AWEA vs. Bryce/Bentek, round #2

Round 1 occurred back in August 2010 when Bentek did a study and Robert Bryce placed an article in the WSJ casting doubt on wind energy’s main raison d’etre, lessening emissions.  The Bentek study was notable in that they used actual emissions measurements – not models, calculations or assumptions.  AWEA, the wind industry lobbyist, responded pretty strongly.  With a second more robust Bentek study and another Bryce article, round 2 has just finished.  It follows a remarkably similar trajectory to round #1.  The main ingredients are:

  • an emission-busting study by Bentek:
  1. Round #1: How Less Became More
  2. Round #2: The Wind Power Paradox
  • a subsequent emission-busting article by Bryce:
  1. Round #1: In the Wall St Journal, Wind Power Won’t Cool Down the Planet
  2. Round #2: In Forbes, A New Study Takes the Wind Out of Wind Energy
  • a counter-attack by AWEA:
  1. Round #1: Does Wind Power Reduce Carbon Emissions? Counter-response
  2. Round #2: AWEA Reponds to Bentek Study Questioning Wind’s Emissions Reductions

I covered round one with an earlier posting, which you should probably read just to get a sense of the deja vu here.  The essence of that posting was the AWEA’s “facts” were hardly that, with lots of assertions but nothing of substance to back those assertions up.

The second Bentek study correlated wind generation data with emissions measurements and found that the savings were much less than advertised.  I’ve read through all of AWEA’s round #2 counter-attack and through all of the references they have used to back up their assertions in an effort to see if they have any effective criticism of Bentek’s work.  As it turns out, all of their references are recycled from round #1.  As a consequence the result is the same as round #1 – they still don’t have any actual science on their side.

AWEA has had, between the rounds, almost a year to sharpen their counter-attack and to do some work on getting better references.  Or even better, a year to go out and get some actual measurements showing their product is in fact effective in lowering emissions.  However when wind-friendly references do not exist because a wind-friendly reality does not exist then you have a problem.  But in a show of fairness, I’ll go through AWEA’s round #2 counter-attack with a fresh eye.

The Details

I started with AWEA’s press release [backup link].  It starts with typical accusations against the fossil fuel lobby, trying to delay discussing the actual data.  Their release is full of obfuscation, for example: “the Bentek report is directly contradicted by a large body of government data and numerous studies by independent grid operators conclusively showing that the emissions savings of adding wind energy to the grid are substantially larger than had been expected.”  But what does the word “showing” mean?  Are they talking measurements, or just more simulations, models, assumptions and calculations?  They also mention that there are errors in the Bentek study, notably that exports were not counted when doing the calculations.  None of these assertions have any supporting references.  It is pretty easy and even fun to point out where the other guy is “wrong” – but where is your answer?  AWEA doesn’t bother supplying one.

Instead, they link to a more permanent posting of theirs, The Facts about Wind Energy and Emissions [backup link].  Here they provide some numbers for Colorado and Texas that purport to show the an increase of wind’s penetration into their grids created a decrease in emissions.  These numbers sound convincing if read in isolation, but missing from AWEA’s discussion is any sense of context.  If AWEA had provided links to their source data we could see if there was a larger picture that might not be so convincing.  But, conveniently for them and inconveniently for us, they don’t.  Instead they provide 2 links to other postings from wind-friendly sites, including their own:

Both of these postings are leftovers from round #1, dated April 5, 2010 and September 1, 2010 respectively.  We are now 3 levels deep (press release -> facts about wind energy and emissions -> 2 studies both written by them) into following AWEA’s evidence trail, and we haven’t yet seen anything but their own writings.  One has to start wondering if this long trail is intentional, meant to discourage anyone from actually finding out if there’s any substance to anything they’ve written.  Plus we now find out that there’s no new information from AWEA relating to the latest round #2 study from Bentek, which was substantially larger and more detailed than their round #1 study .  I have a brother that argues the same way.  By repeating the same points with more strident emphasis he thinks he will be more persuasive.  OK, I’ll bite.  One more layer, then we’re done.

AWEA Debunks Colorado Study Funded by Fossil Lobby

This debunking runs all of 2 pages and contains the same assertions regarding Colorado and Texas as AWEA’s other postings.  It is curious that this debunking is dated April 5, 2010 while the “Colorado Study” (the Bentek “How Less Became More” study) was published April 16, 2010.  Isn’t it nice that the debunking preceded the study?  But at least there are 9+1 outside references in here.  Let’s look at them one-by-one.

  1. The Bentek, How Less Became More [link supplied by me, obviously AWEA didn’t have one] [backup link].  While AWEA doesn’t much discuss the study itself, I certainly have.
  2. http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/st_profiles/sept05co.xls [backup link] This chart lists the Colorado electric generation by source, and generally shows that wind/renewables and gas have been increasing while coal has been decreasing.  This is not surprising, and was not discussed in the Bentek study.  There’s no mention of emissions.
  3. http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/st_profiles/sept07co.xls [backup link] This chart shows the estimated emissions from the various electric generation sources in Colorado.  Apparently AWEA would rather we believe estimates from the government rather than measurements from Bentek.  One has to wonder why the government doesn’t do its own study using measurements.  The data is available.
  4. http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/coal/page/acr/table26.html [backup link]  This chart shows the coal consumption for different industry sectors, one of which is electrical generation, for the U.S. in years 2008 and 2009.  It shows coal use decreased from 2008 to 2009.  This is not a surprise, was not discussed by Bentek, and is mostly due to the recession.  There is no mention of emissions.
  5. http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/dnav/ng/ng_cons_sum_dcu_SCO_a.htm [backup link] This web page shows the natural gas consumption by different end users, including electric power generators.  Gas usage peaked in 2007 then went back to roughly the same level as 2005.  This peak coincides with the gas price collapse brought about by the recession and the exploitation of shale gas.  This is not a surprise, was not discussed by Bentek – at least not here.  There is no mention of emissions.
  6. http://www.ercot.com/news/presentations/2006/ATTCH_A_CREZ_Analysis_Report.pdf [backup link] This is an appendix to a study by the Texas ISO, Ercot, entitled Analysis of Transmission Alternatives for Competitive Renewable Energy Zones in Texas. There’s no mention of emissions savings in it, let alone any measurements.
  7. http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov/pdfs/economic_development/2008/in_wind_benefits_factsheet.pdf [backup link] This is a 2-page DOE publication about the benefits of wind in Indiana, one of which is 3.1 million tons annually.  There’s no indication of where this number came from, or how it was calculated.  Certainly it involved no measurements.  How did Indiana get into this?
  8. http://www.nrel.gov/wind/systemsintegration/ewits.html [actual study link][backup link]  AWEA’s link goes to the introduction page for the EWITS (Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study), so I’ve linked to the study itself.  It is 16mb, so be careful if you are on dial-up.  As the title implies, this was a study of how a large amount of wind energy could be imbedded in the eastern part of the U.S.  The study did include emissions savings with different scenarios, but these were all simulations.  Keeping in mind that the models were created and run by people with an interest in the results, I’d rather take Bentek’s measurements any time.
  9. http://www1.eere.energy.gov/windandhydro/wind_2030.html [actual study link][backup link] AWEA’s link goes to the introduction page for the 20% Wind Energy by 2030 Study, so I’ve linked to the actual study.  It is 9mb, so be careful.  I have previously posted (twice, actually) on this very study, and suffice to say I found it not just unpersuasive, but downright disingenuous.  Their calculation of emissions savings actually came from AWEA, certainly not from any measurements.

Plus another reference that slipped in: http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/st_profiles/sept06co.xls [backup link] This chart shows electric power delivered fuel charges for Colorado.  There’s nothing in here about emissions, let alone any measurements.

So what do we have from the Colorado “debunking”?  Remember that Bentek took real measured emissions data and correlated it with wind generation data to see what effect the wind generation had on the emissions.  What has AWEA answered with?  A lot of assertions that are mostly cherry-picked, but more importantly do not involve a single measurement.  Not a one.  Nada.  Zero.  Zilch.

The Facts About Wind Energy and Emissions

For AWEA’s second part of their counter-attack they’ve referenced AWEA’s own more detailed explanation of their “facts” about wind energy and emissions.  The links above are still good, and AWEA also posted the same explanation at masterresource.org.  If you want to get some expert commentary on what AWEA presented, I’d suggest you look at the comments following AWEA’s posting.

There are 8 new references presented in this explanation that aren’t included in the list above. I’ll go through them one by one, trying to see if any of them in any way refute the results Bentek obtained.

  1. http://www.awea.org/pubs/factsheets/Backup_Power.pdf.  This was a study about backup power written by AWEA itself,  but the link has gone dead.
  2. This was a page reference in the EWITS that was listed above. Page 174 discusses the change in generation patterns that different levels of wind penetration might cause.  Emissions were not discussed at all, let alone measurements.
  3. http://www.ercot.com/content/news/presentations/2009/Carbon_Study_Report.pdf [backup link] This study is titled Analysis of Potential Impacts of CO2 Emissions Limits on Electric Power Costs in the ERCOT Region. There are some simulations about what effects different carbon caps would have on the Texas grid.  It contains no measurements of how wind generation would affect emissions.
  4. http://www.midwestiso.org/page/Expansion+Planning This link has gone dead and now bounces back to MISO’s home page.
  5. http://www.state.nj.us/dep/cleanair/hearings/pdf/09_potential_effects.pdf [backup link] This study is titled Potential Effects of Proposed Climate Change Policieson PJM’s Energy Market.  It contains simulations of how different governmental policies would affect the PJM market.  It contains no measurements of how wind generation would affect emissions.
  6. http://www.iso-ne.com/committees/comm_wkgrps/prtcpnts_comm/pac/reports/2010/economicstudyreportfinal_022610.pdf [backup  link] This study is titled New England 2030 Power System Study.  It contains different transmission and generation scenarios along with costs, including emissions.  Nowhere does it say where the emissions numbers came from.It contains no measurements of how wind generation would affect emissions.
  7. http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/st_profiles/sept07tx.xls [backup link] This chart shows the estimated emissions from the various electric generation sources in Texas.  Apparently AWEA would rather we believe estimates from the government rather than measurements from Bentek.  One has to wonder why the government doesn’t do its own study using measurements.  The data is available.
  8. http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/st_profiles/sept05tx.xls [backup link]  This chart lists the Texas electric generation by source, and generally shows that wind/renewables have been increasing while coal and natural gas have been decreasing, sort of.  This is not surprising, and was not discussed in the Bentek study.  There’s no mention of emissions.

In parallel with the Colorado debunking study, this study contains no actual measurements of emissions, let alone any that might contradict the measurements that Bentek made.  It is pretty obvious that AWEA has no interest is doing some actual science and using actual measurements to see if wind energy is effective in reducing emissions.  Instead they write papers using whatever scattered numbers they can come across, choosing to look authoritative in contrast to being authoritative. In a way, they are being smart.  When you don’t have the facts on your side, try something else.

4 thoughts on “AWEA vs. Bryce/Bentek, round #2”

  1. You might take a closer look at Bentek II. Although Bentek’s press release basically states that wind is more trouble than it’s worth (true), the actual Paradox report is significantly more favorable. Indeed, in the MISO region (the upper Midwest), Bentek states that wind is responsible for offsetting up to 1.2 tons of CO2 per MWh of production. Which is more than that claimed by AWEA. For reasons much different than the self-serving puerile criticism of AWEA, Bentek II, while commendable because it seeks to measure real performance, is flawed in important ways, in the process rather vastly overstating wind’s role in abating CO2 emissions. The key to unlocking why this is so can be found in EIA state by state generation/consumption data that shows all the primary generation in the fuel mix from 2000-2009. Stay tuned….

  2. Hi Jon, thanks for the comment. All my readers out there – please note that I have posted nothing about Bentek II. The main reason is that I haven’t gotten my hands on a copy of it – c’mon Brannin, send me one. As Jon says, it may or may not reflect reality. This posting was simply a critique of AWEA, which stands no matter how Bentek turns out.

    I can tell everyone first-hand that doing regressions like Bentek’s oftentimes leads to larger-than-feasible answers. In my case I was working on Ontario’s emissions, and I ended up taking down my “cow equivalence” postings because I couldn’t come to any reasonable conclusion – the r-squared’s were just too small, for the regression nerds out there.

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