January 29 marked the one-year anniversary of the polar vortex that brought bitter cold temperatures to Minnesota and pushed our energy system to its limits. Xcel Energy was forced to shut off natural gas service to approximately 180 customers or risk losing pressure to the natural gas system serving 460,000 homes, and at -24 degrees, it was too cold for wind turbines to operate.
One year later, it was a balmy 20 degrees above zero, but there was still no wind on the system.
Well, no wind is not quite correct. At one point on Jan. 29, the wind fleet was producing 0.16 % of its potential output, meaning it was only 99.84 % useless, according to data obtained from the website of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), which oversees the regional electric grid.
It wasn’t just Jan. 29 that saw virtually zero wind production, either. MISO data shows there hasn’t been any significant wind generation spanning back to Jan. 27, and the trend has continued through the time of this writing on Jan. 30. This means Minnesota is in the midst of a four-day “wind drought.”
Wind proponents often claim that battery storage technology will be the saving grace of renewable energy, allowing us to weather periods of time when the weather isn’t cooperating. However, this idea is simply cost prohibitive if it is even possible.
For example, common cost assumptions for battery storage are $250 per kilowatt hour. On an average day, Minnesota consumes 199 million kilowatt hours of energy. This brings the cost of providing one day of battery storage to nearly $50 billion dollars.
Building enough storage to sustain the state through the current four-day “wind drought” would cost $200 billion dollars. For context, Minnesota has spent a total of $130 billion on electricity since 1990, according to federal energy data.
In other words, four days of battery storage would cost the equivalent of 28 years’ worth of electricity, plus an additional $70 billion. For additional context, Minnesota state government spent $9.5 billion on education in the 2018-2019 school year, meaning it battery storage would cost 28 years’ worth of electricity, plus 7 years of education spending.
At such a high cost, it is safe to say wind plus battery storage is not a workable option.
The fact of the matter is it doesn’t need to be -24 degrees for the wind to not generate electricity; it can literally happen at any time. This makes relying upon the wind for electricity generation an expensive fool’s errand, and it makes reliable sources of electricity like coal, natural gas, and nuclear indispensable.
As it currently stands, coal is providing 40 % of the electricity on the regional grid, natural gas is providing 35.6 %, nuclear is providing 17 %, 1 % is being provided by wind, and the rest is being imported from Canada and other states.
In other words, the lack of reliability on the part of wind is actually necessitating the use of fossil fuels and causing increasing emissions.
This begs the question, why would anyone who worries for the future of their children because of climate change advocate for unreliable sources of power like wind and solar, when nuclear power could provide affordable, reliable, carbon-free power 24 hours power per day, 365 days per year?
If Governor Walz, the Minnesota House of Representatives, and the special interest groups currently peddling wind and solar truly believe climate change is an existential crisis, it’s time for them to get serious and start stomping for nuclear power.
If they don’t, Minnesotans should ignore their green-standing on emissions and start demanding real answers for the missing money at the Department of Human Services.
Isaac Orr is a policy fellow specializing in energy and environmental policy at Center of the American Experiment.