CPS Energy CEO Doyle Beneby recently wrote an op-ed blaming wind farms for impeding the commission of new natural gas–fired power stations.
To many, it is difficult to guess why wind farms would make it more difficult to construct gas power plants. Let’s dive in.
Wind Farms Generating Cheap Electricity
Modern wind farms generate electricity at a low-cost of $0.097 per kWh (9.7 cents) without subsidies. (This is an average — as wind speeds at wind farms increase, the cost of wind power decreases because the ratio of power generated to the cost of developing the wind farms decreases. Some wind farms, of course, produce electricity much more cheaply than others.)
Add in subsidies for this young technology, and the price drops further.
Now, additionally, it’s worth noting that, while winds are blowing, wind farms can bid to sell their electricity for about as cheap as they need to – because their fuel is free, so it doesn’t really cost anything extra to produce electricity once the wind farms are built. For this reason, we’ve seen wind farms bring the wholesale cost of electricity down to $0 some nights (yep, $0.00).
In the most recent Fall, Spring, and Winter, wind farms generated such a large amount of cheap electricity in Doyle’s region that they undercut natural gas power plants during all three seasons (although only 2.5% of the time). At wind speeds of 21mph, the average cost of wind power drops to as little as 2.6 cents per kWh.
Texas is a Wind Power Behemoth
According to Gov. Rick Perry’s officials report (page 10), wind energy growth has been tremendous in Texas and it would rank 6th in the world if Texas was a country, with a total wind electricity generation capacity of 10,394 MW (10.4 GW).
That is almost a quarter of the United States total, which is 46,919 MW.
Wind Farms Don’t Need Much Land
For those concerned about wind farm “sprawl” wasting land, the study also made some good points about that (also on page 10).
Wind farms require as much land as they do because their blades need to be substantially spaced to permit efficient turbine operation. This is why wind farm ground space is mostly unused or farmland, and the blades are literally hundreds of feet above the ground — this is also why wind turbines are fairly quiet.
Most (if not all) wind farms can be used for farming, so the land does not have to be wasted. When the land is put to use, wind turbines end up using the least space of all types of power stations because the only space they actually occupy on land is equal to the width of their towers, which are not very wide.
In other words, most of the mass of a wind turbine is well above ground and out of the way, so the size of wind turbines does not have to be a space issue at all.
The basic conclusions are that wind is so cheap that it is even driving natural gas production out of some areas, and it is extremely efficient when it comes to land use.