Category Archives: Wind Power

Wind Power Transmission Line

A federal decision on the Plains and Eastern Clean Line High Voltage Direct Current line is imminent. This proposed 700 plus mile long transmission line will extend from the panhandle of Oklahoma, through Pope County, and on to Memphis. If approved and built it will allow for the movement of large amounts of wind generated power from the midwest to parts east where it can be used to replace coal fired generating plants.

The route already approved by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) will pass through central Pope county. A substation just north of Atkins will allow Arkansans a piece of the power from the line. For perspective the line will cross Big Piney Creek near where it crosses Highway 164.

The line and others like it are necessary to reduce our need for coal which fouls the atmosphere in multiple ways. There is a superabundance of clean, relatively inexpensive energy waiting to be tapped in the midwest, the only need being transmission.

The Line is not without its detractors however, especially those in the path of the powerline right-of-way (ROW.) It will require a couple of hundred foot wide ROW with 150 foot towers spaced about 5 to the mile. The land within the ROW can be used safely for any purpose with the exception of forestry – crops, hay fields, and pastures are acceptable uses for the area. Landowners will be compensated for the ROW but they complain that compensation is insufficient.

It really boils down to “Not In My Backyard” (NIMBY.) This is not surprising, nobody wants their view of a skyline marred by powerlines. But powerlines are a fact of modern life. Anyone who is connected to the electrical grid benefits from numerous folks having yielded a ROW to get that power to their home or business.

One suggestion to remove the negative visual impact would be to bury the line underground. It has been done locally on a very small scale. In some newer subdivisions the distribution lines are buried but not for far, as it is quite expensive compared to overhead lines.

The relative cost of burying high voltage transmission lines is assumed to be prohibitive as it is just not done with the exception of lines that cross large bodies of water where it is the only possible alternative.

To bury a transmission line requires serious disruption, trenching then back filling, not just pastures and hay fields but sidewalks, roadways, and even rivers and wet lands. For forest land, a clear cut ROW would be necessary to be able to bring in the heavy equipment necessary to excavate and lay the line.

One of the benefits of buried lines is that they are less susceptible to weather related outages. The other side of the coin is when an outage occurs in an underground line it is harder to locate and harder to access, changing repair times from hours for overhead lines to weeks for underground lines.

Cost estimates are in the range of 2 to 10 times more expensive than overhead lines. Power companies across the land, whether private like Entergy or public like the Arkansas Electric Coops, have made the decision to stay with overhead lines, wherever possible.

Wind Turbines and Bird Kills

The Environmental Protection Agency will complete work on a rule soon which requires a collective 30 % reduction in carbon emissions from power plants over the next couple of decades. Essentially coal fired power plants will need to be shut down across the country. The best guess besides greater efficiency is that the power lost will be replaced to a large degree by utility scale wind turbines.

No problem, as there is a huge potential for energy generation. Just the wind in the plains has the potential of providing several times as much electrical energy as is consumed nationwide. Add off- shore wind and the factor is some 10 times what is used!

There are downsides however. The wind is intermittent, so additional sources of power need to be available when the wind doesn’t blow, but up to a penetration of about 30 % of the market it is doable without additional committed reserves.

But what about the birds, bird kills that is? Estimates are all over the map from a few tens of thousands to over a million a year. A recent review of over a hundred studies suggests that about 500,000 birds are killed by wind turbines annually. Currently wind turbines produce 4.4 % of the electrical energy consumed in the US. If we expect to ramp up energy production from wind turbines to 30 % of the market, then we should expect about 3.4 million bird kills a year. That is a lot of birds. How many bird deaths is too many? What activities should be limited based on how many deaths? Should we not expand the use of wind for electric generation?

Interestingly, bird deaths from wind turbines are a pittance compared to other anthropogenic factors. You can’t have too many communication towers right? We want lots of cell phone access and clear digital TV programming. These towers currently kill over 6 million birds a year. Give up your cell phone and you will save 12 times as many birds as wind turbines kill.

One solution would be to abandon electricity. No electricity means we don’t need the wind turbines. This would save 30 million bird deaths a year, due to electrocution from and collision with transmission and distribution lines. Um, maybe we ought to keep the lights on as the wind turbines aren’t really the problem.

We could save oodles on fuel if we didn’t drive cars. This would have the added benefit reducing global warming by lower carbon emissions. It would also save 200 million birds a year due to collisions.

Like the view out the window of your home or office? Board them up and save 600 million birds a year. By now you should see that those wind turbines are relatively benign compared to so many other man made structures. But all these put together pale in comparison to one single factor – cats. Between house pets and feral animals they kill an estimated 2.5 billion birds a year. That’s billion with a B. Our house pets and their escaped brethren kill 5,000 times as many birds as do our wind turbines, and I don’t think anybody is talking about eliminating the pets.

near a wind farm in western Oklahoma

Anatomy of a Scam

In 2008 reports of a new style of wind turbine for producing electricity began showing up on “techie” web sites. The turbine was touted as a small powerful shrouded turbine which would produce energy in low winds and because of the shrouded design much less likely to be dangerous to birds and bats. On a website in 2008 Phillip Ridings claimed that his turbine design, patent-pending, was so efficient that it produced more energy than simple physical principles would allow. His turbine is called the dragonfly-turbine.

When asked about the violation of the physical law known as Betz limit, Mr Ridings replied “I did read “Betz Law” and it does not affect it because of Dragonfly’s unique design. If you want to apply Betz Law then its about to be broken.. just like the sound barrier!“

In 2010 Mr Ridings was interviewed on another website and claimed that his as yet unbuilt turbine would produce 2.4 to 4 times as much energy as a conventional turbine (or was 60% more efficient depending on which part of the interview one was reading.)

Although as of this writing there is still no real turbine, Mr Ridings claimed to have orders for turbines and was establishing a network of dealerships. None have been built, much less tested, other than via computer modeling.

Dragonfly Industries International was founded in Texas with Phillip Ridings as the managing member of the limited liability corporation in September 2014. The company is seeking or has purchased a 311 acre parcel of land in Northwest Arkansas to develop a wind farm. They claim to have a 1 megawatt (MW) shrouded turbine design ready to be built. The plan is to deploy 80 of these turbines on only a small portion, 80 acres, of the site, hence an 80 megawatt wind farm.

This is physically impossible. On a land use basis alone the farm is highly unlikely. Wind farms require a lot of space because turbines create wind shadows and turbulence. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a division of the Energy Department, reviewed the data for wind sites around the country, mainly in the midwest where winds are strong and found that the average area needed per megawatt of energy captured was 85 acres. That’s 85 acres per MW. Dragonfly claims to need only 1/85th as much land to produce the same amount of power, 1 acre per MW.

The proposed 20 foot diameter turbine is claimed to be able to produce 1 MW of power from a 17 mph wind. It is unlikely that there is a consistent 17 mph wind in Northwest Arkansas, but regardless, a turbine of this size cannot produce that much power. The maximum amount of power in wind can be calculated if you know the swept area of the turbine and the wind speed. For the claimed turbine the maximum power available is slightly less than 8 kW. But due to Betz limit it is about 5 kW and for a turbine of this size considering mechanical inefficiencies about 3 kW is realistic estimate. Not 1000 kW.

A simple analogy is instructive. Take an orange and squeeze the juice out. You could get about 2 to 3 ounces. If however you were as good at squeezing as this turbine is at producing power, you could get 2 to 3 gallons! If it sounds too good to be true…