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The Lie Detector
or Calculating Output... Accurately!

With millions of dollars and access to taxpayer money at stake, wind developers consistently exaggerate their claims. In fact, they have been proven time and again to outright lie! How can they get away with this? Here in Maine it's largely because the media blindly print the developers' press releases without verifying any of the claims they make. Even worse, when a wind developer is caught lying, even under oath, there is no penalty whatsoever!

Have you ever noticed that wind developers always describe a project's capacity as 'enough to power XXX homes'. The American Wind Energy Association encourages all developers to quote their output this way because it presents wind energy in a good light. When they say a project will generate enough electricity to power 18,000 homes, we tend to visualize a town with a population of 18,000. But this would not be accurate. In the typical U.S. town only 33% of the energy consumed is consumed by residential customers. The other 67% is used by offices, factories, government facilities, street lighting, traffic lights and so on.

Let's look at the math using First Wind's Bull Hill project as a case study. Here's the opening paragraph of a First Wind press release that was printed verbatum in most Maine newspapers on 11/14/12:

 

Wind projects are defined in terms of the "nameplate" capacity in megawatts (MW) per year. That is, the theoretical maximum possible output assuming perfect, consistent wind 24/7 with no downtime for either maintenance or repairs for an entire year. It's a very artificial figure but it provides a practical, consistent way to describe generating facilities. The Bull Hill project has a (nameplate) capacity of 34 MW.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports household power consumption in Kilowatt hours (kWh) so we need to convert Bull Hill's 34 MW to kWh:

34 MW  x  1000  =  34,000 KW

34,000 KW  x  24 hours  x  365 days  =  297,840,000 kWh

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that in 2011 the average U.S. household consumed 11,280 kWh of electricity. Simple division provides the accurate number of households Bull Hill project would serve IF IT OPERATED AT ITS FULL NAMEPLATE CAPACITY.

297,840,000 kWh  /  11,280 kWh per household  =  26,404 households

The First Wind press release states that the Bull Hill project will serve the needs of 18,000 households. So we divide 18,000 by 26,404 households and find what percent efficiency First Wind expects to get from the Bull Hill project. This figure is known as the project's Capacity Factor.

18,000  /  26,404  =  68.2% Capacity Factor

Now we have to ask ourselves: Is that a reasonable Capacity Factor? Using actual production data that First Wind is required to file with the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) we're able to calculate the actual Capacity Factors achieved by First Wind's existing wind energy facilities in Maine:

 

Capacity Factors reported for the 3rd Quarter 2012
 
Mars Hill
Stetson I
Stetson II
Rollins
Totals
Rated Capacity (MW)
42
57
26
60
185
Actual Generation (MWh)
25,528
24,927
8,259
24,393
83,107
Capacity Factor*
27.53%
19.81%
14.39%
18.41%
20.34%
         * Note that the Rated Capacity is an Annual figure while Actual Generation is for the Quarter.
                Capacity Factor  =  Actual Generation  /  (Rated Capacity  x  24 hours  x  # of days)

 

According to 2nd Quarter figures First Wind reported to the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC), we see that First Wind's projects achieve as little as 14.39% of nameplate capacity and no more than 27.53% of nameplate capacity. The Capacity Factor of all their Maine projects taken together is only 20.34%.

How can First Wind claim that the Bull Hlll project will serve 18,000 homes if it requires a 68.2% Capacity Factor to do so and their statewide average Capacity Factor is only 20.34% ???

This is where another dirty trick comes in to play. When confronted with this massive exaggeration, they accuse their critics of distorting the figures and that we ought to be using consumption figures for the average Maine household, not the average U.S. household. Oh, really? Little if any of that electricity is used in Maine households as Maine is a net exporter of electricity and First Wind exports its product out of state. In fact, according to First Wind's Bull Hill press release:

"The utility NSTAR and First Wind have entered into a 15-year fixed-price contract for the (Bull Hill) project’s electricity. That will help NSTAR meet its goal of providing renewable energy to homes and businesses as outlined by Massachusetts law that encourages energy efficiency."

Just for kicks, let's run the numbers using the Maine household figure anyway. The U.S. Energy Information Administration tells us that in 2011 the average Maine household consumed only 6,252 kWh (the lowest in the entire country). Even using this figure we find that the stated figure of 18,000 households assumes a Capacity Factor of 38%. That's nearly double First Wind's 3rd Quarter 2012 average of 20.34%. Even using the lowest consumption figure in the entire country, First Wind is still exaggerating and being dishonest !

Think about it this way: Suppose you spend a bundle to get the latest fuel efficient vehicle. Suppose it's advertised mileage is 68 mpg. You feel great! You're doing your part to stop global warming and all your friends and neighbors are reminded of that every time they see you drive by. Now imagine you test your mileage and find it doesn't get 68 mpg at all, it consistently gets only 20 mpg. Would you be upset? Disappointed? Would you say the car manufacturer cheated you? That's exactly what First Wind is doing by telling you their Bull Hill project will serve 18,000 homes!

But it's not just First Wind. All wind developers quote how many households their projects will serve and they always exaggerate this figure. By inflating the number of households to be served they make their projects appear to be more important. And they get away with this because as private companies, not public utilities, they are not required to report any of their numbers except to FERC. They know that very few people, and even fewer journalists, will study the FERC reports, run the numbers and see the fraud. To return to our analogy, wind developers can make any claim they like and they're not even required to say "your mileage may vary"!

Here's a calculator that will do the math for you. The next time you read in the newspaper that the so-and-so project will serve the needs of X number of households, just enter the Nameplate Capacity, the number of homes they're claiming, hit the Calculate button and it will give you the Capacity Factor the wind developer is assuming using both the average U.S. Household and the average Maine household.


When you catch wind developers lying... Call them on it!

   THE LIE DETECTOR  
           
What is the Project's Total Nameplate Capacity (MW)?
How many Households do they say it will serve?
          RESULTS
 
Capacity Factor required to serve that many U.S. households