When the Wind Doesn’t Blow

By John Hultquist,

A brief look at the electrical balancing by the Bonneville Power Administration from Oregon and Washington, Nov. 2018

We live in central Washington State where the mighty Columbia River flows south. Large dams, provide power and our house is 100% electric. Our electricity has not been off for more than 4 hours per event in 25 years. When wind towers were put up 15 miles away (trees block the view) we went for a tour. It is interesting, and I suggest anyone with the opportunity to go visit. The wind generated electricity goes past us toward western Washington.

The Columbia River, over millions of years, has created a deep canyon as mountains have risen and tall volcanoes have come and gone. Here the River flows westward, marking the Washington-Oregon boundary.

Source: NASA

The large gap in the landscape, to the Pacific Ocean, and the high ridges of the Columbia Gorge provide an excellent surface configuration for the development of strong winds and, therefore, the placement of wind turbines. This requires the atmosphere to cooperate, as it sometimes does, and sometimes doesn’t, as for instance this November.
A look at where wind towers are: This site is from 2014, but is a good description. The 4th photo is for a 50 mile-wide view of the region near the center of the NASA image (above).

Map tour by Roy L. Hales

Other suppliers in this region include a nuclear facility, natural gas, a tiny amount of solar, some coal and other thermal. The latter involves landfill gas, waste paper and wood industries, and perhaps others. There are 58 non-wind places generating electricity.

Addressing and marketing the output is the job of the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). The agency has a web page that shows sources and load. HERE

The total generation is always greater than the total BPA load because most of the time BPA is a net exporter of energy. There exists a ‘direct current’ (DC) transmission line to southern California, called Path 65. [45.596501, -121.117367]
A BPA chart shows 9.7% wind of a total system nameplate generation of 28,443 MW [18 Sept 2018], or ~2,760 MW. The graphics below show how well this has worked over the last 23 days. Note the lower (smaller) chart begins on Saturday, the 10th.

The green line near the bottom is for wind. On the 10th of November, the view enters with nearly zero wind. The line comes off of zero on the 12th, and there are spurts on Thurs & Fri of that week.
The top chart begins on the left where the other ends, 16/17 September. The green line hardly shows above the bottom of the chart until late on the 22nd. The image was taken at 10:55 PM, with wind now at about 2,000 MW.
The blue line is for hydro power. On Thursday, Thanksgiving Day in the USA, as all the turkeys and pies come out of ovens the load drops, as does generation of electricity from the dams. But the weather is changing, the wind is blowing, and the blades feel that force. The sustained winds are getting near 20 mph, gusts a little higher. Wind needs to be above 9 mph for the turbines to produce energy. Over the coming week this period of no-wind to low wind speed is likely to continue.

There appears to be a tug-of-war between a Low Pressure area off the coast of S. CA and a High Pressure area near the western Aleutian Islands. See: nullschool

When the atmosphere resolves this interplay, we’ll find out where wind turbines return to business.

Note: I am an interested observer of the things mentioned in this post. I am not qualified to answer technical questions, but those that are, please comment. Thanks.



77 thoughts on “When the Wind Doesn’t Blow

  1. No surprises with the generation by energy type. Wind is a non starter for most applications IMO due to the intermittency and maintenance requirements. Only politics keep wind in the energy picture for most locations. Only small user applications without life support requirements on wind should be considered and what does that leave you with? Remote areas with no data acquisition capabilities (out of touch) and other sources of heating/cooling if required.

  2. The Climate Cultists (like Moonbeam and Tom Steyer) will refuse any effort to price grid reliability into the electricity generation equation. To do so would be to show their Emperor has no clothes.

    Wind Energy is completely dumb energy anywhere reliable hydro, nuclear, coal, and nat gas resources are readily available. To bring wind energy into that mix simply brings higher prices to the end consumer and more backup buffering to engineer into the grid. And not one pound of emitted CO2 is saved when the total end-to-end life cycle Carbon footprint of each of those hundreds of wind turbines are calculated and summed.

    It is farce perpetrated by the fraudster crony capitalists like Tom Steyer that those things have even been built. A huge play on the crony capitalism moneymachine. In the 19th Century, the North American Railroad Barons plied their crony capitalism with the Federal and State governments to get free or very cheap land for their railroad lines. The same is happening today in the 21st Century with Wind Energy crony capitalism.

    But quite unlike the 19th Century where the railroads had a real value-added multiplier to the emerging economy, here wind and solar are complete detractors, no value-added, save from green virtue signaling by the owners. They are complete siphons of wealth from the consumers to the crony capitalists -Tom Steyer, a vampire squid on the face of every electricity consumer.

  3. Solar only works if there is sufficient sunlight. Today, in my AO (northeastern Illinois), it has been so gloomy with this confounded snowstorm pending (until it arrived) that there was barely enough light to jiggle the pixels in my rather expensive digital Nikon, and only after I reset the ISO level to 1200.

    Now that the snow has finally arrived, the wind that is supposed to be carrying it? Seriously, it is not coming in like a normal blizzard, blowing snow into 8 foot drifts against my house and filling the air with a hazy shade of snowflakes. There is a light breeze, instead. It is not a wind-driven snowstorm, but it IS messy. If there is an occasional gust, it is barely noticeable.

    A day and night like this make it clear that if your power generating source isn’t reliable, you might as well go back to oil lamps and a woodburning stove and fireplace, because without reliable electricity, generated by either natural gas or coal at a local power plant, you have nothing. N-O-T-H-I-N-G. I prefer to stick with the stuck that works and know that it will provide enough power to keep my water heater going and keep the blower motor in my furnace running.

    Thank you for the article. It was very informative.

    • I was driving through the early part of that storm and I saw the solar panel recharged construction signs store in the ditch and their panels were covered completely with the super sticky wet snow meaning someone using solar panels to generate any of the electricity they need was going to be up a creek without a paddle!

      I live about 40 miles north of the center of the storm and still, my car was coated in the super wet snow that turned to ice overnight and it meant I spent 15 minutes cleaning it off my car. Imagine if that was solar panels that I absolutely NEEDED for generating my apartment’s electricity and I’d have been cold and completely hosed!

  4. Thank you Mr. Hultquist for this submission. As a fellow Washingtonian, I am also quite interested in the local power generation mix for our area. Notwithstanding the attempts of our politicians and special interest groups to promote all things AGW, we have dodged the bullet – so far. Recently, renewed efforts have arisen to breach the Lower Columbia power generating dams….to save salmon, supposedly to further resurrect declining Orca whale numbers (see: https://phys.org/news/2018-10-breaching-northwest-orcas-contentious-issue.html; https://apnews.com/7209a4f702bc4d148b23b0212eee3352; there are many others available on-line). This would serve only to instantly destabilize our Western electrical grid, without any guarantee that salmon would recover to eventually support Orca pod numbers. Such breaching would only remove reliable, base load electrical energy and spike power imports to our region – and to those who rely on the consistent generation and distribution of Lower Columbia dam power. Side note: As I shop in my local grocery store, I find flash-frozen Pacific Salmon – sourced from the nation of China. Last I knew, China does not have salmon-bearing river systems. So, where was the salmon harvested? Further, where were these individuals hatched and smolted? I can anticipate the answers to these questions to be; Harvested in the mid-Pacific Ocean, and the salmon sourced from Kamchatka, Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California. Could the salmon declines in Washington be somewhat due to the high-seas fisheries of China? I would propose that funding be provided to perform a DNA analysis of Chinese-harvested salmon in USA grocery stores – to determine the flesh origin. I can imagine that a percentage of the salmon loss in the Columbia-Snake river system of our region, is directly related to this Chinese high-seas harvest. It would be a travesty to assume the dams themselves are the only reason for returning salmon number declines, without fully researching all potential reasons for such losses.


    Your fellow Washingtonian,


    • In Europe our Bio Industry is forced out of business by the argument that nitrogen emissions from this industry is changing the landscape causing rare bird species to go extinct. Environmentatlists (and Government) always use these kind of arguments but are they true? A Belgian Bird Expert came up with a whole different reason for the supposed bird decline. He claimed that the migratory birds in question lost valuable feeding grounds on their way to Africa and back and were hunted intensivly. No need to close down our Bio Industry for reasons that are out of our control I think. The birds we have look healthy and prosperous. That can’t be said from the raptors killed by the wind mills. But that according to the Greens this is not to be discussed in public.

    • Michael,
      As another Washingtonian, I have had the same concerns about the significance of the high seas fisheries on the decline of our salmon. And the idea of performing a DNA analysis of the China-sourced fresh salmon is terrific. I was not aware that this was available until reading your post here. It is the kind of thing that the State’s Department of Fish and Wildlife ought to be interested in except for the fact that there is no obvious way to exploit the likely result politically. Ignorance is much to be preferred by our politicians on matters of emotional significance to the electorate. There are so many clever ways to manipulate good intentions!

      I had considered such a project a couple of decades ago, but the salmon that was sold here from that high seas catch was of the canned variety, and I suspected the cooking would degrade the DNA. Having fresh or frozen salmon makes this a non-issue. And DNA test were in their infancy back then.

      This sounds like a much needed venture. Perhaps our moderator could send you my email address to you, and we could discuss such a project. This sounds like a very worthwhile activity.

      PS: In the 1990s the Coast Guard rescued two Asian fishing vessels hundreds of miles off the Washingon coast that were heavily loaded with salmon. One had suffered a fire, and the other a mutiny. I believe there were only a few survivors in each case.

  5. I think it is pretty neat how BPA can so easily load follow by simply adjusting the turbine flows through the dams. The rate of change looks to be almost as fast as gas turbines. Washington and BPA service area is blessed.

    • Nuclear and coal generators are learning that flexible, load-following generation trick with bypass steam in periods of low demand because of wind and solar variability.

      Of course that doesn’t save one pound of emitted CO2. It just enables the virtue signaling farce to continue its play on an ignorant population, a population fed the climate change scare-story propaganda — a population that then pays the higher electricity bills. And as long as the plant operators can make a buck in that political scam, they will play along for their survival.

      • Thanks Joel. Worked at an older coal power plant, but wasn’t aware of such a steam-bypass system. I knew newer units on the system had sliding-pressure capabilities & perhaps also had such bypass systems (or some might have been retrofitted since I worked there).

      • Joel, we have seen that in Ontario, with the Bruce nuclear plant now able to reduce its output when the wind is blowing and all the hydro dams are shut off.

        Cheap (well, moderately cheap) nuclear-generated, “carbon-free” energy is being dumped into the atmosphere (and/or Lake Huron) to make way for expensive, wind-generated “carbon-free” energy and we (the consumers) get to pay 18¢/kWh instead of 3¢/kWh*

        Our political masters presented this as a positive achievement. No wonder they got voted out of power and nearly out of existence.

        * – plus transmission charges, plus “global adjustment” plus blah blah blah

        Not to mention that the Bruce nuclear plant is not compensated for dumping excess energy, so their price per kWh must ultimately rise, further impacting the price paid by us users.

    • Steyer is no cultist. He is protecting his investments in wind as only a spoiled billionaire can: Paying for AstroTurf “activists” and buying politicians.

    • Ramping up and down the dam’s turbines is increasing the wear and tear on them, and disturbing the flow of the river.
      Wind sucks, even when it blows.

  6. Mr. Hultquist, I am a follower of WUWT for 5+ years, a new (1 year) resident of the Gorge (near White Salmon), and am very interested in getting together with you to discuss all of this. If you are interested, please contact me at jjjjtheman5(at)gmail(dot)com. I am very interested in all things wing turbine, and am God’s own numbers nerd. Thanks!

    • Hi Jake,
      You live in a great location. I used to come your way to work on hiking trails. We had a good project on the Falls Creek Trail (north of Carson) a few years ago. It is an overnight trip for me (4 hours, one way) and we spent the night. I’ve also worked on the Dog Mountain Trail and at Beacon Rock State Park.

      I don’t think I can be of much help to you, but if you can’t find a local wind facility to visit, we’ve got one 15 miles east of Ellensburg. Unfortunately the visits are closed for the season. Beyond that, might I suggest you contact the BPA in Portland. I think offices are on the east side of the River.
      A few years ago I thought the City of Ellensburg might be a source of information.
      Using other people’s money (OPM), they had 5 small towers installed. They never got the technical stuff and software working, and then in normal wind for the area, one of the things blew down. The OPM was gone, so rather than use the local’s taxes to continue, they just took everything down.
      Again, I’m not much help on this, but others might be, and you could fill in the details.

      • Thanks for your replies here and privately. I am a refugee from Seattle, People’s Republic of. I have been getting acquainted w/the public officials in Klickitat County, and am hugely impressed. Some very smart people here.

        I have two major personal research projects. One is to gain a factual understanding of the wind turbines; their production numbers, financial numbers, and the “bird death” story, this place being raptor central.

        The other, which isn’t WUWT-related, is to understand why 100,000 acres of public forest in thge Gorge has burned since 2015, while (apparently) there have been no burns in the privately-logged forests here.

  7. ctm,
    Thanks for helping with this.

    The BPA site stopped working after all the turkeys and pies got cooked.
    Hope they get to work Monday morning and fix it.

  8. ” Large dams, provide power and our house is 100% electric.”

    Sorry, I’m being totally pedantic here. Why did you put a comma after “large dams” instead of before the “and”.

    Shouldn’t it read ” Large dams provide power, and our house is 100% electric.”?

  9. One of the big questions is what amount of electrical generation actually comes from each windmill. The brass plate may give a figure, but are there any figures, honest ones, which actually say just how much actual energy comes out of them.


    • Honest figures from the “renewables” crew ? – one has to do a fair bit of spadework to get that in a single case and ongoing assessments for stuff promoted by the “crony capitalists” are very rare indeed – by design…

      In the UK we have Gridwatch – but extracting data to present a meaningful assessment of wind and solar is not something that can be easily done especially if one wants a proper comparison of cost….

      • The UK has 18.8GW of installed wind. So it’s fairly easy to work out the efficiency.
        Over the past year, generation’s varied between under 1GW & 7.5GW.
        That, however, mixes on- & offshore, onshore wind’s usually around 20% efficient, offshore upto 40%.

      • Not a real problem if your Parliament does not pass Brexit. Your problems in energy will be a minor issue. Your whole economy will be doing down the toilet.

  10. Hello all,

    I wonder how many of teh general public realise how variable the output fron wind generators is, given that output is not linear to wind speed. It’s fairly obvious that if the wind is not blowing then there is no output but that is fairly rare. The fact that at low wind speeds the output is minimal is probably not recognised by the average person so the weakness of this form of generation is not common knowledge and would explain, in some way, the public’s support for them. The highly variable output in gusty conditions which is disruptive to a grid is also another fact that will not be common knowledge.

    Do the legislators who force the construction of these devices know any of this?

    • All good questions, but I have no answers.
      About the turbines nearest me:
      The rotor spins clockwise at 16.5 revolutions per minute; the turbines generate electricity at wind speeds as low as 9 mph, reach peak generation at 31 mph, and shut down at constant wind speeds of 56 mph.

      I’ve read that under 9 mph the unit is parasitic to the grid. Puget Sound Energy says there is output about 2/3 of the time.

      • Thanks for these excellent quantifications. Wouldn’t it be great if we could be more specific about the MW drawn from the grid at wind speeds less than 9 mph? In the end all known ill effects of the wind industry can be rationalized by the vastly climate concerned and vastly majority voting public. Rural residents in RES states can only hope to inject reason and science into the big picture.

    • Do the legislators who force the construction of these devices know any of this?

      Hahahahahahaha — good one. But they DO know it’s a virtue-signal for green-cred.

  11. “When” the wind does not blow?
    Or “Why” the wind does not blow.
    The wind “renewable” energy is a very dangerous thing. The clocal climate is a chaotic nonlinear system. A small change – and the local climate pattern can change drastically. Just remember “the butterfly effect”.
    Well, the continental U.S. is huge and it is rather unlikely that a few local wind farms will change the wind patterns significantly.
    On the contrary, when smaller areas bounded by mountains – like CA – put a lot of effort in wind farming…
    Much worse is the Europe that has a very small area and extracts a lot of power from the wind.
    I am absolutely not surprized by this year draught. It could be well man made.

    • Alex wrote: A small change . . . Just remember “the butterfly effect”.

      My favorite, the “golden butterfly.”
      A Sound of Thunder
      Ray Bradbury

  12. The absurdity of relying on wind power for anything but a tiny percentage of generation capacity is easily demonstrated with the charts above. But I have a different question.

    Why would this jurisdiction build wind mills? Their variability is being dealt with completely by varying output from a hydro dam. So, the wind mills are (in theory) a zero CO2 energy source, that, when they are running, displace a different zero CO2 energy source.

    Perhaps the dam was running low on water and this was a way to reduce the amount of water being let through the dam? That MIGHT make sense under some circumstances, but given that this jurisdiction is exporting power, \i doubt it. You’d be nuts to sign a contract to export power unless you have a reliable way of generating it.

    On the other hand, nuts is what the world has always been and forever will be.

    • I live in Kennewick where I can see the wind towers just south of the city. I live just 1 mile south of the Columbia River where it is always flowing briskly in the middle, despite being dammed up just 30 miles downstream to the south at the states border. I also live near the Hanford nuclear reactor that is just 15-20 miles away to the west.

      Nuclear Power online for 11 months of the year, Hydropower online 12 months of the year, both reliable power generation 24/7. Wind Power is highly variable and be shut down when there is little to no wind, not even close to reliable power source. I can see them moving, can see them sitting there doing nothing, but they don’t produce enough power for the Tri-Cities I reside in, while EITHER Hydro and Nuclear can do so.

      Both Nuclear and Hydopower are located in areas outside of town and not ugly disfiguring the area, but those many wind towers just south of Kennewick are UGLY! They litter the rolling hills for around 5-8 MILES!

      • Rest assured that in some dusty rack of hard disks, there is a report with a few lines regarding the esthetic value/metric of the rolling hills with and without the towers. Unfortunately for you, it got a low rating.

        One could argue that the degree of despoiling a natural landscape would be akin to species extinction on a geological time scale.

        Where have all the ridges gone?

    • The BPA does not build or own the facilities, including the dams.
      Its role is to “balance” the system.

      Perhaps the dam was running low on water . .
      The river basins have had short water years. But that is not why Al Gore, Bill McKibben and fellow travelers promoted wind and solar and forced it onto the grid.

  13. It is true that wind power plants and solar collectors do not provide a quick solution as they should, but here is the nuke, the development of LENR as an option. So the solution does not have technical but political gaps, let’s just look at the Macron’s difficulties who really want to do something.

  14. I am from Czech republic and Germany build many wind farms. Wind direction was changed. Precipitation came mainly from west, but is isn’t anymore and we have low precipitation now. It could be huge problem for CZ.

    • Petr,
      I believe the issue for Czechia is a weather aspect that will change, again.
      Do you read the posts at Pierre L. Gosselin’s NoTrickZone?
      Luboš Motl, of Plzeň, at ‘ the reference frame ‘ used to post frequently on climate, but less so in the last 2 or 3 years.

  15. The power generated from wind does not flow past you is added to the mix.

    Excess generation is developed so that there is adequate generation to cover generation or transmission outages. Also to cover low water years.

    Myself retired grid operator.

    • Unless there have been changes, the PSE Wild Horse Wind & Solar facility was sending all its output to west of the Cascade Mountains. That may have changed. When started, it was not even connected to the suppliers in Kittitas County where it is located. We live 15 miles west of the site, and 1 mile south of the lines carrying that output across the Cascades.
      I do not see that it is involved in the BPA balancing shown in the chart.
      As indicated at the end of the post, I am not aware of all that happens with the WA grid(s ?).

  16. A couple of observations from a retired grid operator. Power generated by wind does not flow past you, it is part of the mix.

    Generation excess is designed into the grid so that there is adequate generation to cover generation or transmission outages also low water years. If there is excess generation available over requirements then it is hopefully sold.

  17. When Ma and Pa Kettle brag on their ROI from their windmill, that may elevate windmills above a scam Ponzi-like. For now, only investment salesment tout windmills. Salesmen ALL lie!

    “Ma and I are driving a new Country Cadillac, all paid for my our ACME windmill. We’re gonna get another one soon as we can afford it.”

  18. This is a good example of the unreliability of wind. As one needs total backup, just using the backup, and not building the bird choppers is reasonable.

  19. A simple answer to a simple question. If you have to have backup (as you do) for an intermittent supply; why would you bother to have the intermittent supply?

    Generally: The earth’s resources are all free. It is the harvesting of them that costs the money.

    • from my reply earlier:
      Al Gore, Bill McKibben and fellow travelers promoted wind and solar and forced it onto the grid.

  20. Nice debate here.

    In a nutshell, it sounds like (when the wind doesn’t blow), it sort of blows for those either emotionally or financially invested in the wind industry.

  21. **The top chart begins on the left where the other ends, 16/17 September**

    I think you mean **16/17 November**

  22. “Our electricity has not been off for more than 4 hours per event ” sounds like “events” are quite frequent. Where I live with power supplied mostly from natural gas, power outages (we don’t call then “events”) occur only every few years and are mostly due to cars hitting power poles or trees falling onto power lines. To me that was an indictment of wind power right from the beginning.

    • That I recall: 3 trees, 1 drunk took a pole out, a meter replacement, 2 utility equipment upgrades, 2 during in-house alterations.
      I call them “events” because the causes are of interest. The shortness of the outages makes them of not much interest — compared to other places that go days and weeks without.
      Cue: Carrington event.

  23. The “green” chimera. The sun and wind offer a window of opportunity for energy conversion. Neither set of technologies can be reasonably isolated from the environment without additional impact or disruption. Wind turbines and photovoltaic cells have circumstantial, application-specific value in a basket of energy production and conversion technologies.

  24. Fellow Washingtonian here.
    Our nitwit governor has been peddling Columbia hydropower since he was a US Rep prior to being elected as governor. For a healthy rate increase, of course. At the same time advocating for removing dams, adding a “carbon” tax (which fortunately voters rejected recently), and putting up other barriers to efficient (fossil) fuel use.
    We’re also getting sucked in to the Cali energy black hole. Governor nitwit supports governor moonbeam’s plan for a western regional energy grid, that would suck in more power from WA state and power from as far away as Wyoming. Say good-bye to relatively cheap electricity prices in WA state, sacrificed to the false “green energy” god.

    Anecdotal I know, but I frequently drive I90 past the Vantage, WA wind farm, and always surprised at the number of windmills that are not turning.

    • The Puget Sound Towers (mentioned in above comments) are north of the old highway, Vantage to Ellensburg. Towers close to I-90 belong to other companies (unknown to me). I have heard some of those close to the Interstate are contracted to go to California — as needed. So if the CA grid doesn’t need the electricity, then those blades do not turn. So, the towers on the high ridge to the north are a better gauge of what is happening regarding wind and output.
      Most of November has been “CALM” at the Ellensburg airport – KLEN.
      On the 24th, Saturday, KLEN reported a brief uptick from 9:30 am until 2 pm.
      However, I cannot see any towers without going about a mile from the house, so what happened 15 miles east of me — I do not know.
      Here is the BPA link, again:

  25. Chevron turbines down the road from me are DOA for the fourth day, even with wind. Such a lovely form of expensive, useless, tax-breaks-for-the-wealthy energy.

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