Putting more wind power on the grid

Jul 23, 2013 by Los Angeles Times

Wind turbines tend to be overshadowed by solar power projects, which get most of the attention from the public and policymakers. That's the case again in a new government plan for renewable energy projects in the California desert. Though the wind industry shouldn't get all the land it wants, the desert master plan should provide more and better space for wind farms.

Despite its second-class status, wind is a much bigger producer of electricity than solar. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, wind is now the source of 3.5 percent of the nation's electricity supply. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management reports that wind has been the fastest-growing producer of electricity worldwide over the last decade, largely because better-designed turbines have reduced costs by 80 percent over the last 20 years, and it is poised for rapid expansion in coming decades. In Kern County, the wind industry is second only to oil as a source of tax revenue.

Solar, which gets all the glory, produces only 0.1 percent of our electricity, though that number is expected to grow exponentially in the near future. So why has wind been so invisible to all except those who happen to drive through a farm of rotating blades?

For one thing, after an early start in the 1980s, developed a deservedly bad reputation as death traps for birds, including protected species. One of the earliest wind farms, in the Altamont Pass outside Livermore, Calif., was built in an area favored by golden eagles and the ground squirrels on which they prey, with the spinning turbines between the two. An estimated 4,700 birds were killed each year, including 70 to 110 golden eagles in any given year. A lawsuit resulted in an agreement to idle many of the turbines and to take other protective steps, and the killing of birds has since dropped by more than half.

The industry has been doing better lately. And when wind farms are carefully located to avoid sensitive habitat and bird migration routes, they are considered environmentally friendly enough to earn the support of the Audubon Society.

Yet the industry faces a new controversy in California, this time in the Mojave and Colorado deserts. As with solar , the issue has been how much of the fragile land can be dedicated to renewable, clean energy that will combat global warming, cut air pollution and reduce dependence on foreign oil. To determine the answers, an expansive effort has been underway since 2012, with government, environmental and industry leaders participating, to create the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan for state and federal land in the desert. The plan is supposed to identify the areas most suited to new energy development: near transmission lines but away from the most environmentally sensitive areas. Projects within the favored development zones will go through a quicker, easier approval process.

The trade group for the wind industry, the California Wind Energy Association, takes exception to the most recent versions of the plan, saying too little land has been set aside for wind projects and in less than ideal wind-producing areas. The association is arguing for more flexibility so that companies can propose projects within large swaths of land, as long as they conduct the studies to show that the impact on the environment will be minimal.

The Audubon Society agrees that once again, wind is playing second fiddle to solar. Garry George, an official with Audubon California, says that the zones where renewable energy development will get favored status were picked with the needs of solar in mind rather than wind.

But George rightly objects to the Wind Energy Association's proposal to leave it unclear where wind farms will be erected as long as the industry does the required wildlife studies. If that's allowed, what's the purpose of having a desert master plan?

The plan's developers should make more room for wind farms in areas that make sense for them. George says he has offered to work with the trade association on identifying the right places; the Audubon stamp of approval would certainly aid the industry's efforts. A 2008 federal study found that wind energy could serve 20 percent of the nation's electricity needs by 2030; government planners should help farms get there without, well, giving away the farm.

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User comments : 11

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MR166
1.8 / 5 (10) Jul 23, 2013
Why can't wind and solar occupy the same plot of land and utilize the same grid connections?

Wind turbines are located quite a distance from each other.
SteveL
4.5 / 5 (2) Jul 23, 2013
Why can't wind and solar occupy the same plot of land and utilize the same grid connections?

Wind turbines are located quite a distance from each other.
Because people are often just like politicians. It has to be all one way or all the other. Everybody else be damned. Some room would have to be left available for servicing, but yeah, wind turbines require a lot of open space between the towers. More than sufficient for a solar contribution.
Tom_Andersen
1.7 / 5 (12) Jul 23, 2013
This advertisement was written by the 'green industrial complex'.

Wind power has done virtually nothing in places where its installed on a large scale.

Natural gas, however, is actually working to lower emissions in the USA. Germany, darling of the wind energy sellers, is installing coal. Lots of coal.

The part about them not killing many birds is true. They kill golden eagles, bald eagles, condors and other rare large birds much more effectively than anything found yet. Its just that not many small songbirds hang out in mid air at 300 ft. The blades on a modern turbine are going 200 mph, and appear out of nowhere from the point of view of a soaring eagle.
Eikka
1 / 5 (2) Jul 24, 2013
Why can't wind and solar occupy the same plot of land and utilize the same grid connections?


Because they actually compete with each other. If you get a sunny windy day, it's twice the trouble for the grid than just either one alone. In terms of grid integration, it's either wind or solar, because you have to size the system with the probability in mind that both are producing or not producing power simultaneously.

At least until practical methods of storing extremely large quantities of electricity become widely available.
MR166
1 / 5 (9) Jul 24, 2013
The article states that they are both competing for the same real estate IE California desert. Thus, grid problems, as bad as they may be, do not enter into the equation.
Noodle_Naut
1 / 5 (8) Jul 25, 2013
Why can't wind and solar occupy the same plot of land and utilize the same grid connections?

Wind turbines are located quite a distance from each other.


As for them "competing with one another" That is utter nonsense things that are different compete less. Double the solar and sunny day or double the wind on a windy day each is going to be about as hard to deal with but half one and half the other much less.
The only reason not to have them together is shadows from the wind turbines. Solar wants no shadows even if it does not really amount to much. Not that different from what motivates urban sprawl. No reason they can't go 2 story but why share.
Really, it is a very good marriage as the wind rarely blows when it is sunny in the desert. It blows in the evening and night.
The windmills should have their generators in the base rather than at the top then there will be less shadow. The shadows move so the only other possibility is moving solar panels dodging the shadows.
kochevnik
1 / 5 (9) Jul 25, 2013
The part about them not killing many birds is true. They kill golden eagles, bald eagles, condors and other rare large birds much more effectively than anything found yet. Its just that not many small songbirds hang out in mid air at 300 ft. The blades on a modern turbine are going 200 mph, and appear out of nowhere from the point of view of a soaring eagle.

False. Power line towers kill a hundred times more large birds. The wingspan of a large bird allows them to touch opposite poles of high-voltage power lines easily. They use towers for nesting until they electrocute and often burst into flames, igniting wildfires. I have personally seen this occur
Roland
1 / 5 (1) Jul 27, 2013
I had a wild turkey get fried by the powerline right in front of my house. And this is ordinary 44kV rural power service to houses, on wooden poles, not the High Voltage stuff. It shut down the whole neighborhood for an hour.
kochevnik
1.4 / 5 (10) Jul 27, 2013
Poor Tom-Tom. The Green Energy Complex is cutting into his toxic and permanent destruction of the planet's fresh water reserves. Fracking profits are at stake!
Shelgeyr
1.4 / 5 (9) Jul 28, 2013
Wind turbines tend to be overshadowed by solar power projects, which get most of the attention from the public and policymakers

I disagree with this opinion and the whonkload of government subsidies propping up wind belies this position.

Despite its second-class status, wind is a much bigger producer of electricity than solar. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, wind is now the source of 3.5 percent of the nation's electricity supply.

The reason wind is "a much bigger" producer is because of tax credits and subsidies. The EIA itself states "On April 15, the IRS released guidance clarifying the eligibility for the recently extended renewable electricity production tax credit (PTC). Congress passed the extension... as part of ATRA. EIA expects this extension could result in significant wind could result in significant wind capacity additions over the next three years. http://www.eia.go...id=11371
Neinsense99
1.4 / 5 (9) Aug 02, 2013
Why can't wind and solar occupy the same plot of land and utilize the same grid connections?

Wind turbines are located quite a distance from each other.

Sometimes yes, both might be sensible together. In other places there might be wind and not so much sunlight, or the reverse. There are portable contraptions that combine solar and a mini vertical axis wind turbine.