A couple weeks ago, my local newspaper,
Erie Times-News, printed this letter that I submitted:
"As an electrical engineer, I have always embraced the technology behind wind,
hydro, solar and other forms of 'alternative' energy production. It is undoubtedly
cool. What I despise is an agenda by special interest groups to mislead the public
regarding the maturity and efficiency of those systems in an effort to destroy the
nuclear and fossil fuel industries that drive our economy. The recent failure of
the 5-year-old wind turbine at Tom Ridge Environmental Center is a good example.
Numbers were not provided for that turbine, but were for the one on
Barracks Beach, also offline
(Erie Times-News, March 31). The turbine and tower cost about $36,000
in 2004 dollars, when installed. The stated best-case energy generation for it is
15,000 kwh/ year. Electricity rates around here are about 13 cents/kwh, but I'll
use 15 cents for best-case analysis.
That multiplies to $2,250 worth of electricity
per year. So, it would take 16 years to recover the cost of replacement at that
rate. The turbine has lasted 8 years, yielding an amortized cost of $4,500 per year.
Installation would include expensive cost for cables and equipment for interfacing
the wind generator power to the commercial power, which are not figured into my
calculations. Similar numbers dominate for solar power as well since installation
costs are high and the cells lose efficiency over time. Yes, we must continue pursuing
other forms of energy generation to supplement fossil fuels. No, we must not punish
and cripple the country's economic well-being in mindless obeisance to groups that
are making billions of dollars pushing their disingenuous agenda."
About a week later, I received a telephone
call (my letters on various topics often invoke phone calls) from Mr. John Droz,
Jr., stating that someone had alerted him to my letter. John is a life-long physicist
and environmental advocate. His mission is to dispel the myths regarding "renewable"
energy as proclaimed, perpetuated, propitiated, and promulgated by laymen and lawmakers.
Like me, he is a huge proponent of the exploration and implementation of alternative
energy production, but not at the expense of downright lying to the public in order
to further a political and/or social agenda.
John has researched and published very extensive presentations laying out his
case, and provides a plethora of sourced data that shows the real state of the art
with wind turbines, solar collectors, gas-, wood-, and coal-fired generators, nuclear,
hydro and tidal schemes, algae production, and other popular means of generating
energy. He stands before audiences in many venues to inform and address concerns
about how the global push towards total adoption of an anything-but-fossil-fuel
energy base. This particular presentation focuses on comparing the reality of wind
power based on scientific data as compared to claims made using junk science, deception,
and outright lies.
Perhaps three of the biggest areas of deception
used in the promotion of alternative energy production are the inefficiency, the
true costs of operation, and the environmental impact of massive land use. The same
errant data is picked up by ignorant people and repeated over and over again, while
simultaneously labeling anyone who dares to disagree "anti-science." Most of them
wouldn't know real science if it smacked them in the face - which John's presentation
does rather handily. Anyone caring to refute anything in his material is invited
to call him out with verifiable proof. I will be glad to post it here as a counterpoint.
Efficiencies of solar cells capable of being installed on a commercial level
are notoriously low - maybe 15% on a good day, and it drops off over time with ageing
effects. Laboratory PV cells that employ exotic amalgams of semiconductors and metals
are reaching about 25%, but installed costs of those would be enormous. Wind turbines
average about the same if velocities are near optimal. Using superconductors in
the turbines would at least double their efficiency, but as with exotic PV cells,
the cost would be utterly prohibitive at this point.
Let's face it, any currently feasible scheme
of producing energy on the scale required to run the world's economic engine is
going to consume copious amounts of land, natural resources, and manpower. Fuel-fired
generation has a lower land use requirement for the actual equipment site as compared
to wind power, but unlike wind power it has "hidden" land use requirements in the
form of mining sites and transportation of fuel to the point of generation. Ditto
for solar generation. Hydro power, both in the form of dams and tidal basin installations,
is my method of choice, but it is not capable of providing all our needs. Nuclear
generation has matured significantly and can be implemented safely as long as proper
precautions are taken, but it has the disadvantage of disposal and storage of spent
radioactive fuel. Geothermal power is a great concept, but not enough locations
exist to make it much more than a technical curiosity.
Cost of operation is well-documented in generation stations that have been in
service for decades. Pro and anti groups have extensively published all aspects
of coal, gas, oil, wood, and hydro power, so when a cost per kilowatt-hour is published,
it fairly accurately reflects the true cost of generation. Conversely, the cost-per-kWh
figures often published for wind and solar power do not reflect the immense levels
of government (i.e., your tax dollars) subsidies both in research and development
and in operational expenses. John's presentation does a good job of drilling down
into the data to extract true costs. Again, to be fair, an awful lot of subsidies
have gone toward R&D and operational costs in past decades for existing power
generation technology, so that money was long ago absorbed into and made possible
today's published costs. Increasingly strict EPA regulations have forced traditional
generation to become more efficient and clean, but those costs were also absorbed
by taxpayers in the form of higher bills for electricity even if the efforts were
not subsidized directly by the government. I don't know how an inflation-adjusted,
honest comparison of total system costs for legacy vs. newfangled generation methods
would turn out, but intuitively you can bet that getting wind and solar power generation
down to a true cost per kWh that is on par with coal and gas would take decades
if not centuries. During that same period, improvements in legacy systems would
continue so the two lines might never converge. Perhaps the only way to assure it
in the near term is to promise to see to it that, "electricity rates
would necessarily skyrocket" for coal-and gas-fired plants through regulatory
fines and mandated carbon credit purchases.
Church of Wind Power and Church of Solar Power evangelists are willing to risk
total economic collapse in order to see their radical agendas implemented. They
care not a whit what the consequences are. Many believe that mankind is a scourge
upon the Earth and that total collapse wouldn't be such a bad thing... as long as
they themselves are not impacted. I have never subscribed to the philosophy of "Ignorance
is bliss." In fact, I have just the opposite belief: Ignorance will drive us back
to the stone age. Maybe that's why those same people tend to take the side of Taliban
type societies who still live in caves.
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