Letters 06/18/2009

June 16, 2009
Readers are hungry for bias-free facts on wind power.

The wind blows, but is it really free?
Readers are hungry for bias-free facts on wind power. What does it really cost to build and run a wind turbine? And how much electricity can you expect from one? We’ll let you know what we discover.

Where is the juice?
I loved your editorial ( “Not enough juice,” May 21). It reminds me of The emperor’s new clothes. You have said what so many of us are thinking. Watching the governments send our money down this rat hole makes me crazy. Although established and new businesses need help, companies trying to game the “green subsidies” are getting most of the funding!

Thank you for your honesty and courage to buck the system.

Hank Prusinski

I have been having an ongoing conversation with a friend regarding the cost of photovoltaics versus nuclear. The problem with using information found on the Internet is that estimates for new nuclear-power plants vary greatly, from $3.5 billion to $17 billion. My friend prefers to use the high numbers which make solar cells look better. And the highest estimates put the cost of solar cells on par with nuclear on a per kilowatt basis. But these estimates don’t take into account that nuclear plants run 24/7 for months and years. It gets worse for solar cells when you consider the additional infrastructure needed to balance the unreliability of solar (or wind) power. I have not been able to find any plans, only theories, on how to balance the grid when a wind plant goes off line, or when cloud cover reduces the output of a solar farm. Theories include distributed battery networks and batteries the size of small cars placed throughout cities and suburbs. This is starting to sound insanely expensive.

I also think the environmental attitude of no nukes at any cost will be expensive in terms of money and damage to our environment, after all batteries are not very environmentally friendly and neither are the manufacturing processes used to make solar cells.

James Reedy

You might want to check the following Web site at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for costs of new generation capacity for different technologies: tiny.cc/KQCmG.

If I understand what the Web site says, they estimate the construction costs for concentrated solar and nuclear (in $/kW-hr) could be in the same ballpark. But they make complicated assumptions to arrive at this conclusion. — Leland Teschler

I read your editorial and was stunned with your conclusion. I have come to believe that people are afraid to say the word nuclear. We have 104 operational nuclear power generators in the U.S., less than Japan and France combined but many more than either. This seems to be a well-guarded fact. Nuclear power offers cheap energy and I hope you understand that — green or not — we cannot and will not be allowed more cheap energy.

Jim Ream

Your editorial regarding wind energy could have been slightly altered and transported back in time to the early 1900s to talk about the folly of trying to fly due to the incredible amount of lift required to get a vehicle off the ground. And perhaps a similar article was written letting everyone know how crazy we would be to develop rocket technology to one day send a man into space or the moon. I’m sure someone ran the calculation back then about how many million pounds of thrust it would take to send an object into space and scoffed that would never be possible.

But you are the one on the wrong side of history and progress. If inventors, scientists, and engineers listened to people like you, we’d still be burning lanterns in the dark to make our way to a pit we use to bury our own waste. (Sounds a lot like nuclear technology.)

Andrew Lawson

History and progress have nothing to do with the question of whether wind will play a major part in generating energy. Basic physics is the determining factor. According to the World Energy Assessment report published by the United Nations Development Program, the total energy consumption of the planet right now is about 13 terawatts. The total kinetic energy available from wind, even making use of low-wind-speed areas of the planet, comes to between 2 and 4 terawatts. Thus, as I said in the editorial, wind can never be more than a niche solution.

And should we assume your last comment about nuclear energy is your way of getting on the wrong side of history and progress? — Leland Teschler

Good editorial in that it puts into perspective the energy challenge we face. I agree that nuclear power is the most realistic solution to energy independence. It can be placed much closer to users, which eliminates some of the power-grid problems with wind and solar. And just think how many of our current problems would not exist if nuclear energy had continued to be implemented from the 1970s and on.

I do have to take issue with the statement you made where you projected that it would take until 2797 to build 13,000 2.3-MW windmills at the rate being done at one facility. While your math is likely correct, you know it could happen faster if more money was put behind it.

Dennis Dufal

Should be, could be?
I recently came across an error in your magazine. (10 years ago,” Backtalk, May 7). It talked about a plane that “should be flying by the end of 2002.” Is it possible it should read 2012?

Vera Velmerig

There is no error. We reported in 1999 that the Centaur aircraft was scheduled for flight trials by 2002. Apparently, lack of funding has postponed that, though the company claims the concept remains viable and aspects of the design have been used successfully in other models.

When we look back at our coverage of 10, 30, or 50 years ago, it’s to highlight interesting or novel topics, not necessarily commercially successful products. — Ken Korane

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