Wind Power is both Costly to Build and to Maintain

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 9th, 2012

Week in Review

Green energy enthusiasts love wind power.  For they think it’s free and as good and reliable a source of electric power as is coal.  Because you don’t have to buy wind.  It’s just there for the taking.  As long as the wind is blowing.  But wind power isn’t free power.  For one you have to build a lot of wind turbines to get close to what a coal-fired power plant can generate.  Covering acres of land (or water).  That’s a lot of moving parts that someone has to maintain.  And a lot of gearboxes to wear out (see Deval-ued Wind Power by Kevin D. Williamson posted 12/3/2012 on National Review Online).

Last September in the tiny town of Princeton, Mass., the general manager of the local utility authority sent out an extraordinary little memo that is one part standard bureaucratic posterior-covering and one part cry for help, noting that a modest wind-energy project already has lost nearly $2 million — a whopping number for a community of only 3,413…

“As best I can look into the future,” general manager Brian Allen wrote, “I would expect the wind turbine losses to continue at the rate of around $600,000 a year. This assumes current wholesale electricity rates, no need for extraordinary repairs, and that both turbines continue operating. If any major repairs are required, this will be an additional expense for the PMLD. The original warranties on the turbines have expired, and extended warranty options are not available.”

Those warranties are an acute concern: After becoming operational in 2010, one of Princeton’s two wind turbines broke down in August 2011 and was not back online until nearly a year later. Princeton had a warranty from the turbine’s manufacturer, the German firm Fuhrländer, but the usual political cluster of agents and subcontractors meant that the whole mess still is in litigation. If Princeton does not prevail in its lawsuit, it will suffer hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional expenses. The cost of replacing a gearbox on one of the Fuhrländer turbines is estimated at $600,000.

Those breakdowns are real concerns. According to the trade publication, Wind Energy Update, the typical wind turbine is out of commission more than 20 percent of the time — and regularly scheduled maintenance accounts for only 0.5 percent of that downtime. The group also estimates that some $40 billion worth of wind turbines will go out of warranty by the end of 2012, leaving the Princetons of the world looking at a heap of expensive repair bills. In Europe, the largest wind-energy market, operations-and-maintenance expenses already are running into billions of dollars a year.

So, if you have a wind farm with let’s say 600 wind turbines that would be approximately $360 million to replace all of those gearboxes.  But if they’re lucky enough to only have to replace 20% each year that’s only $72 million a year.  That’s a lot of money for ‘free’ electricity from the wind.  Especially when you consider routine maintenance comes in at around $600,000 a year.  And even that number is a lot higher than anyone dreamed it would be for free electricity.

The truth is this.  Wind power isn’t free.  It’s very, very expensive.  And this for generating equipment that is offline 20% of the time.  Worse, for those that are online their capacity factor is only about 30%.  Meaning that over a period of time a wind farm will provide only about 30% of their nameplate capacity.  So not only is this power costly but it is intermittent.  Which is why no one builds wind farms without massive government subsidies.  As they are about the worst energy investment anyone can make.  With the only way of funding these projects is by bleeding the taxpayers dry.

It’s different with coal.  Green governments have to impose costly regulations to try and shut down coal-fired power plants.  Because they are such a good energy investment the only way they can stop the free market from building and operating them is reducing the return on investment through costly regulation.  Which increases our electric bills.  So with coal money flows from the power producers to the government.  And we get less expensive electricity.  For wind power money flows from the government to the power producers.  And we get more costly electricity.  Which makes no sense whatsoever for the taxpayer.  But it makes a lot of sense if you’re getting campaign contributions from your friends in green energy.

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