The Grid and Turbines

Alternate Energy Requires Lots of Traditional Energy

Wind generating power plants are more than just towers in a field. They also are new transmission lines, new sub transmission lines and new sub-stations. Mr. Koppies’ installation will require a ten to fifteen-acre substation as well as new sub transmission lines. Currently a new transmission line, the Grain Belt Express, is to bring wind generated electricity east from Oklahoma. This project has been sold several times to different entities trying to complete its construction. As of December 2018 the Grain Belt Express has not received a ruling by the Missouri Public Service Commission to move forward, and court action in Illinois also has imposed delay. Most new transmission lines take up to ten years to complete largely due to sighting issues and permitting processes.

Neither wind nor solar energy are standalone power sources that can exist without traditional back-up available 100% of the time due to their intermittent nature. The sun sets every night and the wind dies. None of these “green” sources of energy are green due to that fact. Somewhere there is a coal, gas or nuclear facility operating at the needed capacity to accept load should any of the intermittent generating sources fail.

Traditional methods of electric generation simply are an integral part of power reliability and for the foreseeable future wind and solar renewable sources are unbreakably tethered to coal, gas, or nuclear power generation.

Think of electricity as water, a river with one dam on it and someone managing the sluice gates and lake height. Now let’s channel in many more streams that previously did not feed the original system and whose flow into the original system is at the mercy of the weather. This makes managing the original controlling system at a consistent level much more difficult. This is load balancing: much more dynamic and complicated than the simplistic given analogy.

“Can America’s power grid accommodate a more dominant role for renewables in the energy mix? As the grid stands today, the answer is no. Our society is putting increasing demands on electric infrastructure that wasn’t designed for today needs — much less what we’re asking of it to support a cleaner energy future. Modern, robust and flexible infrastructure for delivering electricity generation over long distances is essential to the nation’s successful transition to a larger share of renewable energy.”

The irony of wind energy generation systems, as the American Wind Energy Organization notes, “…is that because an increase in wind power capacity is seen on the grid as an increase in demand fluctuation, it requires dedication of other grid capacity to cover it. Rather than reducing other sources, wind power requires building more conventional capacity, particularly natural gas-fired plants, which it then forces to operate less efficiently.”

Energy to Build A Turbine

An industrial-scale turbine takes about 900 tons of material to build; that's equal to about 450 automobiles.

In 2015, MidAmerican Energy installed the then-largest onshore turbines at a generating facility in Iowa. Jessica Remer, in the November 17, 2015 edition of the online journal PowerEngineering, noted specifications from that installation included:

• Takes 3 weeks to build from excavation to operation

• 40 to 100 geopiers installed for stability, weight unknown

• Excavate 10 feet deep 100 feet wide

• Set 96,000 pounds of reinforcing steel rebar = 48 tons

• 53 concrete trucks pour foundations. If each truck can haul 8 cubic yards at 2538 lbs/yard * 53 = 1,076,112 pounds = 538 tons

• Move 1,500 cubic yards of soil @ 2,200 lbs per cubic yard = 3.3 million pounds = 1,650 tons

• 3 blades : each 173 feet long and 27,000 pounds for 81,000 pounds = 40.5 tons

• 8 truckloads to deliver turbine components

• Nacelle: weight 181,000 lbs = 90.5 tons with the generator, gearbox, and rotor shaft

• Hub: weight unknown

• Base tower height 53 feet 11 inches, weight 97,459 lbs = 48.7 tons

• Mid tower height 84 feet 6 inches, weight 115,587 lbs = 57.8 tons

• Top tower height 119 feet, weight 104,167 lbs = 52 tons

• Final tower height to blade tip when fully extended 442 feet

Better Plan Wisconsin-Badgers For a Better Renewable Energy Plan puts some of those numbers into context for on-the-ground and in-the-community installation processes

The construction period was estimated to last up to ten months for the Industrial-scale 88 turbine system Blue Sky Green Field in Fond du Lac County. During those ten months residents would have to share the road with over 9,000 trucks and other heavy equipment. Citizens shared the roads with: excavators, bulldozers, graders, water trucks, concrete pumps, cranes, forklifts, trailers, plows, trenchers, 5,000 gravel trucks, 2,750 cement trucks along with nearly 200 low-boy and flatbed semis for a total of over 8,200 trucks for construction materials. Then add onto that 880 oversized truck loads for the turbine parts and you get 9,000 heavy trucks coming in and 9,000 trucks rolling out.

To accommodate such loads, roads need to be widened, culverts filled in, traffic signs removed, electrical lines taken down, and new driveways have to be created, as each turbine needs its own permanent access road.

Carbon steel is the main turbine building block and it takes plenty of coal to build and install a turbine. Even a relatively small two-megawatt turbine weighs in at 250 metric tons and every ton of turbine steel requires one-half ton of coal. Turbines are installed on massive concrete foundations and each foundation for our smaller-sized turbine example would need another 25 tons of coal to produce the cement. Many, many hundreds of metric tons of coal would be used to build the much larger turbines for a Monroe County wind energy generation system.

And, just to note for those who might see this as a way to save our local or even U.S.-based coal and steel industries, it’s not. Southern Illinois Wind’s principal Joe Koppeis says he prefers Senvion, Inc., turbines (Maddox, T., 6 Dec. 2018, Belleville News Democrat). Senvion’s manufacturing centers are in Germany, Portugal, Poland, and India ( Not so green in terms of greenbacks for our industries and not so green in terms of reducing the global carbon footprint.

Turbines Get Bigger and Bigger

As the chart at left shows, turbines have grown larger, with longer blades, to more efficiently capture wind.

The chart shows measurements in meters: one meter equals 39.37 inches or 3.28 feet.

To illustrate the visual impact of the 600-feet tall (that's nearly 183 meters) turbines proposed for Mr. Koppeis' Southern Illinois Wind, LLC, to be erected along a 15,000-acre swath of Monroe County, we have placed turbines near two local landmarks: Mr. Koppeis' 5-story building at 11 South, Columbia, and at the St. Louis Gateway Arch. You'll need to scroll....

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