When you buy a car, you want it to be reliable, to work when you need it and you expect the engine to deliver all of the power the salesman told you it would, but suppose it didn’t do any of that. Would you be upset? Sure, you might even demand your money back, but wind turbines are just like that and the wind developers selling them say it’s perfectly normal, they’re supposed to work that way, maybe you misunderstood what he said.
Letting you down when you need it
If you bought a new car and it often let you down when you had to get to work, you would need a second car you could depend on, because not working isn’t an option, you’d be fired. You would have a lot more money tied up in cars than you should because having two cars to do the work of one is silly, but that’s how wind turbines operate. They only run when the wind is blowing, not when the utility company needs electricity, but turning off your electricity isn’t an option, so the utility needs generators they can start whenever the wind lets them down, twice the equipment to do the job the generator could do all by itself. Sounds crazy and it is, but it’s also expensive. More equipment means higher costs, so your electric rates go up, more wind means more expensive electricity, that’s bad, but it gets worse.
Delivering far less than promised
Suppose you looked at all of the times the car should have been running and compared it to how much it actually ran and found it only ran 25 percent of the time, do you think you might be telling that salesman a thing or two about the lousy car he sold you? Well, that’s what a wind turbine does.
Wind turbines, like all kinds of generators, are measured over time. You figure out how much power they would have produced if they were running at full capacity all the time and then compare it to how much power they actually did produce over a period of time, usually one year. The number, a percentage, is called “capacity factor.”
Since the wind developer here keeps talking about Sheldon, New York, we thought you might like to see the capacity factors for all of the wind farms in New York for the last several years as reported in the latest edition of the NY-ISO Gold Book. They’re not good, last year Sheldon came in at 25.8% while all the New York wind farms together averaged 23.5%. It’s like those 3 MegaWatt wind turbines are really only .75 MW, same as if your 300 horsepower car was only putting out 75 horsepower. If all of those cars did that, there would be a recall, but bizarre as it sounds, even when wind turbines do the same thing, the government wants more installed.
No power plants run flat out all of the time so none run at 100%, there’s normal service and maintenance if nothing else, but nuclear power plants run over 90 percent and coal plants run between 60 and 70 percent. Natural gas, which could be very high, varies a lot and ends up being low because natural gas generators are often powered up and down to make up for wind power. Gas power generators are called “dispatchable.” They’re quick to power up on demand to make up for wind which often drops without notice. The result here means wind, not only unreliable itself, makes our conventional power plants less efficient by forcing utilities to use them at less then their optimal power levels.
Some wind defenders say lowering the output of a coal plant when wind is available would be good for the environment, but coal plants have a very narrow optimal operating range by design. Lowering the output increases their emissions, so more wind means more emissions!