Kevin Sheen of EverPower continues to willfully disobey the wishes of the Allegany Town Board in what Judge Michael L. Nenno called “contumacious” conduct.
His company brought not one but two lawsuits against the town, one against the planning board that Judge Nenno threw out, the other against the town board, which EverPower has now scheduled for a hearing before Judge Nenno in December. The company and its principle, Mr. Sheen, want to stretch this out so the town and the Carrollton Town Board will believe there is some sort of sword hanging over their heads.
The reality is, EverPower will likely get thrown out of court again and this story will be over. But by delaying judgment, EverPower hopes to line up a road-use agreement and maybe a few more landowners through whose land it needs to haul its 400-ton crane and some very long wind turbine blades, and make the town boards think this is a done deal. This page out of the big developers’ playbook is classic.
Let’s not talk this time about how intrusive wind farms are for the communities asked to host them. Let’s talk instead about why wind farms don’t achieve their only mission: to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. We are well on the way to achieving fossil-fuel independence, and now we are focused on addressing climate change.
The first thing to note is that despite hundreds of thousands of wind turbines installed all over the world, there appears to be no affect on climate change. Whether climate is our fault or not, wind farms were supposed to slow down the pace of extreme storms and global warming, but that hasn’t happened.
Most power plants are designed to generate about 100 megawatts (MW) of electricity, and most operate at 90 percent or better of their design capacity. Wind farms are designed to generate 50 MW 0r less, and, according to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, they operate at 10 percent of that.
Wind farms are not viable without lots of money from taxpayers. The price paid for electricity fluctuates widely during the day, and season by season, according to demand. When demand for electricity is high, during the daytime and during the summer months, the grid operator calls up quick ramp-up power plants like Indeck in Olean and pays about $90 per MW hour.
Conventional power plants that operate all the time get the same price. Wind farms generate intermittently, mostly during the winter and at night. That’s when the wholesale market price for electricity averages about $25 per MWh, and can dip below $1. A generous federal tax credit makes up the difference for wind farms, paying another $25 or so per MWh for 10 years.
Wind farms operating in New York are now getting in the range of $5 million to $10 million in federal tax credits per year. These tax credits force consumers and taxpayers to pay billions of dollars each year for electricity that has little economic value and, in many hours, has negative value.
Because they have so little taxable income because they generate so much less electricity than conventional power plants, wind farms sell the credits to other companies, often oil and gas companies.
In addition to tax credits, most of the monthly “SBC” item on your electric bill (system benefit charge) goes to wind farms in the form of outright grants by NYSERDA.
Wind farms also benefit from selling “renewable energy credits,” which are suppose to represent one ton of carbon emissions avoided. But there is no way to determine whether carbon emissions were avoided by the electricity generated by a wind farm. Wind farms often bid negative prices for power generated in the winter, when the wholesale price can be less than a penny per kilowatt hour, just to qualify for the production tax credit. That electricity then gets generated and connected to the grid, regardless of whether the power is needed.
Where in all this is the displacement of greenhouse gas emissions from conventional power plants? No conventional power plant has ever been shut down because of the availability of wind power, because we rely on 24/7 electricity generators. Maybe someday most us will be driving all-electric cars, and we’ll all agree to charge them only at night; and maybe someday massive flywheels or water storage reservoirs will be utilized to capture wind power generated during the winter and at night so it can be released during the daytime and in summer.
But that’s not today, nor in our lifetime.
Until then we keep throwing public money at a technology that still hasn’t proved very useful. Maybe we should return all that public money to households and businesses, to make their own choices about how to reduce their electricity usage.
(Mr. Abraham, an attorney, lives in Allegany.)
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