Tilting at Windmills: a Geologist’s View of the Monticello Wind Farm…by Gene Stevenson

Monticello Wind Farm. photo by Jim Stiles.

Monticello Wind Farm. photo by Jim Stiles.

As a geologist and resident of San Juan County I have been following the construction of the Latigo Wind Farm as it has been reported in the San Juan Record weekly newspaper and in the October-November, 2015 edition of the Canyon Country Zephyr. My goal here is to try and share some basic science observations and facts about energy resources, by distinguishing “energy” from “power.” The conversation is always about energy, but it’s really the amount of power that can be created from each energy resource that is important.

Ever since the “green energy movement” has really caught on, claims have been made that we should radically change our energy (power) diet, and do so immediately. We’ve been told to abandon our existing systems based on fossil fuels for something new and clean and renewable that doesn’t ruin the environment; something that is low-carbon, solar-powered, wind-powered, or better yet, powered by the singlemost desired element: unobtainium!

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We are told we need to make this transition as quickly as possible so that the United States will become “energy independent” and not have to get involved in Middle East wars and we might begin to turn the tide on terrorism by not spending huge sums of money on a dying resource like hydrocarbons. In fact, using hydrocarbons is just down right being “foolish” says the Sierra Club and their ilk because of all the perceived dangerous effects of global warming or climate change brought about by burning coal, oil and natural gas that releases ungodly amounts of CO2 into our fragile atmosphere.

The global energy business is about $5-trillion-per-year that dwarfs all other sectors of the economy. But before we just jump off the proverbial energy-grid, we need to evaluate the various energy sources to determine which ones can satisfy the four basic imperatives: power density, energy density, cost and scale. By using and understanding these metrics we can begin to confront some brutal facts and winnow out the pretenders. We need to look first at the underlying causes of America’s energy unease: guilt, fear, and our gullibility are key factors, but the most important factor is ignorance.

Most folks simply don’t know or care how energy and power are produced and that lack of knowledge, combined with widespread scientific illiteracy and innumeracy makes for a deadly combination. Therefore, my computations are provided below in a “table or worksheet” format showing how I derived the numbers presented in this essay. I can assure you that these calculations are straightforward and can be verified through the several sources listed.

Scientific Literacy

Various scientific literacy studies are conducted almost every year by several major American universities (e.g. Michigan State, Harvard, California Academy of Sciences) that release their findings of a survey which found that most Americans couldn’t pass, such as:

  • 53% of adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun;
  • 59% knew that the earliest humans did not live at the same time as dinosaurs;
  • 47% of adults could provide a rough estimate of the proportion of the Earth’s surface that is covered with water [the academy accepted any number within the range of 65% to 75%]
  • 46% of adults knew that electrons are smaller than atoms
  • 78% of adults could not explain how to compute the interest paid on a loan
  • 71% could not calculate miles per gallon on a trip
  • 58% were unable to calculate a 10% tip for a restaurant bill
A Latigo Wind Farm turbine pad, pre-installation. Photo by Jim Stiles

A Latigo Wind Farm turbine pad, pre-installation. Photo by Jim Stiles

THE LATIGO WIND FARM

We use several sources of energy. Understanding how they compare to each other in terms of power, or energy output, can be a thorny problem because each is measured and sold in a mind-numbing variety of units. For instance, oil is measured and sold in barrels, tons and gallons while natural gas is measured and sold in cubic meters, millions of Btu and cubic feet. Electricity is sold in kilowatt-hours, but electricity terminologies deal in other units too, like volts, amperes and ohms; and then add in joules, watts, ergs and calories and things really become mind-boggling. Most manufactured components requiring metals and REE’s are measured in tons or pounds while concrete is measured by cubic meters or cubic yards and water by gallons, cubic feet per second or acre feet.

To sort this out, let’s first start with the electricity that will be produced by the wind farm. When fully

View down on Monticello from a Latigo wind turbine pad, before turbine installation. photo by Jim Stiles

View down on Monticello from a Latigo wind turbine pad, before turbine installation. photo by Jim Stiles

operational sPower representatives state that it will consist of 27 wind turbines with a hypothetical optimal *capacity factor of 62.1 megawatts (MW) of electricity (*i.e., energy produced from continuous operation at full rated power) that could provide enough electricity to power 10,000 homes or 60,000 people and it will produce power for 20 years (based on 10 years of study).

Next let’s look at oil. A standard 42 gallon barrel of oil (BO) is equivalent to 1.7 MW, thus the capacity factor is equivalent to 36.53 BO. According to sPower’s representative these turbines actually are factored to operate at 30% of the capacity, or 18.63 MW which equals 10.96 BO. In a perfect world with perfect wind conditions the Latigo Wind Farm could possibly generate 62.1 MW per hour or 1490.4 MW per 24 hours. That amounts to 876.72 BO per day, but at the more realistic 30% rate the wind farm could generate 447.12 MW or the equivalent of 263.04 BOPD.

Now, a well producing 263 BOPD is a nice little well, and many wells drilled in the Paradox basin that are completed as “producers” equal or exceed this initial production amount. BUT, a well worthy of offsetting must exceed 263 BOPD to be considered “economically feasible”. That means if they don’t produce at least this amount, then there is a slim chance of more wells being drilled. Stated in a different way, if the maximum output of a well only producing 263 BOPD could have been known at the outset, it would probably have never been budgeted to be drilled.

Values of the wind turbine height and rotor blade lengths have varied in the two newspapers, but suffice to say – they are BIG! And all these components, including two very large transformers, have arrived via diesel-powered trucks on asphalt-paved highways. County roads have been widened and electric power lines and substations are being built to handle this extra load of electricity. Each tower requires 400 cubic yards of reinforced concrete for each pedestal. And I’m almost dead certain that many acres of precious cryptogamic soil have been destroyed. Yet, sPower states “it is domestic production of power, it is entirely renewable resource, and no fuel is consumed.” I think that this comment deserves a bit more scrutiny.

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When the following facts are added to the equation about the additional energy resources required to build the wind farm in the first place, one begins to wonder about the economic wisdom of such a facility if it wasn’t subsidized.

Take for example concrete: the 27 turbine pedestals x 400 yd3 concrete = 20,850 tons of sand, gravel, cement and water, of which 346,000 gallons of water is needed [No figure for rebar other than “tons” needed]. Then there’s the miscellaneous items like fuel (lots of fuel) for construction & transporting transformers and all the turbines and fans, tires, lead, copper, aluminum and iron and alloys for steel – all acquired by mining & drilling with fossil fuels – the much maligned “extractive industries!” Plus, the wind farm will occupy a 3,600 acre footprint while a 263 BOPD oil well would have a 40 acre spacing, of which the actual footprint of the drill location would be less than one (1) acre [so much for the much touted environmentalists argument for “visual resource management!”]. See accompanying photo of drilling well near Lisbon Valley.

Photo of a drill rig that discovered more oil and gas than the equivalent of two or more Latigo Wind Farms (imagine 60 or more wind turbines in this view, rather than that one oil well). GMS photo

Photo of a drill rig that discovered more oil and gas than the equivalent of two or more Latigo Wind Farms (imagine 60 or more wind turbines in this view, rather than that one oil well). GMS photo

Up until the 1990s, San Juan County led the State of Utah in the production of natural resources such that taxes derived allowed the county to build an infrastructure of high quality roads and maintain a relatively low property tax base for its residents. As further development of these resources have been thwarted by an ever increasing movement to control public land use the roadblocks to accessing natural resources have increased. Alternative “green” energy policies have been enacted during this period to replace what is perceived to be detrimental energy resources. But as shown above, these new alternatives provide substantially less “bang for the buck” and will end up requiring immensely bigger swaths of land to equal the energy provided by fossil fuels.

And to show that this misdirected policy is now entrenched into America, look no further than what our Congress just did by extending tax breaks and subsidies for so-called “renewable” energy until at least 2022 in the trillion dollar budget deal President Obama signed at the end of the year (2015).

The hype about wind and solar does not stand up to the facts. Wind and solar routinely produce less energy than promised. Want proof? In 2014, the United States generated about 4,093 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity.  About 67% of the electricity generated was from fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and petroleum). See www.eia.gov/tools/faq . Here’s the major energy sources and percent share of total U.S. electricity generation in 2014 (latest date available):

  • Coal = 39%
  • Natural Gas = 27%
  • Nuclear = 19%
  • Hydropower = 6%
  • Other “renewables” = 7%
    • Biomass = 1.7%
    • Geothermal = 0.4%
    • Solar = 0.4%
    • Wind = 4.4%
  • Petroleum = 1%
  • Other gases = < 1%

Despite massive spending, wind and solar still contributes only a small share of America’s electricity.  Each panel and turbine that goes up raises costs for tax and ratepayers.  They are the welfare dependents of the energy world.

And to prove this point, look no further than billionaire Warren Buffett who would do anything to lower the tax rate of his company Berkshire Hathaway, including building unprofitable wind turbines to get federal government tax credits.

I will do anything that is basically covered by the law to reduce Berkshire’s tax rate,” Buffett told an audience in Omaha, Nebraska last year. “For example, on wind energy, we get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”

Or take a look at what Marita Noon reports about SolarCity at CFACT.orgSolarCity installs a third of the solar panels on America’s rooftops.  They have made it plain that they are only interested in installing panels if government covers the bill.  When government doesn’t pay, they won’t play.

Politically correct energy cannot power our future.

It’s time for wind and solar to freely and fairly compete in the marketplace.

Thus, the landscape of southeastern Utah has changed and will be changing to a sea of windmills, and all in the name of keeping a pretty darn clean if not a pristine environment clean. And property and other types of taxes will continue to grow to make up the difference.

Blow baby blow!

CONVERSION TABLE RELATED TO LATIGO WIND FARM

WATER:

1 cubic foot = (12″ x 12″ x 12″) = 1,728 cubic inches

1 gallon = 231 cubic inches

1728/231 = 7.48052 gallons per cubic foot

Water is heavy; it weighs about 8.4 pounds per gallon (8.4 ppg), so one cubic foot of water (7.48 gallons) weighs almost 63 pounds (62.832 lbs)

1 cubic foot per second (1 cfs) = 7.48052 gallons per second

1 acre = 43,560 ft2 or 208.71 ft per side

1 mile = 5,280 ft

640 acres per mi2 = 5280 ft x 5280 ft = 27,878,400 ft divided by 640 ac = 43,560 ft2

1 acre foot of water means to take an acre in square feet (43,560) times a cubic foot of water (7.48052 gallons) to get the number of gallons per acre foot, or

43,560 x 7.48052 = 325,851.45 US gallons/acre (rounded off typically to 326,000 gal per acre)

ELECTRICITY:

1 MW (megawatt) of electricity = 1341 horsepower (hp)

1 MW = 1000 kw, or 1×106 watts

Thus, 62.1 MW = 83,277 hp or 0.0621 GW (gigawatts); therefore = 6.21 x 107 W (watts)

ELECTRICITY TO OIL:

Converting electricity to oil terms is a straightforward calculation. One barrel of oil (BO) contains 42 U.S. gallons per barrel (US liquid) and contains the energy equivalent of 1.7 megawatt-hours of electricity.

1 BOE (bbls of oil equivalent) to Btu = 5.79 x 106 Btu, or a BO contains approximately 5.8 million Btu

58 thm (therms)

6.11 GJ (gigajoules)

6.11 x 109 J (joules)

6.11 x 1016 ergs

1.7 MWh (megawatt hours)

CONCRETE:

Convert cubic yards to cubic meters

1 yd3 = 0.7646 m3 = 27 ft3 [3 ft x 3 ft x 3 ft = 27 cubic feet]

400 yd3 = 305.8 m3 = 10,800 ft3

27 x 400 = 10,800 yd3 = 8257 m3 = 291,600 ft3

1 pound (lb) = 16 oz = 0.4536 kg

Basic “recipe” for concrete:

1 part Portland + 2 part dry sand + 3 part aggregate + 0.5 part water by weight, not volume:

Water: 1 kg water = 0.2642 gallons using water density = 1000 kg/m3

1 gal wtr = 3.785 kg = 8.345 lbs [I use 8.4 lbs to include total dissolved solids in water]

1 ft3 of concrete = 0.028 m3 would weigh about 143 lbs (65 kg)

1 yd3 of concrete = 27 ft3 = 3861 lbs (1755 kg)

22 lbs (10.0 kg) cement x 27 = 594 lbs (270 kg)

10 lbs (4.5 kg) water x 27 = 270 lbs (121.5 kg) = 1.1889 gallons of water x 27 = 32.1004 gal

41 lbs (19 kg) sand x 27 = 1107 lbs (513 kg)

70 lbs (32 kg) aggregate x27 = 1890 lbs (864 kg); thus

1 yd3 of concrete = 3861 lbs or (1768.5 kg) of which there is ~32 gallons water per cubic yard

400 yd3 = 1,544,400 lbs or (707,400 kg) per pad; divided by 2,000 lbs (1 ton) = 772.2 tons

Of which 400 x 32 = 12,800 gallons of water per pad

27 wind mill pads = 41,698,800 lbs or (19,099,800 kg) = 20,849.4 tons

12,800 gal x 27 = 345,600 gal water to make concrete for the pads

And one acre foot of water = 325,851.45 US gallons, so pads used about 1.061 ac ft of water

Notes on “type” of concrete:

Regular concrete is the lay term for concrete that is produced by following the mixing instructions that are commonly published on packets of cement, typically using sand or other common material as the aggregate, and often mixed in improvised containers. The ingredients in any particular mix depend on the nature of the application. Regular concrete can typically withstand a pressure from about 10 MPa (1450 psi) to 40 MPa (5800 psi), with lighter duty uses such as blinding concrete having a much lower MPa rating than structural concrete. Many types of pre-mixed concrete are available which include powdered cement mixed with aggregate, needing only water.

High-strength concrete has a compressive strength greater than 40 MPa (5800 psi). High-strength concrete is made by lowering the water-cement (*W/C) ratio to 0.35 or lower. Often an ultrafine powder of non-crystalline micro-silica (silica fume) is added to prevent the formation of free calcium hydroxide crystals in the cement matrix, which might reduce the strength at the cement-aggregate bond.

*Low W/C ratios and the use of silica fume make concrete mixes significantly less workable, which is particularly likely to be a problem in high-strength concrete applications where dense rebar cages are likely to be used; therefore, my calculations may be skewed one way or other as details regarding cement strengths were not ascertained in this report

Sources: Energy Information Administration, “Energy Calculators”

http://windeis.anl.gov/guide/basics/

http://www.wolframalpha.com/ (computations)

 

Mr. Stevenson has 43 years’ experience in applied geology. His main area of expertise lies in furthering the understanding of the geologic history of the Colorado Plateau, with particular emphasis on the Paleozoic geologic history of the Paradox basin and greater Four Corners region of the Colorado Plateau. He has authored or coauthored 47 geological papers and abstracts and has conducted numerous geological field trips and proprietary seminars. His specialties include carbonate petrography, subsurface stratigraphy, ancient depositional systems, and associated structure and tectonics.

He has also been running rivers for about 45 years, mainly within the Colorado River system. he has lived in Bluff, Utah since 1991.

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6 comments for “Tilting at Windmills: a Geologist’s View of the Monticello Wind Farm…by Gene Stevenson

  1. Doug Meyer
    February 1, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    In case readers missed the point, the conversion data to equivalent barrels of oil was intended to show that the daily energy output of the ENTIRE Latigo Wind Farm will be LESS than the daily energy output of a SINGLE economically feasible oil well.

    And since most Americans apparently can’t calculate 10% of their restaurant bill, we’re very lucky we don’t need too many figures in explaining that wind energy is a blisteringly stupid social choice for making power on a large scale.

    In a nutshell, nothing technically magical happened around the year 2009, rather, we just became desperate. Wind energy has been understood for a thousand years, and it’s also been abandoned in the industrial age because it simply doesn’t produce anywhere near enough POWER to maintain our horribly consumptive way of life.

    In the midst of our desperation, the plutocracy figured out in 2009 that China couldn’t stop us from issuing debt we have no ability to pay back (without issuing more debt) and so the lollipop store (i.e., subsidy dumpster) was open for anybody who could build these monsters and claim to unsuspecting, desperately hopeful and arithmetically challenged Americans that we were on our way to energy independence. You know the adage, as long as somebody’s making money…

    The public still doesn’t know that “corp-gov” wind turbines physically wear out in just a couple decades, and hasn’t begun to ask where their patriotic contractors will be when it’s time to take them down. And as this publication has patiently explained over the last eight years or so, wind turbines are not “green” and will do precisely nothing to reduce global warming as they only prolong our reliance on unsustainable economics. Short of major population and consumption reductions, forget about any progress on global warming.

    In sum, I say shame on the land owners who allowed this to happen to Monticello, and shame on the Four Corners Discovery Center for its willing PR role in selling this horrendous boondoggle to the American public.

  2. Cleatus
    February 6, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    Things I noticed about this article:

    Does the author deny that CO2 emissions are causing catastrophic climate changes? Because that seems implicit in his reasoning of costs. How many droughts, hurricanes, or floods occurring nationally and internationally are included in the cost of that oil well in the Paradox basin?

    Also, I noticed that the detailed examination of true costs of windmill construction (materials, concrete, steel, etc) does not have a parallel examination with oil pads. How much money does it cost, how much steel pipe is used, mined, and transported across the nation, to drill for oil and gas and construct pipelines to move it? How much water and gasoline and diesel does it take to maintain oil production work forces – including speculative work forces who may run up millions for their companies drilling dry holes? I don’t know if these ‘total costs’ are higher or lower than windmill costs, but failing to provide a comparison here leads me to question the author’s sincerity.

    Lastly I found the slight against government support for rooftop solar to be laughable. What about government support for oil and gas- which gives away billions in profits for oil and gas taken from public land owned by all Americans with only token revenues. What about the 600 billion a year military, which last spent much of the past decade and a half attempting to control a strategic oil producing region. How much might we quantify the costs of all the people killed by this war machine? Maybe closer to home, how much money does the state of Utah, the federal government, or land management agencies spend building roads and maintaining highways and interstates for the benefit of oil and gas production?

    Without massive government spending, most communities in southeast Utah would not exist. There’d be no farming in far SW Colorado without the federally funded McPhee reservoir killing off the Dolores river. There’d be no uranium industry without Uncle Sam footing the bill to make the mills, build the roads, and purchase all the mineral for its arms race. Hell even tourists wouldn’t come here without the government funded paved roads, lake power, or designation of national parks. People drive past thousands of miles of beautiful scenery they never get out of the car or look at because they only want to see nationally-designated parks. It’s weird, but that’s the economics of tourism.

    Now I think it’s right to question big wind, and I am glad this article exists, and I don’t think we should abandon one energy industry with destructive environmental effects to embrace another one without pausing to consider its impacts. Some skepticism and counter arguments are good and they should be considered. But the line of arguing in this article, in my opinion, has a lot of holes. Personally, I think climate change is real, and we need all the help we can get to get off carbon, and we need to as fast as possible. Is that big windmill standing in the way of my view of the mountains? Yes. Did they kill a lot of critter habitat and biological soil crusts to make it? Probably. But right now I’d rather see that than the dead bodies of everyone getting killed in wars for oil.

  3. Kirk
    February 6, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    Cleatus. First of all it has not been proven that man made co2 is causing catastrophic climate change. That is a prediction not a fact. Next you blame one oil well in the basin for it contribution to this which couldn’t possibly be measured. The comparison to oil is ridiculous because energy creation from oil is one of the most expensive ways to produce electricity on the grid. That is why the comparison was made to oil because that is the only way you could make these turbines look remotely economical. Now lets look at this single paradox well. This well doesn’t make much oil, but the natural gas it produces is equivalent to about 70 windmills. Do you really want to talk about the cost of this well compared to the cost of 70 turbines. I will give you a hint. This well cost about 1% of what an equivalent wind farm would cost. 300 million for the wind farm versus 2.3 million for this well complete with pipeline an production facility. We wont even make the comparison of resources or co2 used, that would just make you look silly. The source I have for the production of this well is myself. I operate it.

  4. Rick Leech
    February 8, 2016 at 11:51 am

    I agree completely with this article. Cletus makes some good points in his comments as well. So to settle the argument all we need to do is take away subsidies of any type to all industries involved and see who survives. I think I know the answer.

  5. Gene Stevenson
    February 10, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    Kirk & Doug – thanks for supportive feedback & understanding the basic point I was trying to make – that wind farms are stupidly a misuse of $$ and materials for the pittance of ROI. I was the well site geologist on this well & knew it was a producer, but was released as per usual after logging & recommending running production pipe and not around for completion; knew it had high GOR but gas is hi Btu.

    Cletus. most roads around here are paved with asphalt (petroleum-based) and paved for more than just transporting O&G equipment – like all those tourists you allude to, or food trucked to City Mkt, or beer & wine to State Liquor store or all those building supplies needed for that next motel or cafe. As for CO2 “causing” anything….1) it is NOT a poisonous gas as now determined by political-edict from EPA, 2) CO2 levels have been shown to follow global climate change – not cause it, 3) the gas has been around a very, very long time and at substantially higher concentrations before any humans were a recognizable species, 4) as guilty carbon-dioxide exhaling human beings your ilk really think, absurdly so, that you can control the planet’s climate. Geologist tip of the day: Humans are a mere blip on the evolutionary screen; so get off that pedestal of superiority. Throwing trillions of $$ to lower CO2 by hundredths of degrees is misdirected; what happened to shovel ready jobs and ‘investing’ in roads and bridges? And finally 5) what about those precious trees? Actually, more importantly, what about the CO2 necessary for phytoplankton and algae that produce O2? Shouldn’t “SAVE THE ALGAE” be your mantra?

    Climate change is real and happens all the time; Our little ole star we circle has much more to do about affecting our planet’s climate; climate models are just that – models. And for most part – wrong. So, in the meantime – enjoy the interglacial….

  6. John Marsh
    March 14, 2016 at 10:13 pm

    Right…and the CO2 that creates carbonic acid and which is changing the PH of our oceans, because that fact cannot be disputed, just gets left out of the argument. The fact is, independent studies in some cases can be faulted but the overwhelming preponderance of scientific evidence is clear. And that is how science comes to new understandings, not one or two or two thousand studies, but a preponderance of all evidence.

    The simple fact is that unless we want to burn every drop of oil and gas on the planet and do so quickly, the costs of oil and gas must increase in price or the cost of other production must decrease. I sometimes wonder if any of these people expect the human race to be alive in 200 or 2,000 or 20,000 years the way they are so quickly willing to burn every non-renewable resource, which have many other better uses by the way.

    The fact many of us want to do something now, fully knowing the cost, must really burn. Some things are worth the cost.

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