Don't force overreliance on renewable energy; Consumers will decide viability of solar and wind power
Wind farms will have a niche role in generating electricity for Michigan. But their role should not be mandated by legislation.
The economics of wind power will determine if it is viable and cost effective. Mandating or subsidizing a marginal player in the power industry will, in the long run, be costly.
Wind power’s chief drawback is obvious: The wind doesn’t blow constantly. A too-heavy reliance on wind generators risks brownouts and blackouts. No industry or household will put up with part-time electrical power.
Solar power is also iffy for Michigan. Of the daylight over a given year, Detroit only gets about 53 percent of the available sunlight.
Yuma, Ariz., sunny about 90 percent of the time, would reap much more solar power in a given day.
Storing large amounts of wind or solar energy in batteries, even if technically possible, would be prohibitively expensive.
Last month, the Michigan Senate passed a bill mandating state government use renewable energy in ever increasing chunks. For next year, senators want 3 percent of electricity used in state facilities to be renewable energy. By 2025, the number jumps to 25 percent.
But even senators realize the potential drawbacks of renewable energy. The state would be off the hook if the renewable energy costs are more than 5 percent above energy from traditional sources. The best deal for taxpayers: Have the state buy the cheapest power possible.
In a separate bill, the state House calls for 10 percent of the state’s electricity to be generated by renewable resources such as wind, biomass fuels and solar energy by 2015. In some respects, it’s a law that assumes nature will provide sufficient wind and sun to meet the lawmakers’ demands, once solar cells and windmills are in place.
Betting on the weather is iffy as Michigan tries to attract new businesses, all of which require stable and affordable power. For now the reliable solutions are plants powered by coal and nuclear energy.
The other specific drawbacks of wind power include unsightly windmill towers and spinning blades that kill birds. Noise is a problem if you live close enough. State officials say they don’t want towers near beaches used by tourists.
Well, that’s the same unsightly reason many rural families don’t want them in their neighborhood, either.
Renewable energy has grown in recent years. And will continue to have a place producing electrical power. But the growth should be at a pace dictated by the economics of production, not by government fiat.
The Detroit News
25 April 2008
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