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Wind-powered nuclear warhead facility in our future? Hunters seem to think so

Greg Harman
gharman@sacurrent.com

Wind power isn’t dead. Not by a long shot. Despite the cancellation of what was being billed as the next world’s largest wind-power complex by former corporate raider, woulda-been West Texas water mogul, and relenting wind-power booster T. Boone Pickens, things are just starting to get interesting for lovers of overgrown pinwheels. Especially in West Texas.

Last week, engineering minds at Texas Tech University and the Pantex nuclear weapons plant outside Amarillo agreed to work together to study the possibility of powering the subterranean warhead care and refurbishment center with pollution-free, bat-exploding wind power towers.

So speaketh the Associated Press:

The agreement between Pantex and Texas Tech provides for a feasibility study on the installation of wind turbine generators and related infrastructure at the Pantex plant near Amarillo. The plant assembles and dismantles the nation's nuclear warheads.

On Tuesday, Amarillo city commissioners approved a $100,000 grant to help Texas Tech build the proposed National Wind Resource Center near Pantex. Tech is scheduled to begin work on the first phase of the center next year. The commission also approved a $12.5 million incentive package to entice Alstom Power Inc. to build a wind turbine and nacelle factory in Amarillo. The nacelles house the components of the wind turbine atop their soaring pylons.


Wind power is contentious in some quarters for its debated impact on migratory birds, especially endangered, migratory birds like the whooping crane. It’s not crazy popular with the bat people either. (That popping sound? Them’s be bat lungs exploding.)

Still, in the hustle to eliminate carbon from the planetary diet, clean-energy concerns typically come out on top of whooper fears and nocturnal skeeter eaters.

Following the Tech-Pantex meetup, a couple hunters started staking out the lands around Pantex. I imagine them deeply shaken by fears of 200-foot blenders churling up cherished game birds and hot to stuff their own bags with feathers before the turbines got a chance to churn. The sight of the pair inspired a facility lockdown at 8 am last Friday.

Said Reuters:

According to Carson County Sheriff Tam Terry, the plant was locked down because armed hunters were spotted on property adjacent to it. “Somebody saw some armed individuals dressed in camouflage clothing exiting the vicinity of the plant,” said Terry.

Sheriffs found a pair of hunters setting out duck decoys and building a blind on property near the plant, Terry said. “They were very cooperative and compliant," Terry said. "We identified them. We checked their criminal history.”


I don’t know about you, but a wind-powered nuclear weapons complex isn’t where my mind lurches when I hear the words “clean-energy revolution.” In the style of San Antonio businesses proudly displaying their Windtricity badges, or our U.S. Marines’ bible-literate rifle scopes, I imagine future intercontinental delivery systems of mass death marked: “This missile courtesy of the U.S. military-industrial complex and pollution-free wind energy. Enjoy the blast.”

Still, the point, if I can suss some wind from this rapid deflation, seems to be that whether Pickens chooses to be King of the Breezes or just a bit player, the tech is still moving strong. So, energy and biz writers, should cool it with the eulogizing.

Instead, check out the recent study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), which reports that half of the U.S. (and a big chunk of Canada) known as the Eastern Interconnection could meet 20 percent of its power needs by 2024.

Handing mic over to NREL Project Manager David Corbus …

“Twenty percent wind is an ambitious goal, but this study shows that there are multiple scenarios through which it can be achieved,” said David Corbus, NREL project manager for the study.  “Whether we’re talking about using land-based wind in the Midwest, offshore wind in the East or any combination of wind power resources, any plausible scenario requires transmission infrastructure upgrades and we need to start planning for that immediately.”

The study identified operational best practices and analyzed wind resources, future wind deployment scenarios, and transmission options. Among its key findings are:

•    The integration of 20 percent wind energy is technically feasible, but will require significant expansion of the transmission infrastructure and system operational changes in order for it to be realized;

•    Without transmission enhancements, substantial curtailment of wind generation would be required for all 20 percent wind scenarios studied;

•    The relative cost of aggressively expanding the existing transmission grid represents only a small portion of the total annualized costs in any of the scenarios studied;

•    Drawing wind energy from a larger geographic area makes it both less expensive and a more reliable energy source – increasing the geographic diversity of wind power projects in a given operating pool makes the aggregated wind power output more predictable and less variable;

•    Wind energy development is a highly cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions – as more wind energy comes online, less energy from fossil-fuel burning plants is required, reducing greenhouse gas emissions;

•    Carbon emissions are reduced by similar amounts in all scenarios, indicating that transmission helps to optimize the electrical system and does not result in coal power being shipped from the Midwest to New England States;

•    Reduced fossil fuel expenditures more than pay for the increased costs of additional transmission in all high wind scenarios.

“To put the scale of this study in perspective, consider that just over 70 percent of the U.S. population gets its power from the Eastern Interconnect. Incorporating high amounts of wind power in the Eastern grid goes a long way towards clean power for the whole country,” said Corbus.  “We can bring more wind power online, but if we don’t have the proper infrastructure to move that power around, it’s like buying a hybrid car and leaving it in the garage.”

The EWITS Executive Summary and the full study can be downloaded for free at http://www.nrel.gov/ewits.


Posted by gharman on 1/20/2010 2:34:31 PM
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