14 November 2012 by Published in: Opinion No comments yet

The Limitations of Power

Editorial Comments

by Deborah Steele Hazen

No, we’re not talking about political power – we’re talking about electricity.

Last month, during the run-up to the Nov. 6th general election, we received two interesting commentaries from the Cascade Policy Institute on the limitations of wind power, and the looming costs associated with Oregon’s renewable resources standards. But, we didn’t have the space to use them because of all the election coverage and commentary.

However, we think they contain important information, and one of our readers specifically asked us to publish them. Therefore, the rest of this column is devoted to quoting from those articles, plus a few related comments of our own.

The Cascade Policy Institute  is a policy research center whose mission is to explore and promote public policy alternatives that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity. The Reason Foundation is a nonprofit think tank dedicated to advancing free minds and free markets.

A new study by those two entities found that wind energy is not suited to be the lone or primary source of a grid’s total electricity, due to its variable nature. We have reported this fact numerous times when writing about Portland General Electric’s Port Westward natural gas generating plants – the one that is now in operation and the one that is proposed specifically as a flexible, quick-start plant to bring on-line if wind power fails.

We would emphasize that we are in favor of those PGE plants -  they bring jobs to our community and high valuation to our local taxing districts. PGE is a good corporate citizen. Their plants are an economic benefit and we want them.

But, the facts about wind power need to be understood by more people and especially by lawmakers.

According to the Cascade Policy commentary issued on Oct. 17: “If used to produce more than 10-20 percent of a system’s electricity, wind power increases operating costs because it requires expensive storage facilities or continuously available carbon dioxide-emitting backup power generation facilities.

“In the Pacific Northwest, the (primary) backup to wind power has been provided by the Columbia River hydro system. However, hydroelectricity has even less carbon dioxide associated with it than does wind power. Displacing hydropower from the grid in favor of wind is actually a step backwards from the standpoint of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Two factors drive Oregon’s policy preference for wind power: subsidies to producers and Senate Bill 838’s renewable portfolio standards. The renewable portfolio standards force large utilities to procure 25 percent of their total power from politically-designated ‘green power’ sources by 2025.”

We would insert here that  the Clatskanie People’s Utility District PUD has been preparing for the renewable portfolio standards for years.   Part of the problem is that the vast majority of hydropower in the Northwest, including that produced by the federal projects on the Columbia River, is not eligible for application toward the renewable portfolio standards.

The Clatskanie PUD is in the 10 percent minimum renewaable portfolio requirement level under SB 838. Both the PUD’s Arrowrock resource (a small certified low-impact hydro-electric plant) and  the Wauna cogeneration facility are eligible resources that can be used to meet the requirements, and our PUD has been wise to invest in them.

The Cascade Policy commentary continues: “Both policies (subsidies and the renewable portfolio standards) amount to a multi-billion-dollar tax on ratepayers, with net negative benefits for environmental quality,” the Cascade Policy Institute commentary continues.

“As this study shows, policies favoring wind power are a mistake from both an environmental and an economic standpoint. Oregon legislators should repeal SB 838 and all wind power incentives in 2013.”

An Oct. 5th commentary went into more depth about how the hit-and-miss aspect of wind power causes operating costs to rise and environmental benefits to decrease as its market share grows.

“The new Cascade Policy Institute–Reason Foundation report uses a full year’s worth of hour-by-hour power grid data from PJM Interconnection, which manages the electrical grid in part of the Eastern United States, to simulate how wind would have supplied the necessary power to customers in 2009. The models show wind power would have failed to supply all the electricity PJM customers needed over 50 percent of the time.

“Thus, if wind were to produce a large percentage of a grid’s electricity, it would be necessary to build expensive energy storage facilities, or to reserve power generation facilities to supply power, when there is insufficient wind to meet energy demands at any given time and to prevent brownouts and blackouts.

“The study shows that as more reserve power is needed, the environmental benefits of wind power decrease due to the C02 emissions from those facilities, which rely upon fossil fuels and must operate even when not being used, in order to ensure reliability of the electrical grid.

“The study concludes that, given the costs involved, the practical upper limit for wind power’s contribution to the electricity grid is 10 percent of the total energy mix. This would result in a nine percent reduction in CO2 emissions.”

We might also add that all of this increases electrical costs which makes Oregon less economically-competitive for job-creating industries.

Now that the elections are over, we hope that reason and sound science will be the prevailing winds in the halls of the state and national legislatures.

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