National Renewable Energy Laboratory: Wind Benefits Overstated

March 1, 2013

Rethinking Wind’s Impact on Emissions and Cycling Costs


Recent reports by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and others suggest that the emissions-reducing benefits of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar may have been overstated and the cost of cycling fossil-fueled plants underestimated. These findings may change how utilities and policymakers weigh the costs and benefits of wind and solar energy.


NREL researchers, along with analysts from Intertek-APTECH (IA), said that regional integration studies have shown that wind and solar may cause fossil-fueled generators to cycle on and off and ramp more frequently. They identified increased cycling, deeper load following, and rapid ramping as leading to potential wear and tear on fossil-fueled generators. They said this additional wear and tear can lead to higher capital and maintenance costs, higher equivalent forced outage rates, and degraded performance over time. What’s more, they said that heat rates and emissions from fossil-fueled generators may be higher during cycling and ramping than during steady-state operation.


Turbine blade damage and generator failures were linked to ramping. These findings came after Lefton and his team analyzed some 400 data sets that included long-term operating and maintenance costs and cycling data. The findings showed that even combustion turbines and reciprocating engines designed for quick starts, ramping, and cycling showed higher maintenance costs, elevated numbers of forced outages, and increasing numbers of generator failures.

“Generator failures used to be rare, but now they rank third in insurance claims filed for combined cycle machines,” Lefton said. He noted higher incidences of heat recovery steam generator tube failures as well as more frequent turbine overhauls. Other maintenance issues linked to cycling include thermal barrier coatings that spall off, leaving the base metal exposed and vulnerable to cracking.


The Hughes study examined wind farm performance in the UK and Denmark and concluded that, after allowing for variations in wind speed and site characteristics, the average load factor of wind farms declines as they age, probably due to wear and tear. By 10 years of age, the contribution of an average UK wind farm to meeting electricity demand was said to have fallen by as much as one-third.


The normalized load factor for UK onshore wind farms was found to decline from a peak of about 24% at age one to 15% at age 10 and 11% at age 15. The decline in the normalized load factor for Danish onshore wind farms showed a fall from a peak of 22% to 18% at age 15. For offshore Danish wind farms, the normalized load factor was shown to fall from 39% at the start of commercial operation to 15% at age 10.


Hughes said that the reasons for the observed declines in normalized load factors could not be fully assessed using the data available, but he speculated that “outages due to mechanical breakdowns” appeared to be a contributing factor.

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Comment by Long Islander on March 1, 2013 at 4:18pm

When our ridge lines are covered with permanently broken and abandoned wind turbines and the Maine taxpayer is forced to clean up these scars as best as possible, NRCM and the other shameless shills will be held accountable. The sad part is that in the big scheme, there is not much difference in power production between a dead abandoned turbine and one that is operating.

The history of wind turbines is abandonment. Read "Wind Energy's Ghosts", a great article at:

Comment by Brad Blake on March 1, 2013 at 3:30pm

This is more condemnation of this farce of wind power.  NREL was correct with its maps showing Maine has poor to marginal wind potential and the capacity factors CTFWP has been tracking show this to be true.  See:  With capacity factors of brand new turbines below 25%, imagine how poorly they will perform after 5 years of Maine winters.  We will be looking at capacity factors in the low to mid teens for some of these projects.  What a waste of taxpayer money, especially as Kibby, the two Stetsons, Rollins, and Record Hill all got multi-million dollar ARRA Sec. 1603 grants!  My prediction is that in just a few more years, the thieves will have drained out all the money they could from these projects and they will walk away from them before they are on the hook for any de-commissioning costs.  Then the liability goes to Maine taxpayers.


Maine as Third World Country:

CMP Transmission Rate Skyrockets 19.6% Due to Wind Power


Click here to read how the Maine ratepayer has been sold down the river by the Angus King cabal.

Maine Center For Public Interest Reporting – Three Part Series: A CRITICAL LOOK AT MAINE’S WIND ACT


(excerpts) From Part 1 – On Maine’s Wind Law “Once the committee passed the wind energy bill on to the full House and Senate, lawmakers there didn’t even debate it. They passed it unanimously and with no discussion. House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree, a Democrat from North Haven, says legislators probably didn’t know how many turbines would be constructed in Maine if the law’s goals were met." . – Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, August 2010 Part 2 – On Wind and Oil Yet using wind energy doesn’t lower dependence on imported foreign oil. That’s because the majority of imported oil in Maine is used for heating and transportation. And switching our dependence from foreign oil to Maine-produced electricity isn’t likely to happen very soon, says Bartlett. “Right now, people can’t switch to electric cars and heating – if they did, we’d be in trouble.” So was one of the fundamental premises of the task force false, or at least misleading?" Part 3 – On Wind-Required New Transmission Lines Finally, the building of enormous, high-voltage transmission lines that the regional electricity system operator says are required to move substantial amounts of wind power to markets south of Maine was never even discussed by the task force – an omission that Mills said will come to haunt the state.“If you try to put 2,500 or 3,000 megawatts in northern or eastern Maine – oh, my god, try to build the transmission!” said Mills. “It’s not just the towers, it’s the lines – that’s when I begin to think that the goal is a little farfetched.”

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Hannah Pingree on the Maine expedited wind law

Hannah Pingree - Director of Maine's Office of Innovation and the Future

"Once the committee passed the wind energy bill on to the full House and Senate, lawmakers there didn’t even debate it. They passed it unanimously and with no discussion. House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree, a Democrat from North Haven, says legislators probably didn’t know how many turbines would be constructed in Maine."

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