Wind Energy 101 - presentations from the Landowner's Forum
How are the different types of loads (baseload, peaking load) related to power generation equipment?
Baseload refers to the electricity demand that exists around the clock. Examples of loads that contribute to baseload include heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems, refrigeration, and commercial electronic equipment that is never turned off. Peaking load, conversely, corresponds to the load that is variable throughout the day. Examples of loads that contribute to peaking load include lighting, microwaves, and televisions. There are many different types of electric power generation equipment in use today. Each type of equipment has a unique set of characteristics, such as the time it takes for it to ramp up to maximum power, its maximum andminimum power (both are important), and operating and fuel costs. These characteristics make the equipment suited for different roles in meeting our nation’s power demand. Large power plants that use boilers (nuclear and coal) often have long start-up times, slow power ramp-up rates and low marginal operating costs. This makes them well-suited for meeting baseload electricity demands. Power generation systems that meet peaking loads generally have faster start-up times but often have higher marginal operating costs. An example of a traditional peaking generation plant is a gas turbine generator.
Doesn’t the variable nature of wind preclude it from contributing to baseload power?
Because of the variable nature of the wind, the power output from wind turbines is sometimes thought to be unreliable, and thus its potential contributions to the grid’s baseload is often ignored. In truth, wind energy has the potential to contribute to baseload power. The amount of power produced by a wind farm that can be considered as reliable baseload depends on circumstances unique to the area being considered. Among the biggest factors: increasing the area being considered (the size of the balancing area), increasing the number of turbines, increasing the geographic diversity of the turbines, and increasing the frequency with which the load is balanced all have the effect of increasing the percentage of the turbine’s output that can be considered as reliable baseload power. In short, the best strategy is diversification. While the output of a single 1.5 MW wind turbine is highly variable, the output of a 100 MW wind farm is significantly less so. If the output of one wind farm is summed with the output of another wind farm 200 miles away, the summation has even less variability. The reason is that while the wind might not be blowing right now in our particular location, there is a good chance that it is blowing somewhere in one of our neighboring states. Tomorrow the situation might be reversed. According to a 2007 study by scientists at Stanford University, if wind is interconnected on a large scale, at least 33% of the total energy produced could be used as reliable baseload electric power. In a separate report, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently found that between 5% - 40% of the power output from wind energy could be considered reliable baseload power, depending on the unique geographical characteristics of the area in question.
What about the portion of wind power that is not considered baseload power?
The wind power that is not considered baseload power generally offsets peaking plants such as gas turbines. The power output of the peaking plant is throttled back when the wind power output is high, and vice versa when the wind is calm. Therefore, less fuel is burned by the peaking plants when more wind power is on the grid.
What is capacity factor?
In short, capacity factor is the amount of energy that was actually produced divided by the nameplate capacity (the amount of power that theoretically could have been produced). Capacity factor is a term used across the energy industry. Even nuclear plants, which tend to have the highest capacity factors, must shut down occasionally for maintenance and refueling, and therefore their capacity factors are well below 100%. The capacity factor for wind plants is due primarily to the variable nature of the wind. Wind capacity factors have been on the rise for the past several decades as technology has improved. In a 2008 study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the average capacity factor achieved by wind turbines installed in 2004-2005 (the most recent years studied) reached 36%. This means that the average 1.5 MW turbine installed in 2004-2005 would produce (1.5 MW) x (24 hrs/day) x (365 days/yr) x (0.36) = 4,730 MWh per year, or 4,730,000 kWh per year. For comparison, a typical home might consume 9,000 kWh per year.
Does property surrounding wind farms decrease in value?
Commentary on this subject is abundant, but the only authoritative study on the subject to date, published by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in December 2009, found no statistical correlation between residential property values and the existence of nearby wind turbines. The study considered the sales of 7,500 single-family residential homes located within 10 miles of a wind farm across 24 wind farms and nine states. Their conclusion was that there is no statistical evidence to support the notion that home prices are affected by the presence of a nearby wind farm.
Do wind turbines pose a hazard to birds?
Fewer than one of every 10,000 human-related bird deaths are due to a wind turbine. In comparison, buildings and windows are responsible for 5,500 of every 10,000 human-related bird deaths, and 1,000 of every 10,000 are caused by domestic cats. In testimony before the Congressional Committee on Natural Resources, Mike Daulton, the Director of Conservation Policy for the Audubon Society, said “On balance, Audubon strongly supports wind power as a clean alternative energy source that reduces the threat of global warming.”
How are wind turbines taxed in Illinois?
Prior to 2007, each county in Illinois decided for itself how to assess the value of a wind turbine for property tax purposes. This led to widely varying levels of property taxes paid for identical wind turbines in different counties. In 2007, the Illinois legislature passed Public Act 095-0644, which standardized the way wind turbines are assessed for property taxes throughout the state of Illinois. Beginning in 2007, the fair cash value for a utility-scale wind turbine in Illinois is $360,000 per MW and is annually adjusted for inflation and depreciation. The law was set to expire at the end of 2011. In April 2010, the Illinois legislature passed HB 4797, which extended this method of assessing property taxes on wind turbines through 2016. If at some point the law was allowed to expire, the valuation decision would revert to the individual counties, who would once again assess the value of the wind turbines at whatever value they deemed appropriate.
Are wind turbines noisy?
In early 2009 a multidisciplinary panel composed of medical doctors, audiologists, and acoustical professionals from the United States, Canada, Denmark and the UK was convened to evaluate wind turbine noise studies and the effects on human health. Their conclusions were that there is no evidence to suggest that the audible or sub-audible sounds emitted from wind turbines have any direct adverse physiological effects, and furthermore, that the sounds emitted by wind turbines are not unique to wind turbines. Like any other man-made machine, wind turbines are not silent. As a general rule of thumb, the sound pressure level (SPL) from a wind turbine at 350 meters is about 45 dB(A), which is similar to the background noise level in a typical home.
If wind is such a good source of energy, why does it need tax incentives?
All forms of energy production receive federal incentives. Not extending the same benefits to wind energy would be equivalent to imposing an additional tax on wind energy. For example, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized nearly $7.0 Billion in federal tax incentives to the coal industry. Today, refined coal producers receive a federal tax credit of $4.375 per ton of refined coal produced (IRS Form 8835). Assuming a value of 2,460 kWh/ton of coal, this amounts to a federal tax incentive of 1.778 cents per kWh. In addition, estimates vary on the total amount the federal government has spent on the medical care of miners suffering from Black Lung Disease. The nuclear industry, too, has received billions of dollars in federal incentives in the form of research funding, construction funding, waste management, and the shifting of insurance risk to the federal government. In addition, under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, new nuclear power plants are eligible to receive a production tax credit of 1.8 cents per kWh. The oil industry, too, has received billions of dollars of federal aid in the form of construction bonds, exploration tax incentives, research and development tax credits, and protection of shipping lanes to the Middle East.