Research sparks ire of wind industry

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Recent research reports have raised the ire of wind professionals across the industry.

New wind research is sparking controversy.

New research conducted by Cascade Policy Institute and Reason Foundation, for example, claims that it turns the idea of wind power as one of the main alternatives to fossil fuels in both cost effectiveness and carbon emissions reductions on its ear.

The Cascade-Reason research says that with the high intermittency of wind leads to wide variations in energy output at different times and in different locations leading to the need for back-up capacity that, in many cases, comes from fossil fuel generators -- making it not only more costly, but limiting the carbon reducing potential of wind.

Bone of contention

In response to the Reason Foundation research, the American Wind Energy Association blog responds, "A number of fossil fuel-funded groups recently set out to attack wind energy by paying for a new report claiming wind energy is difficult to integrate onto the utility system and doesn't provide the expected benefits. The only problem? The Reason Foundation's analysis ended up producing results that contradict those claims and actually support the opposite conclusions."

The blog continues, "Despite using a seriously flawed methodology that understates the benefits of wind and overstates the challenge of integrating wind onto the grid, the analysis found that adding wind to the grid greatly reduces emissions of harmful pollutants and that wind energy can readily and reliably provide 50 percent or more of our electricity."

According to the AWEA's Manager of Transmission Policy Michael Goggin, the research understates emissions savings of wind by incorrectly calculating and overstating the need for backup power plants. And it claims a 10 percent upper limit, which Goggin says was easily exceeded by utilities in Iowa and South Dakota, where last year wind energy provided around 20 percent of electricity.

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When it comes to renewables research, the old adage "there are three sides to every story" -- his side, her side and the truth -- holds some weight.  ___________________________

Major mistakes

Goggin also fact checked the claims of a recent American Enterprise Institute study of wind costs.

"There are many serious errors in the paper, including two major mistakes that completely bring down the central argument of the paper," Goggin contends on his blog. "In a surprising turn, once those errors are corrected, the data presented in the paper actually make a compelling case for why America should be increasing its use of renewable energy."

Major mistake number one: The study overestimates the cost of wind energy by 500 percent. Major mistake number two: The DOE data does not contain the information on which the estimate is based.

Wherein lies the truth?

Chris Clark, managing director at Clark Marketing, calls the organizers of such research panning the benefits of wind energy "middle of the road think tanks linked by the notion of free markets" or "a Tea Party view dressed up in the language of reasonableness."

There will be many counter arguments to the benefits and pitfalls of renewable energy. Every group has its own bias. Inevitably, one industry player will discount the findings of another, downplaying or playing up commercial, environmental and other benefits.

Even research citing university or academic research can be biased as evidenced in the American Alliance for Energy study on the wind production tax credit which it calls "Welfare-for-Wind." The Alliance supported its claim by citing research conducted by David Dismukes, associate director and professor at the Louisiana State University Center for Energy Studies.  

When it comes to renewables research, the old adage "there are three sides to every story" -- his side, her side and the truth -- holds some weight. There is likely truth in every study but, in any event, the research should be processed with due caution.