Controversial Report: Wind Energy Causes Pollution
The natural gas industry has produced a new report which claims that increased use of wind energy cause coal-fired power plants to “cycle” unconventionally and thereby cause an increase in the pollution levels they traditionally produce along Colorado’s Front Range.
Bentek Energy LLC, a consulting company, for the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, conducted the report titled “How Less Became More: Wind, Power and Unintended Consequences in the Colorado Energy Market”.
“It’s not the wind that’s doing it; it’s what the wind energy is causing in behavior changes at the plants,” Bentek’s president Porter Bennett said.
According to the report, local ordinances in Colorado require utility companies to avail themselves of wind energy when it is available. Compliant utilities are required to cycle coal plants on and off, most frequently at night when there tends to be more wind. Because the coal plants are shutting down and restarting at irregular and unpredictable intervals they operate inefficiently and sustain interference with emission control equipment resulting in increased sulfer dioxide, (SO2) nitrous oxide (NO2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
Data for the report came from evaluation of four years of emissions records from individual power plants owned by Xcel Energy Inc in Colorado. Emissions levels are reported to the federal government on an hour-by-hour basis.
Barring modifications to Colorado statutes, the report indicates that the problem may get worse in the future. Presently, utilities companies operating in Colorado are required to furnish 20% of their energy through renewable sources. Last Month, Gov. Bill Ritter signed a law bumping that requirement to 30% by 2020.
The report recommends curbing the use of wind energy during the next one or two years to levels that match power output at existing natural gas-fired power plants — and building more natural gas plants in the long term.
According to the report, natural gas plants can ramp up and down without increasing emissions like their coal based counterparts.
The report could have a nationwide impact. Congress is considering introducing a bill which may set standards for renewable energy sources nationally. Accordingly, the ramifications of the report may extend far beyond Colorado’s four corners if it sways Congress to consider its findings during bill deliberations.
Furthermore, authors of the report claim that increased emissions from coal based power plants are not unique to Colorado as they found similar results in Texas.
Wind energy advocates, however, claim the report is flawed.
“The aggregate numbers are what they are,” said Michael Goggin, American Wind Energe Associan’s (AWEA) manager of transmission issues. “When you’re adding wind power, a zero-emissions resource to the grid, that power has to displace some of that other power. You’re driving off coal or natural gas. Wind is displacing fossil fuel generation and it’s a zero-emission resource.”
Bennett counters that the AWEA’s numbers are misleading.
“One of the points of our study is that you can’t look at aggregated data; you have to go down and look deeper because the aggregation masks the real reality,” Bennett said.
Emissions levels statewide declined during the subject four year period, in part, due to new emissions control equipment that Xcel added to its Comanche coal-fired power plant in Pueblo, Bennett said.