Wind Power Roars into 2012

January 3, 2012

The  (6 minute long) video above is an excerpt from a longer talk by Lester Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute, given in late 2011. Brown is the author of Plan B 4.0, the latest in a series of prescriptions for a new, sustainable society.

The longer talk, highly recommended, is here.  I’ll be posting another excerpt, on the coal industry, tomorrow.

From the American Wind Energy Association:

WASHINGTON, DC, December 27, 2011– Wind power hits 20 percent overall in two states. It contributes a record 50 percent for a period of time in another. And the turbines that pump out all those electrons? Their cost has dropped 33 percent.

The wind power industry never sits still in any given year, and 2011 was no different, as it forged ahead with a slew of benchmarks, policy progress, and hard data that illustrate wind energy continuing its march forward as a mainstream, reliable and affordable energy source made in America.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has established a tradition of taking a look back in December at the events that shaped the year in wind power. Here’s a look at just some of the many happenings that made 2011 yet another big year in the continued evolution of the industry.

1 – Iowa, South Dakota reach 20 percent wind penetration overall.U.S. wind industry observers no longer need look to Europe for examples of huge wind power penetrations. Both Iowa and South Dakota reached the important milestone of 20 percent of their electricity coming from wind power, a first for the U.S.And more projects are coming.

2 – Xcel Energy shatters wind barrier with 50 percent at one time. While Iowa and South Dakota lead the nation with their 20 percent wind penetration overall benchmark, a utility system in Colorado made some noise on the integration front as well. Investor-owned utility Xcel Energy set a wind power world record on the morning of October 6, when subsidiary Public Service Co. of Colorado got 55.6 percent of the electricity on its system at one time from wind power, as reported in the Denver Post. The leading utility for wind power on its wires, Xcel Energy is proving once again that large amounts of wind can be successfully integrated onto the grid.

3 – Cost drop: Wind power gets leaner and meaner. Wind turbine prices have dropped sharply in recent years, and a government report released in 2011 highlights that trend with some telling numbers. According to the latest edition of the U.S. Department of Energy’s “Wind Technologies Market Report,” turbine prices decreased by as much as 33 percent or more between late 2008 and 2010. As discussed in AWEA’s most recent industry Annual Report, more efficient U.S.-based manufacturing is saving on transportation, and technology improvements are making turbines better and more efficient.

4 – One-third renewables: California establishes landmark RES. In April, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law legislation that ups the state’s renewable electricity standard from an already strong 20 percent to an historic 33 percent by 2020. The renewables standard includes near-term and incremental targets (20 percent by the end of 2013 and 25 percent by the end of 2016), an approach that the wind industry considers to be an important component of RES legislation because it allows the industry to begin ramping up and generating economic development immediately.

5 – Offshore streamlining and project progress. The U.S. Departments of Energy and Interior made several important announcements that moved offshore American wind power forward, including: the unveiling of a coordinated strategic plan to pursue the deployment of 10 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind capacity by 2020 and 54 GW by 2030, the creation of high-priority “Wind Energy Areas” off the coasts of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, the approval of Cape Wind project’s construction and operations plan and the commitment of $43 million over the next five years to help speed technical innovations, drive down costs, and reduce market barriers such as supply chain development, transmission and infrastructure.

6 – WindMade™ label announced. 2011 marked the launch of WindMade™, a new consumer label that will highlight companies getting a large portion of their electricity from wind power. Already 15 companies—including such names as Motorola Mobility, Deutsche Bank, and Bloomberg—have committed to attaining the new label by getting at least 25 percent of their electricity from wind energy.

7 – Momentum builds for PTC extension. The year is wrapping without the all-important extension of the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC), wind power’s primary policy driver, which expires at the end of 2012. But the PTC movement gathered momentum heading into next year, with bipartisan legislation recently introduced by Representatives Dave Reichert (R, WA-08) and Earl Blumenauer (D, OR-03) seeking to grant a four-year PTC extension (H.R. 3307, the “American Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit Extension Act”). This legislation has garnered the support of 36 cosponsors including 11 Republicans as well as a broad, nonpartisan coalition of over 370 members, including manufacturing, farm and business interests and the bipartisan Governors’ Wind Energy Coalition comprised of 23 Republican and Democrat Governors from across the U.S.

8 – Wind power keeps the lights on. When more than 50 power plants totaling 7,000 MW unexpectedly went offline in Texas due to unusually cold weather early in the year, wind power was there to help stabilize the system and keep the lights on. Wind energy played a critical role in limiting the severity of the blackouts, providing enough electricity to keep the power on for about three million typical households. ERCOT, the Texas grid operator, confirmed that wind energy was providing between 3,500 and 4,000 MW of electricity (about 7 percent of ERCOT demand at that time)—roughly what it was forecast and scheduled to provide—during the critical two-hour window when the grid needed power the most. Said ERCOT CEO Trip Doggett, as reported in the Texas Tribune: “I would highlight that we put out a special word of thanks to the wind community because they did contribute significantly through this timeframe.”

9- Southeast gets more clean, affordable wind power. Two new southern states will soon be powered by wind: Alabama and Louisiana. When Alabama Power secured a power purchase agreement for TradeWind Energy to provide 202 MW of power from an Oklahoma wind farm, Matt Bowden, the utility’s vice president of environmental affairs said it all: “This agreement not only boosts our use of renewable energy, it also provides real savings for our customers,” he said. “It benefits both the environment and the people we serve.”

The savings are not unique. Just this month in Louisiana, the state public service commission approved a 20-year contract that utility Southwestern Electric Power Co. of Shreveport signed for power coming from a Kansas wind farm. Commissioner Foster Campbell noted the deal will lower costs for consumers. And more wind power will soon be generated in the South, with North Carolina and Florida both having utility-scale wind farms under development.

10 – Republican candidates literally sign on to wind power, which figures prominently at Iowa Straw Poll. As seen in item No. 1, Iowa gets 20 percent of its electricity from wind power. So when the nation’s eyes turned to the Hawkeye State for the Iowa Republican Presidential Straw Poll in August, they caught a glimpse of what wind power has already done for Iowans and what it can do for America. Candidates for President and Iowa voters had the opportunity to literally touch the economic power of wind energy at the Straw Poll, where wind component manufacturer TPI Composites displayed a 130-foot-long wind turbine blade made right in Iowa, at a factory in Newton. In addition to Gov. Terry Branstad (R) and Iowa Senator Charles Grassley (R), signing the blade were then- and current presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, and Thaddeus McCotter. Candidate Rick Perry signed the very same blade just last week.

19 Responses to “Wind Power Roars into 2012”

  1. Martin_Lack Says:

    Happy New Year to you and all your readers.

    Thanks for posting this video. Lester Brown makes a very convincing argument for PIMBYism (competition amongst landowners to secure external investment) but, if you live in an appropriate place, I am not so convinced that wind is unsuitable for micro-gneration. However, if we must accept the industrialisation of the countryside as a necessary consequence of having given up on Fast Neutron Reactors 20-25 years ago, I still believe that the new 24/7 solar power stations (i.e. those that store energy and release it at night) are preferable to man-made forests of wind turbines.

    Also, can someone please explain to me where David MacKay went wrong when he concluded that we cannot possibly meet the world’s long-term energy needs using renewable energy alone (e.g.

  2. […] From the American Wind Energy Association: Wind Power Roars into 2012 « Climate Denial Crock of the Week […]

  3. The individual at the hyperlink “withouthotair” is clearly not an expert in wind energy.
    Wind energy varies as wind velocity cubed. One cannot take the average wind speed to make a linear summation of the available energy. Also, why would one site a wind farm where wind speeds average the lowest? Wind farms are mostly offshore and in Scotland and Wales where the wind blows most frequently and strongest. See this link:
    Here are statistics on wind energy in the UK from the GWEC, Global Wind Energy Council.

    As of 2010, in UK, total installed capacity: 5204MW.

    “In January 2010, over 32 GW worth of sites were leased as part of Offshore Round 3 by the Crown Estate, the agency that manages the seabed on behalf of the government. This brought the total offshore development pipeline to a staggering 49 GW, which would translate into 150 TWh of electricity or just under half of today’s UK power consumption.”

    Note the last statement. How could plans be in place for half of todays UK energy consumption to be generated by wind? Because wind energy totals are not estimated using the equations in “withouthotair”. There are scholarly papers on energy estimation. You find them in professional journals about power. This is not one of them.

    • Martin_Lack Says:

      Thanks Christopher. I asked a question and you have answered it.

      You are right of course, the individual (as you deliberately seem to disparagingly refer to him) is not an expert on wind power and I am grateful for your explanation. However, his entire website is an acknowledged exercise in ball-park assessmentand his basic conclusion appears to remain valid. If not, why does the UK government still seek to pursue a mixture of energy sources? Well, for one thing, this will ensure security of supply because, even in the outer Hebrides, the wind does not blow all the time.

      This is why super-efficient new solar power stations that can generate electricity even when it is cloudy (using parabolic mirrors) and at night (using capacitors to discharge stored electricity) are a much better idea. But, if that is so, why are we not investing in them?

      I will tell you why, because the government has not legislated to force carbon-based energy providers to change course. Until they do this, we will remain on track towards a 6 Celsius increase in global average temperatures and the end of Goldilocks planet.

      Do I sound angrier than you? If so, I apologise but, this is something I think we should all be very angry about.

      • BlueRock Says:

        So, having been supplied with evidence that MacKay’s basic conclusion is not valid, you simply assert – without evidence or rational argument – that it is. Huh?!

        The flaws in MacKay’s book are numerous and critiques of it are easily found with some obvious Googling. You can find some cited here:

        David MacKay is not an expert and his error-filled and biased book broadcasts that for all to see. At least for those who *choose* to see. The problem is that MacKay provides conclusions that some people *want* to be true so they remain in denial and wilfully ignorant of the errors and rebuttals.

        P.S. You don’t need to postulate government incompetence to explain why CSP is not being deployed in the UK. It’s very simple – it is too northerly and cold here. Wind power, solar PV, tidal, wave, biomass and biogas are the renewable energy ingredients that work best here.

        Also, your argument that “the wind doesn’t blow all the time” is the energy equivalent of “no warming since 1998”. It’s misleading nonsense. It demonstrates an ignorance of how a connected, distributed grid of micro generators work together. Google will help you understand.

  4. […] video above comes from the same speech by Lester Brown, part of which I posted earlier in the week. The original is […]

  5. Wow. I guess its difficult to hide my feelings. I apologize to you and Mr. MacKay. There are some other forums where the debate is quite hot on the same subject. Probably not accidental.

    I did further research and found some interesting facts you would like to know. Your reference is to only one chapter of MacKay’s article. Since it is only one chapter, and the title is slightly derogatory “hotair”, I was left with a slightly negative impression.

    So he states the question, “How much wind power could we plausibly generate?”

    His answer, “This conclusion – that the maximum contribution of onshore wind, al-
    beit “huge,” is much less than our consumption..”

    He shows or you can find that the UK domestic electricity use averages 15kw/day/person. His example creates 20kw/day/person. Hold it right there. He just disproved his assertion. Let that sink in. Feel free to check the numbers.

    Unfortunately, he adds vehicles to consumption and uses the energy consumption for gas vehicles to make his point. Nevermind that the current electric energy consumption does not include private transportation. That grumbling you hear is me objecting to the goal posts being moved back 100yards. What next? It takes a lot of area to power all the energy needs of all kinds from land based wind alone? Kind of unfair.

    Electric vehicles achieve 0.25kw-r/mile.

    You will see in a minute how he just made the case for powering the entire UK domestic energy use and a great chunk of its private commuter use from 10% of the land area by his own calculations.

    At 0.25kw-hr/mile x 20 miles gives 5kw-hr for your 20 mile commute. The majority of commutes are less than 25 miles.

    That means that 20kw-hr/day/person supplies the 15kw-hr/day/person for domestic use and 5kw-hr/day for a 20 mile commute.

    He also says,’ Am I saying that we shouldn’t bother
    building wind farms? Not at all. I’m simply trying to convey a helpful
    fact, namely that if we want wind power to truly make a difference, the
    wind farms must cover a very large area.”

    Hard to argue with that. It’s true, but misleading. The intended siting is for remote rural locations like pasture, where land use is dual. The siting area use he uses is for the entire wind farm. Be careful with this one. The actual area which is out of use for other purposes is some 100x lower. So the actual land use out of commission to any other activity is probably much lower, a scant 0.1% of land. Here is a reference to wind farm land use which sorts this out.

    Click to access 45834.pdf

    He does not help himself out by citing Cambridge as a location for wind energy. Its not.
    Remote Scotland and Wales are excellent, though. Plenty of room for sheep and crops and ….wind farms.

    Note that from the same reference wind farms have a wide range of total areal land use, from 1 to 10MW/km2. The average is 3.0MW/km2, not 2MW/km2. He cited only one example. So there is an extra 50% to add to his totals. The capacity factor of wind farms in wind sites can be much higher than 33%. The record is in the Shetlands at an incredible 58% during one year.

    What’s my conclusion? Broad assertions require overwhelming proof to counter the inaccuracy of approximations. He has not achieved that. According to his own calculations, which I assert understate the amount of energy generated by at least 50%, all of current UK domestic energy can be supplied by 10% land use, with only 0.1% unavailable for other uses. As a bonus, a large portion of the commuter miles could also be supplied.

    “This conclusion – that the maximum contribution of onshore wind, al-
    beit “huge,” is much less than our consumption ..”


    “if we want wind power to truly make a difference, the
    wind farms must cover a very large area”

    Its an empty generalization. How large an area? I say 0.1% of land use solely for wind energy is reasonable. 10% of land area for dual use, such as wind and pasture, agriculture, is also reasonable.

    • Martin_Lack Says:

      It was very good of you to delve a little deeper into David Mackay’s very well-respected book. However, even having done so, you appear to have some very credible criticisms of it. I would very much like to know what MacKay’s response would be to these but, if you decide to ask him, please try and be more polite! It is possible that I am just too prone to subservient and deferential behaviour but, on the other hand, I believe you get the beast out of people by avoiding unnecessary erosion of their self-esteem.

      As for me, well, despite everything you say, I still feel that wind power is a bad choice: Whereas tides are either high or low and the Sun is either in or out, wind is completely ephemeral and unpredictable. Therefore, with the complicity of many governments, I believe the renewable energy business is generally backing the wrong horse.

      However, hopefully, we can agree upon the need to shoot the old one?

      • greenman3610 Says:

        I would argue there’s a lot of people in the world who have entirely too much self esteem.
        For them, a little realism is an act of mercy.

    • BlueRock Says:

      Excellent comment. Thanks.

      I don’t think you need apologise for anything. You are right to be disparaging of David MacKay’s book. Many others have found huge flaws in his assumptions and calculations. I cite some along with my own commentary at

  6. While it is true what greenman says, my goal is to educate and inform. It is also to make an accurate and balanced assessment. So I must be more diplomatic and factual, I agree, and thanks for the suggestion. To that end, you can see I make a concerted effort to do so, to the point of writing ridiculously long comments. I hope it matters to someone. I have spent most of my life fighting for a better world and warning of the changes to come. I was in wind energy decades ago, before it became fashionable. The old horse is dying. There is no need to shoot it. Very few people realize the enormity of the changes before us. I watched for decades as I explained to people that wind energy could be economical, reliable, and our best approach to head off the coming crisis of depleted energy resources. The future is already here. We are in the era of limits to growth.

    I am in favor of all forms of renewables. Wind is the best we have. Solar is coming on strong. Wave and tidal power have barely even started the early phases. I stare at the graph of installed wind power in the US over the past 40 years and see the growth leap enormously in the past 5 years, and I am moved deeply. Wind energy has been economical for decades, but met with scorn and ridicule. They said it was uneconomical. Intermittent. Couldn’t be large scale. Provided only a tiny fraction of demand. I dreamed of gigantic windmills dotting the rural countryside, gently, quietly, and cleanly powering our lives in large numbers. I got a chance to see them last year as I helped haul an electric vehicle to the Automotive X-prize. I saw the windmill farms in Wyoming, Iowa, and Illinois. Those were only an impossible dream 40 years ago. Now they are providing 20% of the electric energy in two states and quite a few foreign countries. They said it was impossible. I knew it was possible 30 years ago. Martin, keep the faith. It is for those of us who feel so deeply and strongly about the future of this planet.

    When I hear people say we must destroy our planet for greed, I get a gut reaction. Its the home to all of us. I only make one request. Share, and treat each other well.

    Now … as far as wind intermittency is concerned, if you research, you will find that it is not much of a problem when it is used at 20% of total capacity. In fact as greenman has been showing, when so many large wind farms are online, that is not the problem.
    The chance that all those turbines over a 600km range drop below a given capacity at once is so low, it is getting much more like fossil fuel sources. What you see when you read technical Power reports is that grid stability, and overcapacity (wasted without storage) are much bigger problems, but engineers are working on them. See some of those to other greenman videos to understand this story. The other side of the coin, is that load varies daily and seasonally. Every power company is trying to fill in the demand curve. Why is wind power their number one choice? Fuel cost. It doesn’t go up. They aren’t saying wind is impossible anymore. I am seeing every objection melt. The latest, wind is not a good energy source in the southern states. Aw, heck. They just signed contracts for a huge amount of wind energy from Iowa. Notice which states have big wind exports? There is huge wind potential in Nebraska and Kansas. Why are Iowa and Texas beating them? It has nothing to do with the viability of wind in those states. The competition is on. Now wind will shake the leaves of the tallest trees.

    • Martin_Lack Says:

      Thanks Christopher. You make the case for Wind power extremely well. My cynicism is clearly misplaced and David MacKay’s simplistic approach does indeed appear flawed.

  7. BlueRock Says:

    I didn’t work it all out as quickly as you, but I strongly agree with everything you say. Great to see someone else as passionate and informed about this as me (he said immodestly!).

    > Wind is the best we have. Solar is coming on strong.

    But they also compliment each other. For example, here in the UK our wind resource is stronger on average at night than and during the winter – so wind + solar are a perfect team (backed up by hydro, biomass, HVDC connection to mainland Europe, etc.)

    > …as far as wind intermittency is concerned, if you research, you will find that it is not much of a problem…

    I find it baffling how so many people cannot grasp that e.g. 1000 wind farms distributed over 250,000 sq. km. (area of the UK) is *not* intermittent but highly reliable. Or they seem to believe they are the first person to realise that the wind stops blowing in a location occasionally.

    > The chance that all those turbines over a 600km range drop below a given capacity at once is so low, it is getting much more like fossil fuel sources.


    * “Low wind speeds affecting 90% or more of the UK would occur in around one hour every five years during winter”

    The future is windy and bright. 🙂

  8. This is late, but I cannot resist. MacKay’s numbers on nuclear vs. wind area are whack. See this paper for enlightenment.

    • Martin Lack Says:

      There may be some truth in what Lovins says but the problem is that his opposition to nuclear power is probably manufactured for ideological reasons. Furthermore, I have not seen anyone address the other points raised by James Hansen in Storms of my Grandchildren in favour of Fast Neutron Reactors, namely that the nuclear waste legacy and proliferation risks exist but both would probably be well on the way to being eliminated by now if we had not given up on the technology 25-30 years ago.

      Does your ideological opposition to nuclear power extend to Fusion reactors too (which take up very little space and will produce no waste at all)?

      • BlueRock Says:

        Either Lovins facts are right or they are not. Either his arguments are rational or they are not. Your attempt to dismiss it all because you believe – without presenting any evidence – that Lovins’ support of nuclear is “probably manufactured for ideological reasons” is fallacious. I’d suggest it is not Lovins who is blinded by ideology.

        James Hansen is a visionary climate scientist. But he is just another person with an opinion on energy. His opinion on fast reactors is basically that of Tom Blees who he cites in Storms. Blees has decided that his nuclear dreams would be reality if billions more $$$s had been thrown at nukes. Expert opinion does not support him:

        * It’s time to give up on breeder reactors. Since the dawn of the nuclear age, nuclear energy advocates have dreamed of a reactor that could produce more fuel than it used. More than 60 years and $100 billion later, that vision remains as far from reality as ever.

        Hansen believes the narrative that the “antinuke” crowd stopped nuclear research. It’s not believable. If there were significant technical and financial benefits from e.g. fast reactors then a bunch of hippies waving banners would not have stopped it.

        The reality is that escalating costs and technical dead ends killed nukes in the 80s. They could not compete against fossils, now they cannot compete against renewables.

        * Three Mile Island Accident in 1979 Was Not a Major Cause of US Nuclear Power’s Woes. Nor was “anti-nuclear” protests. It’s the money, dummy!

        > Does your ideological opposition to nuclear power extend to Fusion reactors…

        Fusion: arriving in 30 years for the last 60 years. Techno-fantasies will not avoid a single gram of CO2.

        Does your ideological support of nuclear power blind you to the realities of it all? Nukes are in global decline due to escalating costs, because they are very slow and unreliable to build (e.g. Olkiluoto + Flamanville), because they cannot function in an open market without massive subsidy from the state, and because they are adding to a mountain of growing nuclear waste that no one has a real solution to. Tom Blees’ dreams of what might have been solve nothing.

        P.S. Here’s something else Tom Blees wrote:

        “Privatized nuclear power should be outlawed worldwide, with complete international control of not only the entire fuel cycle but also the engineering, construction, and operation of all nuclear power plants. Only in this way will safety and proliferation issues be satisfactorily dealt with. Anything short of that opens up a Pandora’s box of inevitable problems. … The shadowy threat of nuclear proliferation and terrorism virtually requires us to either internationalize or ban nuclear power.”

        Given that what Blees prescribes is practically impossible then he is tacitly admitting that nuclear power should be ended. He got that much right.

        • Martin Lack Says:

          Tom Blees may be but, despite what you may read into what I write here, I am not ideologically in favour of nuclear energy, Bluerock: I am sitting on the fence. However, if everything you say is true, then FNR will never happen; and we will have to bury the nuclear waste we have already generated. As with climate sceptics; burying your head in the sand does not make the problem go away.

          Meanwhile, although not quite ideologically opposed to it either, I agree that nuclear power of any kind is in danger of being technological elitism – i.e. yet another way for ‘the West’ to make money out of less developed countries; perpetuating dependency rather than independence.

          • BlueRock Says:

            Trying to compare the delusions of climate change deniers with acknowledgement of the reality that there is no real solution to the growing mountain of radioactive waste is just more fallacious argument from you.

            Whether it suits your beliefs or not, the only ‘solution’ to high level radioactive is to dig a deep, expensive hole somewhere and hope for the best for the 100,000+ years it remains toxic.

            For some reason, this reality does not move the nuke fan club who ignore it in preference for fantasies about fast breeders and fusion and LFTRs. It’s actually the nuke cult that resemble the “climate sceptics” in burying their heads in the sand in order to avoid reality.

  9. […] Wind power, mercury and ending the wars — Opinion — Bangor Daily News — BDN MaineWind Power Roars into 2012 var ajax = new Array(); function TrackClick(link,title) { var index = ajax.length; ajax[index] = […]

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