Academic journal article Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum

Can Wind Be a "Firm" Resource? A North Carolina Case Study

Academic journal article Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum

Can Wind Be a "Firm" Resource? A North Carolina Case Study

Article excerpt


Electricity generated from wind is becoming increasingly prevalent across the United States. Since 1981, installed wind capacity in the U.S. has grown from 10 megawatts ("MW") to over 6,000 MW in 2003 (1), representing 0.6% of total U.S. installed capacity. (2) This rapid growth is attributed to a number of factors, including both increasing environmental awareness and decreasing economic costs. (3) Increasing awareness and concern regarding the environmental consequences of power production, most notably global climate change, have increased interest in renewable forms of power generation, primarily in wind. (4) Advances in turbine technology, coupled with a growing knowledge base surrounding wind patterns and optimal siting, have led to production costs on par with traditional forms of generation such as coal and natural gas fired power plants. (5) The Energy Information Administration ("EIA") forecasts that, due to these reasons as well as increased awareness of the environmental benefits of renewable energy, wind capacity will increase from the current 6,000 MW in 2003 to 16,000 MW in 2025. (6)

Wind power presents a new type of generation, with issues quite different from traditional electricity generation sources. (7) These traditional electricity generation sources, such as coal and natural gas fired power plants, are well understood and their behavior is predictable, (8) These sources use a combustion process to burn a purchased fuel. They have a known capacity and can be turned up or down at the command of an operator (making them dispatchable). (9) Their use is generally scheduled by the electric utility up to a day ahead of time. (10) Wind power, however, does not exhibit these same characteristics. The fuel, wind, is free, but its use cannot be commanded by an operator, and the amount of power that will be produced at any one time is unknown. (11) The wind blows as it will.

Electric utilities must constantly balance electric generation with demand precisely. (12) To do this, utilities rely on the ability to control the output of their generation sources and their knowledge of how much power each source could produce. (13) The necessity for precise control means that the intermittency of wind power is a source of great concern to electric utilities. (14) Indeed, integration of wind power into a utility system creates additional costs. (15) In North Carolina, utilities have expressed this concern about integrating wind power into their systems. (16) In 2003, both Duke Power and Progress Energy disqualified wind energy from consideration in their annual plans because, according to Duke Power:

   Wind Power appears to be economical at higher capacity factors
   but the level of wind currents is not sufficiently high in the
   Carolinas to achieve those capacity factors. Also, Wind is not
   a dispatch able resource. Therefore?, it is not suitable in
   comparison to peaking duty cycle technologies.

And according to Progress Energy,

   These cost comparisons illustrate that wind projects have high fixed
   costs but essentially no operating costs. Therefore, at high enough
   capacity factors they could become economically competitive with
   the lower-cost technologies identified. However, the geographic
   and atmospheric characteristics impact the ability of wind projects
   to achieve those capacity factors. Wind projects must be constructed
   in areas with high average wind speed. In general, wind resources
   in the southeast, are limited. The average wind speed in the
   southeast is below 14 miles per hour and is not sufficient for wind
   projects to be an economic alternative. Because a wind project
   would not be expected to operate above 20-25% capacity factor in
   the Carolinas geographic area, it is not a viable alternative for
   intermediate duty. Further, because wind is not dispatchable, it is
   not a suitable alternative for peaking duty. … 
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