As you would expect, engineers questioned my love affair with wind turbines. For starters, I just like things that spin and have watched developments in wind turbines since the mid-Seventies when they weren't much more than glorified eggbeaters.
The blog post which was the same as my May 14 print column provoked some great comments, several which of which praised coal for its vastly more favorable economics. One letter (on actual paper!) from Henry E. Payne III of Payne Engineering in Scott Depot, W. Va., makes two valid points that I was aware of, but neglected to cite in my column advocating a more aggressive approach to wind turbine adoption. Be aware, I have not changed my stance on wind turbines one iota and I did get reader responses sharing my enthusiasm.
On point one, I'll quote Henry's letter:
"One point is capacity factor. This is the full ratio of full-rated generation hours divided by the numbers of hours in a year. Typical capacity factors to a well-run nuclear or coal generating plant is 90-95%. For windmills, it was 2005%. Solar cells are about the same." In other words, the wind does not propel a large turbine at, say, its optimal rating of at 4.5 megawatts. If we're lucky, it'll generate 1.5 megawatts, points out coal and conservation advocate John Landis. Point two: if you want to know what electricity costs(a lot here in the Northeast!!), it's measured in megawatt hours or kilowatt hours. This is how electricity usage is measured.
I remain convinced that wind turbines and solar are each a part of the answer to our energy needs. How big an answer remains to be determined, but renewable sources nibbling away at the percentage of energy provided non-renewables can only be a good thing…especially as wider adoption drives down the cost down of renewables. For now, wind turbines must be subsidized in the U.S. like many new technologies. And they should be…it's one of the better uses of our tax dollars. And how can anyone argue with lower dependence on oil of the Middle East!?