El Niño Has Caused a 14 Percent Drop in Wind Generation, Could Global Warming Render Wind Turbines Worthless?

Bloomberg reports that El Niño has caused electricity generation from wind turbines to plummet by approximately 14 percent in the Midwest this year. Apparently, it is quite common for wind turbine generation to fall during El Niño years. NextEra energy told Bloomberg that wind resources were the worst in 30 years, despite the fact this year’s El Niño is a relatively weak one.

“Wind turbines in the upper Midwest, home to many of Avangrid’s farms, produced far less power in the fourth quarter even as new turbines were installed in the region. Wind production sank to an average of about 6,700 megawatt hours, down from 7,800 megawatt hours in the fourth quarter of 2017, according to the Midcontinent Independent System Operator Inc.”

Contrary to the common claim that the wind is “always blowing somewhere,” the El Niño has caused wind output to plummet across the country.

It’s not just the upper Midwest with the doldrums. In the Southwest Power Pool, which stretches from Oklahoma to the Dakotas, output from wind turbines declined in the fourth quarter to an average of about 8,100 megawatt hours, down from 8,200 megawatt hours a year earlier, according to grid operator data.

El Niño is when the Pacific is warmer than usual. El Niño reduces wind power output. These facts beg the question, could global warming render Minnesota’s wind turbines worthless?

It’s a fair question to ask because renewable energy advocates often claim shifting weather patterns could result in all kinds of maladies, such as drought, crop failure, flooding, tornadoes etc, but would it not be equally plausible that a changing climate could reduce the wind speeds in Minnesota, resulting in less electricity generation from wind turbines?

Some research already suggests this is not only plausible, but likely. According to an article in Wired:

“A new study predicts that a changing climate will weaken winds that blow across much of the Northern hemisphere, possibly leading to big drops in clean wind energy.

That’s because the temperature difference between the North Pole and the equator, which drives atmospheric energy in the form of winds and storm systems, is shrinking as the Arctic warms. A warmer Arctic means less of a temperature difference and therefore weaker winds across the central United States, the United Kingdom, the northern Middle East, and parts of Asia.”

So if there is a very real possibility that climate change could reduce electricity generation from wind turbines, and DFL lawmakers claim that Minnesota has been the most impacted by climate change out of any state in the country, how does it make sense to invest billions of dollars on new wind turbines and transmission lines that could be rendered useless by a changing climate?

I submit that it does not.

Global carbon dioxide emissions will continue to grow because there are billions of people around the world who have no access to electricity and they are burning coal to change that. The graph below shows emissions from China and India are rising, not falling.  Carbon dioxide emissions from Minnesota power plants represent 0.00075 of global CO2 emissions, which means even if we reduce our emissions to zero, rising emissions in other countries will affect our climate in the coming decades.

This is yet another reason why building our energy system to run on intermittent, weather-dependent sources like wind, and to a lesser extent, solar,  makes zero sense. If lawmakers are unwilling to legalize new nuclear power in Minnesota, then they are not serious about reducing CO2 emissions. Only nuclear power plants can provide carbon-dioxide free electricity on demand, rain or shine.

As Bill Gates has said, nuclear power is safe, scaleable, and always available, and our study Doubling Down on Failure shows building new nuclear power plants would cost substantially less than relying on wind and solar to reduce CO2 emissions. If DFL lawmakers are unwilling to legalize new nuclear power, then all of the hearings they’ve held on climate change are virtue signalling, not serious policy discussions.