in columns by Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the fossil-funded Manhattan Institute.

The fossil fuel industry’s desperate persistence and deep pockets make for a dangerous combination when it comes to distorting reality, so we’d like to once and for all clarify the facts about how wind energy reduces fossil fuel use and emissions.

The Truth about Wind and Emissions

The electricity produced by a wind plant must be matched by an equivalent decrease in electricity production at another power plant, as the laws of physics dictate that utility system operators must balance the total supply of electricity with the total demand for electricity at all times. Adding wind energy to the grid typically displaces output from the power plant with the highest marginal operating cost that is online at that time, which is almost always a fossil-fired plant because of their high fuel costs. Wind energy is also occasionally used to reduce the output of hydroelectric dams, which can store water to be used later to replace more expensive fossil fuel generation.

Let’s call this direct reduction in fossil fuel use and emissions Factor A. Factor A is by far the largest impact of adding wind energy to the power system, and the emissions reductions associated with Factor A are indisputable because they are dictated by the laws of physics.

In some instances, there may also be two other factors at play: a smaller one that can slightly increase emissions (let’s call it Factor B), and a counteracting much larger one that, when netted with B, will further add to the emissions reductions achieved under Factor A (let’s call this third one Factor C).

Factor B was discussed at length in an AWEA fact sheet published several years ago. This factor accounts for the fact that, in some instances, reducing the output of a fossil-powered plant to respond to the addition of wind energy to the grid can cause a very small reduction in the efficiency of that fossil-fueled power plant. It is important to note that this reduction in efficiency is on a per-unit-of-output basis, so because total output from the fossil plant has decreased the net effect is to decrease emissions.

As a conservative hypothetical example, adding 100 MW of wind energy output to the grid might cause a fossil plant to go from producing 500 MW at 1000 pounds of CO2/MWh (250 tons of CO2 per hour) to producing 400 MW at 1010 pounds of CO2/MWh (202 tons of CO2 per hour), so the net impact on emissions from adding 100 MW of wind would be CO2 emissions reductions of 48 tons per hour. Unfortunately, fossil-funded groups have focused nearly all of their attention on Factor B, which in this example accounts for 2 tons, while completely ignoring the 50 tons of initial emissions reductions associated with Factor A. A conservative estimate is that the impact of Factor B is at most a few percent of the emissions reductions achieved through factor A.

(Mr. Bryce’s recent Wall Street Journal article is the most creative in its effort to exaggerate Factor B and downplay factor A. In his article, Bryce exclaims about the “94,000 more pounds of carbon dioxide” that the IPAMS study claimed were emitted in Colorado due to Factor B. To be clear, 94,000 pounds is equivalent to the far less impressive-sounding 47 tons of carbon dioxide, or the amount emitted annually on average by two U.S. citizens. Yet just a few paragraphs later, Mr. Bryce speaks dismissively when noting a DOE report that found that, on net, wind energy would “only” reduce carbon dioxide by 306 million tons (enough to offset the emissions of about 15 million U.S. citizens.)

Factor C is rarely included in discussions of wind’s impact on the power system and emissions, but the impact of Factor C is far larger than that of Factor B, so that it completely negates any emissions increase associated with Factor B. Factor C is the decrease in emissions that occurs as utilities and grid operators respond to the addition of wind energy by decreasing their reliance on inflexible coal power plants and instead increase their use of more flexible – and less polluting – natural gas power plants. This occurs because coal plants are poorly suited for accommodating the incremental increase in overall power system variability associated with adding wind energy to the grid, while natural gas plants tend to be far more flexible.

(It is important to keep in mind that the supply of and demand for electricity on the power system have always been highly variable and uncertain, and that adding wind energy only marginally adds to that variability and uncertainty. Electric demand already varies greatly according to the weather and major fluctuations in power use at factories, while electricity supply can drop by 1000 MW or more in a fraction of a second when a large coal or nuclear plant experiences a “forced outage” and goes offline unexpectedly, as they all do from time to time. In contrast, wind output changes slowly and often predictably.)

To summarize, the net effect of Factors A, B, and C is to reduce emissions by even more than is directly offset from wind generation displacing fossil generation (Factor A).

Unsurprisingly, government studies and grid operator data show that this is exactly what has happened to the power system as wind energy has been added. A study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released in January 2010 found drastic reductions in both fossil fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions as wind energy is added to the grid. The Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study (EWITS) used in-depth power system modeling to examine the impacts of integrating 20% or 30% wind power into the Eastern U.S. power grid.

The EWITS study found that carbon dioxide emissions would decrease by more than 25% in the 20% wind energy scenario and 37% in the 30% wind energy scenario, compared to a scenario in which our current generation mix was used to meet increasing electricity demand. The study also found that wind energy will drastically reduce coal generation, which declined by around 23% from the business-as-usual case to the 20% wind cases, and by 35% in the 30% wind case. These results were corroborated by the DOE’s 2008 technical report, “20% Wind Energy by 2030,” which also found that obtaining 20% of the nation’s electricity from wind energy would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 25%.

The fact that this study found emissions savings to be even larger than the amount directly offset by adding wind energy is a powerful testament to the role of Factor C in producing bonus emissions savings. By running scenarios in which wind energy’s variability and uncertainty were removed, NREL’s EWITS study was able to determine that it was in fact these attributes of wind energy that were causing coal plants to be replaced by more flexible natural gas plants (see here page 174).

As further evidence, four of the seven major independent grid operators in the U.S. have studied the emissions impact of adding wind energy to their power grids, and all four have found that adding wind energy drastically reduces emissions of carbon dioxide and other harmful pollutants. While the emissions savings depend somewhat on the existing share of coal-fired versus gas-fired generation in the region, as one would expect, it is impossible to dispute the findings of these four independent grid operators that adding wind energy to their grids has significantly reduced emissions. The results of these studies are summarized below.


2 Transmission Expansion Plan, Vision Exploratory Study, Midwest ISO (2006),



It is even more difficult to argue with empirical Department of Energy data showing that emissions have decreased in lockstep as various states have added wind energy to their grids. In addition and in almost perfect parallel to the Colorado data presented earlier, DOE data for the state of Texas show the same lockstep decrease when wind was added to its grid. This directly contradicts the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States report when it attempts to claim that wind has not in fact decreased emissions in Texas.

Specifically, DOE data show that wind and other renewables’ share of Texas’s electric mix increased from 1.3% in 2005 to 4.4% in 2008, an increase in share of 3.1 percentage points. During that period, electric sector carbon dioxide emissions declined by 3.3%, even though electricity use actually increased by 2% during that time (c.f. here). Because of wind energy, the state of Texas was able to turn what would have been a carbon emissions increase into a decrease of 8,690,000 metric tons per year, equal to the emissions savings of taking around 1.5 million cars off the road.

The fossil fuel industry’s latest misinformation campaign is reminiscent of scenes that played out in Washington in previous decades, as tobacco company lobbyists and their paid “experts” stubbornly stood before Congress and insisted that there was no causal link between tobacco use and cancer, despite reams of government data and peer-reviewed studies to the contrary. It’s time we enacted the strong policies we need to put our country’s tremendous wind energy resources to use, creating jobs, protecting our environment, savings consumers money, and improving our energy security, even if it means leaving a few fossil fuel lobbyists behind.

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By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

134 replies on “Does wind power reduce carbon emissions? Counter-Response”


Thank you again.

OK. Let’s continue with your scenario (10%, 20%, 10%, 10%).

2)Worst case is at point 7, 45% of total wind capacity as OCGTs, so the capacity is 80% + 45% = 125%

Thank you for that clarification.

4)Please remember I ‘m just guessing – I was hoping someone would come by and correct the story, so we could all learn something. The suggested 20%/hr all the way down from 100% to 10% is beyond worst case

Yes I realise this is a scenario. I accept for now that 20% per hour drop is beyond worst case.

Another thing we don’t know yet is the relative cost of shutting down equipment only to have to start it up again vs the cost of extended part-load operation for several plants. If the stop/start cost is low, most plants will be running at optimum almost all the time, with only a few plants ramping as fast as possible at any given time. If it is high, many plants will be kept at part load rather than optimum load, and the net fuel saving from the wind will be small.

David Walters may be able to add some wisdom here. Also the Kent Hawkins’ calculator is good, I believe, on the heat rate penalties (ie loss of efficiency) when OCGT, CCGT and his example type of coal fired power plant is running at less than 100% power output. If you haven’t got it from Kent Hawkins yet I can send you an earlier version of it.

Luke, your comments have been great. I’d like to push you a bit further. I have a question that follows from the earlier ones.

Q. How much more CO2 is released by gas generators as a result of having to firm for wind power compared with not having to firm for wind power?

Can you use your scenario and roughly estimate how much more time the gas turbines have to be running (starting up, shutting down, spinning reserve and part loaded) to firm for wind power than if they were able to start and go to full power instantaneously and as soon as the wind power dropped (and stop instantaneously).

I am thinking like this (using your scenario):

1. The operators have to maintain more spinning reserve to back up for unexpected wind power drops than they would if they were only backing up for the demand and for unscheduled outages. (perhaps 10% extra?)

2. When the wind starts to drop, the operators don’t know whether it is the start of a small drop or going to be a 60% drop at 10% to 20% per hour. So they have to begin scheduling and dispatching the units as you have described in your scenario.

3. That means that every time the wind drops they have to start up units just in case it is a worst case (I am exaggerating to make my point because they do have some wind forecasting data, but let’s ignore the forecasting for now; the operators have to be conservative and ensure the power is always available).

4. We must keep more units running than we would if we didn’t have wind in the system. But how much more?

5. When the wind is increasing, how much gas turbine capacity do we keep on standby, spinning reserve and part loaded in case the wind power stops rising?

6. I expect, a lot more gas generating capacity must be kept running all the time if we have wind power generators connected to the grid than if we don’t have wind power.

7. If the wind farms averages 30% capacity factor, is it conceivable that the efficiency losses from cycling the gas turbines, starting and stopping, running part loaded and idling on standby, could total 30%?

8. The Kent Hawkins calculator suggests that all factors taken together mean that wind power does not reduce CO2 emissions.

I look forward to your further thoughts on this.

I am hoping you and David Walters (and John Morgan) may have a close look at the Kent Hawkins Calculator and let us know what you think?

You can get the calculator and the instructions by emailing Kent Hawkins:



@ 16 October 2010 at 7.42 said

2) Worst case is at point 7, 45% of total wind capacity as OCGTs, so the capacity is 80% + 45% = 125%

@ 14 October 2010 at 10.28 said:

There is also Siemens new CCGT plant designed for wind integration, claiming 40 minute start-up and 59% efficiency, good for 250 start/stop cycles/year.

I realise you’re the 125% is just a guess based on the scenario we are playing with. But let’s play a bit more.

We need perhaps 125% more gas capacity than wind capacity to firm wind for the case where the entire generating system comprises gas and wind and no other types of generators.

However, here is another possible issue. If we need an average of 2 start stop cycles per day (730 cycles per year) from the gas turbines, but each one is allowed only 250 per year, then we would need three times as many gas turbines to be able to do the job. That means an overbuild of 200%.

Am I correct?

If so, what does that do to the capital cost and the cost of electricity for the wind and gas system? I haven’t included this in any of the analyses I’ve done previously.

I realise that I am exaggerating to make the point. What would be the real life situation for system with wind and gas generation only and high wind penetration?


This is interesting.
The chart of the NEM wind power capacity factor shows them running at nearly full power for most of the day (except for one which probably means the stated capacity is wrong). The capacity factor of all the wind farms combined rises from 30% at midnight to 80% by 7:30 am and stays at about 80% for the remainder of the day. This should put to bed, once and for all, the Mark Diesendorf idea that widely distributed wind farms produce negatively correlated output.

Now go to the chart for May 2010 and notice the period of little wind power across the whole NEM from about 15 to 21 May.

Click to access aemo_wind_201005_hhour.pdf

This chart also demonstrates that all wind farms on the NEM are being affected by the same large scale weather patterns.

Here is another example.

Click to access aemo_wind_201008_hhour.pdf

During August, the total wind power output swung in seven major cycles – some of which were between 80% and 0% (roughly). The blue line is showing the capacity factor based on the total output of all the major wind farms connected to the NEM grid. This is more clear evidence of the positive correlation of output across all the wind farms in an area spanning 1200km east-west and 800 km north-south. The mark Diesendorf argument for negative correlation of wind power output is dead for all practical purposes. What we are seeing here is also being reported for the USA and Europe also.

The Zero Carbon Australia by 2020 report assumed they could bank on 15% firm power from wind in a system that is composed almost entirely of wind and solar thermal with molten salt storage. (admittedly they assume a national grid spanning the entire country and an infinitely efficient transmission system)


Peter, John and I had an off line discussion on this and he suggested I post some what I wrote him on the use of GTs and predictability of wind:

“All, we have to note that engineers have worked at making wind prediction somewhat better. But it makes no difference. It’s not the unpredictibility of wind, at all, but exactly the predictability of wing that really shows how silly the whole wind thing is. The fact is that wind in large regions go up and down swinging double-digit % points. CCGTs have to say on line, the ‘surplus’ taken from, obvioiusly, not using all the power from wind. The ISO’s have become much better at all this, of course, but only TO fit wind in, as if it’s ‘wind’ that centers the grid’s universe. It will only get worse when the % of wind penetration goes up, and with it, the larger swings of generation. It is a quite a scary scenerio. I’ve talked, a year or so ago, with an ISO member in California who was VERY tired of dealing with all this.

At any rate, starting and stopping OCGTs is not good, shortens their life considerably, to the mentione the attached generators and all the BOP stuff that starts and stop along with it. As peter has done, ALL this needs to be calculated into the costs of wind power.”

Earlier, this:

“On one point only. Yes, OCGTs are “flexible” in that they are
> areo-derivatives…but so are the CCGTs…they are the SAME turbines
> with a HRSG attached. But despite this, they are actually limited in how
> many starts and stops in a day they can handle. They are not a like a
> light switch and though they start and stop VERY fast, doing so more
> than 3 times in a 24 hour period and you start running into problems.
> We’d have to read the literature on this issue more. Starts and stops,
> not to mention trips, are actually limited by contract between the
> manufacturer/vendor and the operator. Just something to look up.”

and this:

Hi Peter,
>> I started wading through the links you sent me on wind power and GT
>> back up.
>> On the first link:
>> ../peter-lang-wind-power.pdf
>> I don’t have enough experience to judge either the accuracy of the
>> specifics of the costs or how GTs as back up for wind, will be used.
>> However…
>> Generally it looks ‘correct’ but, as has already been proven, wind
>> defenders will go after you on the numbers.
>> I think, also, the use and figuring of ‘back’ up might be a little
>> myopic, Peter. If wind is 30% on average (over a year, or month, at
>> best) it means, given a lot of the requirements of the wind scenario:
>> 1.SG,
>> 2. pump storage (some of this)
>> 3. other forms of non-carbon energy availability like solar and, if
>> we are honest, nuclear
>> there might be different ones that give wind a better shot and costs
>> not
>> quite so high. In a 25 GW grid (for example), one needs to play around
>> with %s of various inputs.
>> For example, Australia has hydro. Let’s assume a fixed percentage of
>> this of 10% of the grid. Let’s assume we close all coal plants while
>> building CCGTs to replace them; Cheap to build; Gas prices remain low
>> (BIG assumption especially if you are producing 20GWs of power from
>> NG!).
>> The CCGTs are now baseloaded. They can do this quite easily. You have
>> *enough* of them…they work great. Typical deployment in the
>> combined
>> cycle mode is this:
>> 1. One-to-One: 171MWs GT plus 100MWs of recovered HRSG power: 271MWs
>> with a minmium load of 100MWs (assuming condenser bypass or
>> combustion bypass in minimum load configs. This is done, I think,
>> about 1/4 of the time).
>> 2. Two-to-One. 2 171 MW GTs (342MWs) combustion flue gas to a 200 MW
>> HRSG power for 540 MWs. This is the *most commonly* built
>> configuration. Minimum load here, also, can be built to 100 MWs
>> minimum load by shutting down one GT and using flue gas or condenser
>> bypass around the
>> 3. Three-to-one. Basically incrementally higher by 1/3 than the
>> above.
>> So there is a *tremendous amount* of flexibility with CCGTs which is
>> why
>> the utilities in the US like to build them. In Australia this means one
>> in fact does ‘over build’ with CCGT and only very few OCGTs. Basically
>> CCGT can do *anything* a Simple Cycle GT can do plus a baseload plant
>> can do if you are willing to fork over the capital costs for the HRSG
>> and associated turbine/generator.
>> I wrote “all that” to say this: it’s not the combination of flexible
>> GTs
>> or the kind so much as it is the price of NG. It will come down to that.
>> Wind *can* “build into” a well configured CCGT powered grid with
>> whiz-bang fancy controllers. The real issue is NG in it’s costs (and it
>> will go up) and, more importantly, Peter, are the vast amounts of CO2
>> that will be emitted from such a “wind” (meaning NG) run grid. You will
>> never, ever, get rid of the NG side of the equation. Period.
>> And…this is what the Lovins, Romms, Caldicotts are counting on.
>> They WANT the NG as it’s the only thing that makes wind ‘doable’.
>> This is why the NG industry LOVEs renewables in general (hell, they
>> LOBBY FOR renewables in Congress!!!).
>> I’ll read the other two reports later today and tomorrow and get back
>> with you.
>> David


Jerome de Paris is a French based Financial Banker for wind projects througout Europe. He is generally very sophisticated, does NOT opposte the development of nuclear energy and sees, and seriously attempts to proove, that wind lowers CO2 emissions costs. His latest post on the Daily Kos and the European Tribune (the latter is where he writes the most often) is here:

If you go to the European Tribune site and search for his articles you find many statistically based articles by him defending wind power. He does note, even in the above article, via a table, that nuclear is cheaper than wind.



I cannot agree with Jerome a Paris on the case for feed-in tariffs. Give the subsidy to all low carbon forms of generation, or none. The portfolio standard of which he approves should be formulated as maximum X kgs of CO2 per Mwh, not Y% of all Mwh to be a certain preferred technology, in this case wind. Once the CO2 mandate has been set then wind power should compete on its own merits and not need subsidies.

The cost of renewables subsidies at least in Europe is mind boggling. A commenter on The Oil Drum said some 70 bn euros will have been spent on solar in Germany by 2013, generating only 1.1% of energy needs.

Elsewhere JaP has tried to justify feed-in tariffs by appealing to something called the ‘merit order effect’. The idea is that wind generators charge electricity resellers only their marginal cost, somewhat less than their average cost. Clearly this is only possible courtesy of subsidies because wind operators would soon go broke otherwise. I would describe this as not-quite-negative-pricing. I think when fully negative pricing occurs (the wind operator pays customers to take the electricity) most economically sane people would conclude something is wrong. I suggest the merit order effect is the precursor to negative pricing. Remove the subsidy and it will never happen again.


John Newlands, on 19 October 2010 at 5.31 — In the uSA, it used to be that the big nuclear power producers would pay people to consume the excess generated rather than cycle the NPPs. Possibly large coal burners did that as well. Now, with something of a genration shortage I don’t know if the practice continues.

Up until this year (2010), Denmark gave its ecess wind generated power away to Norway. Starting from January of this year the Danes have to pay the Norweigians to take away the escess; then they have to pay again to get it back from the pumped hydro.

Ordinary co-called rational decidsion theory style economics does actually apply to power production, for reasons of the difficulty of finding storage for the available energy. Of course in a setting where there are uses for intrmittent power, such as desal and pumping, the constraints are lessened.


John Newlands: To me your comment makes a lot of sense. The society as whole ends up (in teh end) paying the levelized cost of energy, but ‘merit order effect’ applies to the marginal cost. The fact that wind power (for example) can sometimes lower the spot price is only possible since someone else has been made to pay for the capital costs associated with windpower. The windpower advocates often (for obvious reasons) want to focus on marginal costs as if that is the relevant cost. To me this seems similar to an argument that buying a home always makes sense since a rent for a comparable appartment is so much higher that the running costs of your own home. Such argument must naturally factor in also the cost of the capital to buy the home in the first place and this is typically the dominant effect. (For some reason windpower advocates rarely mention the low marginal costs of nuclear power. I wonder why? After all both wind and nuclear have high upfront capital costs and low running expenses.)

Finally, I wonder if anyone has thought about the income redistribution effects of feed in tariffs? Like I mentioned before, it seems that in such schemes everyone is made to pay for the high capital costs, but the gains from the occasional low spot prices go to those who can (and want to) use a lot of electricity during those times. (Probably this is a pretty small effect, but is still a pretty weird incentive.)


david benson:

just out of curiosity, does danish wind electricity sent to norway go in part to pump water uphill? and then they buy back the pumped hydro?


Greg meyerson,

Since David B Benson is a bit slow in reply ing to your question:

just out of curiosity, does danish wind electricity sent to norway go in part to pump water uphill? and then they buy back the pumped hydro?

I’ll throw my two bits worth in.

Without actually researching to check, I think the answer to your question is ‘No’ (or negligible if any).

Norway’s hydro is mostly from run-of-the-river and from storage, not pumped hydro.

When the wind blows in Denmark (or elsewhere in the Scandinavian grid), the wind provides power to meet demand so the hydro power stations can ‘throttle back’. When they ‘throttle back’ the water in the reservoirs (stored energy) is saved. So the wind power avoids that energy being used and saves it for use in the futrure. So no pumped hydro storage capacity is needed.

Tasmania is in the same lucky position as is much of Canada, Brazil, and parts of Europe. However, despite this near-ideal technical match, the cost of wind power is uneconomic without massive subsidies – as many of those poor Danes are just beginning to realise.


The Tasmanian transmission operator has recently built a new 220 kV line to assist with hydro balancing of wind output. New wind farms (heavily subsidised) will transmit to a substation next to a minor hydro. As wind increases I understand any of several hydros will be throttled back. The steady combined power will be sent to Hobart

There are hints of a second underwater HVDC cable
Perhaps they found the 500 MW import capacity of the existing cable wasn’t enough if Sen. Milne is correct about huge summer electricity imports from Victorian brown coal stations. Out of sight out of mind. Perhaps they’ll go ahead with a silicon smelter near Burnie at giveaway power prices. Look it’s all wind farms and hydros, no coal burners around here.


GP interesting. Other pending issues must be the promised 2011 carbon tax and the RECs/FiT for large renewables. Personally I think if there is a CO2 cap then quotas and permanent subsidies shouldn’t be necessary.

Another issue is getting hydro outfall water from the rainy west coast over the hump to the dryish Tas midlands. A fanciful idea (as on last Sunday’ s ABC Landline) is that a water secure midlands could replace the Murray Darling Basin. Maybe the proposed new wind capacity could do the pumping off grid.


I gather that Basslink, as a HVDC link can’t perform the role of grid stabilizer, relying on the hydro resources for inertia and frequency control?

It’s informative that wind has problems in a grid with a high proportion of hydro – wind proponents frequently cite pumped hydro as the ideal storage device that will work in conjunction with wind, yet the operator is bemoaning the challenge of integrating wind.


GP my understanding is that a substation at place called Waddamana will aim to send stabilised power via the new transmission line to Hobart. Several existing hydros and a proposed new 220 MW wind farm will feed into that substation. The hydros will be throttled back when the wind is strong. Evidently the stabilisation task is not that simple.

Transend have also said that there are practical limits to reversing the current flow in Basslink. Some politicians want to re-merge the hydro commission, the electricity retailer Aurora and the distributor Transend. A lot of people would like the three big electrorefiners to pay more for energy. In effect they get a subsidy of ~$150k per employee.


I suspect that wind in Tasmania is on a “must take” basis. It is relatively easy to throttle back hydro. And it makes financial sense. Once the plants are built the marginal costs for both hydro and wind are low. However hydro needs water. Why waste, possibly valuable, water when you have power coming from the wind farm? We can’t store the wind.

Graham, integrating wind is a challenge in any network. The beauty of access to hydro is it’s ease of control. It really is a perfect match for wind – it can balance all the stability issues inherent in intermittent generator sources.



Have a read of this NY Times article, which also discusses challenges with implementing a smart grid for storing surplus energy in hot water tanks & electricity costs (Pacific Northwest) ->

Integrating Wind and Water Power, an Increasingly Tough Balancing Act

some excerpts ->

Until now, hydro dams have primarily backed up wind, adding energy when wind speeds wane and backing off when wind picks up. Those days are numbered, because the queue of wind projects continues to grow.

“We’re getting to the end of the ability to use the hydro system for balancing,” said Eric King, wind integration project manager at the Bonneville Power Administration, which markets the electricity from the region’s federal dams.

But wind and water aren’t turning out to be such good neighbors, said Steve Weiss, senior policy associate at the NW Energy Coalition, an advocate for clean energy and environmental protection in the Columbia River Basin. “Hydro sounds like it’s a great fit for wind, but it turns out to be pretty terrible fit.”


Regarding the potential massive roll out of smart grids and associated equipment / labour etc. my question is ->

Has anyone tried to factor in the LCA / carbon costs of adding this to wind generated electricity ???


Not sure if anyone has been here ->

which is based on this document ->

Click to access GHGabtmntWindFarms.pdf

This is our gov’s version of calculating emissions reductions due to wind. I would be interested to read a critique of this document. The current wind “precinct managers” are doing the rounds to “convince” the rural community to support wind. The general tools of the DECC trade are here ->


This report

Click to access GHGabtmntWindFarms.pdf

could need as much work to digest as ZCA2020. The modelling software apparently takes into account ramp times and spinning reserve. It seems to assume mostly $10 carbon tax and standard price elasticities such as demand reducing 15% if power prices go up 10%. It also assigns some peaking role to hydro and interstate coal.

I can’t say if they’ve correctly modelled relative (20%) or absolute (41,000 Gwh) RET national requirements by 2020. That would seem to be dependent on the unknown price of renewable energy certificates or future feed-in tariffs. Future coal and gas prices (absent carbon tax) would also be a grey area. Perhaps the Master Resource people should look at it.

Their conclusion seems to be that wind power in southern NSW has short term nearly a 100% fossil displacement effect, mainly coal rather than gas.
I guess that implies Kurnell desal is truly ‘green’ due to the Capital Wind Farm offset. The displacement will reduce in the years ahead. They don’t address the question of a penetration limit, say if the RET was 30%, nor if coal baseload was shifted to gas.



I agree a serious of those DECC’s docs should be conducted!

Kurnell Desal has an exclusive license to buy REC green tickets from Infigen. There is a clause somewhere that says if Capital is not producing enough, Infigen can transfer them from its other windfarms. For example see Section 5.3 on p14 of the REC supply agreement :

\if the Supplier is unable to satisfy the requirements in clause 5.3(a)
(“Supplier obligations if NGACs requested in EC Election Notice”)
by 6 months after receipt of that EC Election Notice, the Supplier
must supply NGACs which are sourced other than from the Wind
Farm and which are in all other respects supplied in the manner
contemplated for supply of NGACs under this agreement.

So basically the idea that Capital “supplies” Syd Desal is pure spin, they simply buy green tickets from Infigen. The gov, syd water and Infigen make it sound like Capital is running the desal. Funny because as you now Capital WF is near Canberra, and the Desal plant is in Sydney… and anyone with the slightest understanding of wind generated electricity knows that it can’t directly run a Desal plant from wind.

I got the desal agreement docs from


I have only just today found out about this wind farm advisory meeting, thought I’d pass it on. I am wondering has anyone else heard about this ? So much for community consultation….

the event is this coming Monday Dec 6th

Auditorium of the Yass Soldiers Club in Meehan Street Yass, from 8.45am to about 3pm I’m told.

Contact for details ->

Andy Hughes

Regional Coordinator
Renewable Energy Precincts
Sustainability Programs Division
Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water
P.O. Box 733 Queanbeyan 2620
Ph: 62297137

note that as of now, the website he points to for info has ZERO info on it about this meeting ->

I have been told (not by DECC) that DECC, DEP, CEC and community wind farm developers will be there giving “presentations”.

I dont have a title for the event as I have yet to be given one…


This proves time warps must be true. The early wind farms must have sensed that desalination plants 300km and 10 years away would need their carbon credits. My understanding is the Wonthaggi Vic desal will borrow credits from existing wind farms until the Crystal Hills (?) wind farm is built. I’d like to know if new Vic premier Baillieu goes along with all of this.

Be sure to get a nice meal at the Yass Soldiers Club. Actually I did pick up a sense that area would have problems years ago. Example approving new housing subdivisions while on water rationing. Despite promises that the Canberra region would have a reduced role in the national economy the population influx continues. Hence more NIMBYs.


John, before you use the word NIMBY, please take the time to read this social science research ->

Also I would urge BNCers to have a bit of a read of the NSW DECC “Wind Energy Fact Sheet” which is an all time classic, and note they ref Diesendorf, and claim wind displaces FF 1 for 1 ->

The whole page is (bad) joke, this is text book spin stuff from the NSW DECC! Apparently the NSW DECC recently wrote an article in The Land newspaper claiming 1MWh for 1MWh displacements for wind. I have not seen it yet, but have been told a number of people have written in response to it.

The NSW DECC is now gearing up its wind energy precincts “advisory” committees, sounds like they need to get as much stuff going ASAP before the next election…


This NSW DECC really has been written by very experience spin masters. Every statement is technically correct but potentially misleading.

“A study by energy market specialists McLennan, Maganasik & Associates has found that every additional unit of wind power injected into the
NSW grid replaces a unit of power from another generator – ‘almost exclusively’ a gas or coal-fired power station.”

Not sure why they needed to pay consultants for a piece of Electricity 101. To the layman it sure sounds like a 500 MW wind farm can shut down a 500 MW coal plant.

“NSW wind farms do not need additional fossil fuel
generators as ‘back-up’ when there is no wind.”

Good old NSW – thank heaven for the NEM.


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