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Common sense isn't.

Commentary on "Testing of wind turbines today" by Duncan Mansfield, Associated Press, published by the Oak Ridger Newspaper, 9/19/00 (archive, 2002)

Original Version September 20, 2000; Revised October 27, 2000; very minor revision November 16, 2007

Note: The original article below (without photos) is shown in normal text, and my comments are italicized.

OLIVER SPRINGS -- Three tall white spires topped with delicately poised 75-foot-long rotors point into the wind, waiting to bring a new source of renewable energy to the Tennessee Valley.

[ The "spires" image brings to mind the appropriate environmental religion analogy. And, how do you define "renewable energy" anyway?

According to TVA (archive, 2000), "The green in green power comes from its renewability. Resources like wind and sunlight produce energy today that renews itself tomorrow-like a growing plant."

Or, according to NREL (archive, 2000), "Under the definition established in California's electric industry restructuring law (AB 1890), eligible renewables may include solar, wind, geothermal, solid fuel biomass, whole waste tire combustion, municipal solid waste, landfill gas, and hydropower with a generating capacity of 30 MW or less."

The bottom line is: Green is what they (the "greens") say it is. Big dam - bad, little dam - green; natural gas - bad, landfill gas or biogas - green; coal or oil - bad, waste tires - green; Nuclear - bad, Solar - green.

For the sake of completeness, although this commentary is primarily directed at wind power, note that fossil fuels like coal and oil are technically as renewable as those favored by the "greens." Fossil fuels of today are the biomass of yesterday. They contain stored solar energy that was deposited on our planet long ago. We should ask ourselves why it is any better to favor using the solar energy deposited today over the solar energy deposited yesterday, particularly when collecting the solar energy of today requires us to cut down living trees or other plants, and to cover our visible environment with unsightly solar collectors and windmills. ]

"I wanted to see them as soon as we got 'em up," Tennessee Valley Authority Chairman Craven Crowell said Monday as his helicopter landed on Buffalo Mountain, site of the first major wind turbine project in the Southeast.

[ I took a similar trip about a week earlier, but I had to drive an SUV up miles of dirt road, on a day off from work (Sunday). ]

The three wind turbines rise nearly 300 feet into the sky.

"Amazing," Crowell said.

[ I said "Wow, that's really big!" ]

Together, the turbines will provide about 2 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 400 homes in a year.

That's small compared to TVA's systemwide demand of some 28,000 megawatts.

"But it is a big part of what we are doing with green power," said Jim Keiffer, senior vice president for marketing.

[ From the TVA site again, "... will produce about six million kilowatt-hours of energy each year-enough to serve more than 400 typical Valley households." I get 34% capacity factor based on 2 Mw giving 6 million Kwh per year {6E6 Kwh / (2 Mw *1000 Kw/Mw * 8760 hours per year) }. I'm just guessing the site area was on the order of 0.5 miles by 0.25 miles. And to replace 28,000 MW, TVA would need about 14,000 of these stations, or make that 41,000 after adjusting for capacity factor, which will take over 5,000 square miles of windy, mountain top land. That's big compared to, for example, Tennessee's 41,000 total square miles (archive, 2000) of area! Then, there's the batteries for the still days... ]

TVA's Green Power Switch (archive, 2000) alternative energy program, launched on Earth Day on April 22, is being offered in a first-year test to customers of a dozen of TVA's 158 local distributors.

So far, some 1,944 homes and 115 businesses have signed up to buy blocks of green power. Residential customers are charged an extra $4 a month per 150 kilowatt-hour block, roughly 12 percent of a household's monthly average.

[ 150 Kwh may be only 12% of a monthly average electrical usage, but an extra $4 per 150 Kwh is equivalent to an extra rate of $0.02667 per Kwh (2.667 cents per Kilowatt-hour), or an extra 41%, based on the September 2000 rate of $0.06466 per Kwh in the City of Oak Ridge, TN. Based on this increase in rate, if I received all my electric power from wind power, at $0.09133 per Kwh (0.02667 + 0.06466) for the 2,569 Kwh I used in September, I would have paid $235 instead of $166, an increase of $69!! ]

TVA hopes to have as many as 8,000 residential customers signed up by next spring.

Meantime, operational testing on the turbines begins today, with the target of mid-October for connecting the windmills up to the TVA grid.

The turbines will be complimented with as many as 12 solar collectors -- four are now running in Nashville, Pigeon Forge, Gibson County and Knoxville -- and an unidentified landfill gas-to-energy facility in Middle Tennessee that should be working by early next year.

The turbines were made in Denmark and installed by enXco, a Palm Springs, Calif., company that manages or owns about 4,400 turbines in California, Texas, Iowa, South Dakota, as well as Costa Rica, Germany, England and India.

The turbines cost $3.4 million. TVA is budgeting about $8 million for this first phase of green power, all of which it expects to recoup through the extra fees charged consumers.

[ $3.4 million for 2 Megawatts is about $1,700 per rated Kw ($3.4E6/2 Mw * 1 Mw/1000 Kw), or is it really closer to $5,000 per available Kw ($1,700 / 0.34)? ]

Stephen Smith, director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, called it a "very important move by TVA to begin to invest in renewable energy like this."

The alliance is pushing TVA to move away from coal-fired generating stations that pollute the air. "We hope this is just the first step in a long commitment that TVA is going to make to clean up the power mix," Smith said.

[ Yes, they prefer to pollute the air with 300 feet tall metal structures, and to re-strip mine the ground, for something that has the energy density of (well, something really low, like me pedaling a bicycle). Here's an idea, make the conventional power plants more environmentally friendly by mounting these windmills at the tops of the cooling towers! Only 40,999 more steps to go. ]

Locating the turbines atop a 3,300-foot-high reclaimed strip mine was both symbolic and practical.

"This was a strip mine and now we have turned it into something that is very friendly to the environment," Keiffer said.

[ Symbolic all right, but how do you define "friendly to the environment?" ]

But Buffalo Mountain, a second choice after Chattanooga residents objected to what they considered unsightly turbines being installed on Lookout Mountain, also offered a flattened, treeless mountain top with road access and TVA transmission lines nearby.

[ The turbines are much less unsightly here (Not!). For the record, they installed new power lines along (practically in) the road access, and I doubt the wind farm will produce enough power to justify using the high voltage transmission lines. ]

In addition, the government has monitored wind patterns on Buffalo Mountain for years because it is within 12 miles of the Department of Energy's research and weapons complex in Oak Ridge.

Buffalo Mountain site could be host for several more turbines in the future. "I would like to see more up here," Crowell said. "A nice wind farm."

[ If it's so environmentally friendly, why don't we put these farms up in the Smoky Mountain National Park, and maybe they'll clean up the smog too? ]

On the Net:

Tennessee Valley Authority: www.tva.gov

All Original Article Contents © Copyright The Oak Ridger

We should take the "green's" slogan as a new fission/reprocessing motto: "Resources like fissile fuels produce energy today that renews itself tomorrow-like a growing plant." The thing is, it's true for nuclear fission power with reprocessing. It really is possible to produce more fuel than you use, as amazing as it seems. But with the green's renewables of wind and solar, you're lucky if you get as much tomorrow as you got today. On average you probably will, but you're at the whim of the weather, and the growth rates of plants.

How can you tell the difference between a green electron and a conventional electron? The green electrons are afraid to move through the wires (badump bump). And, they stick together, rather than repel, because they're more "friendly."

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