American Elephants

Without Subsidies, The Wind Industry is Over. by The Elephant's Child


Robert Bryce, now a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute, is an expert on energy, all kinds of energy, but he is particularly concerned with wind, and the Fish and Wildlife Service. He wrote in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal:

On June 20, 1782, the Continental Congress, after nearly six years of haggling and numerous design changes, finally approved the Great Seal of the United States. In doing so, it made the bald eagle our national symbol. This year, in the name of clean energy, the Fish and Wildlife Service is considering changing federal rules so that a wind-energy developer can be granted an “incidental-take” permit allowing wind projects to kill bald eagles and golden eagles for up to 30 years.

When the regulations interfere with a favored project of the Obama administration, well, they didn’t really mean it about regulations. It’s all relative, you see. There are no permanent standards. What difference , at this point, does it make? Relativity as a philosophy is convenient, because you can use it anywhere, whenever it’s needed.

On Jan. 15, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the New Era Wind Farm—a proposed project near Red Wing, Minn.—might kill as many as 14 bald eagles per year. Despite that toll, the agency said the developer of the 48-turbine wind farm could go ahead and apply for an eagle-kill permit. If granted, it could be the first project to get one. At least one other wind-energy concern, Oregon’s West Butte Wind Project, also has applied for an incidental-take permit, and others are sure to follow. …

For years, the wind industry has had de facto permission to violate both the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (which protects 1,000 species) and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Federal authorities have never brought a case under either law—despite the Fish and Wildlife Service’s estimate that domestic turbines kill some 440,000 birds per year.

Peter C. Glover, writing at Energy Tribune is concerned with the corruption of wind energy:

“Trust us”, the wind industry intoned, “the enormous public investment is just seed-funding. It will be well worth it as costs fall in the cause of saving Mother Gaia”.

Energy insiders never bought it. The Victorians replaced windmills with steam driven machinery because they weren’t cost efficient enough. But it’s easy to understand why Joe Average and populist politicos bought it. After all, aren’t most of us suckers for fictional romantic notions of wafting windmills able to harness the wind and create ‘free energy’?

That’s not exactly how it worked out in the real world. Sorry to disappoint, Mr. Obama.

First we were jolted back to reality by uncovering a burgeoning raft of hidden costs – costs specifically obfuscated by wind company claims. The cost, for instance, incurred by having to turn off turbines when the wind reaches over 30 mph; by the failure of turbines to operate above 30 percent capacity; the massive additional cost of having to upgrade power grids to cope with wind’s irregular load factor; not to mention the necessity of investing in gas-turbine back-ups to cover when wind turbines fail. The list goes on.

The claims about energy generated from wind has always been overstated, the true cost of wind power has always been under-estimated. We get way less energy from wind farms  and from our investment in it than we had thought. There have also been in-depth studies showing that wind energy’s impact on CO2 emission restrictions has been grossly over-stated.

The US Energy Information Administration has claimed the “levelized cost” of new wind power at 9.2 cents per kWh compared to 6.3 cents for advanced natural gas burning plants, but the true cost is something quite different. Factoring in the investment cost to upgrade infrastructure and transmission doubles the cost of wind power. The cronyism and corruption add even more unidentified costs.

But wind can only operate as an appendage to traditional power generation. The cost of the primary fossil fueled power plants used for backup must be added,  but keeping them available reduces the amount of generation for which the plants are paid.

In Germany, Der Spiegel blames high energy costs for a rise in tree thefts and wood-burning stove purchases. Germans bought 400,000 wood stoves in 2011.  In Greece, hillsides are being denuded of trees and illegal logging is rampant.  Expensive energy hits the poor the hardest.

ADDENDUM: An article in the Wall Street Journal today, points out that the Obama administration is bringing criminal prosecutions against oil and gas companies for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, while failing to prosecute the wind farms that kill an estimated 400,000 birds each year, many of which are endangered. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) is on the case.

In late 2011 DOJ brought cases against seven oil and gas companies operating in North Dakota. Continental Resources was prosecuted for accidentally killing for Mallard ducks. A federal judge threw out that prosecution. It seems clear from prosecution history is the wildlife-protection statute is being selectively enforced to slow  down oil and gas production while wind farms receive a free pass.

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