In the 21st century, we are parting with what’s in our wallets. We compare our purchases against our knowledge, budgets and convenience. This phenomenon, known as the “utility theory of value,” drives innovation and entrepreneurship – key to our nation’s impressive economic history. In a free market system, customers demand “more for less.” Companies that fill these demands thrive. The rest disappear.
If a seller makes false claims about his product, it isn’t long before the customer base dry up – or worse! At least that’s how it is supposed to work. But what about when the government collects our money – in the form of taxes – and spends it on things it claims we want? Do lawmakers follow up to make certain the value of “government-picked winners” meets or beats the public’s expectations, or even their own? The answer is no. That’s why many argue for lower taxes, smaller government and freer markets.
When any company – say Apple or Honda – offers a product that makes our lives better in some way, these companies deserve to make a profit. They go on to employ more people, and create more prosperity – keeping a hard-earned and well-deserved piece of the pie for themselves. This is a “win-win” in my book!
Take away the competition for our dollars, and you take away the incentive to make things better, cheaper and smarter. Under government mandates, consumers can’t “stop buying” products they don’t want. Wasteful spending results. One example is wind energy mandates, subsidies and tax breaks. Advocates promote this product as a replacement for coal-, nuclear- or natural gas–based electricity. But according to dozens of industry insiders like Kimball Rasmussen, president and CEO of Desert Power, claims made by the wind energy industry aren’t supported.
Alas, we are told that “burning things” to make electric power is bad, so we support some alternative – indeed anything – that sounds reasonable. Our guilt is fueled by “experts” – many of whom rely on government spending for their livelihoods – who claim we will change the climate system, make the air dangerous to breathe, or that we are on the verge of running out of coal and oil. Still other interests shame us into believing we are “addicted to foreign oil” as if we just inject it into our bloodstream to no useful end. We hear from president after president that oil’s effect on the trade balance is the impending downfall of our nation’s economy. The truth is that affordable oil – from any source – facilitates our economic growth. And note: Less than 1 percent of our electricity is produced from burning oil – foreign or domestic.
Yet up rolls the covered wagon and the slick sales pitch: Wind is the answer! But is this just snake oil?
In a simplistic way, wind energy sounds good. Unfortunately, wind energy makes the rest of the grid system’s power plants less efficient. Wind power output is extremely volatile, and wind is least available when we need electricity the most. It doesn’t fill shortages caused by demand fluctuations – it worsens them.
City driving – constant stop and go – makes our cars’ fuel efficiency drop compared to highway driving. The same is true for our electricity production. The behavior of wind energy production make the “braking and accelerating” of natural gas and coal burning power plants more dramatic and more frequent and less efficient.
Numerous professionals in the electricity industry have demonstrated that wind energy saves little if any conventional fuel or associated emissions. The wind industry naturally disagrees. But the wind industry has yet to provide evidence anywhere, while industry professionals have published studies covering Colorado to Denmark and Germany, Italy and Spain.
I am among those who have concluded that wind energy cannot replace fuel-efficient, steady-running power plants. Nor can the wind provide streams of energy that fit our demand patterns.
Only paired with flexible natural gas generation can wind energy contribute to match demand. Unfortunately, that pairing requires much more than half of the power to come from the gas fired plants – and they must be run in stop-and-go mode to make wind fit grid demands. In Ohio, wind might provide a third of the paired plants’ output at best. The two-thirds or more of the gas-wind hybrid energy comes from natural gas burning power plants, accelerating and decelerating constantly to make way for wind energy. This adds to the cost of wind and reduces any benefits.
Unfortunately, not unlike human health in the 18th century, our electricity system is not well understood by most, so the claims of wind energy’s “miraculous properties” persist unabated. Snake oil, anyone?
Thomas F. Stacy II, of Zanesfield, is the co-founder and executive director of the group Save Western Ohio (www.savewesternOH.org) and the co-founder and executive director of the Alliance for Wise Energy Decisions, which seeks to unite environmentalists and electric utilities through sound scientific analysis of electrical energy generation technologies.