Wind Power's 'Record Growth' Blows Across U.S.

August 15, 2013

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Wind 2According to recent reports released by The U.S. Energy Department, there’s been “record growth across the U.S. wind market.”

Hang on to your wallet.

“In 2012, wind energy became the number one source of new U.S. electricity generation capacity for the first time,” the report finds, “representing 43 percent of all new electric additions and accounting for $25 billion in U.S. investment.”

The report, released by The Energy Department and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, cites “industry estimates” that the wind sector employs “over 80,000 American workers, including workers at manufacturing facilities up and down the supply chain, as well as engineers and construction workers who build wind installations.”

No doubt that’s a highly generous estimate, designed to put the industry in the best light possible, but by any accounting it’s a not insignificant chunk of jobs. The nation’s total wind power capacity on the grid nearly doubled from 2011 to 2012, adding 13 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity to surpass 60 GW at the end of 2012. As the report says, this is “enough capacity to power more than 15 million homes each year, or as many homes as in California and Washington state combined.”

Wind is Big in Texas

And wind power is becoming a substantial component of total power generation in more than a few places across America. The report finds that in nine states, wind power accounts for “over 12 percent of their total annual electricity consumption,” with wind power in Iowa, South Dakota, and Kansas “contributing more than 20 percent.”

But if you want to know where the action is for wind power today, it’s Texas.The state added “over 1,800 megawatts of wind power last year, more than any other state,” the report notes, with over 12 GW installed at the end of 2012 -- “more than twice as much as California, the next-highest state.”

Wind 1

Even more interesting is the fact that the “only facility in America used to build and disassemble nuclear weapons,” located near Amarillo, Texas, “broke ground on Tuesday to build a 11.5 megawatt wind farm... When completed in July 2014, it will be the largest wind farm owned by the federal government.”

In fact a recent book, titled The Great Texas Wind Rush, tells how from the late 1970s Texas has worked to become the nation’s No. 1 wind power state, with significant help from then-Governor George W. Bush: “In 1996, Bush told a top staff member, ‘By the way, we like wind,’ and when the dumbfounded aide starts to ask a question, Bush simply replies, ‘Go get smart on wind’.”

It’s important to keep things in perspective, however: Wind power is still a far more expensive means of generating electricity than easily-available alternatives, and it doesn’t end anybody’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Ontario: Higher Prices, Fewer Jobs.

Ontario is one place that's pursuing wind power, and that has “driven up electricity prices, is killing jobs and might even lead to more smog,” according to a report on a Fraser Institute study released earlier this year.

Ross McKitrick, author of Environmental and Economic Consequences of Ontario's Green Energy Act (GEA), told the Sun that “the Ontario government's electricity plan is now 10 times more costly than installing pollution-control equipment on existing coal plants,” in the Sun’s wording. McKitrick also pointed to “major price increases for large energy consumers” as well as “anticipating additional hikes of 40 percent to 50 percent over the next few years," in addition to government subsidies granted to wind energy producers.

"Because of the fluctuating nature of wind and solar power, adding renewable capacity to the grid requires additional backup power from natural gas plants," the Fraser report says, adding that "Ontario currently has a surplus of base-load generating capacity. Further additions to baseload in the form of wind or solar power may require removing a nuclear plant from operation and replacing it with a combination of renewable and gas-fired generation, yielding a net increase in air emissions.”

A similar study ThomasNet reported on last year from the Global Warming Policy Foundation, titled “Why Is Wind Power So Expensive: An Economic Analysis,” authored by Dr. Gordon Hughes, a professor of economics at the University of Edinburgh where he teaches courses on “The Economics of Natural Resources and Public Economics,” found that “Wind power is a capital-intensive means of generating electricity. As such, it competes with electricity generated by nuclear or coal-fired generating plants (with or without carbon capture)...

“However, because wind power is intermittent, the management of electricity systems becomes increasingly difficult if the share of wind power in total system capacity approaches or exceeds the minimum level of demand during the year (base load).”

In other words, when wind isn’t blowing hard enough to generate power, you need a backup system to keep the lights on until the wind decides to pick up again. That means keeping conventionally-fueled power plants standing by to kick on when needed. And that is expensive.

How much more expensive? The UK has set a target for how much energy generation will need to come from renewable sources by 2020. Wind will need to provide 36 GW of this, according to existing government targets, “backed up by 13 GW of open cycle gas plants,” plus all the expense of transmission capacity. Price tag: £120 billion. “The same electricity demand could be met from 21.5 GW of combined cycle gas plants with a capital cost of £13 billion,” the Hughes report found.

Birds: Not Huge Fans of Wind Power.

Don’t count on birds being overly excited by the proliferation of wind power either. As Forbes reported last month, President Barack Obama stated “The plan I’m announcing today will help us double again our energy from wind and sun. Today, I’m directing the Interior Department to green-light enough private renewable energy capacity on public plans to power more than 6 million homes by 2020.”

As a result, The American Bird Conservancy warns that the golden eagle will end up on the endangered species list “because so many are being killed by wind turbines.” The Obama administration has exempted wind farm operators from any penalty for killing a California condor, one of the rarest birds in the world.

In fact, according to the Wildlife Society Bulletin, wind turbines are reported as killing around 600,000 birds annually, with the actual total in all probability much higher, since “many wind companies do not have to make bird kill data public,” and would only incur negative publicity for doing so.

Warren Buffet Thanks You.

So taxpayers, ratepayers, and birds aren’t too chuffed with wind power. But they don’t own the companies that pocket the federal subsidies shoveled out for wind power. Warren Buffett does, and a subsidiary of the Buffett-owned MidAmerican Energy Holdings will install “448 wind turbines across five Iowa counties,” according to Daily Caller, and could qualify for subsidies of $23 per megawatt hour of wind power over the next 10 years.

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