A Lotta Hot Air?

I’m no expert on energy production, but this claim seems rather suspect: Salazar: Eastern wind could replace coal for power:

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Windmills off the East Coast could generate enough electricity to replace most, if not all, the coal-fired power plants in the United States, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Monday.

But those numbers were challenged as “overly optimistic” by a coal industry group, which noted that half the nation’s electricity currently comes from coal-fired power plants.

And upon what does Mr. Salazar base his reasoning?

Salazar said ocean winds along the East Coast can generate 1 million megawatts of power, roughly the equivalent of 3,000 medium-sized coal-fired power plants, or nearly five times the number of coal plants now operating in the United States, according to the Energy Department.

Salazar could not estimate how many windmills might be needed to generate 1 million megawatts of power, saying it would depend on their size and how far from the coast they were located.

Uh huh. And how many windmills would that require?

Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Cape Wind, which wants to build a wind farm off Cape Cod, Mass., estimates it would take hundreds of thousands of windmills. The average wind turbine today generates 2 to 5 megawatts per unit, he said.

Hundreds of thousands, huh? Sounds like quite a few. Mr. Rodgers agrees:

“It would take a number of years to build out, but we’ve got to get going in this country with the first few projects,” he said.

I’m sure it would. Consider the (still aggressive) plans already on the table:

New Jersey is tripling the amount of wind power it plans to use by 2020 to 3,000 megawatts, or 13 percent of New Jersey’s total energy. In October, Garden State Offshore Energy, a joint venture of PSE&G Renewable Generation and Deepwater Wind, was chosen to build a $1 billion, 345 megawatt wind farm in the ocean about 16 miles southeast of Atlantic City.

So New Jersey plans, by 2020, to have in place 3,000 megawatts, which is 1/333th of the total claimed possible by Mr. Salazar. And roughly 1/3000th of Mr. Salazar’s goal (345 megawatts) will cost $1 billion. Even allowing for economies of scale, that seems rather… well… expensive. And of course, there are those pesky technical problems:

Jason Hayes, a spokesman for the American Coal Council, said he was puzzled by Salazar’s projections. He said wind power plants face roadblocks including local opposition, concerns about their impact on wildlife, and problems in efficiently transmitting power from far offshore.

“It really is a stretch,” he said of Salazar’s estimate. “How you put that many new (wind) plants up, especially in deep water, is confusing. Even if you could do what he said, you still need to deal with the fact that the best wind plants generate power about 30 percent of the time. There’s got to be something to back that up.”


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