Nuclear power is the answer, not wind

February 11, 2010

In Tim Wheeler's article about offshore wind ("Study boosts offshore windmills," Feb. 9), Jeremy Firestone comments: "Yeah, you're going to kill some birds, and yes, there are probably some places you don't want to put wind turbines." These remarks understate the complexity of the biology that will be affected by his proposal. A committee of the National Research Council has concluded that industrial wind installations alter entire ecosystems, doing more harm than just killing birds and bats, and further, that there is insufficient understanding of ecology even to estimate their adverse effects. Meaningful studies of the impacts of oceanic turbines would be impossibly expensive because we don't yet have a complete inventory of the creatures that inhabit these waters, and of those that are known, some mature slowly (for instance the Right Whale and the horseshoe crab don't reach sexual maturity until about their tenth year). Consequently, it is difficult to accept studies that last only two or three years pre-construction as adequate.

The cost of electricity looms large in everyone's mind. Mr. Firestone's report states that installation cost for offshore turbines might be $3.70 per watt and that their capacity factor will be only 40 percent. Nuclear reactors are estimated to cost about $7.35 per installed watt, but their capacity factor is at least 90 percent. So, $1 spent on a reactor gets you 90 cents worth of production capacity, whereas $1 spent on offshore turbines will get you only 40 cents worth. This means that the effective cost of a wind installation will be $8.33 per watt when compared to nuclear, not $3.70. Further, the reactor will have a working life of at least 60 years whereas turbines have an estimated working life of about 25 years, resulting in even higher relative capital costs.

Willett Kempton is quoted as saying that major upgrades to the grid would not be needed to handle modest amounts of offshore wind to start. However, Mr. Firestone's proposal is for well over half of Maryland's electricity demand, not for "modest amounts." Upgrades to the grid will be required. Costly energy storage methods and/or continued maintenance of existing fossil fuel plants will be needed to make the electricity supply reliable. These will further increase the cost of wind compared to nuclear power. A report from the American Physical Society, a professional society of physicists, concludes that high penetration wind energy will be over four times more costly than energy from new nuclear plants in the prevention of carbon dioxide emissions.

Mr. Firestone commented that "... almost anything else is going to cause more impacts than wind power." Almost anything, however, does not include nuclear power, which will have a much smaller environmental impact, and will provide a less expensive, more reliable, and safe electricity supply.

Norman Meadow, Baltimore

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