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The Daily Tar Heel

Tilting at windmills: Duke Energy and UNC should partner to produce technologies that truly benefit consumers

Duke Energy’s decision to abandon the construction of wind turbines in the Pamlico Sound is indicative of just how uneconomical wind is as an energy source.

If anything, Duke Energy should use its partnership with UNC to make the technology viable instead of implementing it as is. As it stands, wind technology in its current form is a raw deal for consumers, and hardly environmentally friendly.
The original plan was to put three “demonstration” turbines in the Sound.

Duke Energy stated that it has now changed its focus to achieving larger scales farther offshore. If the choice is really between “go big” or “go home,” then going home is the preferable course of action.

The fact of the matter is that wherever Duke Energy places turbines, the same inherent problems remain. Wind power scales poorly, is prohibitively costly and achieves no real reduction in greenhouse gases.

First, wind turbines lack “energy density.” To produce the same power as a single 1,000-megawatt nuclear plant requires more than 300 square miles of wind farms. This is land (and water) that is taken out of use.

And while a nuclear or coal plant can produce a constant flow of energy, wind cannot.

In fact, wind is least reliable when it’s most needed — days that are hot and in the summer.

And this is the greatest irony of all: Because wind is unreliable, every unit of wind energy has to be backed up with a unit of conventional energy (coal or gas) so that people have electricity when there’s no wind.

UNC and Duke have pursued implementing offshore wind in spite of these shortcomings — when the time and research could be far better spent improving technology.

Without better battery technology to store energy, wind alone is not a viable, table energy source.

And while building offshore avoids many of the potential hazards of wind farms such as noise pollution and bird and bat kills, the cost of linking with the electricity grid is higher.

The UNC study of the Pamlico Sound estimated transmission line costs of $2 million per mile. It stands to reason that building farther out would only increase these costs.

Add that to the $88 million price tag for the first actual turbine.

Consumers deserve efficient, reliable energy. Wind is politically popular, but an economic disaster.

UNC and Duke Energy would do better to focus their research on technology that makes energy more efficient, cleaner, cheaper and reliable.

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