Zero Sum Game: Wind Power Always Needs Gas, But Gas Can Always Go It Alone

Wind power is like that annoying tight-wad cousin who stays for a week, drinks your beer fridge dry and then leaves in the dead of night.

We’re constantly told that the ‘transition’ to wind power is inevitable. But, in the same breath, we are also told that, at least for a while, it will need ‘firming capacity’ aka ‘backup’ for those occasions when the wind stops blowing (or blows too hard).

Flip the coin and ask the operators who provide that firming capacity or backup as to whether wind power generators have ever returned the ‘favour’? And … deathly silence.

Wind power, like those who push its purported virtues, is all care and no responsibility.

Sure, it’s going to ‘save the planet’ (from what, we’re not quite sure?), provided there’s a coal-fired or gas-fired power plant somewhere in the system to deal with the vagaries of the weather. Those plant, capable of being called into action as and when customers need power, whatever the weather, can survive just fine without intermittent and chaotic wind power. But the reverse is never true, as this little analysis from JoNova details.

Hidden Costs: how wind generation makes gas power $30/MWh more expensive
Jo Nova Blog
Jo Nova
11 April 2018

Just another hidden cost — intermittent generators are vandals on our baseload suppliers. Wind power needs gas, but gas doesn’t need the wind. When the two are paired together it makes the wind energy “reliable” but adds nearly $30/MWh to the cost of the energy from gas. Right now that cost will be added to the gas plant, but in a free market, it should be paid by the wind farm investors.

Stacy and Taylor compared the cost of running a Closed Cycle Gas plant (CC Gas) on its own or combined with a wind farm. The combination produces reliable electricity “on demand” and uses less gas to do it.

The sole benefits to this odd industrial couple are a smaller gas bill and lower emissions of a fertilizing gas (CO2). All the capital and labor costs of running a gas plant are the same, but now it sits idle more often, pointlessly waiting like a spare wheel til the wind slows and gas power is needed again.

About the only thing we can predict about the wind farm is that it can be relied on for almost nothing, so the gas plant must be almost as large whether or not it is chained to a wind generator.

Here’s a detailed estimate of some of the hidden costs of adding an intermittent power source to a reliable one. The figures are based on US data and came out a couple of years ago.

The idealized extra cost of adding wind to gas is $15/MWh, but the cost using real world capacity factors is $30/MWh.

Notice the “Nameplate capacity” on the right. Look at all the extra capital infrastructure required to generate the same amount of electricity. All that extra blood, sweat, tears and investment sitting around doing nothing most of the time.

Renewable energy saves fossil fuel, but wastes infrastructure, land, labor and resources.

Here’s how you can use 1.8 times as much infrastructure to achieve no extra electricity

In the lowest cost scenario a 1MW gas plant works at 87% capacity. If it is paired with an equal nameplate capacity wind farm, the gas plant needs to be almost as large because wind power can only be relied on to produce 2.7% of its full capacity all the time. Hence rather than building a 1MW gas plant, we need to build a 0.97MW gas plant, only a tiny bit smaller, and 0.87MW of wind. The wind+gas combo will work together in synchrony to create the same amount of electricity as the 1MW wind. But it’s obviously a horrible deal — it requires a lot more capital outlay and infrastructure to build, then a lot of the time either the gas plant or the wind plant is sitting idle. The new gas capacity factor falls from 87% down to 58%.

The imposed cost of generating a MW from gas rises by at least $15/MWh when the gas plant is chained to a wind plant. This is the best case capacity factor, but real world capacity factors are lower.

Using the real world data the capacity factor for gas on its own starts at 47% and falls to 32% when combined with a wind plant. The capacity factor of wind is 33%. In the real world scenario the cost imposed on the gas plant is $30/MWh.

  • The cost of running a gas plant on its own (LCOE) is $73 /MWh
  • The cost of running a new wind farm (plus the imposed cost on the gas plant) = $113 /MWh.

Renewables are not just a waste of space, they’re like anti-matter on the grid, damaging everything around them.

Stacy, T. Taylor, G. (2015) The Levelized Cost of Electricity from Existing Generation Sources, Institute for Energy Research (IER), based on EIA figures in the USA.
Jo Nova Blog

Tapping into gas: the go-it-alone energy source.

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.


  1. The key questions to be answered concerning such Heath Robinson power generation plants must be:
    1. Is it a cost effective means of generating power?
    Answer no, not without the massive subsidies paid for the wind generated power component.
    2. Will it produce reliable power?
    Answer probably not, given the likely difficulty of controlling and operating plant of such complexity.

  2. Terry Conn says:

    The empirical based data utilised in the above analysis proves that Frydenberg’s NEG (and AGL’s published plan) will continue to cause spiralling increases in electricity costs – plus in Australia until 2030 (at least) you must add on the cost of the large scale renewable energy certificate of $90 per mgwhr – plus the fact that on the spot market the gas turbine might earn up to $14,500 per mgwhr – as STT is known to say “welcome to your wind powered future”!

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