by Jon Sanders
Research Editor and Senior Fellow, Regulatory Studies, John Locke Foundation
“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.
— “Silver Blaze,” from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
In my recent comments to the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management regarding the massive wind facility proposed off the coast of North Carolina, I noted — among many problems — the inherent problem with relying on wind as a resource (emphasis added):
Intermittence necessitates greenhouse gas emissions from background generation. Inherent in the nature of wind generation is the inescapable issue of nondispatchability, unreliability, and variability. A facility that generates power by wind is ipso facto also at the mercy of the wind. For such intermittent sources, their “maximum dependable capacity is 0 MW.” For that reason, a wind resource requires a backup generation source, which must be dispatchable and which is invariably a fossil-fuel source. Reliance on such a source erases some if not all of the gains in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and it could even create greater GHGs than otherwise.
I go on to explain later that properly accounting for the costs of the proposal would necessarily include, among other things, accounting for the “higher electricity rates commensurate with this project and its intermittent output.”
Here’s an interesting example of that very problem. The chief energy correspondent of Bloomberg News, Javier Blas, fields a question about the U.K. paying an exorbitant amount for fossil-fuel generation. Here is the exchange:
Blas: The UK has paid a power plant this morning a record high £4,950 per MWh ($6,850 per MWh) to fire-up on short notice for 30 minutes to keep the lights on after wind generation plunged. The plant is gas-fired.
Moraine Sitindjak: What was the issue with wind?
Blas: It didn’t blow.
Note: “It didn’t blow” made me think of “the curious incident” of the dog doing nothing in the Sherlock Holmes story “Silver Blaze,” which I recall to have cited here before. What I didn’t recall was that it was in reference to this very problem:
Listen to politicians, lobbyists, talking heads, editorialists, and activists discuss ways to reform electricity policy in North Carolina. What don’t you hear?
What you don’t hear is a clue akin to “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time” in the Sherlock Holmes case, “Silver Blaze.” They’ll talk about creating jobs, they’ll talk about positive economic impact, they’ll talk about lower emissions. All of these things can be challenged on their own merits, as we’ve done here. But what don’t they talk about?