This blog is the first in a series of blogs examining the impacts of Hurricane Sandy and its connections to extreme weather and climate change. Other blogs can be read here.
The National Weather Service is forecasting Hurricane Sandy will strike in the vicinity of the Mid-Atlantic, with Delaware and New Jersey squarely in the storm’s path. The DC to NYC crowd have awarded an alternative, nefarious name to Hurricane Sandy: “Frankenstorm.” As with previous storms of this magnitude, electric utility companies are preparing to do battle with this monster.
When Hurricane Irene struck the same region of the country just last year, utility companies began shutting down nuclear power stations several days in advance of that storm. Natural gas demand plummeted because so many electric power lines were down, ramping up natural gas power plants wasn’t an option. Despite all the flooding, winds and storm damage, not a single wind turbine was harmed.
At the time, about 174 megawatts of wind energy capacity was directly affected by Hurricane Irene. Perhaps twenty times as much wind energy capacity could be directly affected by Sandy than by Irene. Part of the reason for this bigger threat to wind energy is due to Sandy’s projected path. Right now, Sandy’s expected to rake across Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Upstate New York and Ohio. Collectively those states have more than 3,500 megawatts of wind energy capacity that may be in Hurricane Sandy’s path.
But here’s the good news – Hurricane Sandy is unlikely to do any major damage to wind turbines. Currently, Sandy is expected to hit the coast as a low-level Category 1 storm with winds around 80 miles per hour. Modern wind turbines are designed to protect themselves in extreme weather – including shutting down when winds get too high, even up to a Category 3 hurricane. The turbines in Delaware and New Jersey did just fine with Hurricane Irene last year.
Hopefully Hurricane Sandy’s impacts on the region will be manageable, and history suggests that wind turbines aren’t likely to be in much danger from the Frankenstorm. But the shear threat of destruction from Sandy and any future hurricane should cause pause. All power plants are susceptible to destruction – nuclear reactors melt down from earthquakes and tsunamis, coal waste ponds fail and wind turbines can topple. The question really is – what type of power plant do you really want in your back yard, if and when that power plant fails?