Weather-dependent Power Inefficient, Costly

This guest column written by CO2 Coalition Member Martin Cornell, originally published at TheFacts.com September 13, 2023, was written in response to the published article “A Shame: Stop treating solar, wind power as enemy.”

Your enthusiasm for weather-dependent wind and solar power challenges reason. Over the last week in August and first week in September, in each of the seven near misses of shutdown of the Texas grid managed by ERCOT, wind was delivering less than 10% of its rated capacity, and of course solar power pegs at zero % when the sun sets. Wind dies when a high-pressure system settles over a region, as is the case now and as was the case during the 2021 winter storm Uri (no, it wasn’t because wind farms froze).  The slack must be made up with gas-powered generators dispatched on-demand when the wind stops and the sun doesn’t sufficiently shine.  Shorter and cloudier winter days dramatically reduce the contribution of solar power, increasing the reliance on intermittent wind farms and dispatchable power. Texas is on a trajectory for much greater than 200 power-outage deaths when the next Uri winter weather condition settles over our region.  Contrary to what The Facts contends, attacking the failure of unreliable energy is not “sport”; it is deadly serious critique.

Gas and coal power plants operated at greater than 85% of their capacity before wind energy was imposed on ERCOT; now they are forced slaves of wind and solar, running inefficiently at around 50%. This adds cost passed on to consumers.  How much?  Ask Germany with greater than 60% of nameplate renewable power and three time the ~$.13/kWh residential energy cost in Texas.  This reality belies any claim that renewables are cost competitive with fossil-fuel power.

The Facts promotes battery packs as the solution to wind and solar intermittency. The 100,000-kW battery bank in Angleton has been touted to be able to supply 20,000 homes.  But we don’t buy kilowatts, we buy kilowatt hours. That stored energy would serve those homes for about four hours in spring or fall, but only two hours in the heat of summer or the cold of winter.  Uri lasted five days.  Today Tesla charges about $650.00 per kWh just for the batteries; much more for whole facilities. Increased demand for scarce critical minerals to make batteries for battery banks (and electric vehicles) is rapidly inflating that cost.

Wind and solar are not “enemies of fossil fuels”; they are enemies of both residential and industrial consumers.  And they are only economically viable to investors because of generous tax credits (ask Warren Buffett), with costs of their intermittency and transmission infrastructure passed on to consumers. This enables renewables to underbid dispatchable power, creating a severely tilted playing field and premature closure of dependable gas and coal-fired power plants, increasing grid instability.

Wind and solar farms carry a lot of environmental degradation baggage.  The critical minerals per delivered power ranges from 41 times (solar) to 53 times (onshore wind) to 100 times (offshore wind) that of a 60-year life combined-cycle natural gas plant.  That’s a lot of lithium, copper, cobalt, nickel, zinc chromium and rare earths to be mined and processed and sourced from mostly China and from other unfriendly nations like the Congo and Chile. And this doesn’t include aluminum, steel, or concrete.  Add to this the Biden administration’s hostility to developing domestic mines for the minerals. This does not bode well for US geopolitical and energy independence.

The land area for solar and onshore wind farms is significant.  Per the Biden administration plan (Net Zero 50), they would cover 227,530 square miles or 7.2% of the lower 48 states.  Most wind farms would be sited along the central flyway of migrating birds and bats.  Offshore wind proposed along the east coast overlays the path for migrating whales, and the windfarms proposed for the western Gulf of Mexico would be right in the path of the 2.1 billion birds in their north-bound spring migration.

The impact on climate of these weather-dependent power sources should be sobering. Using the government MAGICC6 model, the USA contribution to Net Zero would be the avoidance of less than 0.4F warming between now and 2100.  All for a cost of $5 trillion (batteries not included).  Adding battery banks for grid backup would add well over $30 trillion.

And yet the modest warming that has occurred and the CO2 added to the atmosphere, greening the earth, has been highly beneficial to the biosphere and the flourishing of mankind.

$35 trillion can be better spent (or saved) on things that actually benefit humanity.

Martin Cornell

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