May 15, 2017
North Dakota, Opinions

Wind energy – con: Tell taxpayers the real cost

By Connie Krapp | Grand Forks Herald | May 13, 2017 |

JAMESTOWN, N.D.—The North Dakota Legislature has adjourned and with it, so has hope for public study on wind energy.

Wind developers continue sweeping into North Dakota, trying to breeze their way through the permitting process in order to take advantage of government giveaways – not only federal tax credits (which are scheduled to be phased out unless Congress renews them yet again), but also tax breaks, loan guarantees and other economic assistance available under more than 80 different programs across nine federal agencies.

It’s no secret that these runaway federal subsidies (estimated by Good Jobs First to total at least $176 billion by mid-2016), along with state and local incentives ranging from renewable power purchase mandates to local property breaks, are what go into a wind farm.

But how much? How much will the next North Dakota wind farm cost us taxpayers? How will it impact our energy bills?

And how will this new wind energy impact CO2 emissions?

In the 15-year history of wind farms in North Dakota, developers have convinced us that they are reducing CO2 emissions with energy that is cost competitive with other generation sources. But a 2015 study by the Institute for Energy Research shows that on average, electricity from new wind resources is nearly three times more expensive than from existing coal.

The Production Tax Credit alone gives wind energy producers a subsidy of $6.76 per million BTU. That’s more than twice the current market price of natural gas.

The subsidy costs that wind developers avoid in their “clean energy” narratives is being borne by taxpayers and paid to billionaires such as Warren Buffet, who told attendees at his company’s 2014 annual meeting, “We get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. … They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”

At least Buffet shared a moment of transparency. Wind energy isn’t cost-competitive and it isn’t feasibly cutting emissions. A National Academy of Sciences study found that the tax credit for renewable sources reduced CO2 emissions at an average cost of $250 per ton. But the EPA values the damage avoided by a one-ton reduction in CO2 emissions at $40 to $65.

So when do taxpayers blow off wind energy and demand that it stands on its own? When do we have a say in how much of the cost of a wind farm we’re willing to bear?

When do we demand more transparency on how much wind energy is raising our electric rates?

We could start with those who have a seat at the table. The mission of the North Dakota Public Service Commission is “protecting the public interest.” When investor-owned utilities propose to build or buy power from a wind generation facility, the PSC should evaluate the cost of wind generation.

Shouldn’t we as taxpayers call on the commission to educate us about that cost?

Other generators in the state not falling under PSC authority are owned by electric cooperatives. Basin Electric, Great River Energy and Minnkota Power Cooperative leave evaluation of wind farms to their boards of directors.

So, enlighten us, co-operatives. Educate us, North Dakota Public Service Commission. Tell us before you permit it how much a wind farm will cost us in taxes and higher energy costs.

Show us how many tons of CO2 emissions it will save next year. Explain to us each time you permit a wind farm what we are getting for our money.

We want to hear it from you and not wind developers.

Krapp retired after working for 22 years in communications for a North Dakota electric cooperative. She is a former farmer from Pingree, N.D., and now lives in Jamestown.

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