Mesa Power LLP, a company created by T. Boone Pickens, has placed an order with General Electric (NYSE:GE) to purchase 667, 1.5 megawatt wind turbines for the worlds largest wind farm, capable of generating 1,000 megawatts, nameplate, of electricity, enough to power more than 300,000 average U.S. homes. The order is part of the $2 billion first phase, see previous post, of the Pampa Wind Project planned in the Texas panhandle by Mesa.
When all the phases of the project are completed it will become the world's largest wind energy project, with more than 4,000 megawatts, nameplate, of installed capacity. When completed, projected to be in 2014, the wind farm will be five times as big as the nation's current largest wind power project, now producing 736 megawatts.
Pickens' claim that the project is dependent on Federal Production Tax Credits is disappointing. It is too bad that wind power is not commercially viable without subsidies on a project of this size. Others have claimed that it is competitive with natural gas power plants, which I suppose is dependent on the cost of power where the plant is built.
Pickens said, “I believe that Congress will recognize that it is critical not only to this project, but to renewable energy in this country, that they enact a long-term extension of the Production Tax Credits." The WSJ commented ". . . state-level incentives, such as laws requiring utilities to purchase clean energy, are bolstering growth in the sector."
To avoid some comments, it must be remembered that with wind power, most of the news uses the nameplate or nominal capacity, the power produced when the wind is blowing at some stated value, rather than the actual power that is produced. The actual production is 25% to 35% of the nameplate capacity because the wind does not blow hard enough all of the time.
This means that wind power especially, and to nearly the same extent solar power, must be backed up by some other generation means, unless it is tied into an extensive grid that uses geographical distribution over a large region or even nationally, or combined with energy storage, to compensate for the intermittency of wind and solar power. Solar has the advantage of being fairly predictable as to when the sun will shine.
Without backup power, energy storage or geographical diversity, it is usually estimated that sun and wind power can only be used for 20% to 30% of total power requirements. Tidal or wave power have some advantages that I will not go into here because their use is very dependent of favorable geographical conditions. Progress is being made on energy storage, but it is not quite ready for prime time. I support using hot dry rock, HDR, geothermal power as baseline power to reduce the expense of interconnecting transmission lines, which will always be required to some extent.