For those who live in “northern latitudes,” or actually, in any region where it snows in the winter and the wind is unreliable, green energy may not be the most optimal choice. Powerline’s John Hinderaker recounted the experience of Central Minnesotans over a three day period in late January. A polar vortex had kept temperatures below zero during the day and drove them down to -30 degrees at night. During that time, he said the residents of central Minnesota experienced a natural gas “brownout.” Hinderaker explains:
Xcel Energy advised customers to turn thermostats down to 60 degrees and avoid using hot water. Xcel put up some customers in hotels. Why?
Because the wind wasn’t blowing. Utilities pair natural gas plants with wind farms, in order to burn gas, which can be ramped up and down more quickly than coal, when the wind isn’t blowing.
Which raises the question: since natural gas is reliable, why do we need the wind farms? The answer is, we don’t. When the wind isn’t blowing–as it wasn’t yesterday–natural gas supplies the electricity. It also heats homes, and with bitter cold temperatures and no wind, there wasn’t enough natural gas to go around. The resulting “brownout” has been a political shock in Minnesota.
Fast forward to the current investigation by Minnesota’s Public Utility Commission. “The principal problem, given that Minnesota has invested massively in wind energy, was that the wind wasn’t blowing. But there was another problem, too.”
A representative from Xcel told the commission that “the company’s solar panels only produced 8 to 10 percent of their potential output because of snow cover.”
One of Hinderaker’s colleagues, Isaac Orr explains:
Yet, Xcel wants to build more solar because they get a guaranteed 7.5 percent profit on every dollar they spend on power plants, including solar panels, whether they produce electricity or not.
Xcel Energy posted a profit of $1.1 billion in 2017, and you’re telling me they can’t pay a high-schooler to scrape off their solar panels for a little extra cash?
To me, the fact Xcel didn’t bother to clear the snow off their solar panels suggests they didn’t think it was worth it, from a cost/benefit standpoint.
Thus, Hinderaker concludes that the reason why utilities lobby to be required to build wind and solar facilities is because any capital expenditure that goes into a utility’s rate base provides a guaranteed return. Whether the expenditure makes any sense in terms of providing reliable energy is another matter altogether.”
In his CPAC speech last weekend, President Trump mocked the Green New Deal. He said, “Darling? Darling is the wind blowing today? I’d like to watch television, darling.”