How wind power helped fight the polar vortex

Renewable energy critics harp on the variability of wind and solar production, suggesting (or pretending) that this increasingly manageable challenge is some kind of fatal flaw.

Meanwhile, these critics ignore that conventional power sources are no sure things themselves, particularly when the going gets rough, as it has this week in much of the U.S. with an extraordinary cold snap.

A Minnesota wind farm (image via Wikimedia Commons)

For instance: Down in Texas, where memories of a 2011 ice storm that shut down a quarter of its power plants remain vivid, cold weather on Monday knocked two facilities totaling 2,000 MW of capacity offline. “The decision Monday to issue a power conservation alert, asking Texans to lower their thermostats and avoid the use of major appliances, brought fears of a repeat of a 2011 ice storm during which close to a quarter of state’s power plants went out,” the Dallas News reported.

Then on Tuesday afternoon, RTO Insider reported that PJM – the mid-Atlantic power pool consisting of 13 states and Washington, D.C., and serving around 60 million customers – had some 36,000 MW of generation, a whopping 20 percent of its installed capacity, “unavailable due to forced outages.” Reuters said the agency was citing “weather-related mechanical failures and natural gas supply problems, as well as normal generation issues, for power plants being knocked offline Tuesday.”

With conventional generators struggling, the American Wind Energy Association was quick to note that all that wind power capacity added in recent years sure was coming in handy.

“As the cold and high winds first rolled into the Upper Midwest, the MISO grid operator saw very high wind energy output of around 8,000 MW, enough to supply 6 million average homes under typical conditions,” the AWEA said in a blog post.

The industry group added that in Texas, “the more than 2,000 MW of wind output on Monday morning was the critical difference keeping heaters running as the grid operator struggled with numerous outages at conventional power plants.”

* Pete Danko, EarthTechling