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8/22/18  2:16 pm
Commenter: George Mears, Retired Hydrogeologist and Environmental Engineer

Green Industry Hype Overcame VA Officials Concerns for Ratepayer Safeguards


None of the media reports regarding planned wind turbine or solar facilities have conveyed accurate information to the ratepaying VA public.  For example:

Offshore wind turbines coming to waters off Virginia Beach By: Chris Horne  WAVY News Staff  Aug 03, 2018

Dominion will start with two turbines and the pilot project could lead to 200 turbines. That's enough to generate 2000 megawatts and power half a million homes. The company says it will also power economic development.


My analysis:  Wind turbines are twice as expensive, half as reliable, and end up with very expensive decommissioning costs that are almost never included or even considered in industry front end cost estimates!   In fact, much of the EU, Australia, and other nations are finally figuring out that that wind and solar just isn’t all that good for reliable power.  But their solution—since they are still addicted to the Green Kool Aid is to overbuild.  That of course isn’t realistic either because  regional weather patterns can easily shut down-- not just dozens, but--thousands of wind systems over a large area. So doubling the solar and wind turbines still won’t help meet demands with unreliable power sources because a persistent low pressure system can make clouds and rain over a wide area for an extended period, making solar power next to useless. But, the way the new VV Power Plan bill is worded, the utility providers were given every incentive to overbuild in order to minimize the financial penalties they will face for failing to produce sufficient electrical power from very costly and inefficient turbines and solar facilities to meet renewable power mandate targets. What the heck?  Overbuilding charges will get charged directly to the ratepayers anyway.  No skin off Dominion’s bottom line.  The VA Power Plan is the best bill industry lobbyists could buy—and the GA is to blame for not being smart enough to understand this.  VA consumers are going to get royally hosed and we have no protections or limits to how much our utility bills will increase—but, here too, Dominion’s bill inserted added protections for themselves.  The SCC only gets to review utility charges every three years now instead of two.  Since Dominion bought and paid for this General Assembly, why can’t we at least insist that Dominion pick up the tab for VA House of Delegate and Senate salaries?

So How much energy do wind turbines really produce?

Every wind turbine operates in a range of wind speeds, typically around 30 to 55 mph, in which it will produce at its rated, or maximum, capacity. At slower wind speeds, the production falls off dramatically. If the wind speed decreases by half, power production decreases by a factor of eight. On average, therefore, wind turbines do not generate near their capacity. Industry estimates project an annual output of 30-40%, but real-world experience shows that annual outputs of 15-30% of capacity are more typical.

So why does the GA and the Northam Administration seemingly perpetuate the fraud of reporting ridiculously overestimated power predictions from proposed wind turbines as being the full motor nameplate potential on each turbine when the world already has decades of performance data proving that the power produced will only be a small fraction of the nameplate potential?  This applies equally to solar panels.   


Wind turbines rarely generate average power output that exceeds even 30% of the motor nameplate values under actual use—and often only half that amount.  And the variation is most pronounced in different seasons.  For example, decades of California solar and wind turbine power output data tracking documents precipitous declines during the Fall and Winter—to a small fraction of peak output during the spring.   This is not unique to California but typical of solar facilities and wind farms across the globe.


So I contend that it is deliberate fraud not to challenge clearly deceptive reporting such as what State and industry representatives permitted in our local WAVY news report that the two large turbines will produce "2,000 megawatts of offshore wind turbines spinning — enough to power 500,000 homes" following an interview with Dominion Power officials.   The reality is closer to "can be expected to produce from 300 to 600 megawatts of power over the life of the turbines—sufficient to power from 75,000 to 150,000 homes—if any power generated in excess of requirements have access to expensive batteries to store that excess until needed.  Without such storage, any excess renewable power is simply wasted because neither solar or wind power can respond to demands like fossil fuel power generation systems.  Typically, it’s simply “use it or lose it”, but to avoid penalties under the new legislation, utilities will be forced to cycle dispatchable (on demand) power systems off and on, contributing to higher emissions, lower efficiency, much higher costs, and fluctuations in the electric grid.  In fact, Australian electricity costs rose to levels over 3x that of the U.S., as did the costs in Germany, Denmark, Canada, and Spain—all countries whose progressive governments went all in for nenewable mandates before realizing the negative impacts on GDP, utility costs, jobs, and grid reliability.  This process led to so many power and grid disruptions in South Australia that entire companies announced transfers to fossil fuel friendly U.S. locations, particularly PA, TN, MS, and AL.  The renewable mandates were subsequently set aside to reduce disruptions and costs.  As it became more cost efficient to simply run the backup fossil fuel generation plants 24-7 whenever local weather systems were likely to impair solar and wind power generation.    


Both of the new renewable power systems (solar and wind) suffer from long periods of from no to little power generation regardless of the demand.  But, producing power or not, the geographic footprint for wind and solar is so much greater than the needs of typical coal, gas, or nuclear power generation stations that tens of thousands of acres have to be taken out of other uses and dedicated to solar and turbine systems to have any prayer of duplicating the amounts of power generated by a single far more reliable, affordable--and I would argue more environmentally responsible--fossil fuel plant.  The media has steadfastly refused to report on the tens of thousands of birds and bats killed by wind turbines.  In the meantime, the EPA simply regards the endangered birds sacrificed to Green power the acceptable cost of Green virtue signaling.  The intentions were moral, even if the results are catastrophic to species nominally protected under the Endangered Species Act. 


From the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Mar 9 2018

Governor signs sweeping utility overhaul affecting 3 million Virginia ratepayers

Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday signed into law a dramatic overhaul of regulations for Virginia’s two large electric utilities, a change that includes big boosts for grid modernization, renewable energy and energy efficiency programs but also one that opponents contend will make it difficult for state regulators to police billions in utility spending and issue customer refunds.

The law was spearheaded by Dominion Energy [more accurately, “ bought and paid for by Dominion Power!”] , Senate Bill 966, dubbed the Grid Transformation and Security Act, declares 5,000 megawatts of wind and solar development in the public interest. [5,000 MW of nameplate potential value which is far more likely to generate about 1,500 MW of actual –but still non-dispatchable—electrical power].

[But the following is problematic] Nominally, the State Corporation Commission will be able to review utility earnings, lower base rates and issue customer refunds. However, they will be constrained by a new framework that allows the utilities to deduct money spent on eligible grid and renewable energy projects, among other spending, from their overearnings for the purpose of determining base rates and customer refunds.

Opponents correctly insisted that the bill should have been amended to avoid the current language locking in base rates that are already too high and making it practically impossible for the SCC to lower rates and issue refunds by sanctioning utility spending that would keep that from happening. Even the Attorney General’s office argued that the law would erode protections for ratepayers since it virtually encourages unlimited spending from the utilities. [But those predictions and warnings fell on deaf ears.  So much for ensuring safeguards to Virginia ratepayers!]

Other National Windfarm Projects—Economic Viability Questioned [and with all this experience and background on renewables, and especially new renewables—solar and wind0 already learned the hard way through decades of bad decisions, cost overruns, and weakened electrical grids, throughout the EU, Australia, and Canada, why do Virginia representatives insist on reinventing the wheel here by ignoring the mistakes made by others?  Are they so impressed by lobbyist hype that they can no longer trust their gut reactions that these claims are too good to be true?] 

American Electric Power (AEP) announced last month (July 2018) that it is cancelling plans for a massive wind farm project in the Oklahoma panhandle because it cannot get the project approved before generous federal subsidies may run out. AEP’s decision is particularly noteworthy because the U.S. Energy Information Administration documents that the Oklahoma panhandle is one of the most favorable locations in the country to develop wind power. If wind power does not make economic sense in the Oklahoma panhandle, it is hard to argue it makes economic sense anywhere else.

The Oklahoma project, known as “Wind Catcher,” would provide wind power to Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. AEP claimed Wind Catcher would save consumers money, but the Texas Public Utilities Commission (PUC) was not convinced and declined to give fast-track approval to purchasing Wind Catcher power. AEP cancelled its plans because the Texas PUC decision means AEP will not be able to build the wind project before the expiration of existing federal taxpayer wind power subsidies. Without those subsidies, the project will not be viable even if the Texas PUC eventually agrees to purchase wind power.

“I don’t believe that the benefits are there for the ratepayers,” said Texas PUC commissioner DeAnn Walker, according to the Wall Street Journal ( “The benefits are based on a lot of assumptions that are questionable.”

The bottom line is even the wind power industry admits it cannot produce power in an economically viable manner, even in one of the most favorable places in the country, without generous taxpayer subsidies. 

The challenges are far more complex and daunting for the offshore wind turbine system planned for Virginia’s coast.  Offshore turbines are far more expensive to plan, build, maintain, and run power to a mainland distribution center.  Yet the Virginia General Assembly, DMME, and the Governor’s Office seem perfectly willing to accept all the cost projections, future power source cost projections, scheduling and phasing, and Beneficial Electrification assumptions produced by Dominion Power and their team of Green Energy cheerleaders and rent seeking industry lobbyists.  Why?  This commenter believes it is highly unlikely that Virginia officials involved in the reviews possessed the requisite experience or fundamental understanding of energy production to apply similar risk management expertise of the Texas Public Utility Commission which has been dealing with all aspects of power generation, distribution, and plant operation –both fossil fuel and renewables--for decades. In fact, from my own review of the hundreds of energy related bills introduced into the House of Delegates and Senate during the 2018 session, it was evident that few—if any—of our elected representatives have bothered to acquire sufficient understanding to apply any usable level of economic or technical judgment before jumping on board this politically driven freight train that became the VA Power Plan!   It’s this commenter’s impression that the bills introduced were drafted entirely by industry lobbyists and utility officials and reviewed solely by technically and economically challenged Green power cheerleaders in both GA political parties.

And the solution is typically to build far more wind turbines (or solar collection capacity) than as advertised on the plate labels in an attempt to generate enough real power to meet actual power demands.  But these systems will STILL require fossil fuel plants to step up and meet the demand when the wind isn't blowing, there is no sun, or it's night when the sun goes away (surprise, surprise) and the winds die down.  And, as in California, solar and wind efficiency drops precipitously in the Fall and extends through most of the winter!  So when the new renewables go away, the entire base load has to be picked up by fossil fuel plants.  So how efficient is this when, in reality for much of the year, renewables essentially contribute next to nothing—and the back up fossil power generation systems have to meet full demand requirements?   Any reasonable economic analysis would argue that the nenewables serve only as virtue signaling feel-good investments to provide political cover against radical environmental political attacks.  But, as excess and unnecessary infrastructure for good portions of the year, the renewables only drive up the cost of energy for everyone.   And the EU and Australia experience over well over a decade clearly support this conclusion—but VA officials refuse to consider reality. 


Especially when factoring in the costs of those fossil fuel backups, the very expensive storage batteries to collect what little power that is generated above what is actually needed at the moment for when the demand is higher, the expensive transfer systems to get the power from offshore turbine complexes (or widely distributed and massive solar collection sites) to power distribution facilities where it can be sent to users, the over building (3 -or more!-to achieve the nameplate power of a single renewable unit!) to meet demands, or the money required to maintain wind turbines over their relatively short lifespans (the North Sea turbines were advertised as having a 20+ year lifespan but are failing after less than 12 years in operation), and the funds needed to properly decommission wind turbines and replace solar arrays that have outlived their productive lifespans is hardly ever estimated or included in the reported front end costs estimates for these systems!  But nobody goes to jail for the fraudulent estimates or the reporting because everyone is in the same fraternity focused on deceiving the politicians and the public! 


And a final point pops to mind after watching the America First Energy Conference in New Orleans a couple of weeks ago.  Is ANYONE in the Commonwealth willing to accept responsibility for increasing the levels of Energy Poverty which --by definition--occurs when energy costs start exceeding 30% of a family's budget?   Knowing that this will occur to our poorest and most vulnerable residents, the GA seems to have ignored this in their rush to virtue signal their Green credentials.  Yet Dominion’s bill that the GA accepted and the Governor signed enables the utilities to dump any increases in cost related to achieving the increased renewable energy contribution on the ratepayers.  And penalizes the utilities directly if they fall short of the mandates—essentially mandating building over capacity in renewables so as not to fall short.  But I suspect this will be the issue that causes these same politicians to scurry away from the cameras, put pressure on the media to ignore the story, and go on long taxpayer paid vacations and District visits to distract voters with other trivia. 


So sad!  Having common sense and enough economics, science, and engineering experience to understand most of what’s really going on is actually a curse because we have to deal with so many who lack any of this!  And the typical politicians don't care because they are only spending the taxpayer’s money--not their own!  And maintaining the lies is what gets them reelected by their uninformed constituents!

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