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The False Promises of Wind Energy  

That windmills retain a mystical popularity among its Northwest supporters, is truly a triumph of hope over substance, not to mention unawareness of hidden costs and poor performance data. There is a huge amount of information now available regarding wind energy from around the United States and Europe. It’s not good news.

That windmills retain a mystical popularity among its Northwest supporters, is truly a triumph of hope over substance, not to mention unawareness of hidden costs and poor performance data. There is a huge amount of information now available regarding wind energy from around the United States and Europe. It’s not good news. It is past time that Northwest energy agencies, utilities, and elected officials use the data before building anymore of them and ripping off the rate payers. Reasonable people of the Northwest expect energy agencies to learn these lessons from around the world, just as they expect them to provide low cost reliable electrical energy.

Hundreds of windmills now stand over the formerly beautiful Palouse landscape of Southeastern Washington. Further, a company named Zilkha Renewable Energy is proposing a new wind farm in the Ellensburg area. In this case the proposed wind farm will have an installed capacity of 180 MW.

Hidden Costs

Part of the energy debate must include the large and hidden costs of such windmills, not mentioned on the Zilkha website. A major reason why windmills are being built around the US is because of the huge tax breaks, subsidies, and tax credits now available to the owners. For example, let’s assume the construction costs of the Zilkha 180 MW wind farm will be $180 million. The first two years of depreciation will be about $108,000,000, or about 60% of the total value! At an assumed taxation rate of 35% they will avoid the payment of $37.8 million during this time!! We taxpayers are stuck with this bill! The entire $180 million project can be depreciated in about 6 years!!

Furthermore, Zilkha will get a federal tax credit of $ 0.018 for each kw-hr produced! This tax credit will allow Zilkha to deduct another estimated $9 million ($.018/kwh x 473,040,000 kwh/yr) from it annual tax liability for the next 10 years.

Furthermore, in Washington State, according to the report on Zilkha by expert Glenn Schleede, wind farm owners are exempt from paying any sales or use tax on equipment used to generate electricity from the wind. This also includes charges for labor and services used during construction. The value of this exemption could be as much as $10,000,000 during construction.
All of these exemptions are in addition to the revenues from sales of such electricity. Even if sold at $ 0.03 per kilowatt hour, the revenues would be about $15,000,000 per year. These certainly fatten the wind farm owners’ coffers, but are done at the expense of the taxpayers who pay the bulk of the costs. This is a classic scheme of state sponsored redistribution of wealth from people at the bottom of the economic ladder to those on top, more associated with 20th century dictators.

As Schleede points out, the big losers in this scheme are the rate payers and the taxpayers who pay the taxes avoided by the wind farm owners. The neighbors and citizens also bear the costs of adverse environmental, ecological, scenic, and property value impacts.

Poor Performance

The Zilkha website also states that this capacity is enough to serve 45,000 homes. This is untrue. The actual amount of such intermittent energy received would be about 30% of this energy produced at unscheduled times. Much of that energy would be produced when it was not needed.

The 180 MW capacity of the Zilkha farm operating only at an estimated 30% of the time would produce (unpredictably) a total 473,040,000 kw-hr per year. This seemingly big number is less than ½ of 1% of the total electrical energy consumed in the State of Washington in 2002. According to Schleede, this would be about 16% of the energy produced in 2002 by the single natural gas combined cycle plant in Hermiston OR (474 MW), which stands on only a few acres. We need a serious realistic debate on these energy issues, without the exaggerations.

Wind energy is unreliable for the simple reason that wind is unreliable, unpredictable, and intermittent. That is, more than 70% of the time more reliable sources are needed in its place.
The Need for a Backup Energy System
Because of the unpredictability of the wind, a dedicated equally-sized backup system must be kept in reserve, not producing energy of its own. This backup energy capacity (called spinning reserve) is a hidden cost, requiring its own fuel consumption, emissions, and costs in reserve, which usually are not considered in the overall cost analyses for wind energy.

System Unreliability

As is being learned in England, Denmark, Germany, US, and elsewhere, wind farms also add to transmission system instabilities. The windmills can actually reduce the reliability of the transmission system, because of the need not only to match loads with variable energy generation, but the additional needs to control for both system voltage and frequency stabilities. These costs are typically not included either in such analyses.

Windmills have been described as deduction generators more so than energy generators, and it is the deductions which are of interest to the big owners, not the energy per se. It’s time to put the interests of the ratepayers and taxpayers first, by ending the huge subsidies in costly and unreliable energy sources. If wind energy can’t compete without grotesquely large subsidies, it must be abandoned.

Michael Fox, Ph.D.

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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