Noting that traditional natural gas and coal-fired electric generation plants have to work extra and inefficiently, Colorado-based Bentek Energy’s study, “The Wind Power Paradox,” concludes that the integration of wind-generated supplies on a number of major grid systems in the United States has resulted in “little or no emissions reductions” on a systemwide basis.
Systemwide emissions reductions from wind fall far short of expectations, and this is what Bentek dubbed the “paradox” surrounding wind power as a resource.
The report challenges many federal and state policy efforts to reduce carbon emissions as not being based on realistic models that present a true picture of the cost of wind generation. Wind’s intermittency causes too much cycling of other hydrocarbon-based generation units, Bentek stressed in its report.
In addition, Bentek concludes that the wind integration analyzed has “significantly increased costs” for power producers, grid operators and retail electricity consumers. Refiring coal-fired power plants with natural gas can achieve the same level of carbon emission reductions that comes from wind generation currently, the report concluded.
“Utilities are forced to cycle coal and natural gas-fired generation capacity in order to accommodate intermittent wind generation,” the first of six conclusions reached by Bentek said. It added that the cycling significantly decreases efficiency at the power facilities, which in turn increases emission rates.
Emission savings and costs vary greatly by region and what sort of value is assigned to a ton of carbon. “In all regions, placing a value equal to the [federal] production tax credit of $22/MWh produced on the generation needed to save one ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) yields a total cost of carbon reduction well in excess of $50/ton,” said the report, which analyzed data from the Texas, Bonneville Power Administration, California and Midwest grid systems.
As coal’s share of the generation market is replaced by natural gas-fired facilities, the potential savings due to increased wind power will decline, Bentek said. “The convergence of low, stable gas prices, increasing coal costs, and impending [federal Environmental Protection Agency] legislation that will tighten sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx), mercury and other emissions will increase the market share of natural gas-fired generation across the United States.”
Bentek concludes that wind can only be what it called “an effective tool to reduce emissions” if it is developed on a massive enough scale to become a baseload source of power, allowing utilities to “do away with their hydrocarbon-fueled capacity” and still provide reliable electricity supplies.
The report also recommends that policymakers rely on results and analysis of actual emissions and other power data instead of models using assumptions to come up with estimates. “Making policy based on modeled data and assumptions hinders or prevents the energy industry from attaining clean air goals,” not to mention raising costs, Bentek said.
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