By now we have all heard or seen T. Boone Pickens slick ads on TV and newspaper or heard them on the radio concerning his effort to solve the energy “crisis” by investing in windmill farms. I always associated windmills with Cervantes literary character “Don Quixote”. For those of us somewhat familiar with the story of “Don Quixote” , he was a retired country gentleman from La Mancha who appeared to have lost his mind from too much reading and too little sleep, who decide to go out on an adventure as a knight and encountered some windmills which he believed were ferocious giants. In Pickens case, this modern day “Man of La Mancha” is attacking his own “ferocious giants”. Big oil. In an ironic twist on Cervantes classic he is attacking his own giants with windmills only this time his “Rocinante” is Nancy Pelosi. (Rocinante is the name Don Quixote gave to his skinny horse which in Spanish means low-quality horse or “nag”.) As one of the most successful and experienced oilmen in history, I am somewhat shocked at his naiveté and simplistic approach to this problem. Lets look at some salient facts about wind power. Wind, water, biofuels and the direct use of sunlight are anywhere from 5 to 50 times more dilute than fossil fuels. There is a simple concept called “ energy density” when referring to how much energy can be produced from a specific unit of weight, volume, or area. It just shows how concentrated a pool of energy is as we find it in nature. For example, the octane molecules in gasoline are probably the densest storehouse of solar energy we will ever encounter. There is only one way to compensate the low density of alternative energy and that is to consume large amounts of land area in gathering them. Pickens will run into this problem with his wind farm. A standard wind farm which will generate 1000 MW will have to occupy about 125 square miles of land. Pickens, who wants to spread his windmills out farther will need to have 800 sq. mi. for his proposed 4000MW capacity farm. Because of the fact that the blowing of the wind can’t always be depended upon, even the best wind farms are generating electricity at only 30 per cent of their theoretical capacity. (A nuclear reactor will run at 92 per cent capacity.) That means that Pickens will need about 1200 square miles to equal the output of three or four coal or nuclear plants, each of which occupy only one square mile. Electricity generated by windmills is not what the industry calls “dispatchable”. That is being able to be produced when needed. Backup from other sources will always be needed. Building and maintaining a wind farm is a supplement, not a replacement, for fossil fuel plants. Electricity must be consumed the moment it is generated since there is no way to store electricity on an industrial scale. Supply and demand must match within 5 per cent to avoid power dips and surges which can cause brownouts, ruin equipment and even bring down the whole system. Maintaining voltage balance has involved two things: 1. Matching supply with demand through the normal daytime/nighttime fluctuations and 2. Maintaining a “spinning reserve” against sudden losses of power and shutdowns. The output of a windmill varies with the cube of wind speed and can change form minute to minute. In fact engineers who work on the electrical grids in Denmark, the worlds leading producer of wind-powered energy, have refused to accept more wind-powered energy. Denmark has stopped building windmills altogether in 2007. Now lets talk about a across-country transmission system. While wind-energy is concentrated in the mid-west, most energy is consumed on the East and West Coasts. Normal transmission line lose about 10 to 15 percent of their wattage every 1000 miles which is not an issue when power is generated close to the consumer. But transmitting electricity halfway across the country will require a whole new infrastructure of 765 kV lines that cover long distances without losing power. Imagine the problems encountered with every property owner and municipal jurisdiction that gets to have a say in building these power lines. It would make building a nuclear power plant a piece of cake. Before we litter our landscape with unproductive windmills, (as Pickens told Fast Company, I’m not going to have the windmills on my ranch. They’re ugly”.), lets consider the greatest discovery of the 20th century. The vast store of energy released in the splitting of the atom. Just as Don Quixote attempted to apply simplistic solutions to complex issues, T. Boone Pickens, for whatever reason he has up his sleeve, is attacking the energy problem with the same simplistic approach. Just as Don Quixote, he is fighting windmills.