WaPo Clueless Blogger Starts Well, Ends Up More Clueless Than Ever

Blogger Brad Plumer highlighted an interesting new study published by researchers at Carnegie Mellon on a Washington Post blog last week.

The post starts well but ends up with Matt Wald and the clueless (Wald) leading the clueless (Plumer).

But first for the interesting part – the Carnegie Mellon study points out that not all renewable generation is equal across the US.  Depending on the dispatch characteristics of electricity from different kinds of electricity generation, renewable generation can displace significant amounts of health damaging generation saving lots of money in health costs.  The study concludes that solar PV generation or wind generation is much more valuable in WV, where 95% of our power is generated by coal, than in areas with minimal coal-fired generation, such as CA.

Plumer shows this map from the Carnegie Mellon study to illustrate this very important point:

Plumer also includes this map that was apparently used as the basis for the assessment of renewable power potential in the US:

Plumer says about this map: “Here’s a map of the most wind-rich areas in the United States (the redder the breezier).” Except that is not true, as regular readers of The Power Line know.  Here is “a map of the most wind-rich areas in the United States”:

See the difference?  Plumer’s (and Carnegie Mellon’s) map does not include the richest wind resources in the US which lie off both coasts and the Great Lakes, near most of the US population.  Plumer’s map shows that maximum capacity factor for the best land based wind areas is 40% (.4 on the map).  This figure is borne out in a recent Synapse Energy Economics report on wind power in PJM.  The Synapse report pointed out that the capacity factor for Atlantic Coast offshore wind power (if it is ever harnessed) would be 45%, a clear indication of how much better the offshore wind resource is.

Why does this matter?

Because Plumer ends his blog post with some cheerleading for Matt Wald’s clueless cheerleading for a national ÜberGrid to bring wind power from inferior wind resources to US population centers.  Mr. Plumer has joined Mr. Wald in the gallant quest for the one Grid to Rule Them All, against the evil forces of state sovereignty, “our balkanized grid,” and, ultimately, distributed generation and decentralized power.

As an owner of PV generation in WV, I am proud to see my investment choices vindicated in the Carnegie Mellon study.  WV regulators and politicians should take note of the quantification of PV’s value, particularly in WV.

But I am highly critical of the mythology that continues to surround the subject of wind power and high voltage transmission and that clings like dog feces to the shoes of the national discussion of renewable power.

4 thoughts on “WaPo Clueless Blogger Starts Well, Ends Up More Clueless Than Ever

  1. Bwhhahaaaaaaaaa! “…that clings like dog feces to the shoes of the national discussion of renewable power.” I can’t think of a more apt description (and I can’t stop laughing!)

  2. Well, I had other problems with that post. It starts with a version of a map familiar to me as the rate of premature death caused by power plants–which looks vaguely like a bullseye situated over West Virginia. When it comes to health effects, yes, anything that displaces coal is a good thing. But when it comes to climate change, the idea that renewables OR GAS PLANTS will help by displacing coal is questionable, as it looks like in the real world, enough methane leaks during or after drilling to make gas no better than coal. And the piece stated that the health effects were more important than climate effects–which they are, if you’re a baby boomer unconcerned about younger generations. If you have a sense of responsibility to future generations, including today’s young adults, it seems to me climate is of over-riding importance. And today’s shale drilling and fracking operations are also highly environmentally destructive locally, much worse than the gas wells of yesterday. We do not need gas as a “bridge to a clean energy future”! It’s past time we go directly to the clean energy part, with solar, wind and water power, plus conservation and efficiency, at both distributed and centralized levels, and the in-between of community and neighborhood power, too.

    • I actually paid the $10 purchased a copy of the Carnegie Mellon report. The link is in the Plumer story. The authors of the report based their analysis on specific characteristics of dispatch of different kinds of generation in their report. They did not lump gas and coal fired generation together, but approached the displacement of their generation as it would happen in the real world. Wind generation tends to be higher at night, when coal-fired power is the lowest marginal cost power. Because wind power has essentially a zero marginal cost, it always displaces this coal-fired power on the grid. Because solar power tends to be at its peak (and thus also with the lowest marginal cost) in the daytime, it tends to displace a mix of gas fired and coal fired generation. That said, the authors do focus only on generation based carbon production, instead of life cycle carbon emissions when comparing coal and gas.

      I hope to do a post soon that focuses specifically on the Carnegie Mellon report, because the monetization of renewable benefits is vitally important to public policy discussions.

  3. Pingback: Renewable Energy Good for People, Planet

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