Do you remember the ads on TV three years ago featuring T. Boone Pickens? Pickens had a “Plan for America.” This celebrity Texas oilman, converted to the clean energy cause, was suggesting a major move to wind energy and other renewable sources. Many hailed him as a hero. He was all over the major news networks. Politicians lined up to be seen with him, providing glowing endorsements. You don’t hear those ads or see him in the news anymore. What happened?
In his book, “Power Hungry: The Myths of Green Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future,” engineer and physicist Robert Bryce reported that by July 2009, the Pickens plan for the wind business “was in tatters.” Americans, Bryce wrote, were duped.
For one thing, the shrewd Texan lost a lot of money in wind energy. He invested millions of dollars buying wind equipment before he could produce any useful power for our homes. A good dose of reality has revealed the bogus nature of his plan.
Liberals hoped Pickens would provide proof of the feasibility of their stated goal for “energy independence.” Most everyone is for energy independence and agrees it is a worthy goal. But there is a vast difference about the meaning of the term depending on the source.
For some, energy independence includes stopping exploration and new drilling for oil, dismantling the coal industry, subsidizing alternative energy sources with massive amounts of spending that add significant energy costs to consumers, and otherwise harming the American economy. The “green energy” movement apparently means that consumers provide lots of greenbacks to pay for it.
There is a huge problem with renewable energy. Wind and solar energy are not dependable sources of power, which leads to another problem, a “dirty” little secret that Mr. Pickens did not share — or perhaps did not realize — when he announced his plan.
In order to keep the power running, you need an equivalent number of natural gas or coal-fired power sources to offset each wind turbine field that is put in place. Wind energy requires massive investments in traditional “dirty” energy to make it viable, according to Bryce.
The large commercial turbines that cost about $2 million each don’t even move until the wind gets up to 7 to 8 mph and need to have sustained winds of 25 to 30 mph to reach full-rated capacity.
Further, energy from the wind turbines — in many cases — is not stored to be used at a later time. Bryce wrote that lack of storage capability is a huge negative with this form of energy. In addition, if the wind blows too hard, the props on the big turbines have to be “feathered” (flattened) to avoid shaking and potential damage. In effect, the turbines are shut off.
For these reasons, many natural gas plants will need to be built to complement wind turbines. Natural gas plants can refire relatively quickly to produce heat when the windmills are out. Coal-fired plants are another replacement option, but coal takes a lot more time to come online once a plant is shut down. In fact, it is more efficient to keep a coal plant running even if the power produced is not immediately needed. Investing large amounts of capital in power plants that are only used part time in order to complement wind power adds more inefficiency to the system, which translates into unnecessary costs for consumers.
There is an ultimate irony in all of this. Large transmission power lines need to be stretched over long distances to get the energy produced by turbines to the electric grids. And who is working hard to block the construction of these new power lines? It is environmental groups, some of whom like to talk about the importance of renewable energy.
Bryce’s book reveals that most of the ideas of the green agenda are at odds with common sense and with how our future energy needs will be met. We are being led down a dead-end path of bogus promises about renewable energy.
So when you get that tiny little slip inside your electric bill indicating that 1.3 percent of your electricity came from a wind source, try to imagine what it cost to generate that tiny bit of power and what it will cost to expand the industry. Then toss it to the wind.
George Michael, who lives in Williamsport, is a former principal of Grace Academy. His email address is email@example.com.