Diary

Like Ethanol, Windmills Will Never Work

President Obama visited Iowa recently touting wind energy. “It is time for us to lay a new foundation for economic growth by beginning a new era of energy exploration in America. That’s why I’m here,” he said.

 

The factory that Obama visited once made Maytag appliances and employed 4,000 people in Newton, Iowa at $30,000 to $40,000 a year. The new wind energy company employs 90 people at $35,000 a year each, making the steel towers for windmills.

 

During the visit, Obama urged Congress to pass a bill that puts the nation on a path to reducing its carbon pollution by 80% by 2050.

 

So what is wrong with this scenario?

 

Everything. It will kill our economy.

 

American industrial productivity has been decimated over decades by Democrat policies of over-taxation, over-regulation, environmental restrictions and exorbitant, union wage demands. Companies have shut down or moved their operations overseas where they have fewer restrictions. That another Democrat now is pushing wind power as a way to replace the lost jobs is more folly. So as liberals have undermined our economic base, they are restricting our traditional energy supplies (oil, coal, nuclear) and seeking to supplant them with unreliable sources like wind and solar energy.

 

This is unworkable and here is why, using the analogy of automobiles as an example:  

 

Environmentalists have been arguing for 40 years that individual cars are inefficient, that we should use mass transit, that buses and trains not only use less fuel per passenger than individual cars, but that they need less maintenance. In other words, if 50 separate people drive 50 separate cars, each car needs not only fuel, but regular service on the engine, brakes, tires, etc. But if those 50 people all rode on one bus, only the single bus would need to maintain the engine, brakes, tires etc., as well as using perhaps 10% of the fuel per passenger as the cars.

 

And they are right. Absolutely. Mass transit is a much more efficient use of resources. And in many cases, people do ride mass transit, particularly around cities.

 

Now let’s consider another way that we can think about efficiency, and that is not in energy consumption – as in cars – but in energy production – as in power plants. And this uses the same analogy:

 

Obama is talking about embarking on a whole new energy strategy, and we now are at a crossroads, deciding whether to install dispersed sources like windmills or whether we are going to continue to build more centralized power generation facilities.

 

Consider this example: We wish to install 1,000 megawatts of capacity, which is the standard nuclear reactor in America today. So we can build one single 1,000 megawatt nuclear power reactor, or we can install 1,000 separate 1-megawatt windmills. Which is more efficient?

 

Well, think about it. If it is more efficient to use a centralized mass transit facility that carries 1,000 people like a train, rather than people driving 1,000 separate cars, wouldn’t we want to think about using that train? Is it more efficient?

 

Yes it is.

 

So then why should we install 1,000 separate windmills instead of building one single 1,000 megawatt nuclear power plant? Does not the nuclear plant seem much more efficient, if you apply the same thinking?

 

Of course it does. And it is. For many reasons.

 

First, the huge nuclear reactor is going to take advantage of the essential economic concept known as Economies of Scale. In other words, bigger things are more efficient. Even primitive people understand this. Go into the most remote village in the world and the tribal chief understands that if you want to make stew for the whole village, you don’t make it one bowl at a time, but you make one big pot of stew and divide it up.

 

The production of energy is the same; a big centralized generator is hugely more efficient in terms of investment capital and resources than dispersed windmills each producing a small amount of energy, even if the final amount is the same. It is the same Economies of Scale theory that makes buses more efficient than cars.

 

Second, think about maintenance. Imagine a single generator at a 1,000 megawatt nuclear plant needs maintenance, because all machines need to be regularly maintained. The generator is right there inside the building. It is easy to work on. Now imagine you have 1,000 separate windmills, and each one needs maintenance, as they all eventually will. So you literally will have 1,000 times as many maintenance calls with 1,000 windmills than you do with one big generator. These windmills will be tremendously expensive to maintain because of the thousand-fold labor costs.

 

Third, think if the generator fails. If the big generator at the nuclear plant fails, it is right there inside the building with all the tools and spare parts and an overhead crane. But imagine that the windmills start to  fail. Because remember that 1,000 individual windmills are just as likely to fail as an individual generator at a nuclear station. In fact a windmill is more likely to fail because windmills are subjected to many natural forces than a static generator at a power plant.

 

So when the windmill fails, somebody has to go out and fix it. First they have to get out there – maybe into the mountains on a long drive. Then they have to climb up the tower and have a look. If there is any big maintenance needed, they may have to fly in the parts with a helicopter. All very expensive. And this happens at 1,000 times the potential repair rate of a single generator at a nuclear plant.

 

Thus the big, centralized nuclear plant is like a passenger train and is more efficient in all three areas – energy production, plant maintenance and generator repair. By a factor of thousands

 

But there’s another catch. And here’s a trick question: If you need to install 1,000 megawatts of capacity and each windmill is 1 megawatt, how many windmills do you install?

 

1,000 you say?

 

Not so fast.

 

If the wind blows all the time – which it does nowhere in the world – you could install 1,000 generators. But if the wind only blows 12 hours a day, you need to install 2,000 windmills to get the same output. If the wind only blows 8 hours a day, you need to install 3,000 windmills.

 

In other words, your required investment capital is three times as much for the same amount of installed power if the wind blows 8 hours a day. This is a highly inefficient commitment of investment capital. And since investment capital is not unlimited, there will be serious consequences.

 

And in West Texas in Spring of 2008, the wind stopped blowing and 1,100 megawatts of wind power simply disappeared from the grid! Is this the type of unreliable energy we want to invest in?

 

Then enviros warn us about the hazards of nuclear power. Is it safe?

 

Yes, it is. Spent nuclear fuel is like a dead battery. And here are some actual facts:

 

*The number of people killed in accidents at American nuclear power plants over the last 50 years is virtually zero. Certainly there are cases here and there of workers mishandling nuclear fuel and being harmed or killed, just as people can mishandle any material.

 

*Spent fuel rods are now stored at nuclear plants in simple pools of water, meaning that they are not dangerous.

 

*In March 1979, just days after the worst nuclear accident in American history at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, president Jimmy Carter went right inside the damaged reactor building which environmentalists said was the most dangerous place in the world. Carter is alive and well today, 30 years later.

 

*Millions of American military personnel have served on and around nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines with no ill effects. Thousands of Americans work at nuclear power plants with no ill effect. If there were bad health effects in either case, the media would be reporting it obsessively.

 

*The absolute worst-case nuclear meltdown in the world at Chernobyl, in the former Soviet Union in 1986, killed a total of 57 people, mostly firefighters who had to get close to the burning reactor. More people than that die every year in house fires in America started by wood-burning stoves.

 

Nuclear or windmills? It is a no brainer.

 

James Lovelock, the Briton who founded the modern enviro movement, is pro-nuclear. So is Patrick Moore, founder of Greeenpeace, along with many other environmentalists.

 

Lovelock said:  “I am not against renewable energy, but to spoil all the decent countryside in the UK with wind farms is driving me mad. It’s absolutely unnecessary, and it takes 2500 square kilometres (700 square miles) to produce a gigawatt (1,000 megawatts)  – that’s an awful lot of countryside.

 

Meanwhile a nuclear reactor that produces 1,000 megawatts occupies a few hundred acres of land.

 

Do you want to see windmills everywhere you look?

 

Don’t think so. Don’t be fooled about wind power. Just look at reality.

 

Please visit my website at www.nikitas3.com for more. You can print out for free my book, Right Is Right, which explains why only conservatism can maintain our freedom and prosperity.