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I'm all in favor of increased wind use, but...

1. A 20 year lifespan for the plants makes for an unfair comparison. Conventional power plants last much longer. There are coal/oil plants in the NYC area which are 50-75 years old and still in daily use. Even the local nuclear plant which was built to last for 40 years is pushing to be allowed to operate another 40 years.

So for a full lifecycle comparison you need to add in replacing worn wind turbines several times during this span. Given how much simpler wind generators are compared to fossil fuel plants, especially when you include the cost of fuel transport infrastructure and waste disposal, the construction cost seems out of line. The electric generators are of similar design and a big propeller is much cheaper than a furnace. So why are wind farms so costly? I see gouging going on by the suppliers. In other words they are pricing their equipment to be competitive against conventional generators. This is an instance where some government sponsored competition might prove beneficial.

  1. Feed-in tariffs are designed to make bankers happy (sorry Jerome). The recent history of the energy markets has seen a shift away from long-term fuel supply contracts, until we got to the extreme of Enron where pricing was on an hourly basis. I don't see the other players in the field going along with such a model. As long as wind remains an insignificant part of the total capacity there won't be any resistance, but if it starts to make a real dent you can expect to see opposition from conventional energy suppliers who will claim that this is an unfair government-mandated subsidy.

  2. It is certainly true that putting a price on externalities will make renewables more competitive, but economists have no good models for pricing non-renewable resources and so the policy decisions are not based upon any theoretical foundation. The prices charged for permits are more influenced by political considerations than anything else.

  3. I'll repeat my usual mantra. No realistic amount of renewable power is going to become available in the next several decades. By realistic I mean enough to cause a substantial change in carbon emissions. Even an increase to 20-30% of world generating capacity will only compensate for the increased demand to be expected from the additional 3 billion people we will see populating the world. Instead of making things better all that will happen is that they will get worse more slowly.

  4. The only solution is a change in our social/economic system away from consumerism and consumption-driven, raw material based, capitalism. As I've said many times before, I have no idea what a new system should look like, I just know that if no one is willing to contemplate such ideas we won't come up with anything. All efforts these days are devoted to re-inflating the capitalist bubble as quickly as possible. We need some new thinking, unconstrained by "conventional wisdom".


Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape
by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Sun May 3rd, 2009 at 11:01:59 AM EST

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