A recent report examining the economics of wind power from the Global Warming Policy Foundation, titled Why Is Wind Power So Expensive: An Economic Analysis, was authored by Dr. Gordon Hughes, a professor of economics at the University of Edinburgh, where he teaches courses on “The Economics of Natural Resources and Public Economics.” Dr. Hughes was also a senior adviser on energy and environmental policy at the World Bank and has advised governments on the design and implementation of environmental policies.
The Wind Power Industry’s Dirty Secret: Taxpayer Subsidies
The paper was produced primarily for a British readership. In Great Britain today, according to an introduction written by Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, who was a British Member of Parliament and in the European Parliament, wind farms are ”almost entirely subsidized by a complex yet hidden regime of feed-in tariffs, tax cuts and preferential tax credits.”
There goes Argument #1: “Wind farms are affordable.” No, they’re not. Might they be some day? Maybe. The current technology doesn’t support that hope, but who knows what’ll happen tomorrow? So why not wait until we have affordable wind generation before asking taxpayers to foot the bill? Because those who produce wind power equipment, those who sell their land to the government for wind farms and other assorted industry hangers-on all make a killing off the taxpayers, that’s why not. But I digress.
Assent To The Articles Of Faith Required
In fact, as the baroness writes, ”meeting Britain’s target for renewable energy by 2020 would require a total investment of some £120 billion in wind turbines and back-up. The same amount of electricity could be generated by gas-fired power plants that would only cost £13 billion.”
That’s your money line right there. Wind power, when it works at all, which is not often, and even industry advocates rarely try to pretend otherwise, is very, very, very inefficient and very, very, very expensive. Baroness Nicholson is correct when she observes that wind is ”an order of magnitude” more expensive than alternatives.
One can see why the central rationale for all this, the contention that human activity is causing the earth to warm to catastrophic levels, is so fanatically defended by the hard core: There is no other remotely plausible reason for the entire ”green energy” industry to exist.
St. Paul wrote of Christianity that if Jesus Christ is not, in fact, risen from the dead, then the whole Christianity thing has no reason to exist, it’s all a senseless waste of everyone’s time and tithes. The religion of global warming has its equally Essential Article of Faith: Human activity is causing the earth to warm to catastrophic levels.
If that is not true, then the whole green energy industry has no reason to exist. The whole lucrative, well-heeled, multibillion-dollar, grossly inefficient green energy industry, which pours so many millions and millions of dollars into politicians’ coffers and lives almost solely at public expense as a result, has no reason to exist.
Britain’s Dozen Wealthy Landowners Loooove Wind Power
One can understand the green industry’s zealous crusade to continue denying the scientific evidence that human activity, Al Gore notwithstanding, is not, in fact, causing the earth to warm to catastrophic levels. Because then it’s all gone in one fell swoop.
What level of public subsidy are we talking about here? ”The total consumer bill for wind subsidies by 2030 is estimated to amount to a staggering £130 billion,” Baroness Nicholson writes.
That’s a lot of money to buy a lot of positive PR spin and get recycled back to pliant Members of Parliament. And that’s a lot of money for ordinary Brits to pay to wealthy landowners, the baroness notes: ”A dozen of the biggest landowners will between them receive almost £850 million in subsidies… paid by ordinary families through hidden taxes on their household electricity bills.” Might as well let Donald Trump build his golf course in peace.
All right then, on to the economic analysis.
Point 1: Wind Is More Expensive Than Alternatives
“Wind power is a capital-intensive means of generating electricity. As such, it competes with electricity generated by nuclear or coal-fired generating plants (with or without carbon capture).”
What Dr. Hughes is saying here, of course, is that wind is just one means of generating electricity. The point is to generate electricity so you can watch Downtown Abbey while ironing your clothes and making microwave popcorn. Obviously, the cheaper the electricity can be generated, the cheaper it can be sold to you, and the more money you have left over for the rest of your life. And wind-generated electricity leaves considerably less money for you than nuclear or coal-produced electricity does.
“However, because wind power is intermittent, the management of electricity systems becomes increasingly difficult if the share of wind power in total system capacity approaches or exceeds the minimum level of demand during the year (base load),” Hughes writes.
In other words, when wind isn’t blowing hard enough to generate power, we’ll need a backup system to do that until the wind decides to pick up again. That means keeping nuclear or coal plants standing by to kick on when needed. And that is expensive.
Point 2: The Problems of Intermittency
You’d think, though, that there are other ways we’ll figure out to get around that one. Hughes mentions pumped storage, long-distance transmission to “smooth out” wind availability, or simply pricing peak-use electricity out of most people’s reach. “However,” he observes, “if the economics of such options were genuinely attractive, they would already be adopted.” In other words, if that worked, we’d be doing it already. It doesn’t, so we aren’t.
Point 3: Gas Is Pretty Cheap
“It is typically much cheaper to transport gas and to rely upon open cycle gas turbines to match supply and demand than to adopt any of these options,” Hughes writes. See, if you’re going to go all-in on investing in wind power, you’ll need to invest in a backup energy generation system as well – you’re paying for two systems, when the one backup system could do the job by itself.
Point 4: Wind Power’s 2020 Quota Could Be Met A Lot More Cheaply
The United Kingdom’s government has set a target for how much energy generation will need to come from renewable sources by 2020. Wind will need to provide 36 GW of this, ”backed up by 13 GW of open cycle gas plants,” plus all the expense of transmission capacity. Price tag: £120 billion. ”The same electricity demand could be met from 21.5 GW of combined cycle gas plants with a capital cost of £13 billion.” You do the math. Oh wait – Hughes has done it for you.
Point 5: ‘Fuel-Free’ Wind Farms Are Costly To Maintain
Yes, it’s true that wind farms don’t require fuel. This point is harped on quite intensely by its advocates. Gentle breezes from Mother Nature herself blowing cleanly and quietly into your toaster. But they do have high operating and maintenance costs (what with all the UFOs banging into them). Hughes calculates the “net saving in fuel, operating and maintenance costs” for wind to meet its 2020 target output as not even £500 million per year out of a total price tag of £120 billion.
Point 6: CO2 Emissions Most Likely To Rise With Wind Power
Ah, the great irony of green energy: It’s always accompanied by a rise in the use of traditional fossil fuels belching more CO2 into the atmosphere, and we’re not just talking about Al Gore leading a fleet of SUVs into Berkeley and pickups for a Prius photo op, or Democrat Sen. Harry Reid and green industry advocates arriving in convoys of gas-guzzling SUVs for green industry photo ops.
It depends, as Hughes notes, on how much power wind can actually generate to cover base load demand, the middle of the daily demand curve or peak demand. “Because of its intermittency,” Hughes writes, “wind power combined with gas backup will certainly increase CO2 emissions when it displaces gas for base load demand, but it will reduce CO2 emissions when it displaces gas for peak load demand.”
Point 7: It’s Going To Cost A Lot To Meet Wind’s Target
Even if wind power advocates’ rosiest scenarios played out, wind will still reduce emissions of CO2 relative to using gas by 23 million metric tons in 2020, and it’ll cost £270 per metric ton at 2009 prices. This makes the total cost of meeting the target £78 billion in 2020, about five percent of Britain’s entire projected GDP. But hey, those rich British landowners getting richer off wind farms thank you.
Point 8: We Do Have Far Cheaper Ways To Generate Electricity
The bottom line for Hughes: ”Wind power is an extraordinarily expensive and inefficient way of reducing CO2 emissions when compared with the option of investing in efficient and flexible gas combined cycle plants.” Wind advocates love comparing wind to old coal or gas-fired plants, as if those are the only options on the table, but as Hughes says, ”the correct comparison is between alternative ways of meeting the UK’s future demand for electricity.”
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