By Joe Petrowski
Putting aside for a moment the problem to aircraft, shipping, fishing and the “bird Cuisinart” feature in off- shore wind and its cost (25cents/kWh when the national average price is 8 cents/kWh and natural gas generated power is 4 cents/kWh), there is a dirty little secret of wind enthusiasts — the numerous risks posed by transformers to “step down” the power in wind turbines to bring the power to a more usable retail voltage. There are over 20,000 power transformers in the United States including the very largest (2,000 of these). According to the Department of energy and a private study by Hartford Steam, the failure rate is approximately 4% or 800 per year (they are complex machines running 8,760 hours per year exposed to the elements and requiring regular maintenance).
The primary causes of catastrophic failure are:
- Lighting (any lightening risk on open water for metal objects grounded into sea bed?)
- Sudden power surge (the very nature of wind power)
- Power variability (induces stress and again a primary feature of wind)
- Deterioration of insulation (salt water?)
- Moisture induced rust (off-shore?)
- Constant high wind exposure (Nantucket Shoals?)
- Vibration (tides, waves, wind?)
Besides, explosions, fires and power outages the real danger in transformer failure comes from the transformer fluid that is used in the device needed for heat dissipation and lubrication. Transformer fluid is a special lube oil most often using PCB’s that do not break down upon release, but accumulate in the tissues of plants and animals. It is engineered to perform from under a flash point of 280°F (where it ignites) to its -21ºF pour point (when it solidifies and is ineffective). PCB’s and heavy lubricants are perfect for this range but do not mix well with seawater and are hard to clean up when spilled.
In summary, off shore wind is a dumb economic proposition and introduces additional and unnecessary environmental risks. Opponents are not N.I.M.B.Ys but C.O.T.A.D.S. (Citizens opposed to avaricious developers).
Joe Petrowski has had a long career in international commodity trading, energy and retail management and public policy development. In 2005, he was named President and CEO of Gulf Oil LP and elected to the Gulf Oil LP Board of Directors. In October of 2008 he was named CEO of the now combined Gulf Oil and Cumberland Farms whose annual revenues exceed $11 billion and that now operates in 27 states. In September 2013, Petrowski stepped down as CEO of The Cumberland Gulf Group. He is now managing director of Mercantor Partners, a private equity firm investing in convenience and energy distribution and a member of the Gulf board.