Cohocton Wind Watch: Ill Wind: FPL Cites Bad Third-Quarter Breezes
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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ill Wind: FPL Cites Bad Third-Quarter Breezes

Wind is free, but you can’t make it blow.

FPL Energy, the biggest U.S. renewable-energy operator, said wind conditions in the third quarter were the worst it has seen since starting a wind-power database in the early 1970s. Electricity generated by FPL’s wind farms—esecially in prime wind-power country like Texas and the Great Plains—came in well below the expected output. FPL’s Texas wind generation, for example, was just 72% of expected output in the quarter—and just 53% in September.

That affects the bottom line. Variable weather (including some good news for hydropower) in the end knocked off about 7 cents a share for FPL, the company said.

Granted, variable wind is just that. FPL enjoyed a better-than-average second quarter of wind, and for the year the company’s wind-power operations have generated 98% of the juice they expected.

But the third-quarter doldrums underscore one of the lingering concerns about massive use of renewables like wind power. Even though wind-farm developers use sophisticated tools to pick sites with the best wind, wind turbines generally only produce about one-third as much electricity as advertised.

That variable output gets even harder to predict when normally windy areas, like Texas, get suddenly calm. FPL recently detailed (p. 32) all the variables that affect its wind-power earnings—expected wind speed, actual wind speed, the theoretical turbine output, the actual output, and the price the electricity finally fetches on the market.

For now, though, FPL is more worried about stormy weather than a lack of wind. The utility said it would push back some wind-farm development next year, given the financial crisis, and shave about $1.7 billion off capital expenditure next year.

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