Costly Wind Turbines Are Damaging Texas Power Grid, MIT Study Finds

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Wind turbines are pushing Texas’s power grid to the limit, despite more than $8 billion invested in green infrastructure, according to a report published Friday in the Technology Review, by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Texas is learning just how costly it is to wrangle the wind,” MIT researchers found.

Texas is already spending $8 billion, but the state’s utilities and transmission companies will have to spend hundreds of millions more to upgrade the system enough to transport electricity from wind-rich West Texas to market in East Texas, the report found. Texas’ new wind turbines also place dangerous stress on the power grid, potentially leading to blackouts.

“Wind power suffers from two fatal flaws: unfortunate geography and unreliable output,” Travis Fisher, an economist at the Institute for Energy Research, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “In Texas, much of the wind generation is in regions where relatively few people live. To get that electricity to more densely populated regions it took an $8 billion dollar transmission buildout.”

Power grids require that demand for electricity exactly match supply in order to function. This is an enormous problem for wind and solar power since their output cannot be accurately predicted in advance or easily adjusted. Wind and solar can burn out the grid if they produce too much or not enough electricity, leading to brownouts or blackouts.

Because of that risk, grid operators have to keep excess conventional power reserves running. Power demand is relatively predictable over time and conventional power plans, like nuclear plants and natural gas, can easily adjust output.

“However, even with new transmission lines in place, there is no way around the intermittent nature of wind production,” Fisher continued. “The fact that wind output is inversely correlated with electricity demand makes wind a stress on the power grid, which certainly opens the door to the threat of brownouts or blackouts as we see more wind power come online. The most predictable result, though, is an increase in costs as expensive wind power plays only an ornamental role on the power grid and cannot replace reliable sources like natural gas, coal, and nuclear power.”

The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is currently investigating how green energy undermines the reliability of the electrical grid. FERC believe there is a “significant risk” of electricity in the United States becoming unreliable because “wind and solar don’t offer the services the shuttered coal plants provided.” Environmental regulations could make operating conventional coal or natural gas power plants unprofitable, which could compromise the reliability of the American power grid.

This type of damage has already occurred in Germany and in other grids that rely too much on solar and wind power — like in California.

Germany has been minimizing the damage by paying consumers to take excess power and asking wind and solar producers to switch off when they’re not needed. Germany paid wind farms $548 million last year to switch off in order to prevent damage to the country’s electric grid.

Due to the damaging effects green energy has had on Germany’s grid, the government plans to cap the total amount of wind energy at 40 to 45 percent of national capacity, according to a report published last month by the German newspaper Berliner Zeitung. By 2019, Germany will get rid of  6,000 megawatts of wind power capacity.

Despite the cut backs to wind power, the German government estimates that it will spend more than $1.1 trillion financially supporting wind power, even though building wind turbines hasn’t achieved the government’s goal of actually reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to slow global warming.

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