Before we become too hopeful about the prospects of using offshore wind power as a fuel source of the future, let’s not forget that government data shows that offshore wind power cannot survive in a competitive environment without huge taxpayer subsidies.
Today wind power receives subsidies greater than any other form of energy per unit of actual energy produced.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a key member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, says that public subsidies for wind on a per megawatt-hour basis are 26 times those for fossil fuels and 16 times those for nuclear power.
Alexander estimates that the production tax credit over the next decade will cost American taxpayers more than $26 billion.
The tax credit gives $23 for every megawatt-hour of electricity a wind turbine generates during the first 10 years of operation.
A megawatt-hour is enough to power 1,000 homes for one hour. In addition, wind power benefits from renewable portfolio standards that most states use to mandate that a certain percentage of electricity come from wind power and other renewables.
Yet, even with these incentives, only 4.7 percent of the nation’s electricity is currently supplied by wind power and that is entirely wind power from on-land turbines.
None of the wind power in the United States now comes from offshore. The first offshore wind power in this country is expected to enter the electric grid early next year from five turbines anchored 18 miles off the coast of Rhode Island. It will replace electricity made from diesel oil, the most expensive power in the U.S.
No question, there is a lot of hype about wind power being a huge potential source of energy. Its advocates like to point out that 80 million Americans live in coastal areas and would benefit from offshore wind turbines.
What they fail to mention is that we have an abundance of low-cost natural gas for power production and dependable hydro and nuclear-generated electricity.
A study by the National Academy of Sciences shows that these conventional energy sources are much cheaper than wind power. And wind power is intermittent and unreliable when compared to the 24/7 capacity of power plants.
Environmental advocates of offshore wind power who foresee the development of wind farms with hundreds of massive 600-foot turbines erected in coastal waters along the Atlantic Coast as well as the Great Lakes, the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii are engaged in fantasy. Wind power, they say, is carbon free, but so are hydro and nuclear power.
Think about it: Four large power plants could produce as much electricity as offshore wind turbines placed side by side along the entire Atlantic seaboard from Maine to Florida.
Moreover, power plants last longer than wind turbines. A British study found that turbines need to be replaced within 12 to 15 years, and they must be imported from Europe.
In contrast, nuclear and fossil-fuel plants can be built in the U.S. without relying on imports, and, in the case of nuclear power, the vast majority of reactors are licensed to run 60 years and some are expected to operate 80 years or more.
Offshore wind power also has complex transmission requirements. In addition to being submerged, making installation and maintenance difficult and costly, the cables to bring offshore wind power to coastal areas have run up against strong opposition from conservation and wildlife groups, the fishing and tourist industries, seaside residents and, in some cases, the military, since turbines can interfere with radar systems.
Wind power might sound great in theory until one gets into the details of reliability, efficiency and cost. It is the electricity sector’s version of corn ethanol – and in recent years has received even more subsidy dollars.
If not for the production tax credit and taxpayer subsidies, plans for offshore wind power would come to a stop.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Mark J. Perry is a professor of economics and finance in the School of Management at the University of Michigan at Flint and an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
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