PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — West Virginians whose jobs have fallen victim to the attacks on reasonably priced electricity provided by coal-fired power plants are all too familiar with the praise heaped on allegedly less harmful energy sources such as wind. But in states where lawmakers welcomed the wind-energy industry with open arms, there is a different story.
“What we’ve got in this state is a time bomb just waiting to go off,” said Frank Robson, a real estate developer from northeast Oklahoma.
Complaints against the wind-energy industry range from too-powerful lobbying groups, which resist reform efforts, to the dangers posed to wildlife. As wind farms grow and move closer to populated areas, residents realize they are surrounded by noise and light pollution. They, too, mourn the loss of their beautiful scenery.
Wind-energy has turned landscapes in Oklahoma into a “giant industrial complex,” according to Robson.
But the political clout of the wind-energy industry, combined with the enormous tax breaks and subsidies it has received, means it is also costing the states big time.
In Oklahoma, subsidies are expected to be more than $40 million this year, and wind turbines were under a five-year local property tax exemption the state put in place to compete with neighboring Kansas.
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs is begging for an end to her state’s subsidies for wind energy, saying “It’s time for wind to stand on its own two feet.”
In state after state, however, lobbyists have put enough pressure on lawmakers that efforts to add even basic regulation of the industry or eliminate subsidies have died on statehouse floors.
There are already 327 wind turbines in West Virginia. In fact, as early as 2003, the Mountain State was one of only nine states that collectively produced 95 percent of the nation’s wind energy. Our state has not buried its head in the sand when faced with the need to diversify domestic energy sources.
But, as states such as Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas are discovering, there is no such thing as free electricity – in addition to the financial costs, there are political and environmental costs associated with even the most renewable sources. And politicians are beginning to see the truth that executives of renewable energy companies are just as invested in the success of their corporations as those who run coal companies. The struggle for that kind of power will go on no matter what source of energy the politicians back next.