Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Source of Some of the Texas Wind Energy Confusion

I continue to get comments and emails from people who contend that wind energy helped Texas "keep the blackouts from being worse" last night.  I believe I have located the source of the confusion.

Take a look at these two articles as examples (both sent to me by readers). Both were posted this morning, Thursday. Any readers of these articles would think the statement about wind energy being helpful referred to last night. That is not the case.

Both articles are quoting a press release from the American Wind Energy Association written and released yesterday about the power available from wind generation yesterday morning.
Screen capture of the AWEA press release. Note it is dated February 2nd. 
While I note a press release about wind power's contribution the last 18 hours is conspicuously absent, I do not dispute the information in the release pertaining to yesterday.

But, that was not the topic of my original story. It pertained to the lack of wind power last night. While I am open to new facts, I stand by the original story and my original conclusion: If the money spent on wind generation had been spent on, say, nuclear plants, Texans would likely not have had to worry about blackouts last night.

ADDITION 2:30pm Thursday:

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – They are the critical care safety nets for North Texas: ParklandBaylorMethodist and Presbyterian Dallas. So, during Wednesday’s rolling outages, why was the power cut to these vital hospitals?
Jorie Klein runs disaster management for Parkland Hospital, and is still upset that her hospital was included in the rotating outages. “We were not happy,” she said. “You can’t just go down for 15 minutes and come back up. It really does disrupt hospital care.”
Because of the sensitive life-saving equipment, hospitals are considered “critical care facilities,” and supposed to be exempt from rolling blackouts. That’s exactly what Presbyterian Dallas was led to believe. “We were of the understanding that hospitals and other critical-care providers were not supposed to be affected by the blackouts."

Reliable electric service, especially during periods of extreme weather, is literally a matter of life and death.


  1. The costs associated with wind energy are steadily declining and new class of turbine technicians are emerging. Yes, you could argue that Texas wind farms have been expensive, but they were proving grounds. Texas got in the game early and has been instrumental in further developing the technology. We actually need a lot more wind power, especially here in Texas. We have a vast amount of wind to capture and the argument against turbines functionality in cold weather isn't as important as we have incredibly short winters.
    Also, the blackouts in Texas yesterday were due to critical failures of coal power plants. It's important not to gloss over that fact.


  2. There is another much darker side to this....

    "A red kite, one of approximately 1 million birds that die in Spain every year because of collisions with wind turbines."

  3. Hi Travis,

    Thanks for the comment!

    First, glad to hear there is new technology on the horizon. I'd love to change my stance on wind power (based on current technology and reliability).

    Second, you say, "We actually need a lot more wind power, especially here in Texas." I agree the U.S. needs a lot more power, but why wind? Why not nuclear?

    Agree about the failure of conventional plants. This was pointed out in the original posting (below).


  4. Nuclear is certainly a viable low-emission technology and it has it's role in our energy mix. Although, nuclear is very expensive to build too and wind energy is on a path to be cost competitive with it.
    The main detractor to nuclear is the waste. A company out of France, TerraPower, is developing a solution to this by using the nuclear waste as a fuel. It will be exciting to see if their research comes to fruition.
    There's also a lot of talk about how we don't want Iran or other potentially hostile nations to pursue nuclear technology. It's pretty asshole for the US to have fully functioning nuclear power plants and to say others can't have them as well. We have to lead by example and show that there are great alternatives to nuclear that don't poison their communities and rivers (like coal). We also should help to advance this technology so it gets cheaper and more efficient. You never know what kind of breakthroughs we're going to make in the process. R&D in the US is really quite impressive.

  5. Mike,

    Thanks for making an effort to clarify some of the confusion that came from your earlier post. However, I feel obliged to ask for a full correction or retraction to your original post for the following reasons:

    1. Wind energy output was extremely high throughout the period when ERCOT implemented rolling blackouts and leading up to that period, making your claims that wind was in any way a cause of this event entirely false. ERCOT data shows wind output blasting along at over 4,000 MW Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning. During the 5-7 AM window Wednesday morning, when ERCOT was forced to implement rolling blackouts, wind output was cruising along at between 3,600 MW and 3,900 MW. Throughout that time period, wind speeds on the ground were also very high across the parts of the state with the bulk of the installed wind capacity, with many areas under high wind warnings. A major problem with your article is that you are confusingly talking about the wind speeds and other conditions on Wednesday night, which has nothing to do with what was happening 12+ hours earlier when the blackouts actually happened.

    2. As of mid-day yesterday, 8 hours before your post, it had already been widely reported that the blackouts were caused by roughly 50 fossil-fueled power plants totaling 7,000 MW of capacity tripping offline due to mechanical failures caused by the cold, including two coal power plants with 2,700 MW of capacity that were specifically identified in midday public statements by the Lt. Gov. Dewhurst. Why you proceeded to blame wind for the event many hours after directly contradictory evidence was broadly reported is an open question.

    3. Great Britain and Minnesota have never experienced blackouts due to wind energy, contrary to your statement in the second to the last paragraph. I urge you to read the articles that you linked to, as they do not say anything remotely close to what you claim they do.

    4. At the beginning of your article, you at least make clear that your attacks on wind energy are entirely based on conjecture: "The article didn't give a clue as to what generating capability failed, but I can make a pretty good guess: Wind energy." However, by the end, you somehow felt comfortable making sweeping statements like "Now, because of relying so much on wind power, the state is suffering blackouts." Now that your conjectures have proven entirely false, you owe it your readers, and your credibility, to do the honorable thing and retract the article.

    Since your original post has now been copied elsewhere, such as this, I hope you understand the need to issue a full retraction to stop this confusion before it spreads further. I will be corresponding with other sites that have posted your article and asking them to do the same, and would urge you to contact them as well.

    Michael Goggin
    American Wind Energy Association

  6. I have thanked Mr. Goggin and have elevated his comments and questions to a separate posting:


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.