Friday, April 15, 2011

NY Times Nearly Ignores Big Wind Capacity Factor, Which Must Be Major Consideration In Project Decisions

Capacity factor comparison between energy technologies by NRELThe dot is each technology's average capacity factor; the horizontal line shows the range.
The New York Times has published a two-part series on Hawaii’s energy dilemma, yesterday and today, and it’s a pretty good summation of the Big Wind project to build 400 megawatts (MW) of installed wind energy capacity on the neighbor islands to meet energy demand on Oahu.

There are two major problems with this series from where we sit:

1) Developer Castle & Cooke didn’t respond to the Times request to be interviewed for the piece. More on that below.

2) Although the wind farms’ capacity factor is mentioned in passing in today’s story, the impression you get from the piece is that Big Wind will provide 400 MW of power for Oahu’s use. It won’t, and that’s because even a capacity factor of an optimistic 40 percent for the farms means they’d deliver only 160 MW on average to Oahu’s grid. (That doesn’t even factor in line loss when transmitting the power via undersea and overland cables.)

A Hawaiian Electric Company spokesman goes so far as to say Big Wind “could provide as much as 14 percent of Hawaii’s electricity….” Recall if you will that little equation you learned in algebra class that helps in times like this. Using the 40-percent capacity factor (which may be high), the question is: “If 160 megawatts provide 14 percent of Hawaii’s electricity, how many megawatts would 100 percent be?”

Cross-multiply 160 and 10, divide the product by 14 and you get 1,142.857 megawatts as the total Hawaii electricity production in 2030. That clearly won’t be the total 19 years from now; Oahu’s peak demand is more than that today, so how did the spokesperson arrive at 14 percent for Big Wind’s contribution?

If you use 400 MW in this equation – the nameplate maximum generating capacity for Big Wind – you arrive at a much bigger number, 2,857.142 MW in 2030, which is a more realistic estimate of electricity generation two decades from now.

So it appears once again that Big Wind proponents are selling the project based on the wind farms’ installed capacity and not how much power the farms on Molokai and Lanai reasonably could be expected to generate for Oahu's benefit.

The local media consistently use the nameplate figure when writing about Big Wind, which means they’re either ignoring or don’t understand the capacity factor issue. That’s obviously a big failure in their reporting because it oversells the project’s presumed value in comparison to its huge environmental impact.

You can read about capacity factor all over the Internet by entering the phrase in a search window: localize your inquiry by adding "Hawaii" to the search.

Castle & Cooke: ‘No Comment’

From today’s New York Times story on Big Wind: “Officials with Castle & Cooke did not respond to interview requests for this story.”

A reasonable question: Why not? As a key player in this project, how does Castle & Cooke decide to ignore the New York Times, which many believe is the nation’s best and most influential newspaper?

We don’t have an answer to that question and would ask Lanai residents to take a stab at one. They’re used to dealing with the company, which owns 98 percent of the island.

If anything, Castle & Cooke should be bending over backwards to be responsive on a project that evokes so much skepticism, criticism and anger. As the Times piece and other media report, nearly everyone who’s spoken up at the programmatic environmental impact statement hearings on the two neighbor islands has strongly opposed Big Wind.

This is no time for bunker mentality. If Big Wind proponents can’t stand the heat of a simple media interview, it’s hard to imagine them being forthcoming when the going gets really tough.

Big Wind certainly is in for some tough going, and skeptics have reason to worry now whether the State has too many of its energy eggs in this basket. Maybe the best news in this Times story is that the State says it will take a longer look at renewable energy alternatives to Big Wind.

Geothermal, ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) and distributed solar generation presumably will be high on that list. Note geothermal's capacity factor in the above chart; it's among the highest of all the technologies since it is base load and not intermittent like wind power. OTEC isn't on the chart because it hasn't been built yet due to financing challenges, but Hawaii remains a key location for several companies working on it. Once built, base-load OTEC presumably would have a high capacity factor rivaling geothermal.

1 comment:

wgulden said...

You write "Big Wind certainly is in for some tough going".

I disagree. Big Wind has greased the skids (the politicians) to the point where they consider themselves completely unaccountable to mere citizens. They hunker down, the men and materials arrive, the projects are built, and the checks start to flow. Secrecy is part and parcel of this industry.