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Common sense isn't.

Why did TVA expect their three wind turbines would produce some six million kilowatt-hours per year?

We still don't really know.

January 5, 2003

The following information was requested under the Freedom of Information Act, on April 7, 2002.

Analysis, data and calculations that TVA used as a basis to state, "Together the three turbines are expected to produce some six million kilowatt-hours per year" (Reference: http://www.tva.gov/greenpowerswitch/wind_faq.htm (archive, 2002), under heading, " How much electricity is produced (archive, 2002), and will there be more?")

The following response was released by TVA on December 2, 2002. It was essentially a restatement of the obvious. Note that 660 kw x 3 x 8760 hours x 0.35 = six million kilowatt-hours, and "volume of generation" is unusual terminology.

"The calculation of the expected volume of generation used by TVA was the capacity of the machines times the number of machines times the number of hours in a year times an estimated average annual capacity factor or 660kw x 3 x 8760 x 0.35.  Also enclosed is a document titled "Questions and Answers on TVA's Proposed Wind Power Plant" which contains a question and answer regarding the capacity factor for the first year of operation and how that compared to the goal of 6 million kilowatt-hours per year."

After the plant was operating, it became clear that it would not produce as much power as TVA advertised (and continues to advertise). In fact, of the few data points that TVA has released, the maximum capacity factor has been about 33% (averaged over two or three month periods). Not once has it exceeded the previously "expected" average of 35%, and the long-term average is closer to 20%.

How and why did TVA so badly over-predict the "expected" capacity factor? Understanding this was the reason for the FOIA request. Did TVA actually analyze the historical weather data, which they said was a reason for selecting the site? Did they make mistakes? Were they intentionally over-optimistic to make the project look good? Unfortunately, we still don't know.

The attached document (below) was obviously not responsive to the request. The capacity factor "answer" says TVA still did not yet know the capacity factor. One can also calculate a 19.5% average capacity factor based on 3.9 million kwh in 14 months (November 2000 through December 2001), but 19.5% is obviously far below the assumed 35% stated above. Also, the document, although not dated, was clearly published after the requested information. Therefore, the document was clearly not the basis for the questioned statement, and was not the requested information. Nevertheless, it had enough interesting information to be worth publishing. Some of it is very similar to questions in the environmental assessment for the wind power plant expansion and elsewhere, but other parts are not found elsewhere on the Web, to my knowledge. I believe it was previously used as a handout at the public meetings on the plant expansion Environmental Assessment, so it is actually information that was previously released by TVA (contrary to the intent of the FOIA). Noteworthy are: only 2-3 jobs would be created; estimated $10,000 per turbine annual maintenance cost for 20-25 years; TVA overall average system capacity factor was about 58%; nearly an acre is cleared per turbine; project cost is ~$30 million for 20 MW (rated); Green Power Switch breakeven is "expected" to take 20 years.

Beginning of TVA Document

Questions and Answers on TVA's Proposed Wind Power Plant

Background Information

In April 2000, TVA initiated Green Power Switch (GPS), a program designed to offer TVA customers the option of purchasing electricity generated from renewable sources with relatively low environmental impacts.  These renewable sources are wind, solar, and methane gas from landfills and wastewater treatment plants.  During the first 18 months of the program, customers of 12 local distributors across the TVA power service area had the option to purchase green power.  Evaluations of the program during this initial pilot phase showed that it was successful and the amount of participation exceeded early projections.

TVA began generating electricity from wind in October 2000 at a small wind facility on Buffalo Mountain in Anderson County, Tennessee.  This wind facility was the first commercial wind generation in the southeastern United States.  It consists of three wind turbines with a maximum generation capacity of 2 megawatts. .

In order to meet the demand created by the GPS Program, TVA needs to increase its supply of electricity generated from renewable sources such as wind.  Because the operation of the existing Buffalo Mountain Wind facility confirmed that electricity could be generated by wind in the Southeast, TVA proposes to add about 20 megawatts (MW) of wind generation to its system at either the existing site on Buffalo Mountain in Anderson County, Tennessee, or a new site on Stone Mountain in Johnson County, Tennessee.

A draft environmental assessment has been prepared on TVA's proposal to acquire 20 MW of wind energy on either Buffalo or Stone Mountain and has been published on the TVA website at http://www.tva.gov/environment/reports/index.htm (archive, 2003). Printed copies of the entire draft environmental assessment are available for viewing at most area public libraries and courthouses in Johnson County and the Oliver Springs, Tennessee area.

  1. Has TVA contracted construction and operation of the wind power plant?  If so, who was contracted?  No. A developer/contractor will not be selected until the environmental review is complete and the location selected.
  2. Will the city, state, or county incur any costs to construct or operate the proposed plant?  Describe these costs, if any.  Not that we are aware of at this time.
  3. How many new jobs will be created locally to operate and maintain the wind turbines?  Describe these positions.  TVA estimates that 2-3 new jobs would be created by the wind power plant.  These jobs would be technical jobs for electricians or mechanics trained to maintain these machines.
  4. Did TVA (or its contractor) forecast increased city or county revenue from tourism?  If so, provide the amount and basis for tourism revenue projections.  No. TVA did not conduct any such studies.  However, two articles at the registration table are available for your information: "The Effect of Wind Energy Development on State and Local Economies" and "Examples of Benefits seen in Minnesota".
  5. What are the siting criteria (federal, state, and local) for the wind turbines and what government agencies regulate and approve the siting process?  There are no federal or State of Tennessee regulations specific to the siting of wind turbines.  Regulations affecting endangered species, wetlands, and cultural resources can affect the siting process.
  6. What alternative sites are being evaluated?  Provide results from the site selection process.  The two sites being considered are the Stone Mountain site in Johnson County, Tennessee and the Buffalo Mountain site in Anderson County, Tennessee.  The site selection process is described in the draft environmental assessment (available on the TVA web site at http://www.tva.gov/environment/reports/index.htm, archive, 2003), which has additional information on both sites.
  7. What are the requirements for minimum distance from the wind turbines to the nearest residents?  TVA is not aware of any industry or regulatory requirements for such a minimum distance.  However, since the plant is a generating station, all TVA safety regulations and requirements for high voltage equipment would apply.
  8. Will TVA perform baseline noise surveys if requested by area residents?  TVA will evaluate the need for noise surveys based on the distance of residents' homes from the wind farm.  Please refer to the Draft Environmental assessment (archive, 2003) page 4-41 for additional details.
  9. What regulatory agency is responsible for issuing the operating permit for the wind turbines?  There will be no specific operating permit needed for the wind facility.  However, TVA coordinates with appropriate State and local agencies on the siting and operation of all generating facilities, regardless of fuel type.  The FAA is responsible for issuing permits on lighting the wind turbines.
  10. Has the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved the towers and what are the lighting requirements?  When a site is selected, TVA will request the FAA to conduct an Aeronautical Study of the site.  Since the local airport is 3 to 4 miles from Stone Mountain we do not anticipate any impact from the turbines on the airport traffic.  The FAA will determine lighting requirements.  Each wind turbine at Buffalo Mountain has one white, medium-intensity flashing light on top of the turbine.  There are no lights on the blades.  The FAA would make the final decision as to whether all turbines require lights.
  11. How will the wind turbines comply with the Ridgetop Protection Laws in Johnson County and the State of North Carolina?  None of the turbines at the proposed site on Stone Mountain will be in North Carolina.  However, restrictions included in the Johnson County Ridgetop Protection Law indicate the law does not apply to "equipment used for the transmission of electricity, communications, or other public utilities."
  12. How much electricity did TVA's Buffalo Mountain Wind Plant produce during the first year of operation?  What was the capacity factor (time the plant actually operates) for the first year and how did it compare to the goal of 6 million kilowatt hours?  The Buffalo Mountain site has produced 3,882,310-kilowatt hours of electricity from November 2000 through December 2001.  As is common with any new facility, numerous start-up problems as well as completion of the distribution line and installation of communications equipment resulted in a significant amount of down time during the first several months of planned operation.  The plant has been operating since April 2001 and will not have a complete year of operating data until the end of March 2002.  Therefore, we will not know the capacity factor for the first year of operation at Buffalo Mountain until after this date when the annual generation is recorded.
  13. What is the expected life span of the proposed wind turbines and what are the annual operation and maintenance costs?  The average life expectancy of wind turbines is between 20 and 25 years.  Average annual maintenance costs per turbine for a 20-megawatt plant (13 to 16 turbines) could be as much as $10,000.
  14. How much electricity did TVA produce in FY-2001 (total from all sources)?  What was TVA's total capacity in FY2001 and what was the overall capacity factor?  TVA produced over 156 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in FY2001.  TVA's winter capacity is 30,365 megawatts.  TVA's overall capacity factor, or the amount of time that all TVA generating units including hydro, pumped storage, combustion turbines, nuclear plants, fossil plants, wind turbines, landfill gas facilities and solar sites, were actually operating in 2001 was approximately 58 percent.
  15. What are the projections for percent growth in TVA electrical demand over the next ten years?  TVA is projecting an annual growth rate of 2.2 percent in electrical demand over the next 10 years (2002-2012).
  16. The Department of Energy has stated a goal to increase wind-generated electricity production in the U.S. from 0.1 percent to 5percent by the year 2020.  What are TVA's goals for increasing wind power generating capacity?  TVA plans to add 20 megawatts of wind generation by October 2003 to support the Green Power Switch (GPS) Program.  Absent an approved national renewable portfolio standard, any plans for additional wind generation in the TVA service territory will depend on the demand for the GPS Program and available sites.
  17. Will TVA consider constructing the energy storage plant without the wind turbines?  No. TVA will not construct the energy storage plant at any of the locations described in the Environmental Assessment without the wind turbines.  TVA may construct similar energy storage plants at these or other locations in the future to meet other power system needs.
  18. Will TVA consider constructing the proposed wind turbines in phases?  For example, the first phase might consist of two or three turbines operated for a period of time to determine community acceptance and assess performance.  This was the approach used that resulted in the three-turbine demonstration on Buffalo Mountain.  As a result of that phase, we have determined that the wind in portions of the Valley is sufficient, studied noise level and impacts on wildlife, etc. and have also determined that the cost of expanding at the rate of a few turbines at a time is very expensive.  The cost of power is reduced if infrastructure costs such as substations, transmission lines, and roads as well as the erection costs is spread over the greatest number of turbines at the time of plant construction.
  19. Can the turbines be limited to sites with previous industrial development and not placed on an undeveloped site such as Stone Mountain?  Unfortunately there are very few mountaintops in the TVA service territory with previous industrial development with suitable wind.
  20. How much area will be required for each wind turbine?  Approximately 200 feet x 200feet would have to be cleared for each turbine to allow for assembly and erection by crane during construction.  The actual fenced-in space around each turbine during operation would be 60 feet x 60 feet or less.  Area cleared for construction would be restored as nearly as possible to pre-construction conditions.
  21. How does the elevation of Stone Mountain compare to Buffalo Mountain?  Stone is between 4,300 feet and 4,650 feet above sea level.  Buffalo has an elevation of 3,200 feet to 3,400 feet.
  22. There was a huge wind turbine in the Boone, North Carolina area that caused many problems.  Are these turbines similar?  There was a first generation wind turbine near Boone N.C. in the early 1980's.  It was huge, loud and interfered with all sorts of communications including TV reception.  Over the last 20 years the technology has changed significantly.  Current day wind turbines are a proven technology without these problems.
  23. Why was Stone Mountain chosen as a possible site?  Stone Mountain was chosen as a potential site because of its high wind speeds, which average 19-20 miles an hour, road access, and presence of nearby transmission lines.  TVA has been collecting wind data on Stone Mountain for the past 8 - 9 months, and also collected wind data during the 1980s.  It is ranked as a Class 4 site which is considered quite good.
  24. Who are the landowners that TVA is working with and what is TVA paying them for their property?  TVA is negotiating with Coal Creek Mining & Manufacturing Company for the Buffalo Mountain site and Danny Herman for the Stone Mountain site.  The terms of the contracts are business confidential.
  25. If TVA were to proceed with this project when would construction occur?  Some site preparation such as clearing could begin in late 2002 as well as any modifications to the roads.  Actual construction on site such as foundation work for the turbines would most likely begin in early 2003 after the weather warms up.  TVA proposed plans call for bringing the facility on line by October 2003.
  26. Which roads would be used during construction?  If Stone Mountain were selected as the site, the road used for construction would likely be either Grover Reece/Stone Mountain Road, or Bulldog Road and the unnamed road to Vaught Gap.  The final selection will be determined after a decision is made based on the vendor and equipment transport needs.  The existing access road at the Buffalo Mountain site will be improved if that site is selected.
  27. Who would own the wind facility and what are the tax impacts for the county?  TVA has issued a Request for Proposal for wind energy.  We have accepted proposals for both 1) the exclusive rights to purchase wind energy from a facility not owned by TVA and 2) proposals for the turnkey engineering and construction of a wind energy facility owned by TVA.  TVA will evaluate all proposals and make a decision in the Spring of 2002 once a final decision on whether to construct the wind facility has been made.  TVA pays in-lieu-of-taxes to state and local governments.  The tax equivalent payments are based on the previous years power sales revenue and TVA owned property in each state.  Most of this money is paid directly to state governments and then redistributed to local governments based upon a formula established by the state.
  28. Where would the substation be and where would the project connect to the TVA grid?  A substation will be located at the mountaintop of either site with the power being connected either to TVA or the local power distributor grid.
  29. What is the estimated cost of the turbines?  This will not be determined until the evaluation is completed.  However, we estimate the project to cost less than $30 million.
  30. Would TVA expand the site at a later date and add more turbines?  Future expansion of TVA wind generation facilities will primarily depend on the future demand for the Green Power Switch program.
  31. How many years of generated power is needed just to pay for the wind turbine and attached equipment, or what percent of life is needed to pay off debt?  TVA's investment in wind facilities is supported by the Green Power Switch (GPS) revenue that also supports the investment in the other GPS power supplies such as solar and landfill gas energy generation plants.  The GPS revenue collected is not segregated or allocated by supply-type.  However, the price of the GPS power ($4 per 150 kilowatt hours) was set to “pay off” all costs, including debt, incurred to support the entire GPS supply portfolio over a 20-year period.
  32. How is this project going to affect the Stone Mountain watershed?  As described in the draft environmental assessment, with the implementation of appropriate best management practices, no significant impacts to area watersheds, including groundwater, are expected.
  33. Where will the energy storage facility be located?  The sites being considered for the energy storage facility at both Buffalo Mountain and Stone Mountain will be in the valleys, closer to the point of interconnection with the power grid.
  34. What does TVA consider before choosing possible future sites for these wind power-generating systems?  The site selection process considers the following factors.  The strength of the wind resource, availability of the land, proximity to the electrical system, access to the site, and site-specific environmental impacts.  TVA has taken into consideration a number of environmental issues-air quality, socioeconomic resources (population, housing, etc.), groundwater, cultural resources, vegetation and wildlife, threatened and endangered species, visual resources, noise, land use, water supply, etc.
  35. What is the minimum elevation required for these possible sites?  There is no minimum elevation.  Wind strength generally increases with elevation, but site-specific circumstances such as the presence of nearby ridges can also affect wind conditions.  However, we have learned from experience that the wind resource below 3,000 feet is usually not strong enough to economically support a wind generation facility, given the current technology available.
  36. From your experience to date with the turbines, how many hours per day on average have the turbines produced the amount of power expected?  TVA is still gathering data on the operation of the wind turbines installed on Buffalo Mountain, which are still going through the normal first-year shakedown phase.  However, we expect energy production sufficient for up to 4,600 households from a wind generation facility on Stone Mountain and up to 3,000 households for the same size facility on Buffalo Mountain.  The difference in energy production estimates is due to the difference in the strength of the wind at the two sites.
  37. Why were the landowners that surround the two sites not informed at that time TVA first began investigating the sites for possible wind generation locations?  TVA has been mapping the wind resources in the Valley for many years.  As sites are identified as having potential, local landowners are approached to allow the placement of meteorological towers to further measure the wind resource.  It is only after it is determined that a site has significant wind resource potential and selected as a possible location for a wind generation facility, that the general public is notified of a potential TVA action.
  38. If the Buffalo Mountain site is selected for the expansion, will the new turbines be constructed next to the existing three that we can see from Oak Ridge now, or elsewhere?  If Buffalo Mountain is selected, the new turbines will be placed near the existing ones.
  39. Does a map exist that shows all the locations where wind is strong enough to generate electricity from these turbines, and does the government or private buyers already have the land expecting it to be a long-term investment?  The Department of Energy produced a broad scale map of the wind resource across the U.S. This map is available at http://rredc.nrel.gov/wind/pubs/atlas (archive, 2002). We are not aware of speculative land purchases for wind farms in the TVA area.
  40. Will TVA compensate landowners directly adjacent to the wind turbines for loss of property value?  TVA does not compensate landowners who have property adjacent to power plants, reservoirs, transmission lines, etc.
  41. How proven is the Regenesys technology?  TVA is building a Regenesys plant in Mississippi to demonstrate the technology in the United States.  This technology has been demonstrated in a pilot project in the United Kingdom.
  42. Instead of expanding the grid for more power use, why aren't you stressing conservation?  TVA's investment in wind generation or the promotion of GPS does not encourage the increased use of electricity or expand the grid.  TVA's operation of a wind generation plant will offset power generated from other sources.
  43. What are the physical characteristics of the wind turbines?  The characteristics will depend on the turbine vendor selected, but in general, they are as follows:

End of TVA Document

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