Everyone I know in Rhode Island has the same goals: a cleaner planet overall and more employment here in our state. Unfortunately, all these renewed efforts by the General Assembly to further subsidize renewable energy, primarily in the form of wind turbines, will be detrimental to both. Here’s why.
Rhode Island needs to pursue economic development that is achievable and that builds on our strengths, which are mainly the marine trades, not wind farms.
Wind-turbine projects threaten the already fragile Rhode Island economy with extreme utility-rate increases that will hurt consumers and keep manufacturing businesses from expanding or locating here. Land-based wind turbines depend on subsidies at a rate of more than 12 times those given to the oil and gas sectors, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
In response to my complaint about how the wind turbine in Portsmouth is being subsidized by other ratepayers across the state, the attorney general’s office has stated that the “net metering” arrangement it depends on is unlawful. That’s because, for wholesale producers like Portsmouth, the reimbursement rate is set by federal law at the utilities’ “avoided cost.” A final ruling on this will follow at the state Division of Public Utilities, and the proper rate will be set later by the Public Utility Commission.
I filed this complaint because a system that results in one community’s profiting financially by taxing other communities is just plain wrong. Rhode Island’s citizens end up worse off overall, and yet somehow our General Assembly wants to expand these programs even further.
The problems with wind power are coming out of the closet, and have been a surprise to many of us. For example, it turns out wind power isn’t “green.” In fact, it creates significant, deadly ground pollution where the turbine magnet components are made (in China), while creating numerous environmental problems and risks when installed in non-industrial areas.
And, ironically, because conventional plants must ramp up and down to accommodate wind’s fickle nature, wind actually results in more fuel usage and carbon emissions that it saves. This is similar to what happens when you drive your car in stop-and-go traffic instead of on the highway.
Another surprise: Wind doesn’t replace foreign oil. Oil isn’t used to make electricity. And because wind can’t be counted on to produce power when it is needed, it won’t replace a single conventional power plant.
Will it save money? No, not now or even in the future. It costs two to three times more than conventional sources. And domestic natural gas supplies are increasing, with those costs continuing to go down, even while oil has gone up.
Because wind power drains money from our economy, it doesn’t, and won’t in the future, create jobs. It will actually cost jobs. The money, much of which will go overseas, will no longer be available to spend on food, clothing, shelter and medical care in Rhode Island.
Where does the money go? The $3 million or so for a wind turbine (which includes more than $1 million in taxpayer subsidies) goes to China, India, Germany and other places mostly outside Rhode Island. And all for a relatively small trickle of power.
What will this industry be like in 15 years? We can answer that by taking a look at Europe, which is well ahead of us. It’s been a disappointment. Spain is a good example. It has invested heavily in the renewable industry, and now is on the edge of financial collapse, with a 20 percent unemployment rate, the highest in the European Community.
Legislation before the General Assembly sets the reimbursement rates for developers and municipalities at the full retail rate. That triples those electric costs for National Grid (and us), and guarantees that if conventional power costs go up, the cost of wind power will go up with it. And when these wind turbines wear out, they will have to be removed and replaced at an even higher cost.
All this added expense directly reduces what consumers have left to spend – and consumer spending is two-thirds of our economy. It will also impact businesses from the flower shop on Main Street to the manufacturer at Quonset. Temporary jobs installing wind turbines are just that, temporary. And the real profits go overseas (even if it is to GE) and to a handful of developers reaping the benefits of misguided subsidies.
How can we improve our economy? If we really want economic growth, we need to focus on Rhode Island’s strengths. Whatever we do, let’s not ship any more jobs out of our state and our country.
Benjamin C. Riggs Jr., of Newport, is a retired Naval aviator and manufacturing executive who specialized in business management, acquisitions and development.