On Feb. 7, the federal bureaucracy announced its plans for off-shore wind energy. To mark the occasion, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell stated that the commonwealth must use “a diverse portfolio of fuels, including offshore and onshore wind. At the same time we must also maintain reasonable energy costs and a reliable, consistent supply.”
Problem is, you can’t do both.
Two recent, peer-reviewed and unimpeached studies explain why wind energy, a 17th-century technology, has no sensible place in a 21st-century civilization. The energy windmills offer is not free, not clean, not reliable, and not consistent. It creates no jobs. Here’s why.
The wind blows, except when it doesn’t. And wind speed varies on a second-by-second basis. Thus, wind energy produces electricity in fits and spurts. To prevent blackouts and brownouts, we need extremely consistent electricity. The voltage supplied to our electrical grid must exactly meet the demand, and the frequency cannot vary by any more than five cycles in 60 (8.3 percent) or electrical equipment shuts itself down to prevent damage to motors and circuits.
In an effort to make wind energy useful, electricity generators have to “back up” wind energy with other generation capacity, like natural gas and sometimes coal power. When the wind goes down, the backup energy must fill in–on a second-by-second basis. Thus, building a 150-megawatt wind farm means that one must also build a 150-megawatt fossil-fueled backup supply.
They don’t tell you this at the wind energy pep rally.
To understand what this need for backup energy means in terms of reliability and pollution, Bentek Energy LLC took a hard look at the issue, publishing an April 2010 report titled “How Less Became More: Wind, Power, and Unintended Consequences in the Colorado Energy Market.” It takes the wind out of the wind-power sails. In sum, the study concludes that the use of wind energy resulted in increased levels of SO² (acid rain), NOx (smog), and CO² (greenhouse gas).
The reason wind isn’t clean is specifically because of the backup energy needed. Imagine it this way:
If you race your car up a hill, then glide down the other side, then speed up, then slow down, then let it idle for a couple of hours, then race back into traffic, then slow down, then . You get the picture. Horrid gas mileage. And guess what else. The pollution-control devices were designed to work on a steady emissions stream, not on one as variable as the wind. So it takes more fuel and it doesn’t scrub the pollution out as well.
FREE AS THE WIND–NOT!
The cost of having to build redundant backup energy is obvious, but that’s not the end of the accounting. Take a look at the American Tradition Institute’s new report on proposed federal Renewable Energy Standards–the proposal to mandate 30 percent of all electricity to be generated by “renewable” sources under President Obama’s State of the Union plan.
Renewables are dominated by wind energy–over 80 percent in the Colorado plan, for example. Thus the report “The Effects of Federal Renewable Portfolio Standard Legislation on the U.S. Economy” could as easily be called: “The Effects of Mandatory Wind Power.”
The costs are massive in any way they are explained. The study examines three levels of wind energy, but to meet the president’s plan, we can concentrate on the 30 percent level. The study also looks at low-, medium-, and high-cost assumptions. The high assumptions are based on real-world data. The low-cost assumptions come from the federal government.
Now, let’s begin with your pocketbook. According to this study, to enjoy the increased number of blackouts and brownouts from reliance on wind power, you will have the honor of losing between $350 and $1,300 in disposable family income.
Of course, you still have a job. Maybe. A 30 percent wind-energy mandate will reduce national employment by 409,000 to 1.5 million jobs. And if you think a windmill factory is going to take care of that, think again. Think “China.” The Chinese have the essential rare-earth minerals needed to make the required magnets, and they are using this as leverage to force manufacture of the entire windmill on their own shores. At most, we will get some temporary ditch-digging jobs.
The real kicker is what these costs mean in terms of health. Besides the increased acid rain and smog, the fact is that poor people are less able to maintain their health than rich people, so the loss of income also means increased bad health. How much? The 30 percent mandated wind energy would cause from 3,300 to 12,500 additional premature deaths in the nation–mortality rates higher than from operating-room errors and HIV, respectively.
So, Governor, the research says you can’t have it both ways. Either you can have reasonable energy costs and reliable, consistent supply, or you can have wind power. I’m thinking Virginians want to keep their jobs, their money, and their health. You can deep-six the windmills somewhere offshore.
David Schnare, an earth scientist and an environmental attorney, is director of the Center for Environmental Stewardship at the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.
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