The so-called “mainstream media” prides itself on its hard-bitten skepticism, but all such skepticism is suspended, and most reporters become a gushing school girl with a Justin Beiber-size crush, when it comes to renewable energy. Take this puff piece from CNN Money as today’s example.
The breathless headline, “Wind power hits 57% mark in Colorado,” might lead the casual news surfer to conclude that wind power is generating 57 percent of the electricity in Colorado — which certainly would be important news, if it were true. And the story’s lead also fuels that impression:
“During the early morning hours of April 15, with a steady breeze blowing down Colorado’s Front Range, the state’s biggest utility set a U.S. record — nearly 57% of the electricity being generated was coming from wind power.”
But the real, less-glamorous story emerges in the second paragraph. This supposed triumph for wind power happened momentarily, during pre-dawn hours when the wind was blowing but Coloradans were sleeping, meaning demand for electricity was at low ebb. Once Coloradans stirred from their slumbers and began cranking-up demand, reliable energy sources like coal- and gas-fired power plants rushed to the rescue, while unreliable wind’s contribution shrunk back to normal (and modest) levels.
“As dawn came and the 1.4 million customers in Xcel Energy’s service district began turning on the lights, toasters and other appliances, the utility’s coal and natural gas-fired power plants ramped up production and brought wind’s contribution back closer to its 2012 average of 17%.”
A story ostensibly about wind power’s triumph is actually a story about wind power’s limitations. This event was the exception that proves the rule. Wind power was there for people when people didn’t need it. Only in rare circumstances is it a more significant player. Unreliable power sources yield to reliable ones when electricity is really needed. Even for a utility like Xcel, which has invested heavily in such energy gimmickry, wind still represents a relatively modest share of total electricity generated. The breaking of this so-called “record” proves nothing — except that wind is a niche power generator that still can’t replace tried -and -true workhorses like coal or natural gas.
On one particularly windy night in April, when Colorado slept and energy demand was low, conditions emerged that suddenly, though momentarily, made wind power a modest player on the grid. But so what? Then morning came, electricity use and demand returned to normal, reality reasserted itself – and wind power returned to playing the niche role it’s suited for.
So where’s the “news” in that story?