Sunday, August 19, 2012

Gas vs. Wind - blighting the landscape

As I was reading a post by Anthony Watts this morning, one of the points he made resonated with a particularly ringing ka-boing.  It was this one:

...erecting thousands of expensive and sometimes operating windmills that blight the landscape...

Imagine the howling if somebody wanted thousands of natural gas well derricks on the same plot of land in California, yet they would produce far more energy and help far more people, at a lower cost.

 In support of this statement, Anthony posted a pair of pictures:

Wind Turbines at Tehacapi, California

Natural Gas Wells, Jonah Gas Field, Wyoming

Which of these two approaches to generating energy is a greater "blight" upon the landscape (and which one kills more birds)?  And the most important question...which one produces more energy?

That latter question is pretty easy to answer, by the way.  All you have to do is visit the US Energy Information Administration.  Here's the breakdown for all energy produced in the US in 2010 (in quadrillion BTUs or "quads"):

So basically, natural gas - one of the lowest "profile" energy exploitation technologies - accounted for 24 times as much primary energy production in the US as the massive fields of rusting bird-shredders erected with enormous government subsidization over the past 30+ years.

It gets even more impressive when you consider that the Jonah Field in Wyoming actually represents a fairly intrusive form of natural gas exploitation compared to what's actually possible in terms of keeping your gas fields out of sight and out of mind.  Over the past 30 years, more than 9,000 gas wells have been drilled at Canadian Forces Base Suffield in Alberta, about two hours east of Calgary
and an hour west of Medicine Hat.

A lot of those wells look like this:

(Source: Cenovus Energy)

Compared to the rather larger wellheads at the Jonah site, that's a pretty unobtrusive piece of equipment.  But a lot more of the wellheads at Suffield are invisible, because they're underground, with the wellheads covered by reinforced iron grates - and all of the collection pipelines are buried too, running to pumping stations along the perimeter of the base. 

Why?  Because this is what normally goes on at Suffield:

The British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) routinely conducts annual live-fire training for thousands of British military personnel.  This means artillery fire, missiles, small arms, tanks and tank short, all sorts of things that are very, very bad for exposed oil and natural gas infrastructure.  So all of the infrastructure in the military training area has been buried.

The result?  A base that at 2690 square kilometers is bigger than Luxembourg, but that looks like natural scrub prairie (and I mean that - I've been to Suffield and I've seen "The Tree"), not a massive oil and gas exploitation field.  Yes, there are some derricks visible; and yes, the compressor stations along the base's boundaries are visible (it's hard to bury a compressor station, after all).  But the landscape itself is largely undisturbed (except of course by Challenger main battle tanks and what-not).  And it's teeming with wildlife - including rattlesnakes, elk, antelope, and the extremely funky burrowing owls.

"You there, with the're next."

You have to wonder how well they'd do if their habitat was surrounded by spinning 80-metre turbine blades.  According to Save the Eagles, Spanish wind farms kill 6 to 18 million birds a year.  You don't hear about that from the CBC - they only care when one-thousandth as many ducks end up in the tailings ponds at Syncrude.

I suppose if you're a bird, the best thing that can be said about wind turbines is that at least they spend most of their time not spinning.  Of course, sometimes they do spin, as a buzzard vulture found out to its sorrow.

But hey, at least they're safe, and they never catch fire or anything.

And at least the turbines are worth it, right?  Or are they?

There is 1511 MW of installed wind power capacity in Ontario.  As I sit here right now, at 0633 hrs Sunday morning, all of that capacity put together is producing a grand total of 107 MW.  That's a capacity factor of 7%.  I'm sure glad we're paying $8B to get us some more of THAT.

Meanwhile, Ontario's total nuclear power generating capacity of 11,446 MW had 10,418 MW on line (91% online) and was producing 10,367 MW, or 90.5% of nameplate capacity.

But what we really need is more wind turbines!