Fact check: Hayward misleads on wind and utility systems

Stephen F. Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute authored a misleading blog article on wind yesterday.  The following response from Michael Goggin, AWEA Manager of Transmission Policy, was posted as a comment.

It is unfortunate to see blatantly false claims being masqueraded as a “fact of the week” in Mr. Hayward’s post on the American Enterprise Institute’s blog. While I understand that an organization that receives a significant amount of funding from the fossil fuel industry would like to delay the transition to a clean energy economy, that is no excuse to degrade the quality of public discourse by making false statements. The most egregious false and misleading claims in Mr. Hayward’s post include:

– “Last January, Texas experienced rolling blackouts because the grid was caught short. And wind production during that period was negligible.”

First of all, the rolling blackouts occurred in February, not January. Second and more importantly, every grid reliability entity that has examined what happened in Texas has concluded that the blackout was caused by the unexpected failure of fossil fuel generators, and that wind generators’ very high output at the time actually played a major role in making the blackouts less severe than they would have been. In the authoritative report on the blackouts by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC), the entities responsible for maintaining grid reliability, one learns that the blackout was actually caused by mechanical failures at over 100 fossil-fired power plants in Texas. http://www.ferc.gov/legal/staff-reports/08-16-11-report.pdf

Moreover, the Texas grid operator has repeatedly cited wind energy’s contribution in reducing the impact of the blackout, with their CEO noting at the time, “I would highlight that we put out a special word of thanks to the wind community because they did contribute significantly through this time frame. Wind was blowing, and we had over 3,500 megawatts of wind generation during that morning peak, which certainly helped us in this situation.” 

– “The problem with any intermittent electricity source connected to the grid is that it requires a reliable backup source of power…”

As the Texas blackout and other similar events have shown, it would be far more appropriate to talk about the need to back up large fossil and nuclear power plants. They are the ones that experience large, immediate, and unexpected outages, requiring grid operators to keep 1,000-plus megawatts of fast-acting, expensive and inefficient standby generation ready 24/7/365 in case one of those plants goes down. In contrast, changes in wind energy output occur slowly and are predictable, particularly when wind plants are spread over a large geographic area so their output becomes even smoother because weather changes at one location are canceled out by weather changes elsewhere. This allows grid operators to use slower-responding reserve generation that typically costs a few percent of what the fast-responding reserves that are needed for fossil and nuclear generation cost.

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