Energy's future not wind

A windmill on Gein River near Amsterdam is a quaint relic of a bygone era in the Netherlands
AP Photo A windmill on Gein River near Amsterdam is a quaint relic of a bygone era in the Netherlands

The May 29 editorial, "Clean Energy Island," supporting wind turbines off the coast of Block Island in Long Island Sound referred to such "wind farm" proposals as "progress." As a person who spent almost 50 years in the electrical power generation and distribution business I have to conclude that either The Day Editorial Board knows absolutely nothing about electrical power generation or has redefined "progress" to mean taking us back to where we were in the 1800s or the previous centuries, when mankind depended on unreliable power sources because that was all that was available.

For thousands of years sailors used wind power to move about the globe. Their departures, routes and arrivals were always dictated by the capricious nature of the winds. With the invention of the steam engine, fueled by wood or coal and later oil and nuclear fuel, sailors had overcome their dependency on the unreliable winds to move about the globe and maneuver during storms. This was progress.

In a similar manner, mankind utilized the wind to move water: either to remove it, (like Holland), or to provide water for themselves, their livestock or crops. People, crops and livestock died when there was insufficient wind to pump the water. Rural electrification, generated by steam turbines, provided a reliable and dependable energy source, resulting in vast areas of this country producing abundant crops and livestock in previously arid areas. Excessive flooding in low lying areas, such as New Orleans or Holland, have been minimized due to the availability of electrical power on demand - not when the wind blows. This was progress.

When people turn on their lights they expect them to come on. They don't want to be told that they have to sit in the dark without their lights, television, heat or air conditioning for part of the day because there is no wind or the wind is blowing too hard. I don't think that they would agree that dependency on an old-fashioned, unreliable power source represents progress.

Most importantly, due to the laws of physics, electricity is one of the few, (or only), products in this world that must be consumed at the same instant it is manufactured. You must have an operating electrical generator working when the people demand the power and if people don't require electricity, the generator must be shut down. You, or your utility, cannot save it or store it.; (other than the small batteries in your cell phone, flashlight or laptop computer). Unlike other products which can be saved in warehouses, tanks or silos, electricity must be used immediately. Most people have absolutely no concept of how electricity works and even fewer, including those who build power plants, understand this basic principle of physics. All they know is the lights come on when they throw the switch, that they pay the electric bill each month, and that electricity can kill them. However, any person writing about, or taking an editorial position about the benefits of alternative electrical energy sources, such as wind or solar power which can be intermittent and unreliable, should understand this basic principle before they take pen to paper.

Omitted in most articles I've read about "alternative energy sources," such as wind or solar, is that we need to have conventional back-up generation facilities available for when Mother Nature does not cooperate and provide the sun and wind to meet our energy needs. These alernative, back-up plants have to be warmed-up, brought up to speed and synchronized with "the grid" before they can be productive. The quickest start up, a simple gas turbine generator, takes about an hour.

Major generating plants can take days to bring power on line.

What are the economic and environmental impacts of these backup plants sitting idle or in some kind of standby mode because we can't depend on the weather? These issues are never discussed.

Had The Day's editorial position supported improvements in long-distance electrical power transmission, resolving our issues with nuclear power, extracting hydrogen from sea water as a fuel source, or any other viable new electrical power source, I could accept those as supporting progress.

Wind power does not represent progress, it's a step backwards.

To editorially support a wind farm off Block Island, costing millions of taxpayer and ratepayer dollars in government subsidies and increased rates for electrical users for an unreliable, inefficient and ugly encumbrance on a natural treasure is ill informed and does no service to your readers or the people of Connecticut.

Fred Sullivan spent almost 50 years in the electrical power generation and distribution business. He lives in East Lyme.

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