Wind alone cannot keep the lights on

Len Mills sends us a study of wind farms reported in the Daily Mail. It emerges that their real production history falls a long way short of the breathless claims some make for them.

I too wish to save the world, but not by using wind turbines, because they’ll ruin us first. They’re expensive, ugly, short-lived, noisy to the point of ill-health, ugly, kill bats and birds, they stop generating if there’s too little or too much wind, they demand lots of rare metals and they’re ugly. 

Incidentally, if you actually want to contaminate a dependable schedule with a wind turbine’s unpredictable variability, a wind farm needs instant, reliable backup (meaning fossil-fuelled spinning reserve), meaning you greatly increase your establishment costs, about double your operating costs and your CO2 emissions are not reduced by a jot or tittle. I ought to mention they brutalise the landscape.

The Daily Mail reports “Study claims turbines are ‘expensive and deeply inefficient’

For a New Zealand perspective, I pulled together some figures on electricity generation. From the Ministry of Economic Development comes Energy in New Zealand 2013 (which turns out, oddly, to be for the calendar year 2012). On p.63 I discovered that total NZ generation in 2012 was 42,900 GWh, or 154 PJ; that was 0.6% less than in 2011. Hydro gave us 53% of that total, gas 20%, geothermal 14%, coal 8% and wind, poster child of save-the-world activists everywhere, struggled to 4%.

There are a couple of points to note.

From 2011 to 2012, hydro fell back from 58% to produce only 53% and wind dropped from 5%. That lost generation of 6% had to be made up, and it was, because we have modes of generation that don’t depend on the vagaries of the weather.

Gas rose 11% to produce 20% of the total; geothermal rose 8% to produce 14%; and, strikingly, coal provided an amazing 60% more than in 2011 to produce 8% of the nation’s total generation.

Without increasing coal generation, what would have become of us in 2012?

Now, granted, wind turbines is a “new” technology, so it’s starting from a zero base. However, it doesn’t deserve lots of leeway just because it’s new in town, it deserves leeway because it’s doing so well for us. Only, it’s not doing so well for us, is it?

The study found that, on average, wind farms produce 80 per cent of their potential power output for less than one week annually – and they manage 90 per cent output for only 17 hours a year.

There are two substantial wind farms in New Zealand: Te Apiti Wind Farm (55 turbines) in the Manawatu and the Tararua Wind Farm (134 turbines) in Taranaki. Here’s Te Apiti, modest, even understated. This is the kind of wind farm Kiwis could adopt as their own:

Now this is Tararua, a leap up-market. This monstrosity leaves our jandals and holiday bach in its wake. You need serious money and considerable disdain for New Zealand’s natural beauty to construct this baby. It’s a jolly good job it’s far away in the hills where almost nobody goes, so nobody complains about it:

Then we find truly gargantuan madness as they save the world in Californian style:

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15 Thoughts on “Wind alone cannot keep the lights on

  1. Richard C (NZ) on 09/11/2014 at 8:06 am said:

    >”Then we find truly gargantuan madness as they save the world in Californian style:”

    Some of those Californian farms are actually abandoned. The vanes are left to spin to give the impression they’re not, otherwise passsers by get upset.

  2. Andy on 09/11/2014 at 1:23 pm said:

    Wind and solar are essentially parasitic industries. They add no value to the grid yet expect the rest of the grid to support them.

    Good post on this here

  3. Andy on 09/11/2014 at 1:39 pm said:

    Off topic but the radio NZ response to Leylandgate is here

    (I just made up that gate bit….)

  4. Pingback: The Carbon Sense Coalition » Wind alone cannot keep the lights on

  5. Andy on 11/11/2014 at 12:26 am said:

    The West Wind wind farm south of Wellington has 62 turbines. (You said there were only 2 major wind farms in NZ)

    In fact there are 490 turbines operating in NZ in total

    The West Wind facility is very prominent when you fly in from the south.

    • Bob+D on 11/11/2014 at 9:17 am said:

      That’s quite new though, isn’t it? When I flew in the other day it looked like they were still putting them in. A blight on the landscape, no question. Real environmentalists would be up in arms about them, but our local greenie crowd have shares in them instead.

    • Andy on 11/11/2014 at 9:33 am said:

      Bob, I think West Wind has been there for a while. The bird blending eco prayer wheels seem a fitting welcome to the green capital. The ring of steel seems to encompass the city when you see it from a plane from the Eastbourne side of the harbour

      I am currently in Aberdeen, Scotland, and I note that the wind turbine close to the office and visible from my desk has been becalmed much of the day, as the night temps duck below zero.
      When I was here in summer it was turning more often, when we didn’t need so much power.

    • Andy,

      “You said there were only 2 major wind farms in NZ”

      Yes, I did. It may be an error, depending on one’s definition of ‘major’. Setting it at around 60 turbines would mean we have four major wind farms operating.

      When I wrote it, I meant as well, for context, (but forgot) to give the numbers of turbines at Te Apiti (55) and Tararua (134). I can’t now locate the source of the comment about two major wind farms. I see the West Wind wind farm was completed with 62 turbines in late 2009, so it must have been an old source I used.


      “our local greenie crowd have shares in them instead.”

      Yes, they certainly see the value of big industry when it suits their purposes. They sure wouldn’t have wind farms or Rainbow Warriors without steel mills and mines. Lots of mines.

    • BobD on 11/11/2014 at 7:18 pm said:

      And lots of fossil fuels to power all that.

  6. Richard C (NZ) on 12/11/2014 at 12:55 pm said:

    APPALLING: Failing solar farm [Ivanpah] touted by Obama wants $539 million FED GRANT to help pay off $1.6 billion FED LOAN.

    Google-Owned Solar Company Requests $540 Million Bailout.

    Eric Schmidt: Google’s ‘Don’t Be Evil’ motto was “the stupidest rule ever”:

    Especially when you want a bailout.

    • Richard C (NZ) on 12/11/2014 at 1:14 pm said:

      ‘Is Obama’s latest green-energy boondoggle the biggest ever?: World’s largest solar plant seeks “obscene” $539 million taxpayer bailout’

      More than half of electricity generated by fossil fuels

      The Hockey Schtick, November 8, 2014

      Obama’s green energy scorecard has already racked up over $2.7 billion in losses, and now the world’s largest solar/fossil fuel/bird-incinerating plant, co-owned by Google and renewable energy giant NRG Energy, is asking for an additional $539 million in free taxpayer funds to pay off their $1.5 billion federal loan.


    • Andy on 12/11/2014 at 8:28 pm said:

      And also especially when Larry Page and Sergey Brin could find the cash behind the couch anyway. A few million is nothing to them.

  7. Richard C (NZ) on 13/11/2014 at 8:17 am said:

    Getting away from wind but Jo Nova thinks Australian desal takes the prize for waste:

    ‘Desal: no water provided but Victorian families pay $450pa for bikies and drunks’

    JoNova, November 11th, 2014

    The scale of government waste is spectacular, even on a global scale. Desalination in Victoria, Australia, might be the worst example, per capita, of climate waste anywhere in the world. I challenge foreign readers to outdo it.


    The Labor Party in Victoria signed a $22.5 billion contract over 28 years for water that could be delivered almost entirely during the “wet” 30 year part of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation when it isn’t really needed. The plant also cost $3.5 billion to build, is plagued by leaks, and so far has provided zero litres of emergency water.

    Trumps Google’s Ivanpah solar farm Fed loan by about 10 times over. At least Ivanpah harnesses some power – with the necessary assistance of fossil fuels.

    And with that I’m back to wind.

  8. Hemimck on 13/11/2014 at 2:45 pm said:

    Hopefully the partial privatisation of the energy companies will show the same effect that was seen from the partial privatisation of Port of Tauranga. The need to work in shareholders interests will dramatically improve their performance and that the State will likely make more from owning half the companies that they would have made from owning 100% as was the case with PoT.

    I think I remember that there was considerable downsizing by Meridian of exposure to subsidised wind farms in Australia in the last year or so and new projects there will hopefully be abandoned. It is clear that increasing wind generation in New Zealand beyond current levels makes no sense. Sponsoring or encouraging small scale DIY production, except where transmission is problematic, is idiotic. The markets will speak pretty strongly concerning any new grandiose plans from the energy companies.

  9. Andy on 09/05/2016 at 6:29 pm said:

    Another waste of time, money and the environment gets rejuvinated

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