News broke recently that Otter Tail Power Company had resurrected a 130,000-acre wind farm originally proposed six years ago near Merricourt, N.D. and brought it back before the North Dakota Public Service Commission.
One might assume the project will get a quick green light since the PSC has vetted it before, but I hope it doesn’t. I have no dog in this fight. My interest is solely from the perspective of a taxpayer and consumer who, after careful research, finds no evidence that wind energy has significant impact on lowering carbon emissions but has already driven up costs of electricity.
Information on the project cost was redacted from public copies of documents OTPC filed. Isn’t it the right of the public to know the cost of the project? And more importantly, don’t we have the right to know how much of that cost will be picked up by taxpayers and consumers?
The federal government spends wildly to subsidize wind energy. From 2010 to 2013, the federal government paid 52 times as much for a unit of wind energy as for a unit produced from fossil fuels through the Production Tax Credit. Those credits are scheduled to be phased out by 2019, but Congress could extend them again as it has done in the past. A U.S. Government Accountability Office report counted 82 additional programs in nine federal agencies providing tax breaks, loan guarantees or other economic assistance to the wind industry. Many state and local governments also support wind power through a variety of programs.
And what is the true cost of wind energy on our electricity bills? A 2015 study by the Institute for Energy Research shows electricity from new wind resources is nearly three times more expensive on average than from coal.
Wind turbines produce energy only about 40 percent of the time and must be backed up by “firm” generation sources such as gas or coal, which blows electricity costs skyward. OTPC already charges a 7 percent “Renewable Resource Adjustment” on North Dakota electric bills to cover the cost of renewable generation. Other utilities charges various Renewable Energy Surcharges, bury the extra cost of renewables by raising rates across the board or implement a rate fee that is a combination of both.
In Germany, with the largest combined wind and solar capacity in Europe, affixes a renewable energy surcharge on residential bills of almost 24 percent of household electricity price. The surcharge has risen tenfold since implementation and has been partially responsible for a hike in German residential electric bills of 68 percent since 1998, according to https://www.cleanenergywire.org/factsheets/what-german-households-pay-power.
Plenty of literature insists that wind energy costs the same – or even less than – the same energy produced by gas or coal. Those claims omit the cost swept into wind projects courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer. The wind industry is adept at communicating the windfalls and taxes paid to landowners, communities and regions from wind farms, but where is the data that indicates how much in taxes and added electricity costs we taxpayers already pay for wind? Where is honest data that documents the impact wind energy has on reducing carbon emissions?
Most compelling to me is our reality that once these monstrous wind turbines go up, we have to live with them until the end of their approximately 20-year life span. It’s imperative that we approach the addition of wind generation in North Dakota and elsewhere with fiscal responsibility and an eye on technology and innovation that will one day make wind farms a relic of an unfortunate past.
We need the facts – a complete cost/benefit analysis of wind generation. Please contact the Public Service Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org requesting it presents the true cost of wind energy and its effect on carbon emissions to consumers and taxpayers next time – and every time – it has a public hearing on a wind farm.
Editor’s note: Connie Krapp grew up on, and later owned and operated a farm/ranch in south central North Dakota. She retired after 22 years in North Dakota’s electric industry and maintains an interest in agriculture, energy and real estate.
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