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Click to see a simulation of the proposed wind plant atop Backbone Mountain in Western Maryland
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Notable Quotes


"The trouble with wind farms is that they have a huge spatial footprint for a piddling little bit of electricity... ."

—Sir Martin Holdgate, former chairman of the British Renewable Energy Advisory Group.

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Dear Delegate:

I have reviewed your recent email to Director Woolf and as Director of Legislation and Policy, I am pleased to respond on his and MEA's behalf. While we recognize the challenges posed by the intermittency of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, it is clear that such challenges can be overcome and that renewables can indeed supplant fossil fuel sources of energy.

Intermittency is an issue that has been reviewed in detail. While we appreciate the sources you referred to, we are confident that such views are in the minority and do not reflect the consensus within either the community of U.S. Independent System Operators or the international energy industry.

With regard to the article by Mr. Hewson in Power Magazine, there are several reasons to be cautious about the model he proposes. (The exact model Peter Lang proposed in a nearly identical article last year. ) Mr. Hewson, whose work focuses on providing consultancy services to coal and natural gas companies, has described a model in which only three technologies exist - OCGT gas plants, CCGT gas plants and wind plants. Moreover, in this model, Mr. Hewson appears to consider spinning reserves and ramp-up inefficiencies to be the equivalent of 100% of plant capacity. This is not borne out by industry consensus or our discussions with energy planners. The cost projections Mr. Hewson arrives at also describe a scenario in which the moment at which no wind energy is being produced at all is the constant condition. His numbers essentially describe a world where wind projects are built, entirely paid for by ratepayers, and never commissioned.

The scenarios Mr. Hewson suggests are based on theoretical models. In practice, the U.S. and many other countries have regularly "backed down" coal plants and eliminated significant greenhouse gas emissions. This has been common in the Midwest since 2004. Modern wind energy turbines have developed sophisticated mechanical and electrical methods of slowing ramping speeds, such that regulating grid energy supply is greatly facilitated. Modern supply modeling and prediction systems can enhance dispatch speeds to accommodate variable generation. As energy regulation practices have developed, some spinning reserves at gas plants have been used to moderate intermittencies in wind energy, but much of this type of regulation is performed by large hydro reserves, as the CEPOS paper concedes. Floodgates at large hydropower plants are excellent moderators for wind power. Energy generated by wind turbines can be banked in the form of water impoundment during periods of high wind and expended during periods of low wind, displacing the need for fossil fuels. This is the case described in the CEPOS article in Denmark, where Norwegian and German hydro plants serve as regional energy storage mechanisms. It is certainly the case in Canada, where the Ontario Green Energy Act places Ontario on track to completely replace coal-fired electricity with renewables moderated by large hydro reserves by 2014.

The article by CEPOS - a free-market conservative think-tank which asserts that it is modeled on our Heritage Foundation - does not actually question either the carbon reduction benefits of Danish wind power or the fossil fuel reductions, but simply asserts that it is unfair for Danes to pay the cost of the impressive Danish wind energy infrastructure, while Germany and Norway receive much of the benefits. Presumably, this is essentially a critique of the financial instruments used to allocate the benefits of Denmark's wind energy projects, not a complaint about the technology itself.

While it is true that there is likely to be some small level of inefficiency added to renewable energy because of the demands of regulating the power supply, the benefits of wind energy and other renewables far outweigh these concerns. This is the conclusion of those countries and regions that have deployed this technology, the system operators who manage this resource and the policymakers responsible for crafting a sustainable energy future for the Maryland and for the nation.

Mr. Andrew Gohn is MEA's expert on wind energy. Either or both of us would be happy to discuss these issues with you further at your convenience. Thanks again for bringing these concerns to our attention.

Response to MEA Challenge >

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