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It's hard to grasp, though, how parts of the plan would be implemented. Assuming all the rights to millions of acres could be acquired and the wind farms built, there's still the problem of wind itself. It doesn't always blow.
A recent study by Cambridge Energy Research Associates found that wind power is least available between June and September, the peak months for electricity consumption.
When the turbines are becalmed, we'll need other power plants - primarily gas-fired ones, which can be started more quickly than other types of generation - to meet demand.
What's more, someone has to pay for building transmission lines to carry the power from the prairies. Guess who? In Texas, the cost of new transmission lines is born by consumers, not the generators.
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Call me crazy, but maybe it would be prudent to stop mandating (not to mention subsidizing and incentivizing) massive wind-energy development and start working out the kinks in wind-energy technology while we figure out what role wind should play in the energy-supply mix. Maybe examine whether wind energy will ever be a reliable, affordable energy source before Congress and the various state legislatures declare it to be a winner, without knowing how things will play out. (Think ethanol.) If not, salmon are the least of our worries.
Driven by record high oil prices, as well as concerns about how burning fossil fuels affects climate change, wind power may continue its upward trajectory. This translates into the potential for growth for wind power companies -- and for their investors as well.
But if you're thinking about investing in this industry, be aware of three risks.
Wind power is more expensive than most people think because they fail to consider the full cost to the utility company. As the percentage of wind power a utility uses goes up, so does the cost.
When wind power is a very small part of a utilities power supply, the ups and downs in supply caused by changes in the weather are similar to the noise caused by ups and downs in customer demand. These are easily managed just by raising and lowering the power output at the utilities other power plants.
But when wind power becomes a more significant percentage of the total power supply, the ups and downs are not easily managed.
Wind farms will have a niche role in generating electricity for Michigan. But their role should not be mandated by legislation.
The economics of wind power will determine if it is viable and cost effective. Mandating or subsidizing a marginal player in the power industry will, in the long run, be costly.
Wind power's chief drawback is obvious: The wind doesn't blow constantly. ...Renewable energy has grown in recent years. And will continue to have a place producing electrical power. But the growth should be at a pace dictated by the economics of production, not by government fiat.
Only George Orwell could have invented - and named - the British Government's Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) that came into operation yesterday. It is the latest in a long line of measures intended to ease the conscience of the rich while keeping the poor miserable, in this case spectacularly so. ...The British Government has been persuaded by the wind turbine manufacturers to commit a third of its annual renewables subsidy to this uniquely inefficient energy source, advertising over hill and dale the cabinet's horror of making a decision on nuclear power. ...If all these fancy subsidies and market manipulations were withdrawn tomorrow and government action confined to energy-saving regulation, I am convinced the world would be a cheaper and a safer place, and the poor would not be threatened with starvation.
Just now, for reasons not all of which are "green", commodity prices are soaring. Leave them. Send food parcels to the starving, but let demand evoke supply and stop curbing trade. The marketplace is never perfect, but in this matter it could not be worse than government action. Playing these games has so far made a few people very rich at the cost of the taxpayer. Now the cost is in famine and starvation. This is no longer a game.
What's telling is that the European interest hasn't wavered even though U.S. federal subsidies for clean energy are slated to expire this year and have yet to be extended. Historically, the federal tax-credits have been make-or-break for the industry. Now, though, it appears other factors weigh more heavily.
EDP is so anxious to expand in the U.S. that it ordered more wind turbines from India's Suzlon this week, even though those Suzlon machines have had technical glitches. The big drivers? State incentives for renewable energy, like those in Texas; a slow but inexorable shift in the U.S. toward cleaner energy; and the high-quality wind resources in the U.S., which dwarf those of Europe (and other parts of the world.)
While wind energy is being wildly supported by many in the U.S., there have always been drawbacks to the performance and costs of these machines. The U.S. has had a heavily subsidized romance with them for nearly 40 years and too few of the state and federal policy makers have taken a close look at what the tens of billions in subsidies have actually done for the taxpayers.
These wind energy programs have made many companies such as Florida Power and Light very wealthy because of the heavy subsidies, tax credits, and accelerated depreciation allowance. Additional benefits come from local taxing authorities. This source of energy remains very unreliable and limited, having produced only about 1% of the nation's energy for decades.
Here's the $36 billion question: Is wind power an expensive distraction or a key ingredient in the global energy cocktail? It all depends how you move the juice. ...Doubts over the real contribution of wind power aren't just an American thing. Energy Tribune recites the entire litany of arguments against wind power, one of Britain's hopes for curbing emissions of greenhouse-gases and meeting ambitious European targets for clean energy. ET's verdict? Wind power is "overblown": Too dependent on subsidies, plagued by technical problems, intermittent, and ugly to boot, threatening to tarnish forever British hills and beaches. (Ask vacationers in Brighton what ugly really is.)
It's true that wind power's development-in the U.S. and elsewhere-relies almost entirely on subsidies. ...And there's little chance wind farms will ever come close to producing 90% of their headline generation capacity, as nuclear does; the best machines in the best spots now offer about a 35% "load factor".
But the real question when computing cost doesn't lie just with the turbines themselves, but rather how to get that electricity onto the grid.
Worldwide opposition to wind power has now reached a crescendo and governments have been forced to respond with new planning regulations which impose the technology, often against huge objection.
Public distaste for wind turbines revolves around landscape impact and concerns about noise and loss of tranquillity, but technical objections are of greater concern. ...The power industry concedes that wind turbines would not be built without unprecedented consumer-sourced subsidy or massive tax breaks.
It is time for the threat posed by intermittent renewables, not least in requiring CO2-emitting coal-fired spinning reserve, to be investigated independently, without political interference.
While it is correct that wind, wave and other renewable energy can save on CO2 emissions synchronizing demand and output to protect the grid comes at a heavy price. In a report by David White, Reduction in Carbon Dioxide Emissions: Estimating the Potential Contribution from Wind-Power, commissioned by the Renewable Energy Foundation, December 2004, White found that, "Fossil-fuelled capacity operating as reserve and backup is required to accompany wind generation and stabilize supplies to the consumer. That capacity is placed under particular strains when working in this supporting role because it is being used to balance a reasonably predictable but fluctuating demand with a variable and largely unpredictable output from wind turbines.
"Consequently, operating fossil capacity in this mode generates more CO2 per kWh generated than if operating normally."
"Man of La Mancha" aside, I have concerns regarding large-scale wind farms anywhere and the idea of locating projects with 15 or more turbines (the Deerfield Wind Project in Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont, is proposing 17) in national forests across the country clearly raises red flags.
These massive towers, more than 300 feet tall with blades approaching 200 feet in length don't grow among the trees in the forest and don't spring up over night. And we can't have trees in the way of the breeze, so either the forest will have to be cleared or we could place these monoliths right on our fragile mountain balds. ...Wind power proponents scoff at concerns of bird and bat mortality. They will often cite other sources like cats, buildings, habitat destruction, transmission lines, etc as having a greater impact regarding birds. This is likely true but it misses a couple of critical points. One is the loss of habitat that would occur with projects like the one in Green Mountain National Forest plus the guy-wires and transmission lines associated with such an endeavor. The second issue is, when we talk about effects that are detrimental to wildlife species we have to think of the cumulative effect. The carnage from wind turbines is in addition to feral cats, buildings, etc. And the number of bird casualties will only grow.
These letters, and a host of others addressing the Cape Wind facility proposed for Nantucket Sound, were published in the Mar 6, 2008 edition of the Cape Cod Times. The Minerals Management Service, a division of the Department of Interior, has released the draft environmental impact statement of the proposed project. Other letters can be accessed by clicking on the link at the bottom of this page.
The $21 billion tax package passed last year by the House of Representatives, then defeated by the Senate, would have done serious harm by stifling production and investment. The proposed taxes would not even go to rebuild our deteriorating national infrastructure; they would simply punish U.S. energy companies and be used on a variety of pork-like, speculative projects favored by some in Congress. ...Sen. Bennett's constituents should know that his vote was crucial in removing these unwise provisions and in moving a more realistic energy policy on to final passage and signature.
Technical professionals are trained to be skeptics, and nothing raises my cynic antennae like fake green, a technology that promises environmental benefits but neglects its excessive financial and environmental costs. ...Take wind power as another example. ...Wind can't be relied on for base loads, and wind velocity often varies inversely with peak power needs.
That certainly is the case here in California. ..."But it gets hot in California when the wind stops blowing, so wind power is least available when you most need it. Some wind power is good, but above about 15%, you have to back up wind power with natural-gas-fired turbines."
Democratic presidential candidates have been stumping for "green collar jobs," contending that workers need federally-funded training to help build the new energy economy and fill the avalanche of work coming to the burgeoning domestic clean-tech and alternative energy sectors. ...There is plenty of enthusiasm about the prospects of work in green industries, though everyone seems to have their own optimistic ideas about the types of work that will arise. ...But low-wage earners and unskilled laborers deserve some honest clarity about how much additional green they can expect to receive in their paychecks when they take those so-called green collar jobs with the lowest barriers to entry. Many of these positions are unlikely to afford them a bridge to high-paying, skilled work. Cleaning a house or hotel room with chemical free products is still working in the hospitality sector.
We all know that nimbyism is the placing of selfish individual wants before the common good. ...Or so the cliché goes, propagated unquestioningly by politicians and the press alike. This week Labour's official environmental lobby group Sera wheeled it out while complaining about what it believes is impeding the spread of wind turbine developments across the country. The problem was caused by "nimby councillors" who opposed planning permission, said Sera. ...The truth is that the values a nimby defends were, until very recently, those which most environmentally-minded people would support. In the face of this prejudice and propaganda, it takes courage to be a nimby. ...The qualities of a particular area will seem insignificant beside the fate of the earth. Set against big, sexy statistics concerning the future of mankind, the future of a moorland, a wood, some fields, a village, will seem puny. But it is not. It is in these places that a nation's soul resides; they are too important to be obliterated in a mood of emotion and anxiety for some nebulous, ill-defined national interest.
Besides the environmental advantages of an RPS, many states are finding an economic incentive. Texas has huge potential for wind energy and business interests there are pushing for it, but other states find the turbines unsightly. ...expensive and disputes the job-creation assertion.
"Proponents of wind energy claim that mandating renewable energy will lead to job creation," Doug Roberts, Jr., the chamber's director of environmental and energy policy, told members of the House Committee on Energy and Technology. "However, proponents usually can't back up these claims with facts.
"For a quick comparison, for under half the cost of a 10 percent renewable mandate, Michigan could build a new nuclear plant (cost $2 billion to $3 billion)," Roberts added. "A new nuclear plant would provide 1,200 megawatts of reliable energy and would create 1,800 temporary construction jobs and 500 permanent jobs.
The greens favour high oil prices because consumers use less of the stuff when it costs more, and because high prices for oil make other forms of energy more competitive. Nuclear power, solar energy, wind power or any of the other substitutes for fossil fuels can become more economically viable only if oil prices stay about where they are - and politicians stump up some generous subsidies, sceptics would add.
Meanwhile, the hunt for the proverbial free lunch is on. The most efficient way to cut the use of fossil fuels is to make them more expensive by taxing them, or the emissions they create. But politicians are as unenthusiastic about transparency in the cost of cleaning up the environment as they are about increasing the transparency of the funding of political parties. So most proposals to cut carbon emissions are built around a single proposition: hide their cost from voters. ...Even the emerging favourite in the United States and Europe, a cap on emissions followed by a trading of permits, is a hide-the-cost device: costs of compliance will be passed on as higher prices. So the blame will go to car makers, supermarkets, electricity utilities, and oil companies, the applause to politicians. All so politicians can avoid the transparent device of a tax on carbon or carbon emissions.