mm482: Windy panacea? Not so fast!

© Damian Chung |

© Damian Chung |

MUDGE’s Musings


Turns out that all those ambitious windmill plans might be more worthy of Don Quixote than Michael Bloomberg.

Seems that generating power is only part of the equation, whether you use boring and dirty old technology (coal-fired) or exciting and clean new technology (wind turbines).

See, that power has to get from those lonesome windy landscapes to the nation’s factories (ah, an optimistic curmudgeon!), shopping malls and homes, and it won’t get there by wishing it so.

No, that generated power, sulfurously filthy or delightfully green, needs the national power grid to get from Windyvastwasteland, Texas to where it’s needed, and folks, the national power grid is a subtle but critical part of what one of my favorite amateur pundits calls, in a most memorable coinage, “this country’s infrastructure osteoporosis.”


Wind Energy Bumps Into Power Grid’s Limits

The Energy Challenge | By MATTHEW L. WALD | Published: August 26, 2008

When the builders of the Maple Ridge Wind farm spent $320 million to put nearly 200 wind turbines in upstate New York, the idea was to get paid for producing electricity. But at times, regional electric lines have been so congested that Maple Ridge has been forced to shut down even with a brisk wind blowing.

That is a symptom of a broad national problem. Expansive dreams about renewable energy, like Al Gore’s hope of replacing all fossil fuels in a decade, are bumping up against the reality of a power grid that cannot handle the new demands.

The dirty secret of clean energy is that while generating it is getting easier, moving it to market is not.

The grid today, according to experts, is a system conceived 100 years ago to let utilities prop each other up, reducing blackouts and sharing power in small regions. It resembles a network of streets, avenues and country roads.

“We need an interstate transmission superhighway system,” said Suedeen G. Kelly, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

While the United States today gets barely 1 percent of its electricity from wind turbines, many experts are starting to think that figure could hit 20 percent.

Achieving that would require moving large amounts of power over long distances, from the windy, lightly populated plains in the middle of the country to the coasts where many people live. Builders are also contemplating immense solar-power stations in the nation’s deserts that would pose the same transmission problems.

Boone Pickens, as it turns out, has budgeted for a dedicated transmission line between his latest project and Dallas, 250 miles, a drop in the bucket of the existing 200,000 miles of power lines. He says that he can get away with this in business-friendly Texas (maybe that goes with lethal-injection friendly Texas?), but that regional and national regulations make the addition of new interstate lines nearly impossible.

As the insightful and talented governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, says,

“We still have a third-world grid,” Mr. Richardson said, repeating a comment he has made several times. “With the federal government not investing, not setting good regulatory mechanisms, and basically taking a back seat on everything except drilling and fossil fuels, the grid has not been modernized, especially for wind energy.”

The Energy Challenge – Wind Energy Bumps Into Power Grid’s Limits – Series –

Infrastructure is literally the nuts and bolts that keep this country moving.

Nuts and bolts are boring.

Way too boring, apparently, to the evangelical neocons who are cheerfully gutting the federal government (interestingly, apparently by overstaffing bureaus with their co-religionists and party faithful in order to cause operational gridlock) and thus running OUR national infrastructure into the ground.

People, it’s time for BOLD.

It takes bold women and men of uncommon vision to see beyond the tiresome and mundane slogan, crumbling infrastructure, to the greater principle.

Without working bridges and highways, without capacious power lines and competent schools, without the national will to rebuild our bones and brains and sinews, then we will, indeed, slip right through the second world into third world status.

Our children and grandchildren deserve better. We deserve better.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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