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Published June 17, 2009, 12:00 AM

Wind, sun can't provide all the energy we need

First, I agree with the use of all renewable energy. We have come to a time and place environmentally where we can no longer ignore these sources.

By: Clint Zimpel, Duluth News Tribune

First, I agree with the use of all renewable energy. We have come to a time and place environmentally where we can no longer ignore these sources.

However, while the authors of the June 5 commentary, “Fossil fuels draining the economy,” were offering their opinions, theirs was a very one-sided view of the energy market and the ability to adapt to less fossil-fuel use.

They suggested that by using only wind and solar power, the needs of consumers could be met, provided that businesses and households have been converted to a “zero-net energy” level. There was no mention of the initial cost to achieve a “zero-net energy” level, but I am assuming it would cost far more than the average American can afford. I find it hard to believe many of the aging homes and businesses that exist in our country could ever be converted to this level.

In February 2009 the state of Minnesota generated 4.5 million megawatt hours of energy, amounting to 161,750 megawatt hours of energy per day or 6,739 megawatts per hour.

Because wind is unpredictable, wind generation can only be relied upon for 30 percent efficiency related to output. This means that to eliminate the need for fossil fuels in Minnesota, 6,739 megawatts per hour of energy would need to be replaced. At 30 percent efficiency, a rated output of 22,463 megawatts of wind-generating ability would be needed. Most wind turbines have a rated output of about 2 megawatts with some on the market now at closer to 4 megawatts. So generating the 22,463 megawatts of required energy capacity would require 5,615 turbines. And remember, that’s in the state of Minnesota alone. The United States generated more than 300 million megawatt hours of energy in February (the equivalent of 372,784 turbines).

The authors noted several pieces of legislation for proceeding with green energy. President Obama has praised several countries for their visions in proceeding with green markets. However, several years into the other countries’ green efforts, it has yet to be seen whether they have created more jobs than were eliminated. In many cases, increased electricity costs justified businesses relocating to less-costly countries.

It should be noted that very few wind turbines being installed in the U.S. are produced in the U.S. Established companies with facilities overseas fabricate the majority of the turbines. This is evident in Duluth with turbines arriving at the port the past couple of years when there is a tower supplier in Fargo, N.D.

I will admit I have limited knowledge on the efficiency of solar panels, but I would be interested to hear how many acres of land would need to be covered with panels to replace other proven energy supplies, and where the panels are manufactured.

The burden associated with renewable sources is the large amount of money that needs to be spent on equipment with low outputs. The ratepayers will pay for this for the next 20 to

30 years when equipment with twice the output may be available a year from now at the same cost. However, this very purchasing and demand spurs development of more efficient equipment.

As stated earlier, I agree with using any renewables, but the use has to be done responsibly and with the most efficient equipment available while minimizing the impact to ratepayers and taxpayers. It would be irresponsible to think coal or natural gas can be eliminated completely as forms of energy production and to tell people they could.

CLINT ZIMPEL works daily with the power market as the head of engineering for a Duluth manufacturing firm.