Natural Gas to Wind Energy: You're Nothing Without Me
Energy from windmills is mostly backed up by fossil fuels
Wind energy in Michigan is approximately two-thirds fossil fuels (predominantly natural gas) used in a less than efficient way, coupled with one-third wind. Most people are unaware of that reality and misinformation flourishes as a result.
Case in point: a new study claims to provide comparisons between wind and natural gas by treating them as if they were two totally separate and distinct forms of energy generation.
The University of Michigan and Lansing-based consulting firm 5 Lakes Energy are touting a joint study based on a “model” produced at the university. The stated purpose of the study is to provide policymakers with a “tool” to help them choose between wind and natural gas. Unfortunately the model upon which the study was based is so flawed that the only “tool” it brings to mind is a toy hammer used in an attempt to force a square peg into the proverbial round hole.
The outputs of the model and resulting study attempt to justify the expansion of wind energy (the term “renewables” is used — but that means wind) in Michigan to meet energy demands resulting from the impending closure of coal plants. Its main argument is that wind energy would be a wise choice because natural gas prices are likely to fluctuate.
The idea here is that wind energy should be seen as a hedge against the possibility that natural gas prices could increase. It is basically an attempt to use the old “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” analogy. This is persuasive only when one ignores the fact that wind energy is 65 percent natural gas, which is precisely what the model does.
For those who understand that a dependable blend which includes wind energy must contain mostly natural gas, the analogy of “not putting all your eggs in one basket” used to promote the study is ludicrous.
“The operative word is ‘or,’” said Tom Stacy, an electricity generation analyst and independent regulatory and policy consultant who signs his correspondence “Ohioan for Afford Electricity.” He explains that the “eggs in one basket” warning doesn’t make sense. “There is no 'or.' It is either 100 percent gas or 65 percent gas plus 35 percent wind.”
“The catch,” he continued, “is that compared to the cost of the natural gas basket, consumers are forced to pay triple for baskets because the wind basket costs twice what the gas basket does, yet the gas basket is still required to hold 65 percent of the eggs.” He continued, “The end result: For our dozen eggs, we pay for three baskets when we could have paid for one. In exchange we get four free eggs. The problem is the extra baskets cost far more than the eggs.”
Although fortified with the usual officious-sounding phrases and sprinkled with expert-speak acronyms, the 5 Lakes study is rooted in the popular, but inaccurate, fantasy that wind energy is what wind supporters wish it could be, rather than what it actually is. At one point the study report reveals its imaginary basis with the following statement: “If we choose the natural gas path and natural gas prices rise, we may regret that we are stuck using expensive natural gas when we could have had free wind or solar fuel.”
Free wind? That phrase alone seems contrived to deceive the uninitiated and validate the green faithful. Again, since wind is so unreliable, wind energy has to be backed up by natural gas 65 percent of the time. Under that circumstance — obviously — the cost of wind energy will always largely reflect the price of natural gas. What’s more, the impact of any natural gas price change on wind energy is really more that 65 percent, because natural gas, when hooked up to wind energy, is put to a less efficient use. This is due to the requirement that it be constantly adjusted for when the wind is or is not blowing or not blowing enough. It is exactly the same dynamic that takes place with an automobile’s use of gasoline when driving in city traffic as compared to coasting down the open highway.
In the real "power pool," wind is not physically paired with just natural gas; it is also paired with coal. The example used in this article gives wind the benefit of the doubt by only using natural gas, and not coal, as the balancing source in the hybrid. The average emissions intensity of coal plus wind is far higher than for gas plus wind. In other words, coal gets terrible “city mileage MPG” compared to natural gas and the pairing of wind with coal results in the excessive inefficiency of stop and go traffic.
The flawed and dishonest premise of the 5 Lakes Energy Study marks it as just the latest attempt by wind energy advocates to promote their product by masking wind energy’s true nature. Wind energy is a less than 30 percent add-on to natural gas. Its effect on emissions, as compared to just natural gas alone, is debatable and at best minimal. The failure of the study to acknowledge this spoils all of its conclusions and suggestions.
A glance at a list of 5 Lakes Energy principle founders reveals more than one official from the administration of former Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Michigan Capitol Confidential emailed the following questions to Douglas Jester, the author of the report on the study, and later to other 5 Lakes Energy officials. They were: Are you denying that wind energy is primarily fueled by natural gas? Why does your study appear to have not accounted for this reality? Is there something we are missing here that you should make us aware of?
Thus far, there has been no response to these questions.
Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.