Friday, June 4, 2010

Blowin' in the Wind

We can probably make better use of all those wind powered turbines that are now all over the place. Consider, our continent is a tectonic plate floating on liquid magma. Now if our President were to order all wind turbines to face to the east, I figure the resulting reaction would push our tectonic plate continent west. We could float over and be next to our Oriental friends. Boy that would scare the hell out of North Korea to wake up and see America fifty miles off their shore. Then if people started griping about how expensive it is to fly to Europe, well our president could simply order all wind turbines to point west….and we’d float over there.

Okay, maybe not.


Why did I say ‘Make better use of all those wind powered turbines…”? That implies that they aren’t too useful now. Well sorta’. I’ve been in the power generation business for most of my adult life, and I’ve concluded that wind power is a fad. It is really nifty that we can use wind to turn a windmill which turns a generator to produce electricity with absolutely no fuel cost. And believe me, the cost of fuel is super expensive. But in truth, you pay a lot for wind power. (In fact I’ve seen figures that show you pay more for wind power per electrical unit than you pay for power from a gas plant). You see, we like the idea of a wind farm, as long as it is 75 or 100 miles away from us…way out on a mountain top or a desert. To get the electricity to you requires 75 miles of very expensive high kilovolt power lines….those are the thick-as-your-wrist power lines on those huge metal towers. Then there is the cost of the power company running standby generation, using costly fuel, so they can kick into warp speed when the wind dies and the turbines stop turning. All power companies know that wind power is terribly unreliable so they have to be prepared to take up the slack at a seconds notice. (Customers won’t accept the explanation that their lights went out because the wind died.)

But then it is nice when you see all those wind turbines whipping around with a nice wind blowing producing all of that pollution free electricity. Well, sorta’. I won’t go into whatever pollution is required to manufacture wind turbines and to ship them and to erect them along with the power lines….that’s too confusing for me. But recognize there is a pollution cost.

But to me, the footprint issue is pretty important. The typical 2010 wind turbine running at full speed spits out 3 megawatts of electricity. (I won’t even attempt to address power loss over 75 miles of transmission.) Using my higher math skills, I have figured out that if you have ten wind turbines, you can get 30 megawatts (MW for short). One hundred wind turbines = 300 MW. Two Hundred Fifty = 750 MW. Remember, this is maximum output when the wind is blowing strong and steady. Now wind turbines can’t be bunched up together. If one wind turbine takes the energy out of a breath of air, another wind turbine behind it will do nothing because the air has no more energy. This is simplistic, but sorta’ true. So they have to be spread out. If you drive on I-10 in Texas west of San Antonio you will see miles and miles of wind turbines. Why? They have to be spread out.

750 MW is the low-end output of a single super-critical gas unit. The footprint of this unit and every thing that goes with it will be something like one-third square mile. A super-critical unit is what is called a base load unit, which means that it is always cooking and spewing out 750 MW of electricity. Two Hundred Fifty wind turbines occupying many, many miles of countryside sputtering out 750 MW of unreliable part-time power versus a single third-mile gas unit with 100% reliable power is an interesting comparison. It is a befuddlement.

Am I anti-wind power? Absolutely not. I like non-pollution. In fact I am indirectly tied to wind power. But I think I would like to see some of the money invested in research for more efficient wind turbines, i.e.  blades turning with very little wind – and invested in power storage. We simply stink at trying to store electricity. We haven’t found the magic bullet….that whatever-it-is that can hold lots of electricity and release it when it is needed. I fear we are decades away from that. These days gas powered plants are darn near pollution free and are that way at a high cost. But then, they suck up gas -- a natural resource. A single nuclear power unit spits out quite a bit more than a 1,000 MW of continuous reliable power pretty much pollution free and with minimal draining of natural resource, at a horrendous cost. Then there is that spent fuel problem – although the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel seems to hold some hope. What about solar boilers….using mirrors to direct sunlight on a boiler to produce steam and make electricity? Horribly inefficient with really low electrical output. Solar panels? Very inefficient. You would need miles and miles of solar panels to produce a smidgeon of power.

So we are trapped. State governments are begging for wind power. The industry is struggling to keep up with the demand. But behind the scenes power companies have to install conventional units (usually gas turbines) to make up for the unreliability of wind power, (I read an article the other day that stated that Texas brags that it gets 17% of it’s power from wind turbines. In fact, that 17% is based on the notion that all wind turbines are turning at maximum speed 24 hours a day. The true figure, based on actual output, was a little over 4%.) State utility commissions across the country demand that power companies install wind turbines and arguments that the money is better served building conventional units fall of deaf ears.

Am I on a crusade? Nope – just recognizing that the frenzy is a well-meaning, very expensive fad. I fear that we need to go back to gas, and perhaps nuclear, until we find better technology. Pour some of that wind turbine money into research. It’s your money we are talking about….it is what you pay for wind power inefficiency.

I mentioned that in my job I am indirectly associated with wind power. I have also worked with design and construction of coal-fired, gas-fired and nuclear power plants…and with combined and single-cycle gas turbines.


  1. thanks for putting it into easier terms to understand. I have tried to read reports on alternative energy and, well ... I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent person, but that stuff is written well over my head (or my ADHD takes over ... could be that too).

    I do have to ask why you feel solar energy is inefficient? is your opinion based on location? I ask only because we live in southern california and have run our home on solar panels for almost two years. we even added a pool and have allowed ourselves a little luxury with the summertime air conditioning and we still manage to generate enough power to keep our home running and then some. I realize this would be far less efficient in areas not as sunny, which is why I ask :)

  2. Hi Diane,

    First of all, understand I am not an expert in any of this. I'm just a guy who has been associated with the energy industry expressing a non-expert opinion.

    Solar panels for the home or great, and I have mulled it over for our house in Houston. I just want what to do when a hurricane comes....take them down?

    I was referring to mass generation of power at the megawatt level...power to supply cities and industry. It is my understanding that in Houston with the heat and high humidity, solar panels could only supply supplementary power and not be enough to carry the load of continual air conditioning and everything else.

    That said, I think it would be fantastic if it was standard practice for homes to have solar power. It would help alleviate the electric companies electrical load requirements some. Industry is a really heavy load sucker for power companies. But yes, solar panels for the home is smart....and I hope economical. To use solar panels to generate power over a grid....well, I can't even imagine the tens of thousands of panels required to match one generating unit...and even then, it would have to be considered unreliable power.

    I do salute you and am enthused that you are using solar power. Did the government provide some sort of incentive, other than tax breaks, for you to install the panels? Or did it require a significant investment on your part?

    Again, I am mulling this over...and I'm really ignorant on the subject.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. Since there are few viable alternatives to traditional power generation, the focus should and must be on the consumer to use less of it. That, of course, is a naive statement: as long as electricity is flowing reliably, people will take advantage of it—just like oil and gasoline. "Going Green" means a lot more than recycling pizza boxes—a process which uses ... energy.

    I'm rambling incoherently here, so it's best that I cease.

  4. Great observations. They are grounded in reality, a place few people like to be. The turbines and other alternatives are "feel good," kind of like Prius automobiles. Or the composting machines New York apartment dwellers use to make themselves feel green. Yeah, their garbage becomes dirt. What do they do with the dirt? How much electricity did they use to make that dirt they don't need?

    I suspect that increased efficiency of our energy requiring things will be the real solution. A small example is the led flashlight. They use far less power than the old school units. Yep, efficiency.

    Changes of habits wouldn't hurt, but those are harder to develop.


  5. Yeah Charlie -- I wholeheartedly agree in efficient use of energy at home. It is common sense....use it smartly and pay less for it. Some make the argument that electricity should be made so expensive that consumers are forced into conserving. I guess there may be some merit in that...but I don't like it.

    I also believe in research into efficient generation of electricity. I believe that eventually we can get off of carbon fuel...and efficient wind turbines may be a small part of that. But it will take a long time. It will take even longer if we don't emphasize research.

    So I agree with the Going Green approach coupled with finding efficiency on the generation side too.

    Also take a look at Diane's note on solar panels.

    Thanks Charlie.

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  7. Michael -- I understand your overall observation that we grab onto 'green' because we figure that is what we are supposed to do...with little thought as to the rationale of it.

    I'm going to go out on a limb here. People are scared. We are incessantly bombarded from every direction that we are on the edge of disaster and that everything that everyone is doing will only result in dire consequences. It frightens us to death. Is it any wonder that we desperately search for a bandwagon to jump onto?

    We collectively need to take a breath and count a few blessings and calmly look at everything with simple common sense and some down home logic, instead of letting our heart dictate.

    Home energy conservation is the right thing to do. But always ask the question: "Does this ultimately conserve energy, or does it only do so on the back end of its life cycle?"

    Thanks for jumping, Michael.

  8. sorry, I get it now, I glanced over the industrial uses and was thinking more towards a "what if every home ran on solar?" I can tell you in southern california, many people are going that direction. we were the second home on our block with solar, and in the last 2 years I have watched 4 more homes install. we are lucky in the fact that we have a great amount of sun all year long. we even generate power off a full moon!

    as far as government incentives ... yes! we did fork out a lot of money up front, but we got a substantial federal rebate last year after the install, and another this year after bills were passed extending the rebate period and increasing the amounts. my husband says we get one more next year before we exhaust the rebates we qualify for. there are special rebates for businesses who participate as well and my husband is thinking of putting them up on our company building.

    we feed into the So Cal Edison grid and our governor, as a final official act, made it illegal for Edison to 'keep' the power we generate. originally, we would generate power over a 12 month period - using credits during the darker months if it didn't cover our usage. after 12 months, Edison would take away the credits and start us at a zero balance. The governor nixed that. now I see a future battle with Edison because I am sure they will only want to credit us in a non peek tier (now that they are switching to a universal multi tier rate scale) even tho we generate the most power during peek hours.

    fortunately, southern california has no shortage of sun and I could see making solar panels an automatic fixture in every new home built. in hawaii, the homes are now built with solar water heaters, why not do something along those lines here too?

    a note on the hurricane season ... I have seen many different kinds of solar go up in my city. we have panels that are drilled directly into the frame of the house. they are guaranteed to withstand hurricane force winds, which we actually do see in my little part of the state (tho it has been a few years ::: knocking on wood :::). anything that takes the panels, would have taken the roof anyway. I know it is a greater concern out your way with more than occasional winds - I have family in Spring, Conroe and Houston - BUT ... they are building a new home from the ground up right down the road and the solar panels are actually built into the roof tiles! each little tile is a panel! looks really neat tho I can imagine hooking all that up has to be a pain.

    sorry this has grown so lengthy. I was actually more worried that we had missed something in our research of solar energy and that we would have to fear something biting us in the rear later on. you know those sales people, they make anything sound like something you have to have ;0)

    me personally - I like driving down the major highways and seeing so many huge companies with solar panels on their roof or in arrays on the property. I don't see it as an eyesore, tho I know some do. to me it is people trying to make a difference. I really like to drive through palm spring to the windmill farms - I'm in awe of them!

  9. I know NOTHING, actually, about all this. What I begin to conclude, however, is that power may need to be determined more locally than nationally for an indefinite period. Some areas will do better with an emphasis on solar energy and will get a certain percentage of their power that way. Others will be better able to benefit from wind, others from nuclear power, etc. We have a tendency to think in terms of one answer, but I think the answers will be both multiple and local. We're going to be cobbling together some partial answers from various sources...all the while, learning to cut back and then, cut back some more. And it isn't going to be pretty; forget the uniform gated communities with buried power lines and tidy rooflines.

    We have a tendency, too, to think This OR That in our country. Instead, it's going to be This AND That AND The Other Thing. All of which will require a degree of cooperation that is honored these days only as a by-gone ideal. I sometimes think the media-exacerbated extremes of partisanship we see these days are the sort of ballistic flailing that precedes dramatic change. On my good days, I see it that way; on my bad days, I distract myself as much as possible.

  10. Now don't I feel like a dummy for signing up to send additional money to the electric company for producing energy from the wind. I thought it a little strange that I had to pay the electric bill and pay extra for green energy, but I hadn't had my coffee and Mo said the turbines looked like aliens marching to take over the world and I figured if I helped them out I might be spared. this is the logic I love by.

  11. I'm with Mchael here. We are energy hogs. One trip to Europe will change the way one thinks about leaving lights on, etc. I'm still an optimist about alternative energy.

  12. This subject really interests me. I have suspected that wind power was a “fad” as well. I live in the Pacific Northwest, our juice comes from the Bonneville Power Admin dams on the Columbia river. To my thinking, dams are THE most efficient methods of producing electricity. But, due to environmental concerns, good luck ever getting a dam approved in today’s world.

    Still it cracks me up that Oregon is investing huge amounts of money in wind farms, the turbines of which are actually within sight of some of the Columbia River dams. Now in a place like Hawaii, where energy costs are much higher, wind seems to make more sense to me. I think these wind farms are more a bone to throw at wheat farmers who are tired of dealing with the fluctuating commodity prices and want a steady income.

    So here is the question I have for you: I heard that a huge chunk of power is lost in the transmission grid. So one proposal I saw once was to have lots and lots of small gas or natural gas turbine plants regionally or locally situated. So perhaps a gas or LP turbine or two would power a small city or few towns. It was even proposed that you could put a false “house” around one of these small generating plants and it could be situated in a residential neighborhood. The idea being that many small generating facilities was more efficient than a few huge plants which have to transmit the power over long distances with the ensuing transmission losses. In your opinion, how viable is this option? It’s not sexy or romantic like wind, but really, I am seriously wondering.

    I had also heard that small nuclear power plants like Admiral Rickover had instigated for Navy ships and subs are more efficient than, again, huge monster nuclear plants. Again could small plants be placed regionally?

    A few years back we were visiting friends in France which has the most nuclear power plants, I believe, of any nation. I asked what they did with their waste and was told it was “reprocessed” and reused. I'd never heard of reprocessing at the time. Why hasn’t the US nuclear industry done that? Sometimes it seems that Americans are constantly reinventing the wheel when other countries have already figured the technology out.

    Anyway, sorry to ramble, and this is not a subject I am well versed on… But I am VERY interested in this topic, and more of your thoughts on this.

  13. Yes...we are energy hogs as Betty says...I am always amazed at hoe much less is used in Europe. And in France they use nuclear with no problems to date. I am not so educated on the topic but I would like to thank you for making me understand a bit more after reading your post. While driving up the I-5 on the way to San francisco there is a big area with wind turbines and I always think they look mighty cool. But i guess yor point of unreliability is well taken. While the idea of using less power is nice, I have to admit I would have a hard time giving up some of my 'power" needs. I am selfish and spoiled in that way.

  14. I suspect that the eventual solution will find us generating our power locally--very locally--rather than locating that magic bullet of energy storage and cheaper transmission. We're living in a very special wafer of time in which we're running through all the fossil fuel, and we've come to expect a level of waste and power that we cannot sustain. Simple architectural modifications and major conservation will be the most effective thing we can do now, and I have trouble with your perspective that we might "make electricity so expensive that consumers are forced into conserving"--which you don't like because, maybe, it's an artificial economic ploy? I prefer to think of it as a way of introducing the REAL price of our power, including the price of oil spill cleanup, climate change mitigation, military might used to safeguard our favorite is horribly, horribly expensive, and the for-profit slash-and-burn pirate model we've all grown accustomed to will never account for it. Although we'll pay for it in the end. If the true costs of our addictions were reflected in the price we pay for them, solar and other sources would look like mighty good deals. Over and out, darling...

  15. Mmm, food for thought...
    I've always been a bit of a hippy, tree hugging child of mother nature, so I've automatically been pro wind power assuming it was up there with organic food and recycling. But your post has got me thinking (damn you Jerry it's 7:30am in the morning!!)is everything labeled "fairtrade", "organic" including wind power etc etc actually working? Is it making a difference? I've been a supporter and donated to charities such as WaterAid and Plantlife etc for years yet when another leaflet,or campaign arises the same old issue and its statistics remain pretty much the same as when I first joined,grrr.
    Back to wind power- where I have just moved is very hilly (Orchil Hills) and is surrounded with turbines in groups of thirty if not more.Its completely scarred the scenery and now after reading your post I'm completely doubting their use.
    Off to do some more research and get those placards (and pliers) at the ready...
    with love Caroline xx

  16. Great topic, Jerry, and I've enjoyed reading the comments as much as your post! Very educational and much food for thought!

  17. I really like seeing this. Everyone has respectful and thoughtful comments, and I am learning a lot.

    I'll try to respond to everyone as I can. The birthday party we are having for our stepson today is taking priority.

  18. Diane -- I suspect that the smarter way to handle solar panels here in Houston is to design for them when building a house. I don't see a lot of them around here, and I don't know if it is because of a stubborn resistance of Texans or we don't have government involvement. I need to get educated on this.

    Generally speaking, I think that anything one can do to minimize electrical usage is a good thing if it makes economic sense. It sounds like what you have done does.

  19. Nance -- Yes you are right. It is going to take bits and pieces of differing technologies all over the place. At some point this leads into a discussion of a national grid -- where the whole country is connected utilizing power generation from whatever source. There are a lot of pros and cons being discussed on this. Texas has been stubborn in the past about not connecting to a national grid....I'm not sure where they stand now. The argument was why should our citizens pay for nuclear and gas power only to send electricity to other parts of the country that refuses to put in power plants. And another argument is that there is a danger that if the control system is not really sophisticated, an outage in Colorado (power plants tripping offline because of a problem) could cause cascading outages all the way from Colorado to Texas.

    But more to your point. A friend of mine was a vice-president of a company that built power plants...and he abruptly quit his job to concentrate on building small combined cycle gas generators at a local level -- for malls and small industries. To explain -- electricity is created by burning gas in a gas turbine generator, but the waste heat from the process us used by the local mall or industry in their daily operations. This combined cycle (getting two products out of one electrical generating operation) makes it economical. While we have had combined cycle operations on a large scale for quite a while, this guy was tailoring it down to small operations. This is a local energy producing product that saves the local mall or industry money and the excess power is sold back to the power company.

    Yep -- a lot of varied attacks to the same problem.

  20. Carol -- I swear that I have seen an old science fiction B movie in which huge aliens....yeah, almost looking like wind turbines, taking over the world. I can identify with Mo's thinking.

    Don't misunderstand -- wind turbines do generate electricity. And I suspect in places where the wind blows consistently, they provide a good amount of electricity. So your money is not going to waste. Wind power is more expensive than traditional power. I just question the economics of the crazy drive to flood the country with windmills instead of spending some time looking at all the options and researching what is best.

    But -- don't forget....I muse that we can aim all those windmills east and float our country closer to China. That's pretty cool.

  21. Raising my hand as one of the ignorant, but I don't know that I want to float closer to China.

    Sometimes we aren't willing to take even the smallest steps. I'm amazed at how many schoolyards don't have trees, even though shade can lower the temps 15-25 degrees. (Heck, no wonder the kids don't miss recess! It's too hot to play.)

    Developers clear cut land to build subdivisions because working around the trees "increases the price of the house." Well, so does indoor plumbing. Some things are worth it.

    I'll await your definitive answer on energy solutions. In the meantime, I'll be out planting trees. :)

  22. Betty -- I agree. We are spoiled by the abundance of energy we have had at our fingertips. Alternative energy will have a growing impact especially if we figure out how to wisely use it. But it is impossible to discount the need for conventional energy.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  23. Robert -- You have some really interesting comments. Hydroelectric is a non-fuel electricity producing process...but it does tend to piss off a lot of people damming up, thereby flooding, a lot of area. I know that Hawaii has to import all of its fuel in order to produce power and are desperately searching for alternatives. I hope they are considering geothermal, which utilizes underground heat (there are volcanoes there)instead of burning fuel.

    There is a problem with transmission power loss over distance. I do hear that there has been some promising research on super-conductivity which, if it could be utilized commercially, would significantly reduce this loss.

    I am a big fan of local smaller gas turbines. They would serve as 'peaking units', i.e. picking up the slack when load requirements are high, rather than base load units. One thing to consider is that they have to have gas lines piped to them....higher volume gas with bigger lines than you typically find in an urban area. This may raise some eyebrows. And they can be pretty noisy. But conceptually, I like the idea. Usually, unless in the far north, gas turbines are open air units for heat dissipation so to enclose them would require some sort of cooling.

    I don't know a thing about radioactive fuel reprocessing except that it exists. I need to educate myself on this. I assume that spent fuel rods are extracted and go through some magical process where they can be used again. Then what? I'm really ignorant about this.

    I agree -- it appears that France has their act together on the nuclear front. I've wondered why we just don't take nuclear plant plans, perhaps tweak them a bit to make sure that we are comfortable with the environmental and safety areas, and build the darn things. Designing a nuclear power plant costs hundreds of millions of dollars, and every step of the design has to be reviewed and approved by the governments which in itself costs tens of millions and up to ten years....why do all this when there seem to be perfectly good, seemingly proven designs already in existence? As you said, it seems absurd to reinvent the wheel.

  24. Hi Dr. Soozie -- it's always a pleasure to see you.

    We do like out air conditioning, electric toothbrushes, toasters, recessed lighting, power tools just goes on and on. And we worked hard to be able to afford these things. At least we are experiencing a big concentration on making things energy efficient. And we are slowly beginning to learn to look at how efficient things are before we buy them. We also are beginning to think in terms of R-value of insulation and heat reflecting roof tiles and solar panels and high mileage per gallon cars. We are thinking in the right direction and we need to keep thinking that way. Marylee mentions above about how much benefit trees can have on energy use.

    Hopefully we won't have to make abrupt shifts (all air conditioners are to be turned off at 8:00 p.m.!) in our lifestyle. I believe what will keep this from happening is to continue to make those compromises to save energy which in turn saves money.

    Energy conservation alone cannot solve our future energy problems. I read that every year for the foreseeable future we need to replace 8% of our aging energy infrastructure and at the same add an additional 3 or 4% (I'm not sure of the exact percentage, but something like that)for increased demand. It was also said that maximum conservation could only take care of something like 1 or 1.5% of all this increase. I take this with a grain of salt because I don't know how that could possibly be determined....but the point is well taken, energy conservation can only do so much.

    Am I talking too much?

  25. Hi Murr -- Yep, higher cost is a definite incentive to cut back. But I fear that determining the true cost becomes highly speculative and political. A coal plant (which, btw I detest) pollutes...although I will admit that the new generation of scrubbers is doing a heck of a lot to mitigate this. So what is the true cost of a kilowatt of coal generated electricity. How can you calculate the cost of lung disease, asthma, future heart disease, acid rain, acidic ground water....etc? It can't be calculated -- so we are left with 'It's bad so we will charge a lot'...and that money cannot get back to the ones that suffer from it.

    So it wouldn't be a real price, but a political price.

    Now simple economics would tell us that the more you have to pay the less you will try to a point. So I will agree with you there. And I agree with the attitude of conserving energy where ever we can is a must. But everything I have read (see my above note) is that extreme conservation will not even come close to solving the energy problem.

    So I figure it has to be a two-pronged approach...conservation and smart generation. The only real technologies that I know of that gets us away from carbon fuel is thermal power, hydroelectric, wind power, solar power, and nuclear. Nuclear is magnitudes more efficient. I just want to make sure the darn things are safe.

    So I figure it is paramount that we invest in research for efficient non-carbon energy production.

    Thanks Murr for your thoughts.

  26. Caroline -- Bless you for being a 'tree hugger'. You keep us honest. You keep us searching and searching for a better way. While we may feel uncomfortable about something that is going on, you pick up your sign and protest, organize petitions and keep firing off all those letters. You are the activist for our guilty conscience.

    Understand Caroline -- you do use electricity generated from wind power...that is electricity that was generated burning no fuel and not spitting out one atom of pollution while producing that power. I am just suggesting that it is really expensive electricity, that it is unreliable electricity, and that simple diminishing returns tell us that it will never produce most of our electricity. We just need to understand that, that's all.

    The trick is to use as little electricity as you can and support research and look really closely at non-carbon nuclear power.

    It is always a delight to see you here.

  27. Hey Linda (Wander to the Wayside) -- Thank you...thank you for not asking any questions that I am nervous about answering. I have been stretching the limits of the little bit that I know trying to answer everyone else. And my fingers are getting tired.

    I'm glad that this stirred a neuron or two to fire.

    It's wonderful of you to visit.

  28. Oh Mary Lee -- if you are waiting for a definitive answer from me I guarantee you will be unfulfilled. It may be comforting to note that there are some really, really smart people working really, really hard on these questions. They want to come up with really efficient power generation without using that liquid stuff that comes out of the ground.

    You are so right...why can't we take the smallest steps. I think though that soon we will be shamed into it. If we don't do our part, in the near future we will be the ones sticking out like sore thumbs.

    Don't you like Chinese food? Just think, order Chinese and someone from Peking will hop over and deliver it to you.

    I too am a tree person....and I want them to be every where.

  29. Whoa, I'm with Nance, know nothing about this, though will admit to seriously thinking 'windmill' when I moved to this farm and the wind has not stopped since.Or maybe I am just the Wicked Witch of the West, anyway, when I was on PEI I went to the north end of the island to see the elephant in the water...yah, I know, way off the track here but its real. There is a huge rock in the water that, at dusk, looks like an elephant with his trunk up. To get there I had to pass gigantic wind turbines, a bit sureal, but not as cool as the sub antennas in the ocean in Machias Me. I thought at the time that was really neat and they must be saving a whole lot of money. I took pictures that came out really neat. So the next day I asked a local, who said 'the only reason those d** things were there' was an an attempt to offset the cost of fuel and getting it to the island. His next remark was prefaced with a deep 'har-rumph' as he proceeded to explain the turbines would pay themselves off in about 150 years....

    I am fully on board with free floating Continental Drifting. Could we aim south for Bonaire?!

  30. Such a pithy post Jerry! I have long looked at the windpower touted here, and feel it is inefficient. Also the Solar Panels we are all being urged to install. There are wonderful eco efficient houses being built in Australia... if you have the $$$ to begin with.

  31. I had no idea. Up to this point I was under the impression (based on certain Super Bowl commercials) that wind power was one of the most efficient and least costly out there. The problems of power loss over transmission distance, lack of adequate storage capability, and, of course, the glaring conundrum of windless days are never addressed.

    Seems like a good idea for a power source, yes, but they've got some serious work to do before it's feasible enough for mass production. I've driven through several valleys and towns here in Cali (Indio and Tehachapi, for example) whose hills and open areas are coated with endless windmills. Though the winds are fairly constant, they are not eternal, and I find it hard to believe that the cost to manufacture, erect and maintain such structures has been defrayed by the electricity generated, let alone that any profit has been made.

    Perhaps watermills are a better idea: turbines sunk in the ocean depths to take advantage of constant water currents, which (I believe) carry a great deal more energy, and are a far more reliable source of energy. Perhaps we could even mount desalination apparatus on these watermills and get ourselves some drinking water so we're not draining the Colorado River.

    Thanks for clearing all of this up, partner. A didactic and enlightening discussion, as expected.

  32. Jerry,

    I have often wondered how effective these turbins actually were compared to the cost of putting them into use and maintaining them, excellent post.

    Thank You

  33. Jerry--
    What a useful, learned real-world analysis from an insider. Thank you. My own limited and strictly anecdotal take on energy "fads" has to do with geothermal wells. Eighty-two of them were sunk under the central quad at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan. This was done a few years back, before I retired from LTU in '08. For well over a year the central campus looked like Passchendaele in 1917. The time it took, the disruptions, and the mistakes that delayed completion, the need later to dig up some of the wells and replace them, etc., explain the reply I got from the university's laison for the project when I asked him how long he thought it would take to recover costs through savings in energy: "Not in our lifetime," he said. "And that includes the students."

  34. Okay...honestly? You lost me about two-thirds of the way through.

    However....I like the smell of wind better than the smell of oil. Or gas. And I understand that there are no easy answers.

    Other than that, I do believe that the turbines, combined with the megawatts protruding from the line power of the juicyfruits will probably take the crown at the world cup.

    That's all I know.

  35. Power is a huge part of the economy. It is part of the monetary structure the fuels capitalism. Until we figure out a different system to generate the means to sustain our lifestyle, a different means to measure wealth (or deny the concept that wealth is a desirable) we will be carrying on in this industrialized maze we've created, Wasteful overproduction will lead to us to a dead end. We cannot win against nature nor were we meant to. We have done very little to adapt into it. We expect it to adapt to us! We created the oil spill and look where it's heading! Science?? We need a new system for just about everything. As people plug in their 3D or HD TV to watch the World Cup globally who cares about the carbon footprint the players and spectators created? We aren't changing our priorities. We are fuelling them. We believe that we are supporting a greater cause. Building good will and profiting from the spectacle. Our system needs this. We believe in it. And I send this comment electronically! Yup, I'm in the same game so let's blog on. Fear won't help make a difference. Exchanging ideas might.

  36. You might qualify for a new government sponsored solar energy program.
    Find out if you qualify now!