Energy debates in Wonderland

My position on wind energy is quite ambivalent. I really do want it (and solar) to play an effective role in displacing fossil fuels, because to do this, we need every tool at our disposal (witness the Open Science project I kick started in 2009 [and found funding for], in order to investigate the real potential of renewables, Oz-Energy-Analysis.Org).

However, I think there is far too much wishful thinking wrapped up in the proclamations by the “100% renewables” crowd(most of who are unfortunately also anti-nuclear advocates), that wind somehow offers both a halcyon choice and an ‘industrial-strength’ solution to our energy dilemma. In contrast, my TCASE series (thinking critically about sustainable energy) illustrates that, pound-for-pound, wind certainty does NOT punch above it’s weight as a clean-energy fighter; indeed, it’s very much a journeyman performer.

The following guest post, by Jon Boone, looks at wind energy with a critical eye and a witty turn of phrase. I don’t offer it as a comprehensive technical critique — rather it’s more a philosophical reflection on past performance and fundamental limits. Whatever your view of wind, I think you’ll find it interesting.


Energy debates in Wonderland

Guest Post by Jon Boone. Jon is a former university administrator and longtime environmentalist who seeks more more informed, effective energy policy in ways that expand and enhance modernity, increase civility, and demand stewardship on behalf of biodiversity and sensitive ecosystems. His brand of environmentalism eschews wishful thinking because it is aware of the unintended adverse consequences flowing from uninformed decisions. He produced and directed the documentary, Life Under a Windplant, which has been freely distributed within the United States and many countries throughout the world. He also developed the website Stop Ill Wind as an educational resource, posting there copies of his most salient articles and speeches. He receives no income from his work on wind technology.

March Hare (to Alice): Have some wine.

(Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea.)

Alice: I don’t see any wine.

March Hare: There isn’t any.

Alice: Then it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it.

March Hare: It wasn’t very civil of you to sit down without being invited.

— From Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland

Energy journalist Robert Bryce, whose latest book, Power Hungry, admirably foretells an electricity future anchored by natural gas from Marcellus Shale that will eventually bridge to pervasive use of nuclear power, has recently been involved in two prominent debates. In the first, conducted by The Economist, Bryce argued for the proposition that “natural gas will do more than renewables to limit the world’s carbon emissions.” In the second, an Intelligence Squared forum sponsored by the Rosenkranz Foundation, he and American Enterprise Institute scholar Steven Hayward argued against the proposition that “Clean Energy can drive America’s economic recovery.”

Since there’s more evidence a friendly bunny brings children multi-colored eggs on Easter Sunday than there is that those renewables darlings, wind and solar, can put much of a dent in CO2 emissions anywhere, despite their massively intrusive industrial presence, the first debate was little more than a curiosity. No one mentioned hydroelectric, which has been the most widely effective “renewable”—ostensibly because it continues to lose marketshare (it now provides the nation with about 7% of its electricity generation), is an environmental pariah to the likes of The Sierra Club, and has little prospect for growth. Nuclear, which provides the nation’s largest grid, the PJM, with about 40% of its electricity, is not considered a renewable, despite producing no carbon emissions; it is also on The Sierra Club’s hit list. Geothermal and biomass, those minor league renewables, were given short shrift, perhaps because no one thought they were sufficiently scalable to achieve the objective.

So it was a wind versus gas scrum played out as if the two contenders were equally matched as producers of power. Bryce pointed out wind’s puny energy density, how its noise harms health and safety, its threat to birds and bats, and how natural gas’s newfound abundance continues to decrease its costs—and its price. His opponent carried the argument that wind and solar would one day be economically competitive with natural gas, such that the former, since they produced no greenhouse gasses, would be the preferred choice over the latter, which does emit carbon and, as a non renewable, will one day become depleted.

Such a discussion is absurd at a number of levels, mirroring Alice’s small talk with the March Hare. One of the troubling things about the way wind is vetted in public discourse is how “debate” is framed to ensure that wind has modern power and economic value. It does not. Should we debate whether the 747 would do more than gliders in transporting large quantities of freight? Bryce could have reframed the discussion to ask whether wind is better than cumquats as a means of emissions reductions. But he didn’t. And the outcome of this debate, according to the vote, was a virtual draw.

Ironically, the American Natural Gas Association is perking up its louche ad slogan: “The success of wind and solar depends on natural gas.” Eureka! To ANGA, wind particularly is not an either to natural gas’s or. Rather, the renewables du jour will join forces with natural gas to reduce carbon emissions in a way that increases marketshare for all. With natural gas, wind would be an additive—not an alternative—energy source. Bryce might have made this clear.

What ANGA and industry trade groups like the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (see its latest paper) don’t say is that virtually all emissions reductions in a wind/gas tandem would come from natural gas—not wind. But, as Bryce should also be encouraged to say, such a pretension is a swell way for the natural gas industry to shelter income via wind’s tax avoidance power. And to create a PR slogan based upon the deception of half-truths. Although natural gas can indeed infill wind’s relentless volatility, the costs would be enormous while the benefit would be inconsequential. Rate and taxpayers would ultimately pay the substantial capital expenses of supernumerary generation.

Beyond Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass

The Oxford-style Economist debate, which by all accounts Bryce and Hayward won with ease, nonetheless woozled around in a landscape worthy of Carroll’s Jabberwocky, complete with methodological slips, definitional slides, sloganeering, and commentary that often devolved into meaningless language—utter nonsense. It was as if Pixar had for the occasion magically incarnated the Red Queen, the Mad Hatter, and Humpty Dumpty, who once said in Through the Looking Glass, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” Dumpty also said, “When I make a word do a lot of work … I always pay it extra.”

Those promoting “clean” were paying that word extra—and over the top, as Hayward frequently reminded by demanding a clear, consistent definition of clean technology.

Proponents frequently defined clean energy differently depending upon what they chose to mean. At times, they meant acts of commission in the form of “clean coal,” wind, solar, biomass (although ethanol was roundly condemned), and increased use of natural gas. Indeed, natural gas in the discussion became reified, in the best Nancy Pelosi/T. Boone Pickens tradition, as a clean source of energy on a par with wind and solar. At one time, clean also referred to nuclear—but the topic quickly changed back to wind and natural gas. At other times, clean referred to acts of omission, such as reducing demand with more efficient appliances, smarter systems of transmission, and more discerning lifestyle choices.

Shifting definitions about what was “clean” made for a target that was hard to hit. Bryce mentioned Jevon’s Paradox. Bulls eye. So much for increased efficiency. Hayward demonstrated that the US electricity sector has already cut SO2 and NOx emissions nearly 60% over the last 40 years, and reduced mercury emissions by about 40% over this time, despite tripling coal use from 1970 to 2005. Zap. All this without wind and solar. Green jobs from clean industry?  It would have been fruitful to have invoked Henry Hazlitt’s Broken Window fallacy, which illustrates the likelihood of few net new jobs because of the opportunities lost for other, more productive investment. Also welcoming would have been remarks about how more jobs in the electricity sector must translate into increased costs, making electricity less affordable. Such a development would substantially subvert prospects for economic recovery.

In arguing against the proposition that clean energy could be a force for economic recovery, Bryce and Hayward did clean the opposition’s clock (they had, as everyone agreed, the numbers on their side). But they also let the opposition off the hook by not exposing the worms at the core of the proposition. Yes, the numbers overwhelmingly suggest that coal and natural gas are going to be around for a long time, and that they will continue to be the primary fuels, along with oil, to energize the American economy.** They can be, as they have been, made cleaner by reducing their carbon emissions even more. But they won’t be clean. Outside Wonderland, cleaner is still not clean.

The proposition therefore had to fail. Even in Wonderland.

Example of the twinning between natural gas and renewable energy - unacceptable from a greenhouse gas mitigation perspective

Capacity Matters

These arguments, however, are mere body blows. Bryce should have supplied the knockout punch by reminding that any meaningful discussion of electricity production, which could soon embrace 50% of our overall energy use, must consider the entwined goals of reliability, security, and affordability, since reliable, secure, affordable electricity is the lynchpin of our modernity. Economic recovery must be built upon such a foundation. At the core of this triad, however, resides the idea of effective capacity—the ability of energy suppliers to provide just the right amount of controllable power at any specified time to match demand at all times. It is the fount of modern power applications.

By insisting that any future technology—clean, cleaner, or otherwise, particularly in the electricity sector—must produce effective capacity, Bryce would have come quickly to the central point, moving the debate out of Wonderland and into sensible colloquy.

Comparing—both economically and functionally—wind and solar with conventional generation is spurious work. Saying that the highly subsidized price of wind might, maybe, possibly become, one day, comparable to coal or natural gas may be true. But even if this happens, if, say, wind and coal prices become equivalent, paying anything for resources that yield no or little effective capacity seems deranged as a means of promoting economic recovery for the most dedicatedly modern country on the planet.

Subsidies for conventional fuels—coal, natural gas, nuclear, and hydro—make sense because they promote high capacity generation. Subsidies for wind and solar, which are, as Bryce stated, many times greater on a unit of production basis than for conventional fuels, promote pretentious power that make everything else work harder simply to stand still.

Consider the following passage from Part II of my recent paper, which is pertinent in driving this point home:

Since reliable, affordable, secure electricity production has historically required the use of many kinds of generators, each designed to perform different but complementary roles, much like instruments in an orchestra, it is not unreasonable for companies in the power business to diversify their power portfolios. Thus, investment in an ensemble of nuclear and large coal plants to provide for baseload power, along with bringing on board smaller coal and natural gas plants to engage mid and peak load, makes a great deal of sense, providing for better quality and control while achieving economies of scale.

Traditional diversified power portfolios, however, insisted upon a key common denominator: their generating machines, virtually all fueled by coal, natural gas, nuclear, and/or hydro, had high unit availability and capacity value. That is, they all could be relied upon to perform when needed precisely as required.

How does adding wind—a source of energy that cannot of itself be converted to modern power, is rarely predictable, never reliable, always changing, is inimical to demand cycles, and, most importantly, produces no capacity value—make any sense at all? Particularly when placing such a volatile brew in an ensemble that insists upon reliable, controllable, dispatchable modes of operation. As a functional means of diversifying a modern power portfolio, wind is a howler.

Language Matters

All electricity suppliers are subsidized. But conventional generation provides copious capacity while wind supplies none and solar, very little. The central issue is capacity—or its absence. Only capacity generation will drive future economic recovery. And Bryce should say so in future debates. Birds and bats, community protests, health and safety—pale in contrast to wind technology’s lack of capacity. And Bryce should say so. Ditto for any contraption fueled by dilute energy sources that cannot be converted to modern power capacity—even if they produce no carbon emissions. Clean and green sloganeering should not be conflated with effective production.

Moreover, even if the definition of clean and/or renewable technology is stretched to mean reduced or eliminated carbon emissions caused by less consumption of fossil fuels, then where is the evidence that technologies like wind and solar are responsible for doing this? When in the debate former Colorado governor Bill Ritter claimed that the wind projects he helped build in his state were reducing California’s carbon emissions, why didn’t the Bryce/Hayward team demand proof? Which is non existent.

It’s not just wind’s wispy energy density that makes conversion to modern power impossible—without having it fortified by substantial amounts of inefficiently operating fossil-fired power, virtually dedicated transmission lines, and new voltage regulation, the costs of which must collectively be calculated as the price for integrating wind into an electricity grid. It is rather wind’s continuous skittering, which destabilizes the required match between supply and demand; it must be smoothed by all those add-ons. The vast amount of land wind gobbles up therefore hosts a dysfunctional, Rube Goldbergesque mechanism for energy conversion. Bryce and his confreres would do well to aim this bullet right between the eyes.

Robert Bryce remains a champion of reasoned discourse and enlightened energy policy. He is one of the few energy journalists committed to gleaning meaningful knowledge from a haze of data and mere information. His work is a wise undertaking in the best traditions of journalism in a democracy. As he prepares for future debates—although, given the wasteland of contemporary journalism, it is a tribute to his skills that he is even invited to the table—he must cut through the chaff surrounding our politicized energy environment, communicating instead the whole grained wheat of its essentials.

Endnote: You might also enjoy my other relatively recent paper, Oxymoronic Wind (13-page PDF). It covers a lot of ground but dwells on the relationship between wind and companies swaddled in coal and natural gas, which is the case worldwide.


** It was fascinating to note Hayward’s brief comment about China’s involvement with wind, no doubt because it seeks to increase its renewables’ manufacturing base and then export the bulk of the machines back to a gullible West. As journalist Bill Tucker said recently in a panel discussion about the future of nuclear technology on the Charlie Rose show, China (and India), evidently dedicated to achieve high levels of functional modernity, will soon lead the world in nuclear production as it slowly transitions from heavy use of coal over the next half-century.


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.

368 replies on “Energy debates in Wonderland”

@EL – Subsidies are driving wind investments, and even most of its supporters admit that, asserting otherwise marks you as a fool. Nor can it be shown to reduce carbon except by some rather marginal statistics that, at the very least, are subject to some interpretation. It doesn’t help the energy situation simply because it is more trouble than it is worth.

David B. Benson illustrated the situation up thread when he wrote:

However, this requires extra capital expenditures for the wind generators; fully extra as the NPPs have to be built anyway, just operated slightly differently.

In the end it is wind for wind’s sake, not because it is advantageous to do so. This is where all of you have gotten to: desperate to salvage something out of your misdirected support for wind, you are left to beg for scraps at the table. The second that natural gas stops lobbying for subsidies, this farce comes to an end. Look at how fast T. Pickens dropped his grandiose wind plans when the tax situation changed.

Wind is not part of the solution – it’s part of the problem.


@ David B. Benson, on 26 April 2011 at 11:28 AM:

David states that BPA are the balancing agent for wind power in his area. There are clearly limits.

I referred to one several days ago (#154, 2:09 23 April, 2011). BPA’s indicated that wind penetration above 10% results in stability problems.

The second issue is the adequacy of the quoted price of $US0.68/MW/month. This is a measure of maximum instantaneous wind power and in no way relates to the number or the slopes of the many fluctuations up and down which wind power introduces into the system.

This might cover BPA’s costs over the long run, subject to market rules and conditions about which I know nothing. On the face of it, however, increasing wind penetration will, through the instability effects, increase this cost to BPA.

A third issue, unmentioned by David Benson and irrelevant to the $0.68 cent figure, is the increasingly deleterious effect of wind penetration on FF efficiency. While ever FF, in the form of steam turbine, OCGT, CCGT or whatever, is within the system, then as has been demonstrated capably above by DeGroot and others, there are costs to the FF generators which are attributable to wind and for which, in a perfect market, they would be able to obtain compensation via a market price mechanism.

I envisage that, in addition to prices which currently are bid into my local Australian market, additional rates for ramping up and down and at what rate this happens, should be allowed. That ramp rates have been and will remain contentious, see, for example, The link is to an AER (Formerly NEMMCO) draft paper aimed at forcing steeper ramp rates and hence flexibility into the marketplace. This flexibility costs the generators money and costs the environment additional CO2 and will not just disappear due to the regulator charging a nominal $0.68 per MW wind capacity.

With the proposed Australian CO2 tax the cost of these inefficiencies will be that much higher. Does David expect the FF generators to carry happily this cost which is entirely due to their competitors’ operations? For ever? Does he expect that the regulators and legislators and environmentalists will not see this inequity and track it back to its source?

The wind power industry must eventually be held properly to account for the cost to their competitors and to the regulator and for the environmental consequences which are part and parcel of their technology? Especially so, when wind penetration is higher than a nominal amount.

I suspect that the $0.68 is adequate for BPA’s backup hydro or OCGT and that it goes nowhere towards those two other issues – other O&M costs for other generators and increased CO2 output. Nothing that David has contributed addresses these two issues.


John Bennetts, thanks for running with this issue of the lost emissions abatement of wind upon grid integration. I think this is really important.

Since the issue has come up, I contacted Peter Lang last night. He let me know of an active study on this issue by an academic economist, a work in progress which is being referred to as “Bentek II”. (The work on Texas and Colorado I cited above is the “Bentek” study.) Others are also looking at the Irish grid, a good case study of an isolated grid with wind integration. So we will slowly start to get some clarity on this.

He also made another remark that caught me like a fishhook in the eye: Australia does not measure CO2 emissions from our power plants.

We calculate them by applying emissions intensities dictated by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. These are quite different from the ones that ACIL Tasman built up over a long time from actual power stations. But none of them are much use because they are averages and do not provide information on the changing heat rate as the fossil fuel plants cycle.

So we have no way of probing this question in Australia from official data. Peter was also of the view that the DCCEE emissions intensities are unreliable and probably chosen to suit what they want or have to report internationally.

I find this completely shocking. If we don’t have validated data we’re blind. For comparison, this is what the US EPA requires for power plant emissions reporting: direct measurements from the smokestacks.

ECMPS Reporting Instructions – Emissions

Click to access ECMPSEMRI2009Q2.pdf

Plain English Guide to the Part 75 Rule (Emissions Monitoring)

Click to access plain_english_guide_par75_final_rule.pdf


@ John Morgan:

I believe that Australian, or at least, NSW, stack emissions are measured and reported as conditions of plant licences to the EPA which is now a branch within the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage. If I remember correctly, both the licence and the annual compliance reports for each site holding a licence to pollute are available to the public on line.

I am not across EPA licencing matters this in detail, however fuel consumption, CO2, SOx, NOx, opacity and perhaps much more are included in respect of the stacks for each site. It should be possible to correlate this data with energy sent out and reported fuel usage and efficiencies, in order to build a complete picture, site by site, of CO2-e emissions.

There may need to be fiddles regarding oil or gas support during startup, usage of supplementary fuels such as recycled oil where these are consumed and, perhaps, an estimate of methane and/or CO2 released from coal stockpiles due to in-situ oxidation and degradation, however I have no doubt that, at least within NSW, adequate information will be available to an experienced and persistent researcher.

Surely, your advisor was pulling your leg… at least, I hope so.

Regarding academic economists, I believe that the wind issue which we have kicked around here for a couple of days lends itself to careful analysis from an economic perspective, in part because I am convinced that a functioning market mechanism by which the real costs of reduced fossil fuel efficiency due to the operational imperatives of wind power on the same network (to the extent that they are commercially significant) is the best way to find a real world solution to this issue.

Without a such a market response, the practical details really don’t matter, because wind isn’t paying and FF don’t care. The situation will continue unaddressed, whether large or small.

I am an engineer, not an economist, but I would certainly like to read an economist’s analysis.



I just looked at the NSW EPA licence for one of the Hunter Valley power stations – black coal – and could find no limits or requirement to measure emissions of carbon oxides via the chimney stacks. I was unable to access the latest annual report, although the site states that this is possible.

It is possible to calculate the CO2 emissions reasonably accurately from coal usage and quality figures. I have not tried to locate actual as-fired quality data. Quite possibly, when I eventually locate a copy of the annual return to the EPA I will find that it does not include the necessary detail.

The fish hook is still in the metaphorical eye.


John Bennetts, I just worked out how to pull the license for Bayswater Power Station from your link, and found it just as you say – no CO2 data. The data reported appears to be only for those pollutants on which a polluting fee is levied, to wit:

Benzopyrene (equivalent) (Air) 0.39 kg $41.35
Coarse Particulates (Air) 29,958.00 kg $1,981.72
Fine Particulates (Air) 1,562,035.00 kg $1,030,702.67
Fluoride (Air) 128,008.00 kg $39,516.07
Nitrogen Oxides (Air) 38,857,322.00 kg $2,570,411.85
Salt (Enclosed Waters) 1,400,142.00 kg $84,632.93
Selenium (Enclosed Waters) 22.85 kg $839.74
Sulfur Oxides (Air) 81,190,837.00 kg $656,833.87

If there is accurate data on coal consumed you could get emissions from mass balance. But you’d need to know the carbon content of the coal which I guess must vary, and assume complete combustion. Better to measure it at the stack. If we’re not doing this, and applying average emissions intensities in the calculation of emissions, I’m flabbergasted. And again, you can’t measure the impact of wind integration on generator efficiency.


DV82XL, on 25 April 2011 at 10:01 PM said:

To start off with, most exports of power
from the US to Canada are in fact due to wheeling
Canadian power through the US network back to Canadian

DV82XL: can you, please, substantiate this claim?

If it is so, then the accounting of exports by the EIA
is clearly ridiculous, and one would certainly tend to
doubt their accounting of imports, as well.

What number, exactly, do you have in mind, when you say
most US exports are actually wheeling
arrangements from Canada back to Canada?

To the extent that most of the power, listed as US
exports is actually Canadian power wheeled through US
distribution networks and sent back to Canada, as you
claim, this would of course tend to imply that US
imports from Canada are larger than they appear, unless
a similarly large proportion of US power is wheeled
through what I think you described as inadequate
Canadian provincial interconnects and then comes right
back to the US.

Living in the Northeast, and paying Long Island rates
(22c/kWh) for electricity I’m certainly not unaware of
a major multi-terminal HVDC (+-) 450kV transmission
line completed in the 1990s, that runs from
Hydro-Quebec all the way down to the Boston area, and
that that line is capable of supporting 2000MW
transfers, and I certainly believe that there are in
fact major net imports along that line from Canada to
the US – they are quite minor of course in comparison
to US consumption – but they are pretty significant for
New England, where we have a shortage of generating

The EIA annual reports are based on the monthly filings
of Form OE-781-R, for which the required respondents

Holders of Export Authorizations and
Presidential Permits issued pursuant to 10 CFR section
205.300 and 10 CFR 205.320 must file the Form OE-781R
monthly. Other respondents are entities engaged in
international commerce, classified under the following
NERC functional categories: Transmission Operator
(TOP), Purchasing and Selling Entity (PSE), and
Transmission Owners (TO).

Quoting further from the form these entities:

…are required to report monthly the flows
of electric energy received or delivered, the costs and
revenues associated with those transactions, related
ancillary services, the characteristics of transmission
operations, and the current and proposed capacities of
cross-border lines.

From such numbers, it would seem to me to be easy
enough to work out what the net cross-border flow is,
assuming that it has been correctly reported and there
are no major unreported cross-border links. Wheeling
arrangements from Canada back to Canada should cancel
out in the net flows of US exporters, at least up to
transmission line losses I should think.

Are you saying there is leakage in the system? That
power goes through cross-border lines that are too
small to report?

Or, are you saying that there is lying going on?


@ DV82XL, 26 April 8.15am,
your statement:
“…..rather than Quebec or BC both of which export most of their production south demonstrates how little you know about this subject”
is wrong and indicates you have not checked your facts. A quick check on google gives Quebec domestic consumption of 165-170TWh and total exports to US and other Canadian Provence’s 23TWh. Quebec exports to US could not exceed 12% of its production, this is a lot less than “most”.
BChydro’s 2010 annual report states income from sales in BC($3,102M), other Canadian Provences($171M) and US($549M).
Seems unlikely that BC “exports most of its production” especially if they are “gouging” US customers.
I don’t claim to be as knowledgeable about BC and Quebec hydro as I am about Manitoba hydro, but clearly I am better informed than your are or more careful on facts.


DV82XL 26th April 12.41:

I hope that your statement that “subsidies are driving wind investments”- one with which I am in full agreement – is not to be taken as an attack on energy subsidies per se.

New energy infrastructure (except gas) generally has high up front costs such that it can’t compete with legacy investments. In the UK, given liberalisation of energy markets and governments’ failure to lead, this means that no significant energy infrastructure investments have been made and what we have left is becoming obsolete. I would contend that no new significant energy sources will be built by the free market unless the government either subsidises, gives loan guarantees, guarantees a market for the product, legislates against competitors or nationalises.

Thus, it would be unfair to criticise subsidies for wind and solar if one were genuinely to believe that they would make a significant, economically sensible contribution to a clean energy future. I think we both agree with many others here that they can’t unless very cheap electrical storage becomes feasible.

I am not attempting to disagree with you. I am trying to make the point that you won’t even get nuclear investment in a liberalised energy market without very plain government encouragement, direction or subsidy.


Yes, I agree, subsidies aren’t a bad thing, the bad thing is subsidizing marginal technologies such as wind and solar.


@David Kahana – The canada-to-Canada wheeling issue was covered in NEW ELECTRICITY: GENERATION, PRICING, WHEELING & REGULATION by Drinkwater, Case Western Reserve University School of Law
Canada-United States Law Journal. I am looking for a public copy of this paper to post a link.

As I understand, this mostly happens in the links between Ontario and Michigan, and there may well be times there that US power is re-exported back to the US on Canadian lines.

Frankly I do not know how the reporting works in these cases.


@Douglas Wise – The issue of subsidies in general as a policy tool is, far too complex to be accepted or rejected on purely ideological grounds. They are right or wrong depending on the outcome they are trying to achive


Ah, Douglas and Cyril R, you have, perhaps inadvertently, stumbled upon one of of society’s great truths.

Full supply of demand is not a natural outcome of commercially competitive systems where profit is the motivator. In fact, it is decidely not so, because that last part of demand is, as if by definition, at the cost/benefit nadir where its satisfaction is commercially worthless, but perhaps may still be socially desirable.

One needs to consider what type of society one wishes for.

Socialised systems, those which place a value on non-monetary outcomes, are the only ones which will ever fully satisfy personal and private demands. They are thus, by definition, open to being criticised as being unprofitable, at least at the boundaries.

On this tapestry must then be painted the image of subsidy “for the public good” and further subsidy “to win elections” and more still, on the dark side, which amount to graft and corruption – G&C.

So, Cyril R, when at 7:37pm this evening, you said “subsidies aren’t a bad thing, the bad thing is subsidizing marginal technologies such as wind and solar”, you introduced a personal value judgement into the discussion.

Cyril R, we now know, is not in favour of subsidies for wind and solar. He goes so far as to accuse these technologies, somewhat perjoratively, of being marginal technologies.

Well, Cyril R, I might even agree with you on this one, but certainly not as to how you state your case.

I agree that subsidising desirable outcomes – those outcomes which serve a social purpose – is worthy, and that solar and wind do not always achieve those outcomes.

Subsidy of technologies, marginal or otherwise, is not necessarily good at all, but may be justified in order to meet other wants and needs of our societies. Subsidy is certainly justified, to a point, for research, investigation, education, trials and so forth, as also for socially desirable outcomes related to the greater good of mankind or even that part of mankind which pays the bill. For example, peace, security, improved health, safety, self-actualisation (following your dreams), building social capital (making beneficial friendships), environmental improvement, species diversity, preservation of habitat for future generations, recording and preservation of history, education, culture, ethics training, and a whole lot more.

What I object to is subsidy from the public purse so that snake oil salesmen can further their interests at the expense of the public purse.

Barry has created, financed and supported this web site so that we, its users, may benefit through building knowledge of the climate and energy options which face us.

Speaking only for myself, I believe that openness and honesty are essential so that we can better understand those climate and energy issues which we face.

Certain contributors to this site appear to be closed to new ideas, perhas even to be commercially bound to specific notions. I do not intend to be rude or aggressive towards these people, but the question, when it arises, must be answered.

That question is: “Do you have a commercial interest in what you are saying?”

If the answer is in the affirmative, I suggest that that specific contributor take a deep breath, consider carefully, and then decide (please!) to put aside those affiliations and to contibute in a fully open way so that, together, we may discover the truth.

In closing, I mentioned two contributors a little way back. I am not suggesting that they are commercially conflicted or into G&C. I will say that it is important to me that knowledge, for knowledge’s sake, is very high on my list of priorities.

Re “Enviromentalist”, I return to my unanswered question of 22 April, at 9:18 pm, which is “You don’t sell domestic rooftop solar panels, by any chance?” An affirmative response would go some way towards explaining the logical disparities between this person’s views and my own.


John Bennets, before we can talk politics, such as “who pays” or “how do we pay for it” we must take a look at the science and engineering, to determine whether its a good idea in the first place to pay. Solar and wind don’t make sense from a science and enginering viewpoint, so we need not discuss further about political questions of “who pays” or “how do we stimulate these technologies”.

The scientific conclusion that should be apparent from this thread and this site as well as many of the links given, is that wind and solar are marginal technologies and therefore a giant waste of time and money. Every dollar spent in wind and solar is a dollar not spent in real non-marginal solutions such as nuclear power.


For the record, I am not closing my mind to new ideas; indeed none of the ideas put forward in this thread are particularly new to me in the first place.

I’m just very keen on numbers and doing the calculations using real world data. Once you do that you get a good discussion and a good conclusion.

I very much recommend David Mackay’s “sustainable energy – without the hot air” to learn how to avoid energy debates in wonderland.


@Neil Howes – Yes, I misses putting the word ‘surplus’ in there, as in, “…..rather than Quebec or BC both of which export most of their surplusproduction south…” However I hope you also notice that the very numbers you quote put the last nails in the idea that Canadian hydro can balance American wind to any significant extent, as that power is already spoken for.

You really should check out some of the issues that CA had with BC during the former’s electricity problems a few years ago. The local media in California was quite apoplectic about BC Hydro buying off-peak surplus from CA at below market price, and selling it back at a premium on-peak.


I’ve found a reference which talks a bit about the poor capacity factor performance of wind in Europe:

Click to access Capacity_factor%5B1%5D.pdf

There’s considerable variation between regions in Germany, 13-21 percent capacity factor typically.

This is one of the downsides of subsidizing too much per kWh: ‘easy’ locations close to the grid but with poor wind resources are chosen along with some better but less accessible sites.


DV82XL wrote

@EL – Subsidies are driving wind investments, and even most of its supporters admit that, asserting otherwise marks you as a fool. Nor can it be shown to reduce carbon except by some rather marginal statistics that, at the very least, are subject to some interpretation.

DV82XL … if you have evidence for this, besides ad hominem attacks (or qualitative judgements about my character), please produce it. The enthusiast article provided by John Bennetts and posted on a personal web site (Pair and De Groot) is bogus (and I already pointed out its “self-professed” irrelevance). UK Energy Research Center looked into these questions in their report: “The Costs and Impacts of Intermittancy” (2006), and found the efficiency penalty from operating spinning reserves is negligible. At levels below 20% for wind (or similar intermittent source), “There is no evidence to suggest that efficiency is reduced to such a degree as to significantly undermine fuel and carbon dioxide emissions savings” (p. 41). I haven’t seen a single study that suggests wind is not an energy resource and doesn’t displace conventional generation, and thus provide benefits in fuel reduction, costs, and emissions (even ancillary services) that makes it a worthwhile addition to the mix, and a flexible option for utility planners. The subsidy argument is definitely a “rabbit hole of wonderment,” and I’m not sure you actually want to go there (as a proponent of nuclear, gas, coal, whatever source you suggest). Ultimately, it’s the marketplace that will decide, and wind appears to be doing quite well (and even in a budget constrained environment as we have today).


@EL – As I wrote up thread, proof that the system can cope with a small amount of wind, simply doesn’t justify it, when nuclear energy can provide a better solution. There have been references for and against wind posted on this thread already, and again, as I already wrote, the gains (if any) for intermittent sources are at best marginal and as such represent a dead end.

That you do not want to accept the influence of subsidies on wind indicates to me that you are so out of touch with this subject that further meaningful discourse with you is impossible.


Cyril R. wrote:

I’ve found a reference which talks a bit about the poor capacity factor performance of wind in Europe:

Excellent article. Perhaps this is a good reason why we need to consider other variables besides gross totals. I haven’t found any discussion of this article in the literature, other than Boccard quoting his own work, and a study in Turkey (which reports on a capacity factor of 30-45% between 1998 and 2008). How do they account for the discrepancy: “This difference is a result of higher average wind speeds and low utilization ratio of suitable and viable sites for wind energy generation in Turkey” (p. 2575). And in fact, this is consistent with the conclusions that Boccard draws from his findings. The lower gross totals (for Europe as a whole) shouldn’t change the dynamic for developers (“This is without much consequence for wind farm developers as their careful studies enable them to anticipate the CF of their projects with great precision and carry on only if the NPV is positive,” p. 2686). Rather, he’s mostly interested in the macroeconomic picture, and impacts on policy and rising public costs of subsidies. As governments dive deeper into wind, they will likely be exposing themselves to additional costs (and his paper is a shot across the bow warning of this). He also suggests with gas and coal prices anticipate to rise, it’s difficult to arrive a firm conclusions about these “additional” costs. “The fact that WPG happens to be less efficient than previously thought is no reason for society to withdraw its support since WPG remains the unique RES able to expand on a large scale at a reasonable cost to meet committed RES targets (and carbon emission reduction),” p. 2686.


DV82XL wrote:

That you do not want to accept the influence of subsidies on wind indicates to me that you are so out of touch with this subject that further meaningful discourse with you is impossible.

DV82XL … why don’t you focus on making the best possible case for your argument (which you are doing quite well), and try and minimize all of the efforts at “personalizing” the topic and equating disagreement with ignorance. If the argument has substantive merit and is worthy of extended scientific debate and disagreement (in the peer reviewed literature), it’s certainly worthy of being debated here on the merits (and looking at from multiple vantage points and interests). It’s really rather unpleasant always being the focus of personal attacks every time you run out of substantive arguments to make on behalf of your argument.



Ultimately, it’s the marketplace that will decide, and wind appears to be doing quite well

Lot’s of subsidized things do quite well so no surprise here. I’ll start believing wind energy is any real use if someone decides to smelt Aluminium with it or some other serious use.


The marketplace will decide to build solar and wind if they get cheaper, and then the marketplace will decide that burning natural gas indefinately is the best alternative for the other 70% of our power needs.

This is the big risk for wind and solar – that they effectively lock-jam us into fossil fuels.

Wind and solar junkies require natural gas heroine injections on regular basis.



The canada-to-Canada wheeling
issue was covered in NEW ELECTRICITY: GENERATION,
PRICING, WHEELING & REGULATION by Drinkwater, Case Western Reserve University School of Law
Canada-United States Law Journal. I am looking for a
public copy of this paper to post a link.

Thanks for that, DV82XL: I’ll look for it, too.

I had thought that the situation generally was that
Canada has a large excess generating capacity in some
provinces, and sells power to certain US states in the
upper midwest and northeast at times of peak demand,
while there are some small return flows off-peak. In
Saskatchewan and Alberta there are net imports.

BC is a complicated situation, I think, as you’ve
alluded to, due to the Columbia river treaty, which
grants an entitlement to Canada to some of the power
generated on the Columbia on the US side.

Most of this power is generated in the US and it has
always been sold on the US market, by Powerex, a wholly
owned subsidiary of BC Hydro. The money is returned to
the province. However, there’s no cross-border
transmission line for that, and I don’t think one has
been constructed which could send that power back to
BC. So I don’t believe that that fraction of the power
would be counted as an export to the US.

I suppose one could argue that the net imports to BC,
which are surprisingly large, given that the province
does have major hydro resources, could be overstating
the situation.

BC electric rates are among the lowest in Canada. But
they can and probably should expand production, I think.


@David Kahana – Yes it’s not all cut and dry in the power market between the two countries particularly in the NPCC, and WSCC interconnects which are transborder.

To tell the truth, you have raised a number of pertinent questions in this matter that I have not given much attention to. I have never looked in depth at how imports/exports are calculated, and what is or is not considered, but I am going to now.



John Bennetts, on 26 April 2011 at 2:09 PM — BPA balances wind also entirely via hydro operation adjustments. It appears to be quite rare to call on the natgas units for this purpose. However, PacificCorp acts as balancing agent for another ~700 MW nameplate of wind and this is primarily balance4d via netgas units. I don’t know anything about how the pricing works since PacificCorp is a private, for profit company and so only some western grid regualtory agency has access to that confidential information.

I agree that the wind operators have to appropriately compensate the balancing authority, which in turn passes appropriate sums to whatever generation operators that the balancing authority does not own.

Quite recenly an operator with a substanial portion of that ~3.3 MW nameplate wind which BPA balances has chosen to give up that and use PacificCorp as balancing authority, hence now being backed by mostly natgas, but also some coal and a bit of non-BPA hydro. The reason given was that BPA has informed the wind operators that they will no longer be permitted to generate during high flow periods (after the crazy experiences of last June).


David Kahana, on 27 April 2011 at 7:35 AM — The BPA intertie to BC Hydro is capable of wheeling power in either direction and has been used both ways.


The BC statistics are probably skewed because of changes in ownership and usage accounting of the hydro power plants at Kitimat and Trail (890 and 450 MW). In the past, when metal prices were low, the Al and Zn/Pb smelting companies (Rio Tinto/Alcan and Teck/Cominco) that own the hydro plants have curtailed or shut down metal production in favor of selling the power to California. These sales may or may not show in the statistics because they are owned by the smelting companies, not BC Hydro

Zinc production consumes ~4000 kwh per tonne and Al about 13,000 kwh/tonne. At the Trail smelter the load is >200 MW and Kitimat will be about 800 MW when the modernization is complete. The statistics may be further muddied by the sale of 1/3 of the Trail power plant to BC Hydro in 2007.


@ David Benson:

I am entirely in favour of private, off-market balancing of wind. That ensures that the risks, advantages and penalties are covered.

CO2 reporting is not a problem either, because the private participants have essentially agreed to operate as a block.

My issue is when these balancing acts take place on the wider market, thus forcing non-wind units to ramp up or down with inadequate compensation and, as was apparently BPA’s experience last year, where high flows have been lost due to market shennanigans.

BPA are clearly not as sanguine about wind, especially high penetration wind, as some would have us believe. They are also not just passive about market outcomes, but are addressing shortcomings in their market.

As studies such as that by DeCardis and Keith cited above emerge, I am sure that market managers will find ways to assign costs to those who are responsible for them. What we, the public, need to do is to be vigilant and consistent in demanding that subsidies, where they must exist for political purposes, are fully understood and precisely targetted. If a subsidy of wind is intended to achieve a CO2 reduction as a public good, then that is exactly what it must achieve, or be withdrawn.

Ditto, relative advantages such as legislative barriers to entry of, say, nuclear power, but that is getting away from the current topic.


Summarizing my present understanding of wind power suppliments to a power grid.

Hydro+wind: mostly pointless unless the wind makes possible substantial additional water storage in reservoirs. [Not the case for the BPA situation as all the storage reservoirs taken together can store only but about 1/3rd of average yearly flows.] Does nothing additional towards CO2 abatement.

NPPs+wind: possibly slightly lower average cost of electricity, but each separate situation has to be checked. Does nothing additional towards CO2 abatement.

Natgas+wind: contributes towards CO2 abatement as compared to natgas alone.

Coal+wind: probably contributes towards CO2 abatement compared to coal alone.

However the last two alternatives merely put off the conversion to NPPs.


DV82XL, on 27 April 2011 at 11:53 AM — If 32% wind is backed by CCGTs then close to 30% of the CO2 is abated. The schemes like that around here that I know about are 2 [to become 3], each of about 700–900 MW nameplate wind. At 32% that is 224–228 MW average that the natgas doesn’t produce.

Unfortunately there do not appear to be any suitably small NPPs okayed by the US NRC to consider as alternatives to such pairings of wind with natgas.

PacficCorp, not having much of its own generation in an area with rapidly growing population to serve, has been an enthusiastic proponent of wind power. The 3 projects I mentioned all have PacificCorp as balancing agent and all use existing fossil fuel burners.


If 32% wind is backed by CCGTs then close to 30% of the CO2 is abated.

It is my understanding that CCGT cannot be used to back wind as it cannot be ramped up and down quickly enough. That is why OCGT is used to back wind. Is my understanding wrong?


Finrod, on 27 April 2011 at 12:25 PM — It works here in the Pacific Northwest. The total demand to be met by the fossil fuel units is

demand = load – wind

The variability in the actual load is much greater than in the wind and so the fossil fuel operations are “up a little, down a little” at typically 5 minute intervals; CCGTs are designed to do this. The additional short time interval variability caused by wind gusting is only a minor fluctuation compared to load variability, which can be quite considerable. For example, watching the BPA display the other day, about 500 MW of local load dropped out for about 20 minutes and then came back up again. Somehow the balancing authority has to already be able to maintain grid stability against such events.

Probably the biggest problem with existing wind turbines is that the unit goes instantly from full generation to none in overwind conditions. That overwind gust doesn’t take long to sweep over an entire wind farm and so the balancing authority has to be able to take up the unmet load via some rolling reserves. [The newest wind turbines have adjustable pitch impellors so some of the wind can be spilled. This means the units can continue to generate at full power during despite there being too much wind.]

Even before wind came along the load was sufficiently variable that OCGTs, rarely used, could handle the last bit of peak conditions. Those units are still in use and possibly the introduction of wind means a slightly increased use of OCGT.


This whole discussion is becoming circular as we go over the same points over and over.

@David B. Benson –“If 32% wind is backed by CCGTs then close to 30% of the CO2 is abated. “

Compared to what? Running gas flat out OCGT, as if this were the only option? 40 percent of the U.S. undeveloped hydroelectric potential is contained in Oregon and Washington alone, why piddle about with wind?

Again from what has been written up thread – you can make wind look marginally good, if you carefully select assumptions. This doesn’t make it truly viable.


Finrod, I interpret DBB’s answer as a qualified “yes”.
When OCGT’s are needed to “handle the last bit of peak conditions” the CO2 abatement due to wind is so close to zero as to be not worth counting.

Again we see that meaningless equation. It conveys zero meaning.

The test for wind should be the same as the test for SPV: compete without any subsidies and special market conditions or give the game away. The tax man has enough mouths to feed already.

As the author of the lead article pointed out, effective capacity is what matters, and the jury is still out on the question of whether, at the end of the day, wind actually adds any capacity to a system which must be prepared to use other resources to back up 100% of the installed wind.

When all of the slithering and wiggling has been extracted from the arguments, is wind able to pay its way? I very much doubt it.

Certainly, when I considered wind on my farm, I discussed it with a neighbour who had taken the leap. His first sentence indicated that without government assistance he would not have bothered. So, that which looks like a wind turbine is actually a tax dodge for a retired millionaire engineer, a gentleman farmer.

Wake me up when it is over.


It seems to me that BNC discussion of options would be more productive if there was agreement on the range of real-world LCOE.

Is there any consensus here on how to estimate levelized costs for say 2016? M. Nicholson et al. is great for the baseload options (and is especially useful as a reference for the with- and without-CCS cases). But all this discussion of wind seems to be unanchored without agreement on at least the bounds of LCOE by region (say the OECD region definitions for N. America, Europe, Asia Pacific).


@EL, on 27 April 2011 at 12:36 AM, referenced the UK Energy Research Center report: “The Costs and Impacts of Intermittancy”. I’ve found that paper very interesting – though I don’t know the subject well enough to assess the accuracy of the conclusions. The authors do seem to be trying to surround the real costs – if there is an agenda it is well-hidden.

Any comments on this study?


Steve Darden, not a bad study. I disagree with the whole premise though – the objective should not be to look at the cost of 20% wind integration, as most studies do including EL’s referenced study, but it should be how do we rid ourselves of dangerous polluting CO2 spewing fossil fuels ASAP.

What is dangerous about the 20% wind integration idea is: what about the other 80%? If that has to be largely flexible fossil fuel, you’re climbing down a hole you’re highly likely to never get out of. The climate scientists say we need to cut CO2 emissions to a few billion tonnes per year, from today’s thirty billion tonnes and growing.

There is a serious lack of urgency about the energy debates. People don’t seem to get a grip on the scale of the problem: rapidly growing energy needs around the world, marginal technologies to fix big and increasingly bigger problems of fossil fuel death toll, CO2 emissions and energy dependancy.

We should be very angry at our public, our media, our utilities and our government’s for the total failure in energy transition. In stead people cheer whenever they see a few solar panels being installed.

The disconnection with reality could not be more stark.


Now this is something to think about: if a modern wealthly country endowed with great wind resources such as the UK can’t envision more than 20% wind, what can we learn from that?


@Cyril R., on 27 April 2011 at 5:21 PM

it should be how do we rid ourselves of dangerous polluting CO2 spewing fossil fuels ASAP

Exactly, well written comments. I don’t care if the policy is some mix not including nuclear, but it does have to be scaleable, “Cheaper than coal” with LCA carbon intensity similar to nuclear. See upthread “Why will China buy your plan?” Natural gas is only relevant if fully CCS (of which I am skeptical – CCS that is). The energy schemes that matter are those that will be adopted “with both feet” by China while scaling fast enough to replace coal and gas by 2060.

Wind and solar thermal are distractions, though I grant that each can be economic in special local situations. Though once mass manufactured small modular reactors reach scale, those special situations will probably have to be smaller than 10 MWe.

There is a serious lack of urgency about the energy debates…. We should be very angry at our public, our media, our utilities and our government’s for the total failure in energy transition.

So how do we create the urgency? it’s obvious to anyone who works through implementation scenarios. But politicians are not engineers, and their focus is largely re-election. I don’t think selling politicians is going to work.

Selling the public directly, bypassing media elites might work. Examples: Gores “Inconvenient Truth”. Recently, “Waiting for Superman”. Both are examples of skillful story-telling that resonated with the public and the media elites. That is what we need. And I don’t mind if Al Gore gets the credit.

Personally I think BNC-er’s will benefit from reading Roger Pielke’s Climate Fix, Gwyn Prins et al Kyoto Wrong Trousers: Radically Rethinking Climate Policy and succeeding, including the Hartwell Paper. And keep in mind Roger’s “Iron Law” which reminds us that we will surely fail by insisting that people simply must sacrifice and use less energy.


Steve Darden’s link is, indeed, interesting and Cyril R’s response strikes me as being particularly apt.

Currently, electrical energy is used to provide roughly 20% of total energy needs and much discussion on costs appears to be framed on the basis that this will remain the case. Clearly, however, if we are to reduce emissions by 80%, electricity production as a percentage of total energy production will need to increase very substantially. In fact, Finrod recently made this very point, but it led to little further debate on the blog. I think this is a pity as I would like to hear the views of those with more knowledge than I of the likely economic implications of greater reliance being placed upon electricity. In the hope of stimulating such discussion, I will make a few statements or pose questions below and invite others to address them:

1) For every unit of energy produced as electricity, thermal generators typically produce two to three units of heat energy which is generally wasted. To what productive use could this heat be put in the future?
a) low grade heat in district heating, desalination, other? If for district heating, proximity to population centres presumably important. Costs of retrofitting? Would smaller plants near population be more economic than remote larger ones even if their electricity was more expensive, given the usable heat?
b) high grade heat for industrial process heat – depends on generation type and proximity to power plant? Should industries requiring high grade heat be encouraged to site themselves in close proximity to generating plants?

2) To what extent should choice of generation method be based on comparion of LCOEs? Clearly, such a comparison is a good starting point. However, in calculating LCOE, the assumption is made that electricity will be being produced at full capacity, but we know that this is not so except for baseload. How can we increase baseload as a proportion of total energy used as we simultaneously increase electricity production and how can we smooth out residual peak requirements by changing the way industry operates? What energy intensive processes can operate with economic efficiency when not operating 24/7? Are there any that can operate in such manner with intermittent energy as supplied, for example, by stranded wind? For example, to what extent do ammonia and liquid fuel production fit the need? Wouldn’t they be more profitable with 24/7 production – presumably this would be dependent on electricity prices during peak and offpeak times?

Sorry if this is messy. Thinking aloud, hoping for mind clearing responses.


@ Steve Darden, on 27 April 2011 at 4:15 PM and EL:

Both referenced “The Costs and Impacts of Intermittancy”. This is over 100 pages long and was written in 2006, thus is now a little dated.

EL claims that the report finds that “At levels below 20% for wind (or similar intermittent source), “There is no evidence to suggest that efficiency is reduced to such a degree as to significantly undermine fuel and carbon dioxide emissions savings” (p. 41).

EL, this quote is incomplete and continues on P42:
“…The studies present efficiency losses ranging between a negligible level and 7% (as a percentage of theoretical maximum fuel savings). EL is thus shown to be presenting a partial truth obtained only via selective quotation. I had decided not to directly address his personal and unsupported attempts to disparage my own name and contribution, but my errors, where present, are not the result of deliberate
misquotes from cited articles. This type of behaviour is sub-par and is the hallmark of a scallywag.

From the Exec Summary and thumbing through the remainder, my comments are, with reference to the numbered paragraphs in the ES:

7. “Efficiency may be reduced” due to wind up to 20%. I saw no attempt to allocate costs to the efficiency reduction due to inefficient operation of conventional generation (see my immediate prior paragraph), however they do try to quantify the costs of system balancing and of reliability to accommodate wind.

8. Stated that there is no change to reliability at penetrations of up to 20% wind, but see also 23 below for costs.

11. System balancing costs are estimated to be 2 to 3 pounds sterling per MWH at 2006, ie very approx $4 to $6 Aust in 2011.

18. The Capacity Credit effect is stated to be 20 to 30% at up to 20% wind penetration. This compares satisfactorily with comparable studies I have read.

23. The costs attributable to achieving reliability at up to 20% wind penetration are estimated at 3 to 5 pounds per MWh, ie $6 to $10 Australian, 2011, per MWh.

Total for system balancing plus reliability = AU$10 to $16 per MWh, 2011. This is huge, given the annual average wholesale cost of power via the NEM is close to $50/MWh.

27. The authors quote an additional cost per kWh for all users due to wind of between 1 and 1.5 pence. This comparison is unfair, because it attempts to spread the 5 to 8 pounds per MWh amongst all users, whereas this cost is attributable solely to the presence of intermittent wind power on the system. Assuming 20% wind, then the penalty which should be applied to the income of wind generators is, as stated above, 5 to 8 pounds/MWh, or 0.5 to 0.8 pence per kWh. Their logic escapes me.

My estimate from the foregoing is that the wind generators should be penalised 1.0 to 1.6 cents (Australia, 2011) per kWh, which should certainly not be passed on to the retail customers.

Note that elsewhere, it has been stated (David B. Benson, on 26 April 2011 at 11:28 AM) that BPA charges 68 cents/MW (MWh?) for system balancing and that at least one wind generator has decided to obtain balancing services off market and thus limit its costs and force its way onto the grid during surplus hydro availability in springtime. [David, please correct me if I am incorrect here – I have tried to put several postings together to make sense.]

XX. The Executive Summary does not mention the content which has been quoted above from Pp. 41-42. This indicates that the section quoted by EL, even in its entirety, is not a major finding of this report. I believe that it may have been included as a bit of an afterthought – it certainly does not appear to be presented with the rigour of the other content.

Conclusion: This is quite probably a handy paper, which I will better digest during the coming days. It does not address some of the matters raised by le Pair and de Groot cited upthread. It certainly does not conclusively deal with all aspects of the equitable allocation of costs and CO2 emissions between individual players in the British grid due to the presence of wind and other intermittent power generation.

Lastly, I must recap regarding the outlandish behaviour of contributor “EL”. It is one thing to be mistaken; wholly another to deliberately mislead by selective misquotation. Worse still it is to engage, online or otherwise, in actionable and objectionable behaviour on a personal level, as happened at 12:36 today. I do not appreciate such behaviour, especially from a serial offender who hides behind a pseudonym.

Besides which, my life’s experience has been that those who stoop so low do not do their cause much good.


There is an excellent French web site that has been mentioned in these pages before that shows the instantaneous mix of electrical generation in the French grid, along with demand and CO2 emissions. I just went looking for it and found it had moved – it is now at

As I write, nuclear has 74% share of generation, and hydro 11%. Wind is 3%, gas is 5%, coal 1%. This is what a (virtually) decarbonised grid looks like.

The cool thing is, they have now rolled all of this data into a very polished iPhone application, “RTE-eCO2mix”. There is a demo and link to the iTunes store here:

So now I can have all the French grid instantaneous generation, load and emissions charts with me on the go!


John Bennetts wrote:

EL, this quote is incomplete and continues on P42:
“…The studies present efficiency losses ranging between a negligible level and 7% (as a percentage of theoretical maximum fuel savings). EL is thus shown to be presenting a partial truth obtained only via selective quotation. I had decided not to directly address his personal and unsupported attempts to disparage my own name and contribution, but my errors, where present, are not the result of deliberate misquotes from cited articles. This type of behaviour is sub-par and is the hallmark of a scalawag.

Where is the moderator on stuff like this! Commenting guidelines read: “play the ball and not the person. Rudness will not be tolerated. This includes speculation about motives or what ‘sort of person’ someone is. Civility, gentle humor and staying on topic are superior debating tools … appropriate and interesting citations and links within comments are welcomed [with proper contextualization].”

I have made no attempts to disparage the name of John Bennetts, and I have misquoted no sources. The claim that the study reports negligible reductions in fuel savings and carbon reductions from spinning reserve efficiency is indeed found in the report, and is sound. Executive Summary lays the groundwork for this: detailing benefits of renewables in offsetting fossil fuels, how output and intermittence may “affect the operation and economics of electricity networks,” and the aim of study “to understand and quantify these impacts,” p. iii). Your argument about costs is a separate argument (worth having), but is a different argument from fuel savings and emissions losses from efficiency. I’ll ask everyone in this thread to read a bit more carefully, and not jump to such quick and “extra-curricular” assumptions when trying to discredit a substantive and source based argument of an opponent. There are plenty of legitimate grounds for an informed and rational debate on these questions without adding personal attacks into the mix (which I, and I would hope many others, prefer not to read and see clutter up an otherwise informative and interesting thread).


On the theme of energy debates in wonderland, Nuclear Debate on Earth Frontiers just aired on CNN… featuring Caldicott promoting her book, the energy solution she commissioned and, inevitably, the Yablokov report and KiKK… also Paul Gilding and his new book “Great Disruption” (it seems is a now-reformed anti-nuclear activist although he found difficulty disagreeing with his compatriot Caldicott)… and Nick Robins (HSBC) keeping all options open and finally, Malcolm Grimston from Chatham House looking very peeved at Caldicott claims and especially dismayed when she said ” I am a medical doctor, you know”

Of course, it was hardly what one would call substantive except in bits… especially when Grimston rebutted the KiKK study and Caldicott just said, I don’t believe that”. Just thought you all may need some light relief…


David Benson:

Hydro+wind: mostly pointless unless the wind makes possible substantial additional water storage in reservoirs.

How do you reach that conclusion? I would have thought this situation was the best possible for wind because the rest of the system is easily turned on and off, has low capacity cost and is renewable. For an example of hydro+wind look at Tasmania.


Chris wind/hydro offsetting appears to be behind a new 220kv transmission line in Tasmania.
The idea seems to be if wind farms are producing a lot of power then hydro is throttled back and vice versa. Perhaps this is like an audio mixing desk whereby the guitar sound is reduced to let the singer shine through.

Apparently however this creates instability in demand for coal fired power via the Basslink HVDC cable. A super drought could worsen the ability of hydro to balance wind. The more immediate question is will major wind projects still go ahead if RECs finish on 1/7/12 ?



There is little point in arguing with one who will not listen, however I will offer only one clarification.

EL quoted part of a sentence, omitting the colon and the continuation over the page, which completed the sentence.

I provided the back end of the same sentence, which indicates that the partial quote is not the real message.

Draw your own conclusions, including by referring to Pages 41 and 42 of the article in question.

“He who has only one eye will not perceive the depth of that which is before him.” (J. Bennetts, today.)


I’m from Indiana and hydro resources are few and far between here. We have a major wind initiative in this state as what was 10 years ago miles and miles of farmland along highways is now miles and miles of windmills and farms.

Our only option is to use gas(and coal) as a backup. Lets say we cut out coal and go to a 30%wind, 70% gas market. Emissions will be down about 60% from a 70% coal, 25% gas market.

This seems nice and all except that there is still 40% of the co2 emissions around. If our economy grows it is only a matter of time before the real value in tons of co2 passes 1990 levels, again.

A 2% growth in electricity usage would get c02 levels in tons/year in 25 or 30 years back levels which peopled are demanding not be passed to prevent temperature rises.

Yeah 50% cut in emissions for gas over coal sound good and all. Until you build twice as many gas plants as coal plants. Then your back where you started.

Wind/gas can work to replace coal (is its better than just using gas alone? is debatable as this thread points out) This solution only works for OECD countries with flat growth projections.

Wind/solar are great for very poor countries as they don’t require grid access. Those first few kw can go a long way when you have none (like pumping well water, charging laptops, running a small stove and powering cell towers)

For emerging economies where growth is huge their only option is NP and hydro. If they add gas/wind they will add so much co2 from the gas it will destroy any savings OECD make cutting their coal.


John Bennetts, on 27 April 2011 at 9:07 PM — BPA charges wind operators for balancing services, billing every month, whether the wind turbines generate or not, 68 UScents per MW of installed capacity. The large wind operator which recently switched balancing authority from BPA to PacificCorp did so because they want to be able to generate even when BPA is giving away power to everybody in the region and over the four interties to locations as far away as Denver. The wind operator can earn a little income in such periods by paying customers up to about US$25/MWh and collect their generation incentive paymnent from the government. [I don’t approve, but there you are.]

Chris O’Neill, on 28 April 2011 at 7:56 AM — Wind certainly has high cost than legacy hydro. So the only advantage is if wind generation enables the hydro operator to keep significantly more water in storage resevoirs rather than running through the turbines. For some hydro operators this might make good sense, reducing the risk of running out of water in years of low flow. It is pointless for BPA’s operations, even in years of below average flow because compared to the minimum stream flow requirements and other operating constraints due to migratory fish management the rivers cannot be managed that way.

DV82XL — There is no political possibility of further large hydro in Washington and Oregon; all the land and waterways are bespoke.


Hot rocks, peak oil and the nuclear question on ABC Catalyst tonight 8pm EST.

The PM has just told the Chinese they can have all the cheap LNG they want, the assumption seems to be more LNG means less coal. I would have said they can have whatever Australian fossil fuels they want provided the resulting CO2 declines year by year.


@John Newlands, 28April 10.40am,
Thanks for that reference about additional Bass-link. This seems a sensible use of TAS HYDRO’s large hydro capacity, whether balancing coal-fried or wind or future nuclear.
I don’t understand your statement about a possible super drought? Presently has to be used for TAS demand( in excess of 500MW), adding wind in TAS or using wind on mainland is going to allow less hydro use during peak demand, or when excess wind power is available. TAS has 16,000GWh potential storage ( 2years electricity consumption), that leaves a lot of hydro for balancing low wind periods( at max of 2.2GW), and the possibility of saving most local hydro consumption.


@Steve Darden, 27April 7.23pm,
I wonder if you are aware of the situation in China: your statement:-
“The energy scheme that matter are those that are adopted by China with “both feet” and are scalable to replace coal and natural gas by 2060.”
Lets see in the last 10years, China has added about 4GW of nuclear capacity (say 3.7GWav), it has added about 100GW hydro capacity( 37 GW av at 0.37 capacity factor) and 42GW wind( 10-13GW av). But 18GW(5GW av) of wind was added in 2010, so actually added more wind last year than last 10 years nuclear and added about X10 more hydro than nuclear.
If China has only two adoption feet, “both” are in the renewable energy sphere.
In reality a lot more nuclear will come on line in next 10 years(25GW) an important contribution, but we should also expect another 100GW hydro capacity and at least another 200GW wind capacity( possibly more), so nuclear will continue to be the “third leg” for a while. An then there is solar, small but growing very rapidly.


Neil Howes, on 28 April 2011 at 2:33 PM — According to WWN, China’s latest plan includes 20 GW of solar.


Neil that last reference was to an AC land cable being built. Helicopters drop linesmen on the pylons it looks terrifying. On a second underwater HVDC cable I don’t know where they’ll get the money. The existing cable was sold to a Singapore investor for $1.2 bn and a second higher capacity cable must cost a lot more. It makes me think mainland cliff top tanks filled with seawater could be cheaper for pumped storage. I have noted recently some hydro storage levels go up and down like a yo yo therefore something is happening.

I now pose 2 questions re the carbon tax intro
1) will the zinc and aluminium smelters fail if imported brown coal power doubles in price?
[(1.3 X $25) vs $30/Mwh previously]
2) will proposed new wind farms (eg Musselroe, Cattle Hill) be mothballed if RECs are scrapped?


I think I am going to leave this thread to Wonderland’s indigenous, those that are living in some dream-world of their own making, where the engineering happens at the wave of a hand, and the laws of physics can be repealed when found inconvenient.

Wind and solar will live or die on availably of subsidies, and the lobbying efforts of natural gas, not on anything decided here, thus I am not going to waste time debating the fantasies of the wind and solar supporters on this thread. Our opinions just don’t count.


@John Newlands, 28 April 2.30pm,
Lets assume a 1,000MW HVDC cable costs 2Billion, so for 3.2 Billion we have access to 2,200MW hydro balancing with 16,000GWh storage potential. With a modest additional cost existing, dams could be up-rated, to cover TAS peak demand, so 1600MW could be exported or 1000MW-1600MW imported(TAS demand). These costs are similar to pumped storage ($1000/kW capacity) but at the very low end for storage costs($0.2/kWh; this seems ridiculously low!), but losses would be much lower than the 20% for pumped hydro.
If wind is built in TAS it wouldn’t need to use Bass-link so could have up to 1,000MW capacity serving TAS demand, saving about one third TAS consumption of hydro.


Neil Howes, if the 2nd Baslink cable is con structed, my money would be on:

1). The hydro owners to make money (cf Norway making heaps off Denmark),

2). Intermittent renewables on the mainland to survive only because of inequitable subsidies to support their operation,

3). Politicians of all stripes to stand tall and spruik about the CO2 being avoided in order to justify post-hoc their decisions to put my money and yours into renewables,

4). Singapore Government, through its Temasek sovereign fund manager, to laugh all the way to the bank as its Australian subsidiary makes profits from all sides by wheeling HVDC across Bass Straight.

Two questions for those people who have open minds:

1). Temasek Hldings is worth about $200M, belongs entirely to the Singapore Government and owns quite a few large infrastructure projects within Australia. Question: Why and how did Singapore build such a strong investment in their tiny nation’s future?

2). The Australian Government owns virtually nothing to which a price tag could be affixed and is criticised from all sides whenever infrastructure expendirure is proposed. In my mind, this precludes public ownership of that kind of infrastructure which provides public good and/or is an investment in the nature’s future. Even the so-called Future Fund was not intended to provide for the future benefit of Australians as a whole, but only for superannuation reserves for military and federal public servants. Question 2: Where will the capital for Australia’s future energy infrastructure needs come from? Choose A, B or C. A: Public subsidy of private expenditure, in like manner to REC’s, FiT’s and so forth for renewables? B: Direct public investment? C: None of the above (includes none at all)?

There is an old line which goes “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

Question 4. Who is doing the energy planning for our collective futures?


Correction: Temasek is worth about S$186 Billion.

$139B Australian, $128B US. Not to be sneezed at, given the small population and lack of natural resources.


“Why Germany’s Offshore Wind Parks Have Stalled,1518,759208,00.html
The last paragraph on the second page is worthy of attention regarding estimation of winds over a long period.”

this article has multiple problems and is simply plain out wrong on at least one aspect.

for a start, while Der Spiegel is considered to be a left leaning paper (and at least was this some years ago), it has produced extremely sceptic articles about climate change and alternative power for a couple of years now.

that there is little wind power produced in the southern states has a completely different reason than given in the article: both southern countries have been run by conservative parties for over 50 years. CDU and CSU have simply blocked development of wind energy there, because they support nuclear energy.

this is also the reason, why the big German energy companies have not moved fast on off shore wind: the prospect of longer running times of nuclear energy, as granted by chancellor Merkel last year made off-shore wind simply unnecessary.

so the fact is: nuclear energy has blocked wind power development in Germany.


Interesting questions being raised. China Light and Power say they will invest in renewables with only carbon tax (2-3c per kwh penalty to black coal) but Origin Energy say they need both c.t. and RECs worth another 3-5c.

Rather than use most of the billions in carbon tax revenue to compensate the power guzzlers like aluminium perhaps more money could be spent on helpful infrastructure. That could include new transmission, dam uprates (not the Franklin) and pumped storage. Like the Snowy Mountains Authority it would be federally owned. Cash handouts to big energy consumers will mostly be frittered away. Kick the tin along with a lazy $20 bn from cutting the NBN in half.


so the fact is: nuclear energy has blocked wind power development in Germany

Yes, damn that nuclear energy for being cheaper than wind.


the prospect of longer running times of nuclear energy, as granted by chancellor Merkel last year made off-shore wind simply unnecessary.

What are you talking about, sod? Germany still derives ~ 55 % of its electricity from fossil fuels. Unnecessary?!

It’s amazing, you honestly sound more concerned about nuclear than coal.


sod, on 28 April 2011 at 5:31 PM — I only recommended the DerSpiegel article for its last paragraph. Estimating the statistics of future wind ordinarily assumes these statistics reemain stationary (a technical term) so that the future is statistically identical to the past (which has been measured). However, it appears that this may not be correct over the design lifetime of an off-shore wind farm. This might well make a difference between financial success and failure.


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