We are all familiar with the children’s tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” the fleecing of a kingdom by swindlers who offer a new royal wardrobe better than all others. Only the worthy can see. And even though it can’t be seen, no one will admit not seeing it, thereby being unworthy. “Just keep paying us, trust us, it is beautiful. No it is not done yet. It is superb, we just need more tax dollars or all work will cease and there will be many layoffs.” Of course this goes on until an innocent child, during the first showing, blurts out, “Look mom, he is naked!”
This, unfortunately, is exactly where we are at with renewable energy, especially wind.
The move to renewables (wind) was born in the ’90s. It was marketed as attractive, clean, cheap electricity. It would be a new industry creating countless jobs. The production tax credit was established to get the industry started. After the 2006 documentary on global warming “An Inconvenient Truth,” it was seen as a good answer to CO2 from fossil fuels. Leading scientists backed by the Sierra Club, etc., blame man-made CO2 emissions for climate change and, according to them, unless we eliminate it all the damage will be permanent.
The thinking was there would be such an increase in manufacturing (wind mills), that any job losses in the coal side would be minimal. This is far from what is happening. The tax credits for wind are at least $22 per megawatt, but combined with stimulus money it can be much higher. It hardly levels the field for wind, instead giving it a huge advantage.
This money is allowing what is called “negative pricing“ – wind energy can and does pay utilities as much as $10 per megawatt to take their power and they still pocket a profit off our tax money. This is forcing our coal plants to idle or shut down for long periods. The effect of this skews the market, causing coal to become much less competitive.
Utilities have investors that need to see profits, without which they pull back spending, canceling projects, postponing repairs (fewer jobs) and even mothballing or shuttering plants (way fewer jobs). A 750 MW plant built recently in Kansas took 5.5 million (blue-collar) craft man hours to build plus the (white-collar) engineering, management and design. 5.5 million divided by 2,000 (standard year) equals 2,750 man years. Typically, 750 megawatts of wind would take 675,000 divided by 2,000 equals 337.5 man years. That is over eight times the jobs in construction alone, not counting coal mining, land reclamation, transportation, operation, standard maintenance and annual repairs. Montana has less than 25 full-time employees for all of the wind power built so far.
Why are we subsidizing a type of electrical generation that is undependable, drastically cuts jobs per megawatt (drive by the power plants and see the cars in the parking lots; now check out the wind farms – no parking lots), requires other plants to back it up when the wind doesn’t blow, can never reach a scale to affect CO2 output and which can’t survive without subsidies.
I question if the motives of the Sierra Club, etc., are to actually stop climate change or kill coal at all costs (and all of its jobs in the USA, estimated at 2 percent of the economy). If, as is the premise of the environmentalists, we have to eliminate man-made CO2 emissions, the tax credits and emphasis on wind and renewables are actually prolonging damage from CO2.
I propose we face the naked truth about the subsidies: Let wind energy stand on its merits and focus on cleaning up coal with new technologies that can be sold or given to other countries. This will not only remove the CO2 but create a huge boom of jobs in the construction, manufacturing and research sector. We can be the leader in technology that really makes a difference.
Either CO2 is a problem or not. If it is, then I am the environmentalist, not the mainstream kill-coal advocates.
Are we going to continue to prop up an industry of fewer jobs and prolonging the CO2 problem? Or lead the world in the technology of carbon capture: unleashing our American ingenuity to economically remove the CO2?
Bob Winger of Billings is president of the Boilermakers Local 11, which represents all field construction boilermakers in Montana.