Thank You Captain Obvious…

DSC_7521_tonemappedSo I stumbled across the following today which while isn’t news to me may be news to others, and even more so may be discounted or considered untrue.  I initially wanted to cover this as I went through the my “Power Series” posts and I touched on it on an episode of Vicious Circle but I think it’s time for me to write it all out.

President Obama has made so-called “green energy” policies a key part of his economic agenda, but as a new book argues, they actually disproportionately hurt the poor by boosting the cost of energy.

This is considered just common knowledge to those within the utility industry.  The reason being is because our legislators are ignoring not just the laws of economics but also the laws of physics.

For the purpose of this example I am going to talk specifically about the Pacific North West, more specifically Washington.

In the mid-2000’s Governor Gregiore decided that hydro-electric dams are not a renewable resource and that by 2020, 20% of the state’s electricity will be “renewable”, read that as wind power.  As an FYI for those out of the area, we pay approximately 4-5 cents per KWh for hydro up here.  Hydro is cheap and plentiful here in the Pacific North West, so much so we ship a good chunk of it to California.

To further encourage the construction of wind farms beyond the mandate the operating costs are subsidized by the state.  The cost even subsidized for a wind farm in the area is approximately 15-17 cents per KWh.  Yes you read that right, 3 times as much even with the state subsidizing it’s operation.

Except wind is not as “Green” as everyone makes it out to be.  You see wind can quickly come and go.  This means generation can quickly come and go offline merely based on what the weather does.  This is a problem because power is consumed on an on-demand basis.  You don’t want your lights turning on in the middle of the night right?  Just the same you don’t like the power going out while you’re working on your computer writing up that report for work.  Part of the whole “smart house” push is so that the utilities can control the load as well such as your refrigerator, dryer, etc., to shed load when necessary.

It makes sense and it sounds good, but ultimately I’m paying for a service and you can either provide it or you cannot.  Well the biggest problem with wind is how quickly it can disappear.  Generators don’t start instantly and other generation in the system doesn’t instantly spin up to supply power to the load.  There is inertia involved and to increase the power means you need to increase the torque etc.  The sudden decline in power being supplied while the load remains constant can cause system instability.

The solution to this problem is to have an onsite generator(s) at a wind farm that idles while the wind farm is producing power.  Usually this takes the form of a Natural Gas Turbine generator.  As the wind dies off the generator spools up to take the load.  Then the generator slowly spools back down to let the rest of the grid slowly absorb the power load.  So in other words your wind generator is burning fuel in a turbine, running as inefficiently as possible so it can pick up the load in event of a rapid loss of wind.

Out here in the Pacific North West this becomes very apparent in the spring with the high spring run off as well as peak winds through the area.  This past year the utilities were forced by the state to buy power from the wind farms while shutting down the dams.

Yes you read that right, the utilities were forced to buy more expensive power and leave cheaper power idle.  Not only were the dams forced to be idle, but because it occurred during peak run off, they were forced to dump water over the spillway and waste it.  Instead of following the laws of economics, they were tossed to the side and instead of the wind, the more expensive power providing the back fill for what hydro couldn’t provide, the roles were reversed, and for what?

Ultimately this does nothing but increase the rates for energy consumption.  Doubly so since the dam has increased costs because instead of it producing power, it’s forced to be shutdown, despite it being the more efficient and cheaper power producer.

This is what happens when politicians get involved in economics and start regulating business.  Instead of the consumer getting a better deal, they get a more expensive product and overall crappier service due to the power swings that come with the fluctuations in wind.

Then again, the goals of our politicians could be much more sinister.