Industry Market Trends

Break Up Big Wind's Subsidies

May 18, 2012

Not that long ago, we noted that the wind power industry has not fulfilled the lofty expectations it generated or met the claims of its more zealous advocates. Expectations and government subsidies are the only sure things that wind farms are creating.

As we wrote in March, a recent report from the Global Warming Policy Foundation, titled "Why Is Wind Power So Expensive: An Economic Analysis," authored by Dr. Gordon Hughes, professor of economics at the University of Edinburgh, found that in Britain --  which is as heavily invested in wind power as any other place -- wind farms are "almost entirely subsidized by a complex yet hidden regime of feed-in tariffs, tax cuts and preferential tax credits."

Subsidies are what allow the American wind power industry to exist, as well. If they had to survive based on their efficiency, power generating usefulness or other concerns, there would be far fewer wind farms and far more eagles, hawks and other birds alive today.


Big Wind Thanks You for Your Contributions

It appears Americans are fed up with subsidizing the corporate interests behind Big Wind. Recent news reports indicate that concerned citizens are applying political pressure to stop the government from doling out millions of their dollars to a technology that's never going to be able to exist without handouts or produce cheaper electricity.

And, in fact, as the news reports indicated, concerned citizens did manage to get a few of the more obviously wasteful spending projects scuttled.

After smelling salts were administered to the lobbyists and their paymasters who ensure that millions of taxpayer dollars are sluiced off to the correct wind power corporate interests, with the assistance of their pocketed politicians, "a shocked American Wind Energy Association and its allies," according to news reports, "began even more aggressive recruiting of well-connected Democrat and Republican political operatives and cosponsors" and stepped up their influence-spreading around state legislatures "to maintain mandates, subsidies, feed-in tariffs, renewable energy credits and other 'temporary' ratepayer and taxpayer obligations."


"The Subsidies Are Only Temporary!"

Isn't subsidizing wind power simply a matter of propping up a technology until it gets up and running and can start turning a profit on its own? In a word: no. Hughes' report found that meeting Britain's target for renewable energy by 2020 would require a total investment of some £120 billion in wind turbines and backup. The same amount of electricity could be generated by gas-fired power plants that would only cost £13 billion.

Of course, the great unspoken rationale for wind power is, well, twofold, really. Less emphasized is the contention that the world's gas, oil, coal sources et al are going to run out someday, so we need to "invest" in "developing" a technology that uses "renewable" sources and therefore not leave ourselves in the dark when that last barrel of oil is extracted. Nobody who's aware of the world's reserves really believes they'll run out anytime soon -- with soon being within the next few hundred years.

And frankly, it's just hard to get in a lather and make sacrifices today for something that could, maybe, be a problem in 2512.

The other rationale, of course, is that wind power is less deleterious to "global warming," that it would contribute less to what humans are doing to change the climate of the Earth to uninhabitable levels. Frankly, fewer and fewer people are buying this scare tactic, with polls consistently finding public faith in the "science" of global warming to be dropping even faster than world temperatures over the past 11 or 12 years.


It's a Reliability Issue, Too

This is why the wealthy interests profiting off wind power are willing to spend and spend lavishly to influence politicians to keep appropriating other people's money into their wallets. As Hughes' study in Britain concluded, "A dozen of [Britain's] biggest landowners will between them receive almost £850 million in subsidies ... paid by ordinary families through hidden taxes on their household electricity bills" for providing land for wind farms.

Because wind, after all, is a grossly inefficient and unreliable method of energy generation. "It is typically much cheaper to transport gas and to rely upon open-cycle gas turbines to match supply and demand than to adopt any of these options," Hughes writes, adding that any sizable wind generation installation requires a backup energy-generation system, as well, so you're paying for two systems anyway. Why not just pay for the one that generates your electricity at cheaper cost and forget subsidizing rich wind power corporate interests? I mean, what are we missing here?

And please don't say "climate change." Because as we noted in March, the great irony of green energy is how much traditional fossil fuel usage it requires. As Hughes' report explains, the middle of the day is the time of peak demand for energy -- but wind is unreliable in when it's actually blowing. "Because of its intermittency," Hughes writes, "wind power combined with gas backup will certainly increase CO2 emissions when it displaces gas for base load demand, but it will reduce CO2 emissions when it displaces gas for peak load demand."

In fact, after careful analysis, Hughes branded wind power "an extraordinarily expensive and inefficient way of? reducing CO2 emissions when compared with the option of investing in efficient and flexible gas combined cycle plants."


It Is on Our Side of the Atlantic, Too

It's the same in America as in Britain -- even worse, actually, according to a review in MasterResource of the 2009 book The Wind Farm Scam, written by John Etherington, formerly a Reader in Ecology at the University of Wales, which notes:

As in the U.S., wind farms in the UK are being built primarily because of government fiat and huge government-forced subsidies, not because of their true environmental, economic, or energy benefits.  Apparently, the tax breaks and subsidies in the U.S. are even more attractive than those in the UK.

Among other findings, Etherington, according to the review, found that the U.S. Department of Treasury and Department of Energy give "hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to firms (mostly foreign) for wind farms, allegedly to promote job creation and economic activity - even though many of the wind farms had already been built."

Etherington showed that a great chunk of American taxpayer money for turbines, towers and blades goes to other countries, i.e., China. They say, "Thank you."


Back to Econ 101 (Groan)

The basic fact is that no matter how romantic and idealistic it sounds to imagine your electricity being generated by gently twirling blades on wind farms located away from civilization, wind power is simply too feeble for actual people living in actual homes using actual electricity to do actual things like light their homes, power their server banks and write articles extolling wind farms.

As the invaluable Anthony Watts writes, it's "Economics 101. It is impossible to have wind turbines without perpetual subsidies," noting that they make no sense "especially with abundant natural gas costing one-fourth what it did just a few years ago."

And we just don't have the land, frankly, even if we had steady, reliable wind. Watts explains that your average 600-megawatt (MW) coal or gas-fired power plant uses 250 to 750 acres of space to generate power 90 to 95 percent of the year, whereas "a 600-MW wind installation needs 40,000 to 50,000 acres (or more) to deliver 30 percent performance. And while gas, coal and nuclear plants can be built close to cities, wind installations must go where the wind blows, typically hundreds of miles away - adding thousands of additional acres to every project for transmission lines."

If birds and bats could vote, they'd be 100 percent opposed to wind farms. Hundreds of thousands are killed every year by their huge blades, and contrary to the PR emanating from the corporate wind lobbyists, there is no feasible way to stop the carnage. Save The Eagles International reported last month that "in Spain, the ornithological society SEO/Birdlife recently estimated that the 800 Spanish wind farms were killing between 6 [million] and 18 million birds and bats a year. Unlike birds killed by cars and cats, these include eagles and many other rare species."

Okay, if wind farms are culling particularly slow starlings or grackles, we could live with that. But they're killing off rare, protected species. "Eagles have been killed in large numbers by wind turbines, e.g., 3,000 golden eagles over 25 years at the huge Altamont Pass wind farm near San Francisco," reported Iberica2000 recently, noting that "it was built on the very hills where young, transient goldies come from all over California to hunt and interact. This is causing a decline in the California population of golden eagles."

We don't need wind power. We can't afford wind power. It's not doing anything to save the world from global warming. We're losing millions of dollars and millions of birds yearly to a useless technology that's never going to be able to survive in the real world. Remind me why we're subsidizing it again? Oh yeah, that's right -- the corporate wind industry's lobbyists want us to.