Take a look at this article in the NY Times this morning. The headline reads “Intermittent Nature of Green Power Is Challenge for Utilities.”
And yet, the initial paragraphs of the story identify an entirely different problem:
The 21 turbines at the Kingdom Community Wind farm in Vermont soar above Lowell Mountain, a testament in steel and fiberglass to the state’s growing use of green energy.
Except when they aren’t allowed to spin at their fastest. That has been the case several times in the farm’s short existence, including during the record July heat wave when it could have produced enough much-needed energy to fuel a small town. Instead, the grid system operator held it at times to just one-third of what it could have produced.
“We were being told to turn on diesel-fired units that are very expensive and dirty and told to ramp down what is renewable, cost-effective energy for our customers,” said Mary Powell, chief executive of Green Mountain Power, the utility that owns and operates the wind plant. “We should go with the sources that can have the highest value, especially during peak times.”
It is not the first time the grid system operator, ISO New England, which operates in six states, has cut back energy from the farm since it began operating at the end of last year, or from others in the region, including some in Maine and New Hampshire. Other windy states and regions like Texas and the Midwest have experienced similar cutbacks, known as curtailments.
So the problem isn’t the intermittent nature of wind power at all. It’s that New England ISO, the RTO that controls the New England grid, orders wind farms in its region to cut off power when it is needed most in order to keep coal and nuclear plants operating and to protect the interests of fossil fuel peak load generators.
New England ISO, of course, turns everything around to the tired old claim that there isn’t enough transmission capacity. But that isn’t a problem when wind farms are producing at their maximum levels at other times.
Indeed, in New England in recent months, the grid system operator has cut back power from wind and hydroelectric plants several times, generally, its representatives say, because they were making too much electricity. New wind farms are frequently located in sparsely populated areas or along mountain ridges where there has not been a need for transmission lines with a robust carrying capacity, officials say.
In addition, it is more difficult to properly synchronize wind’s fluctuating power flow with a system built for the steadier electric stream that fossil fuel plants tend to produce.
The second paragraph above points to the real problem – the old base load/peak load dispatch system built to accommodate the profit margins of fossil and nuke generation, not the renewables based system that is currently developing in Germany and other parts of Europe.
Even though the Vermont wind farm that is the subject of the NYT story is adding storage capacity to meet NE ISO’s requirements, the RTO is still saying that it will curtail production from the facility.
“Vermont has a clear preference for renewable resources and would have preferred that the local renewable energy produced by this utility-owned resource had been used,” Mr. Shumlin wrote. “I also urge ISO-NE to fully account for growing distributed generation renewable resources in its transmission planning assumptions; Vermont has seen a tremendous growth in these resources in the past few years and believes that growth will continue.”
ISO New England officials said they were able to put renewable energy from other sources into the system during the heat wave, but would not say whether that matched or exceeded the amount of power withheld from Kingdom Community Wind, citing confidentiality restrictions.
At the heart of the dispute between Green Mountain Power and the system operator is what one Vermont official called “an honest disagreement” over what is needed to safely connect to the grid and manage the energy output from the farm. The utility questioned and fought several of the grid operator’s assumptions and requirements — which it says did not surface until late in a multiyear planning process — but ultimately federal regulators agreed that ISO New England had the right to impose its plan. Eager to qualify for a generous federal tax credit that was expiring at the end of last year, Green Mountain pushed ahead to get the wind farm going while it worked out how it would comply with the requirements.
It has now settled on installing a $10 million piece of equipment that should help even out the flow of energy and reduce the cutbacks, Ms. Powell said, although grid officials have given her no assurances.
In a response to Governor Shumlin last week, Gordon van Welie, ISO New England’s chief executive, wrote that Green Mountain has known “that even after the required upgrades were completed, the output of K.C.W. may still be subject to curtailment because of the project’s location and interconnection point.” But Stephen J. Rourke, vice president for system planning at ISO New England, said in an interview that he expected the upgrade, to be completed by November, to eliminate most of the curtailments.
So the lesson is that even if wind farm operators add $10 million to their costs, NE ISO still won’t make dispatching renewable power a priority.
The real reason that NE ISO is cutting sales of power from wind farms and imposing additional costs on wind power producers is buried in the NYT piece.
Last year, wind power was the most prevalent source of new energy capacity — 43 percent of overall generation installed — while its price neared an all-time low, according to a recent report for the Department of Energy by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
And the reporter prefaced this statement by saying, “And those problems are likely to grow.” So, to the NYT, as well as NE ISO’s favored generators, the fact that wind power is the fastest growing source of electricity in the US, and it has become the cheapest source of electricity, creates nothing but “growing problems.”
This is where we are today in the US – controlled by corporate dinosaurs what prefer to cling to expensive, obsolete technologies – with the New York Times doing the cheerleading.