President Donald Trump has come under fire from wind-energy advocates for comments he made during a recent speech in Cedar Rapids. While promoting his “America First” energy plan, Trump stated, “I don’t want to just hope the wind blows to light up your homes and your factories … as the birds fall to the ground.”
Predictably, wind advocates and liberal news outlets were quick to point out that 36.5 percent of the electricity generated in Iowa in 2016 came from wind — the highest percentage of any state — and they took issue with his comment about birds. However, these criticisms are missing the point. Wind energy is less reliable and more expensive than coal or natural gas, and despite high rates of wind power, carbon-dioxide emissions have increased in Iowa at a time when they have fallen in 33 other states.
All these factors raise the question: What does anyone gain from subsidizing wind power?
Most of Iowa’s electricity needs are met thanks to coal-fired power plants, which accounted for 47 percent of all the electricity generated in the state in 2016. (Nuclear accounted for approximately 9 percent and the remainder was powered by natural gas.)
Coal is the primary means of generating electricity in the Hawkeye State because the average wind turbine in Iowa produces electricity only approximately 34 percent of the time. Whether Iowa gets large amounts of electricity from wind power is immaterial; the turbines sit idle 66 percent of the time, and when they are idle, coal shoulders the load. Trump was 100 percent correct to say coal, not wind, keeps the lights on in homes and factories.
Wind is also much more expensive than traditional forms of power, such as coal and natural gas, because of high construction and maintenance costs. Electricity generated from wind is 2.7 times more expensive than electricity produced at existing coal-fired power plants and greater than 3.1 times more expensive than existing natural-gas plants.
Further, claims suggesting wind power is somehow cost competitive with coal and natural gas are pure fantasy — unless one factors in the generous tax credits lavished on wind producers. The federal government grants wind producers federal tax credits of 2.4 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), and the state of Iowa provides an additional 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour generated on wind farms. In total, the tax credits reaped are 3.9 cents/kWh. It is these tax credits, not the inherent economics of wind turbines, that stimulate growth.
You don’t have to take our word for it, either. Warren Buffett, the world-famous owner of Berkshire Hathaway and MidAmerican Energy, which owns the largest wind farms in Iowa, once candidly stated: “On wind energy, we get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”
How is it that wind advocates consider wind a “sustainable” form of energy when it is hopelessly dependent on transfusions of funds in the form of federal and state tax incentives for financial solvency?
Adding insult to injury, despite having the highest percentage of electricity generated from wind in the country, Iowa’s carbon-dioxide emissions increased by 5.2 percent from 2000 to 2014. During the same period, 33 other states saw their CO2 emissions decline. Isn’t reducing CO2 emissions the whole point of building wind farms in the first place?
Iowa is a national leader in wind power, ranking in the top 3 nationally for capacity, power produced and number of turbines. Kelsey Kremer/The Register
While the Washington Post and the wind lobby jumped on Trump’s comments about birds, there are far more serious issues regarding wind energy that are not being discussed, and that is truly a disservice to the country.
Regardless of whether wind turbines kill more birds than cats, buildings, or other forms of energy, we need to talk about why wind is not a benefit to electricity consumers and repeal policies that promote the expansion of wind and solar at the expense of more-affordable, more-reliable options.
Isaac Orr is a research fellow specializing in energy and environmental policy at the Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank founded in 1984. Fred Palmer is a senior fellow for energy policy at the institute. Contact: IOrr@heartland.org