American Elephants

The President’s Still Pushing Expensive and Inefficent Wind Energy. by The Elephant's Child

Last week, the President dropped by a farm in Haverhill, Iowa, because they have 52 newly installed  wind turbines, to tout wind energy subsidies as the way to economic recovery with jobs and energy. Even though other countries are fleeing wind energy in droves, or trying to figure out how to, Mr Obama does not change his mind. What he believed 4 years ago, he believes today.  And he believes in wind.  Cost-benefit analysis isn’t in it.

Math isn’t his strong point.  Obama goes on at great length about the undeserved subsidies for oil and gas, but look at the differences. The president constantly complains about the undeserved subsidy that goes to the production of oil and gas, but they are dwarfed by the subsidy for wind and solar.

Between 2007 and 2010 total energy subsides rose 108% but solar subsidies increased six-fold and wind’s were up 10-fold.

The Energy Department did not compare taxpayer handouts compared to their share of total energy production. They said that many facilities are still under construction.  In other words they didn’t want you to compare.

The folks at the Institute for Energy Research calculated the subsides per megawatt hour. Natural gas, oil and coal received 64¢ , hydropower 82¢,  nuclear $3.14, wind $56.29, and solar a whopping $775.64 per megawatt hour. In 2010, wind and solar combined produced a rousing 2.9% of energy generation.  “Renewables” thus contributed 10.3% of electricity generation— but 6.2 of that is hydropower, and may I remind you that the Greens are anxious to tear down all the dams— with some blather about letting the rivers run free.  As the Wall Street Journal suggests, why not eliminate all federal energy subsidies? This would get the federal government out of the business of picking winners and losers, not one of the skills of government.

In Britain, Professor Gordon Hughes, University of Edinburgh, teaches courses on the Economics of Natural Resources and Public Economics. He concludes that wind power would increase household electricity bills by 40-60% by 2020,  to meet the government’s target for renewable generation. To meet that scenario, the investment would amount to about £124 billion. The same electricity demand from combined cycle gas plants would cost  around £13 billion.

Wind energy is often misunderstood. We have invented new kinds of turbines, though there have been many kinds of windmills through the centuries.  It is a very old technology, from the picturesque windmills of the Greek islands down to the windmills that stood on many farms  in the Midwest, usually to pump water. The most famous were the beautiful windmills that were long a symbol of Holland.

Henk Tennekes, the Netherlands’ famous engineer and research director of the Dutch National Weather Service explained the problems of wind power.  Wind mills, or turbines, have changed a lot over they years, but wind itself hasn’t changed at all. It is intermittent, often way intermittent. It may not blow for days. This graph from the Bonneville Power Administration shows the power generated by wind from August 15 to August 19 (the green line at the bottom).  It just didn’t blow at all. Which is why wind needs 24/7 backup from a conventional power plant, and if you have to have a regular power plant running all the time— what is the point of the wind farm?


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