Michael, my analysis addresses a specific FERC report recently highlighted by a number of organizations and individuals in general terms and some of the details you have highlighted that can further confuse the issue of renewable power operating penetration levels and impacts. But for some further clarification of your comments:
1. The listed capacity factors of table 2 for natural gas (refer to the table sub-note) are ‘design’ maximums for ‘baseload’ operation that would exist in displacing existing design baseload ‘coal’ power generation capacity. Wind power unfortunately cannot provide or displace baseload power generation capacity due to its variable nature. The baseload actual capacity factor is of course a function of how the power grid operator chooses to optimize their base (constant), intermediate, variable (wind) and peaking power loads as needed to reliably meet changing demand 24-7. This balance is a somewhat complex optimization of daily demand curves, variable wind/solar supply, scheduled power generation maintenance (and startup of new power generation), variable demand (both controllable and uncontrollable), etc.
As far as “new plant’s performance not varying from existing-older plants”, there is strong precedent that new plants will have significantly greater capacity factors (and thermal efficiencies). A very common business practice for most (successful) Industries is to continuously improve the efficiencies, operating performance and reduce expenses. How do you suppose that wind turbine technology has changed from past sub-MW, <30% capacity factors to state-of-art multi-MW >30% capacity factors over the years? This practice is why natural gas average thermal efficiencies (Re. a past TEC Post, “Average Thermal Efficiency of US Net Power Generation” graph) have increased by almost 30% since the 1990’s.
2. The FERC report was only based on the first halves of 2014/2013. If FERC had recently reported on an annual basis we would be probably having a somewhat different debate/discussion. Yes, wind power capacity has definitely been the largest growth in total U.S. generation capacity in recent years. As you are very aware, the major expansion factor is due to States’ renewable power standards and the Fed’s 10-yr. production tax credit that expired last year, but still made those projects ‘under construction’ eligible for the 2.3 cent/KWh tax credit for up to 10 yrs. Fortunate for your Industry the approved definition of ‘under construction’ appears to be somewhat liberal (it use to mean: “following the actual physical breaking of the ground for initiating construction”, but it appears to now include those projects just in the design phase).
3. Agreed, we should save the ‘levelized cost’ discussion for a future discussion/post.
By the way, I am an advocate for wind power generation capacity needed to reduce future U.S. carbon emissions. My major concern is and has always been the economics, overall balance and maintaining a reasonable level of power grid stability during short-term and long-term operations, and under all weather conditions.