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Still Blowing in the Wind; Windmills Aren't Much Help with Energy Supplies 

For more than 13 centuries, mankind has been trying to capture the wind for energy production and other uses. In agrarian societies, even into the 19th century such intermittent unpredictable energy was still useful for pumping water, grinding grain, and other forms of drudgery. The history of energy development from those days is heading for more electrical energy use which is highly refined, highly controlled, and much more reliable.

Whether in the workplace, the home, or the vehicles which move us, electrical demands are increasing even as we use it more efficiently. Both memory chips and power chips are getting larger and more powerful. Even our vehicles are becoming more electrified from bumper to bumper. The trends will continue. This future will need large amouns of highly controlled, reliable, and purified electricity to help the U.S. economy remain productive. Wind energy is the antithesis of such energy needs.

It’s been more than 30 year since windmills have been promoted in the U.S. as a major contributor to our energy future. It is widely known that wind energy is intermittent, unreliable in timing, voltages, and frequencies. Wind energy is therefore low grade energy, not being dispatchable (schedulable). They do not provide the energy needs of 10,000 homes as apologists say, since there are many times when the wind doesn’t blow sufficiently, or blow at all. In those no-wind times, which are about 70 percent of the time, backup energy is needed. That backup energy must be reliable and dispatchable, and must work when the wind doesn’t blow, or when the sun doesn’t shine. The capital costs of these backup facilities and their operating costs typically are not figured into the overall costs of the windfarm. This also begs the huge question, if an equal amount of reliable backup energy is required, why have the windmills at all? In Maui as in other places in spite of these killer problems, windmills are being built by the dozens, but for different reasons. It’s the money stupid. The reasons are the huge tax benefits which are shifted away from the windmill owners and handed to the already overtaxed Hawaiian taxpayers. Specific cost and performance data for such windmills are rarely available, but the typical situation is:

  1. Accelerated depreciation schedules. While landlords must depreciate their rentals over a 30-year period, the windfarm owner can depreciate 100 percent of the windfarm costs to zero in 6 years. For a $100,000,000 dollar windfarm in a 30 percent bracket, the owner avoids the payment of $30,000,000 in taxes over those 6 years.
  2. There is also a $.019 per kw-hr tax credit for every kw-hr generated.
  3. Lots of local and state benefits and tax exemptions.

Through more than 30 years of lobbying state and federal government officials, the windfarm owners and allies have opened the flood gates for billions in huge tax credits, subsidies, and accelerated depreciation allowances. The revenues from the sale of kw-hrs is less than the sum of the other tax subsidies, the number of kilowatt hrs of energy production is essentially unimportant financially. Several years ago Florida Power and Light, the largest windmill owner in the U.S., on revenues of $2 billion do not pay any taxes at all. We paid it for them.

Finally, we must not forget we are in Hawaii, where the revenues from the sales of the kw-hrs add to the treasuries of the owners, no matter how unreliably they are produced. Making a profit is essential so long as it is done fairly. But with the highest cost electricity in the United States now at 20cents per kw-hr, nearly 3 times the costs as those on the mainland, we all have to wonder about who pays for that energy and at what price. People are being hurt financially by these money transfer windfarm schemes and no one seems to care.

I would hope that Hawaii state leaders would look into these alternative energy issues with the aim of getting down to the actual engineering performance data and the actual data of costs, taxes, subsidies, state, local and federal, and make these available to the public for scrutiny. It’s our money. The Hawaiian people are polite, generous, and trusting. Like trusting neighbors, their trust and lack of fear of predators of the human sort, make them perfect targets for those who would take their tax money. And state leaders bow and scrape before them, without any warranted skepticism.

Windmills cannot help in any significant way to solve our energy problems largely because of the low energy densities and low capacity factors (operating only 20 percent-30 percent of the time). If all the thousands of windmills in the U.S. as of the end of 2002 operated with a 25 percent capacity factor, they would produce less electricity (10,260,150,000 kilowatt-hours – kWh) than a single large dam on the Columbia River in Washington State. Are we seriously interested in our energy future or are we only interested in lining to pockets of the windfarm owners extracted from the over taxed wage-earners?

By Michael R. Fox

Michael R. Fox, Ph.D., is the science and energy reporter for Hawaii Reporter. A resident of Kaneohe, he has nearly 40 years experience in the energy field. He has also taught chemistry and energy at the University level. His interest in the communications of science has led to several communications awards, hundreds of speeches, and many appearances on television and talk shows. He can be reached via email at mailto:foxm011@hawaii.rr.com


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

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial educational effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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