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Top climate change scientists’ letter to policy influencers

In early November, 2013, climate and energy scientists James Hansen, Ken Caldeira, Kerry Emanuel and Tom Wigley released an open letter to CNN calling on world leaders to support development of safer nuclear power systems.

My thanks to my fellow wordpress blogger, Michel, and his excellent site Trust, yet verify for tipping me to this letter.

“……No energy system is without downsides. We ask only that energy system decisions be based on facts, and not on emotions and biases that do not apply to 21st century nuclear technology.”

Their request sounds very much like the words I often use to summarize my viewpoint…………..There is no doubt that we in the USA need to alter our energy strategy. The question of how we will change it, however, needs to be determined by scientific evaluation of fact and logical analysis of performance and economics; not by emotion, political considerations, and “feel good” methodologies.

The unsuccessful success story

Michel, on his blog site “Trust, yet verify” provides an interesting European perspective on alternative energy development and energy strategy.

Trust, yet verify

Last week there was quite some fuss about the near bankruptcy of a Belgian green energy producer, Electrawinds. They manage installations that produces green power via wind, solar, biomass and also bio-diesel.

I know there were a lot of bankruptcies last year among for example solar panel installers (because of less subsidies given to install solar panels), but Electrawinds isn’t really a small company and received loads of governmental support. Until shortly it was considered a success story. There were many projects, not only in Belgium, but also in France, The Netherlands, Italy, Serbia and Kenya. There were even plans to build a prestigious, futuristic looking new headquarter in Ostend.

But last year they reported a loss of 361 million euro and then things went downhill very fast. Several efficiency measures were taken, involvement in some projects (bio-diesel) was diminished, two rescue plan were rejected. If they don’t come up…

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Ohio’s Blue Creek Wind Farm – Disappointing performance is not surprising

Blue Creek Pic

Many people point to the mandates of Ohio Senate Bill 221 or other such legislation in other states, which require the use of fashionable generation methods for electricity, as justification for subsidizing investment into economically questionable energy generation projects. To me this is an exercise in circular logic, mandating that we have to use more expensive means of generating electricity, and then using the rising cost of electricity to justify subsidizing more expensive means of generating electricity.

J. Graf – Effective Energy Strategy – March2013

In an editorial response appearing in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette on 10/21/2013, four co-authors make the following points with regard to the Blue Creek Wind Farm and wind energy in general. I have taken the liberty to re-arrange their words for brevity in covering the main points here, but I certainly suggest the reader should seek this letter on the Journal Gazette website and read it in full:

Electricity from wind is very high in true cost and low in true value……………… Electricity from wind turbines is low in value because it can’t be counted on to be available when needed, and it is most likely to be produced at times when it is least needed. Wind turbines tend to produce most of their electricity at night in cold months, not on hot weekday afternoons in July and August when demand for electricity is highest. Furthermore, the electricity from wind tends to be low in value because the output can’t be counted upon to be available at the time of peak demand, unlike reliable (“dispatchable”) generating units that can be called upon to produce whenever needed.

Wind turbines produce electricity only when wind speeds are in the “right” range. Other generating units, powered by conventional energy sources (such as natural gas, coal, oil, hydropower, nuclear energy, and perhaps biomass) must always be immediately available to compensate for the intermittent, volatile output from wind turbines. This necessity adds to the true cost of using wind energy, and the unreliability of output from wind turbines adds to the burden on grid managers in keeping electrical grids in balance (supply and demand, voltage, frequency).

The principal reasons that companies such as Iberdrola build wind farms (including Blue Creek) are generous government tax breaks and subsidies provided to wind farm owners………….The cost of government financial subsidies for wind energy is borne by taxpayers, including Ohio taxpayers, and is in addition to the cost of electricity from wind that shows up in electric bills.

Tom Stacy, Glenn R. Schleede, Joan Null, and Larry Long –  Wind farm endorsement blows past facts  – October 2013 

Digging deeper into the subject of the Blue Creek Wind Farm; there is now evidence the 304 MW (nameplate capacity) wind farm in western Ohio is producing at a capacity factor of only 29.7%. In other words, the actual electricity produced in a year is only 29.7% of that which would be expected if the 304 MW facility produced at nameplate capacity around-the-clock for 8760 hours per year. In practical terms, this means we can expect that the wind farm is only capable of providing around 790,000 MWh of intermittent electricity per year. Please refer to the production information provided by the US EIA in EIA-923 2012 Data and also EIA-923 2013 Data ; and also refer to my Blue Creek Wind Farm Analysis.

The real output capacity factor of 29.7 % stands in contrast to the projected and advertised capacity factor of 34.7% (see AMP Presentation); although one wonders why anyone was ever excited about 34.7% in the first place.

The Blue Creek Wind Farm required an investment of $600 million, touted as the largest investment in wind in Ohio in 2011. This was offset, in part, by a federal stimulus grant for more than $172 million; and other government dictated incentives, such as Ohio’s SB 221 renewable energy mandates, played a key role. Unfortunately, once again, there is no hope of paying back the $600 million investment thru the sale of useful electricity at market rates (please see cash flow ROI in Blue Creek Wind Farm Analysis). As always, there must be heavy doses of subsidies from the taxpayer and individual customers to offset the losses and provide Iberdrola with a profit.

Despite their supposed presentation as power sources for average everyday power needs, wind turbine projects are often granted special Power Purchasing Agreements (PPAs) which allow prices for their electricity that are guaranteed and higher than average wholesale price. It is disconcerting that large portions of the feasibility studies and the on-going discussions are often devoted to proposals making the projects appear viable with public spending and it is evident that, to make these projects work, massive government subsidies and large increases in the cost paid for electricity will be required to offset the investment losses and attract investors.

Once again, other than the damage to the economy of the waste itself, the real problem with mandating and subsidizing non-viable energy technology projects is that this distracts us and diverts resources from other efforts to improve our energy production strategy. In how many different ways could we have spent this money and committed these resources, to produce far more reliable electricity and, at the same time, improved our energy strategy and reduced emissions of pollutants into our atmosphere?

There is no doubt that we in the USA need to alter our energy strategy. The question of how we will change it, however, needs to be determined by scientific evaluation of fact and logical analysis of performance and economics; not by emotion, political considerations, and “feel good” methodologies.

Unavoidable Answer for the Problem of Climate Change

“How will the world replace fossil fuels? Can it be done fast enough, cheaply enough and on a sufficient scale without nuclear energy? For all the optimism about the prospects of wind, sun and tides to power our future, the evidence suggests the answer is no.”

Eduardo Porter – November 3013

Cedar Point Wind Farm – Colorado

Cedar Point Wind Farm near Limon, CO

Cedar Point Wind Farm near Limon, CO

Earlier this week, in commentary under an article on a different site, I was informed that my assertions implying wind and solar technologies were ineffective alternative energy sources were “not true”.  I was asked to search for information regarding “Xcel wind & solar”, and informed that Xcel’s projects were providing energy with competitive Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) as low as $60MWh.  No additional details regarding any specific projects were provided.

Following up on this, I performed some research regarding Xcel Energy wind projects. I found a specific Xcel wind turbine sample project to analyze, the Cedar Point Wind Farm near Limon, Colorado, east of Denver.  I chose this project for two reasons:
1. I was able to locate the specific project details necessary.
2. It is in the Colorado and therefore should benefit from some of the best wind resources available in the USA (best case scenario).

My Cedar Point Turbine Analysis-1  is linked here.

Employing a realistic analysis using the real average annual wholesale cost of electricity ($50/MWh) and accounting for inflation and O&M costs, a reasonable expectation is that the wind farm can pay back the initial $535,000,000 investment in 20 years; just about at the end of life for the turbines. This is obviously NOT an acceptable business case, but it is about the best performance of a wind turbine project that I have seen (due to the mountain wind speeds).

The question is, “Why would Xcel (and the other energy companies involved) invest $535,000,000 in something that would take 20 years to pay off the initial capital cost, and that would be at end-of-life at about the same time it finally does pay off?”

The answer is in the government grants and subsidies: 

  • I could not find specifics regarding the PPA (other than one does exist), but we can take the initial information that they are selling for $60/MWh.
  • The federal government is providing a Production Tax Credit of $22/MWh.  Also referenced in the Denver Post.
  • A federal stimulus grant for $145,596,213 was provided, to offset the construction costs.
  • Colorado “renewable” energy mandates provided an incentive in driving this project.
  • Adding the PPA and the PTC and the grant; and assuming a 20-year lifetime production of 16,943 GWh; the US federal government and the State of Colorado are providing direct subsidies in excess of $40/MWh to this project.

Taking all this corporate welfare into account, the payback for Xcel (and the other energy companies involved) is actually more like 8 years; at which time they start raking in the cash for the next 12 years until the wind turbines reach end-of-life. This is a pretty good deal, for everyone except the taxpayers and rate-payers.

Once again, other than the damage to the economy of the waste itself, the real problem with mandating and subsidizing non-viable energy technology projects is that this distracts us and diverts resources from other efforts to improve our energy production strategy.  There is no doubt that we in the USA need to alter our energy strategy.  The question of how we will change it, however, needs to be determined by scientific evaluation of fact and logical analysis of performance and economics; not by emotion, political considerations, and “feel good” methodologies.

see also:


California Valley Solar Ranch Update

California Valley Solar Ranch

California Valley Solar Ranch

As a follow-up to my prior article on this subject, an update an re-write appeared on


In the commentary on it was pointed out that my assertion of a 1 acre 250 MW combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) facility was overly optimistic.

I had previously seen layouts of larger 400-600 MW CCGT facilities which indicated the generation plant could be situated on an area slightly larger than 6000 square meters (1.5 acres).  I had assumed an approximate 1.0 acre size for a 250 MW plant by extrapolating down.

Prompted by the comment on I have researched this a bit more; and I find that I was, in fact, overly optimistic and incorrect that a 250 MW CCGT facility could be placed on only 1 acre.  I was only considering the main power generation facility itself, and not considering other required elements such as the operations building, cooling towers, fuel storage, etc.

Based on a layout of a typical 400 MW Power Plant SCC5-4000F 1SCCGT from Siemens, it is more likely that a complete 250 MW CCGT facility would require slightly less than 10 acres.

Despite this correction, however, I think that my point regarding the relative sizes of the CVSR facility and a comparable CCGT facility is still quite valid.  The CCGT facility is vastly more compact and provides far better conservation of space.  I have attached a facility size comparison which illustrates this with a scaled overlay of a comparable CCGT plant on top of the CVSR facility.

Overlay CCGT on CVSR

BBC News – Thorium backed as a ‘future fuel’

The Invisible Opportunity: Hidden Truths Revealed

By Roger Harrabin Environment analyst, Halden in Norway

Thorium Thorium could prove to be safer in reactors than uranium

Nuclear scientists are being urged by the former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix to develop thorium as a new fuel.

Mr Blix says that the radioactive element may prove much safer in reactors than uranium.

It is also more difficult to use thorium for the production of nuclear weapons.

His comments will add to growing levels of interest in thorium, but critics warn that developing new reactors could waste public funds.

Mr Blix, the former Swedish foreign minister, told BBC News: \”I’m a lawyer not a scientist but in my opinion we should be trying our best to develop the use of thorium. I realise there are many obstacles to be overcome but the benefits would be great.

\”I am told that thorium will be safer in reactors – and it…

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