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Wind power - debunking the critics

by Jerome a Paris Sun May 14th, 2006 at 10:20:30 AM EST

In my front paged diary yesterday on wind power, kossack Hudson kindly provided a link to a document (pdf), from greenberkshires.org, that summarises neatly in one place all the arguments used against wind power. Hudson has not confirmed that this is indeed the best case that can be made against wind power, but as s/he repeatedly quoted from the same website, I presume that the content there is viewed favorably and I will thus use that document for a thorough debunking.

In a nutshell, opponents to wind have to resort to highly misleading, bad faith, or simply false arguments.

Here we go, in painstaking detail.

There are at least 10 major reasons why construction of so-called "wind farms" are detrimental to the interests of citizens, consumers and taxpayers and why current efforts to extend or expand federal and state subsidies for wind energy or to mandate use of wind energy should be opposed.

At least things are clear: " detrimental to the interests of citizens, consumers and taxpayers".  We can expect the strongest arguments, then, right?

1) Tax avoidance - not environmental and energy benefits - has become the prime motivation for building "wind farms."

 Perhaps federal and state government officials have not yet recognized how overly generous they have been to "wind farm" owners, or that their largess merely shifts huge amounts of cost from "wind farm" owners to ordinary taxpayers and electric customers.

The enormity of the tax avoidance benefits of "wind farms" can be illustrated by a project planned in Iowa by MidAmerican Energy, an electric utility owned by Warren Buffet's famous company, Berkshire Hathaway. The proposed "wind farm" would consist of 180 to 200 wind turbines, each with a capacity of 1.5 to 1.65 megawatts (MW) and total capacity of 310 MW. (The rated capacity of the project is about the same as Associated's 303 MW Thomas Hill unit #2 but it would be spread over hundreds of acres, it would produce less than a third of the electricity, and it would produce the electricity only when the wind is blowing within the right speed range.)

MidAmerican Energy estimates that the project would cost $323 million, not counting necessary additions to transmission capacity.

"Wind farm" owners enjoy two very generous federal tax breaks:

  • Five-year double declining balance accelerated depreciation (5-Yr., 200%DB), and
  • Production Tax Credit of $0.018 for each kWh of electricity produced during the first 10 years of project operation.
    Since Iowa conforms its state corporate income tax to the federal system, the 5-yr, 200% DB depreciation could also be deducted from otherwise taxable income in Iowa, thus reducing corporate tax liability in that state.

First of all, note that the sentence "their largess merely shifts huge amounts of cost from "wind farm" owners to ordinary taxpayers and electric customers." is false, as it shifts costs ONLY to taxpayers and NOT to electric customers. The USA have made the choice to support wind power via tax breaks, and not via feed-in tariffs or other obligations imposed on utilities that would ultimately bear on electricity consumers, as in most other countries. So the subsidies for wind power take the form of tax breaks. THERE IS NO COST FROM WIND TO RATE PAYERS.

I must also note that I find funny an argument that Americans would dare to take advantage of tax breaks... How unAmerican. How unpatriotic. (Or is it that libruls, being in favor of taxes, should not be allowed to get tax rebates themselves?). Hmmm...

a) Accelerated Depreciation.

The following below shows the tax avoidance benefits at the federal and state (Iowa) level due to a "normal" application of 5-Yr. 200% accelerated depreciation for the owner of a $323 million "wind farm." If this project were placed in service before January 1, 2005, it would qualify for a "bonus" depreciation deduction of 50% of its cost in the first tax year for federal corporate income tax purposes. This means that the full first year depreciation for property qualifying for 5-Yr. 200% DB treatment would be able to deduct from otherwise taxable income a total of 60% of the cost in the first tax year, 16% in the second tax year, 9.6% in the third year and the remaining 14.4% in the ensuing three tax years.

The above is true, but is followed by a table which shows the total amount of depreciation as a tax break, which is absurd. ALL equipment is depreciated, and such depreciation comes against the taxable income. Pretending that the depreciation of wind power equipement is a specific tax break for the industry is malicious and, quite simply, false.

There is a - very real - argument that accelerated depreciation is indeed a tax advantage, but this is not the one made in that paper with the numbers provided. Of course, calculating the actual amount of tax benefit provided is a bit more complex (it's the net present value of pushing some income artificially in the future for tax purposes, which slightly improves your return - but it's a second order benefit, not the massive "tax benefit" purported in the paper.) That would require more technical explanations, for a result unlikely to have much impact. Naturally, that calculation is not provided...

b) Wind Production Tax Credit.

The second very generous federal tax break for wind energy is the wind "Production Tax Credit" which allows a "wind farm" owner to deduct from federal income tax liability $0.018 per kWh of electricity produced commercially during the first 10-years of the project life. This tax credit expired at the end of 2003 but efforts are underway in the US Congress to restore the credit, perhaps retroactively. Unfortunately for ordinary taxpayers, the efforts to restore the credit probably will be successful.
If MidAmerican Energy's proposed 310 MW "wind farm" achieved a 30% capacity factor, it would produce 814,660,000 kWh of electricity each year (i.e., 310,000 kW x 8760 hours per year x .30 capacity factor). Production of that amount of electricity would provide a deduction from federal tax liability of $14,664,240 per year for 10 years, or a total of $140,664,240.

The PTC was indeed extented in late 2004. It is the only federal  support mechanism for the wind industry, and it is one of the stingiest wordwide. For instance, Germany guarantees all wind power producers a price of more than €0.08/kWh for 20 years. If you deduct a typical wholsesale price of electricity of €0.03/kWh, that still makes the German subsidy 3 times higher over a period twice as long.

The PTC is indeed a taxpayer funded support mechanism for the wind industry - an explicit, transparent and pretty small one as things stand.

c) State tax breaks. The State of Iowa also permits local governments to exempt "wind farms" from 70% to 100% of the property taxes that would normally be paid. Tax breaks used by "wind farm" owners mean that the tax burden they escape is shifted to ordinary taxpayers. When considering the magnitude of these tax breaks, it's useful to keep in mind that, according to Mr. Buffett, MidAmerican Energy's total tax payments (federal, state and local) totaled $100 million in 2002 and $251 million in 2003.5 The proposed "wind farm" would significantly reduce MidAmerican's tax liability.

Again, a malicious argument: the amount of the tax break relative to property taxes is never given. Instead, the total tax bill of the utility used as an example is provided, of course suggesting indirectly that these numbers ($100 million or $251 million) are the actual tax breaks that the company gets for its project.

Revenue from electricity sales. In addition to these enormous tax benefits, the owner of a "wind farm" would receive revenue from the sale of the electricity that is produced. If the "wind farm" produced at a 30% capacity factor and the owner were able to sell the electricity for $0.03 per kWh, the annual revenue would be $24,449,400 (i.e., 814,680,000 kWh x $0.03). In Iowa, there is a virtually guaranteed market for electricity produced from "renewable" sources due to the State's "Renewable Set Asides" requirement applicable to investor-owned utilities and "Mandatory Green Power Option" applicable to all utilities. Under the latter requirement, utilities must provide their customers the "opportunity" to purchase the electricity produced from renewables at a premium price.

Imagine that! A power producers that actually gets paid for selling electricity! How outrageous.

Note that actual numbers for tax subsidies are never provided. Lots of big numbers are dropped along, along with outraged comments about the "enormous" tax benefits these "wind farms" (note the scare quotes all along as well) - but no actual hard numbers are provided in summary. Why is that? Because the numbers would look balefully small?


The debate about how subsidized other forms of energy are comes further in the text (briefly).

2) Huge windmills - often taller than the US Capitol -- produce very little electricity.

Due to exceedingly generous tax breaks and other federal and state subsidies, there are more than 20,000 windmills scattered across thousands of acres of land in 30 states. Over 15,000 windmills were built in California during the 1980s due to a generous federal investment tax credit. Many of those windmills have been abandoned. About 88% of the 6,370 megawatts (MW) the currently operable wind turbine capacity is located in six states: California, Texas, Minnesota, Iowa, Washington and Oregon.
If those thousands of windmills average a generous 25% capacity factor, the total amount of electricity produced annually would be 13,950,300,000 kilowatt-hours. That sounds like a lot of electricity. However, that amount of electricity would be:

  • Equal to 36/100 of 1% of the 3,831,000,000,000 kWh of electricity produced in the US during 2002.
  • Much less (13.5%) than the electricity produced during 2003 by Associated's 1,200 MW New Madrid and 1,153 MW Thomas Hill coal-fired generating stations (which stations produced 16,121,059,000 kWh).
  • Less than would be produced annually by four 500 MW base load natural gas fired combined-cycle generating units operating at an 80% capacity factor (14,016,000,000 kWh). Such units would be comparable to Associated's Chouteau and St Francis units. Those units occupy only a few acres and can be located near load centers, reducing line losses and holding down transmission costs.

Note also that, even with the generous tax breaks and subsidies, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) doesn't expect wind to supply even 1% of US electricity by 2025! EIA's ambitious estimate of less than 1% contrasts with DOE's totally unrealistic "goal" of obtaining 5% of US electricity from wind by 2020.

Okay. Wind power produces little electricity as of today. How is that an argument against wind power? Apart from repeating the (unsubstantiated, as we have seen) argument that the tax breaks are "exceedingly generous", this argument has no substance. Wind is bad because it's not big enough yet? Isn't that an argument to build more so that it can actually have an impact? Of course, the idea is to make it appear that wind has already received huge amounts of subsidies, and has little to show for it. But most subsidies for wind are directly linked to actual production, so subsidies will only be paid for actual power generated.

And note again the unrelated casual slurs, faute de mieux (i.e. as a substitute to real arguments): "towers higher than the capitol" (presumably as opposed to coal-fired plants whose chimneys are graceful additions to the landscape...)

3) Electricity from wind turbines has less real value than electricity from reliable generating units, and they detract from electric system reliability.

Wind turbines produce electricity only when the wind is blowing within the right speed range. Today's models may begin producing some electricity at wind speeds of about 8 miles per hour (MPH), reach rated capacity around 33 MPH, and cut out around 56 MPH. Because their output is intermittent, volatile and largely unpredictable, the electricity they produce has less value than electricity from reliable ("dispatchable") generating units. Electricity grids must be kept in balance (supply & demand, voltage, frequency), so one or more reliable, dispatchable generating units must be immediately available at all times to "back up" the unreliable wind generation. The reliable, backup units must ramp up and down to balance the output from the wind turbines. Wind turbines detract from grid reliability and would be of no value in restoring an electric grid when there is a blackout. Wind turbines have virtually no "capacity" value.

This is the "wind is intermittent" argument. As I have written repeatedly, and as numerous studies and the practical experience of several European countries show, the intermittance of wind causes negligible cost to the network until pretty significant volumes of production (no cost until 10% of electricity comes form wind, and very limited costs up to 20%). The fact is that, while it is true that wind power is unpredictable in the very short term, it is actually quite predictable over the medium and long run, and that production can be fully valued - and is.

The best demonstration that this argument is bunk is shown by countries like the UK and Spain that actually impose penalties if you do not deliver (on a daily or an hourly basis) exactly the volume you announced (you pay if you deliver too little AND you pay if you deliver too much). This makes it impossible for windfarms to be profitable selling directly to the market, because of their short term unpredictability. And yet wind farms are being built and thrive in these countries - simply because windfarms sell their output to utilities that have the capacity to manage their overall input into the network - and do it easily. They buy wind power at a lower price than the going rate, and use it at full value. Effectively, that means that the network, usually a public entity, gives away to the private sector (the utilities) the value of the service (absorbing the short term fluctuations of wind power producers) that it can provide easily.

So the argument that wind power is detrimental to system reliability is, quite simply, false, and the argument that wind power has a lower value is just an attempt by traditional producers to capture some of the value of the balancing service the network provides for their own benefit.

The following studies provide various estimates of the cost of intermittance, with a general opinion that it adds about $0.002-0.004/kWh:

  • GE Power systems energy consulting, the effects of integrating wind power on transmission system planning, reliability and operations, draft report phase 1, january 2004 ;
  • California wind energy collaborative, California RPS integration cost analysis phase 1, december 2003 ;
  • ESB national grid, impact of wind power generation in Ireland on the operation of conventional plant and the economic implications, february 2004 ;
  • LEPII-EPE, l'intégration de la production intermittente dans les marchés électriques libéralisés, mars 2003 ;
  • D. Milborrow, penalties for intermittent sources of energy, 2001 ;
  • D. Millborow, the real costs and problems of intergrating wind, 2001 ; Pacificorp, modeling wind energy integration costs, june 2003 ;
  • The Royal Academy of Engineering, the costs of generating electricity, march 2004
  • Ilex consulting, quantifying the system costs of additional renewables in 2020, octobre 2002

back to greenbershires.org document

4) The true cost of electricity from wind energy is much higher than wind advocates admit.

 Wind energy advocates like to ignore key elements of the true cost of electricity from wind, including:

  • The cost of tax breaks and subsidies which, as indicated above, shift tax burden and costs from "wind farm" owners to ordinary taxpayers and electric customers.
  • The cost of providing backup power to balance the intermittent and volatile output from wind turbines.
  • The full, true cost of transmitting electricity from "wind farms" to electric customers. "Wind farms" are highly inefficient users of transmission capacity. Capacity must be available to accommodate the total rated output but, because the output is intermittent and volatile, that transmission capacity is used only part time. The wind industry seeks to avoid these costs by shifting them to electric customers.
  • The extra burden on grid management.

 The argument about transmission capacity is again, blatantly false. Wind farms pay for the construction of the transmission line connecting them to the network, and thus pay for the full capacity they need, even if they only use it part of the time. As for the other arguments, they are just a repetition of the points made previously. How this is a new argument against wind eludes me. But hey, it allows to repeat once more that they get outrageous tax breaks.

5) Claims of environmental benefits of wind energy are exaggerated.

The wind industry likes to claim that electricity from wind offsets emissions that would be produced by fossil-fueled generating units. However, they typically overstate the potential emission offset, ignore the fact that backup generating units must be immediately available and running at less than their peak efficiency or in spinning reserve mode. The backup units continue to emit while in these modes. Also, the generation that may be offset may not be powered by fossil fuels.

This is a repeat of the "wind is intermittent" argument, with the variation that wind capacity must be backed one for one by traditional power. As pointed out above, it is not a correct argument.

As to the emission reductions, I note again that no numbers have been provided, as these would of course be highly embarrassing to the traditional power industry.

The following table comes from an official EU study: External Costs - Research results on socio-environmental damages due to electricity and transport (pdf):

These numbers are explained in great detail in the EU study linked to. Note how the number for coal and gas are worse by an order of magnitude than those for wind. That's the elephant in the room. By investing in wind, you eliminate all these externalities caused by the traditional power sources - externalities which are not reflected in the price of electricity, but are in the quality of your air, global warming and health care costs.

6) "Wind farms" have significant adverse impacts on environmental, ecological, scenic and property values and create potential hazards to health and safety.

Citizens in various states (and other countries) where "wind farms" have been constructed have become painfully aware that - in addition to the high true cost of the electricity -- "wind farms" impair environmental, ecological, scenic and property values. Among the adverse impacts are noise, bird kills, interference with bird migration paths and animal habitat, destruction of scenic vistas and ecological rarities (such as the Flint Hills and Tallgrass Prairie in Kansas), aircraft warning lights, blade "flicker," spoiling the lives of neighbors and lowering the value of properties located near the huge structures.

As there is no substantiation of the arguments provided, I suppose it could enough to say that these arguments have no merit, and that it would be appropriate for the accusing party to provide some kind of proof of its allegations. But hey, here are a few sources debunking these nevertheless:

On birds
Wind power: birds, landscapes and availability
http://www.abcbirds.org/... (American Bird Conservancy)
http://www.audubon.org/... (Audubon Society)

On local impact
See this comment summarising (and linking to) a poll about the attitudes of populations near wind farms in Scotland

On the destruction of scenic vistas
This is the most subjective argument, and oddly enough the only one with serious merit - at least in some places.

On tourism and real estate values
I don't have links to, but have a lot of personal anecdotal evidence form various wind farms I have worked on or studied that tourism is actually usually enhanced by a wind farm. It becomes an attraction in its own right and brings more people. As to real estate prices, i have not seen any evidence either way.

If kossacks or eurotribbers have links to other studies on these topics, I'll add these here.

The interesting point to note is that these are the usual "qualitative" arguments used by opponents of windfarms, and they are given very little play in this paper, although they certainly have a stronger link to reality than all the pseudo-economic points listed above and below.

7) "Wind farms" produce few local economic benefits and these are overwhelmed by the higher costs imposed on electric customers through their monthly bills.

DOE, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the wind industry have falsely claimed that "wind farms" provide significant economic benefits in the areas and states where they are constructed. They often claim benefits from the capital investment, jobs, tax revenues, lease payments to landowners, and "other" economic activities. Sometimes they claim increased tourist traffic.

Again, THERE IS NO HIGHER COST IMPOSED ON ELECTRIC CUSTOMERS THROUGH THEIR MONTHLY BILLS. All the explicit support provided to wind farms gors through tax mechanisms, and not through electricity price mechanisms (which would actually make more sense, but that's another question).

That argument is just blatantly false, but, as usual, some people seem to think (and sadly reality supports that belief) that when you repeat some lie often enough, it becoems true - or in any case it is believed.

In fact, there are few economic benefits and these are overwhelmed by the higher true cost to electric customers and taxpayers of the electricity produced by the "wind farms":

  • The lion's share of the capital investment goes for turbines, blades, towers, electronics and related equipment which are produced in other states and, often, other countries. Little of the money for equipment and supplies would be spent locally.
  • Most of the jobs during construction (which lasts only a few months) are filled by imported workers. For example, only 20 of 200 construction period jobs were filled
    by local workers in the case of the Top of Iowa "Wind Farm" built in 2001. Only 7 permanent jobs resulted.

The top of Iowa wind farm is an 80 MW wind farm. I've written elsewhere that 10 MW of wind power typically create 4 full time jobs, of which 2 local, over the life of the facility. This windfarm seems to be lower (from the numbers provided in this document) - but the ratio between local jobs and outside jobs (1 to 1 in man years) seems correct, considering about one year of construction. Altogether, windfarms create more jobs per kWh produced than other power plants, but power generation is not a labor-intensive industry in any case.

As to capital equipment, it is a bit silly to expect it to be produced locally, but it is indeed helpful if it is produced in the State or the country. And here, things are simple: manufacturers go to places where there is a market. The USA, with its conflicting signals on the PTC, was a terrible market for several years, and manufacturers did not build plants in a country where they did not know if there would be a market the following year. Now that the PTC has been stabilised, expect a lot more investment in domestic production capacity. It won't be located near where the wind farms are built, but it is likely to be created in the States with the most pro-wind regulations.

  • Tax revenues are often small due to generous federal and state tax breaks. Imported workers probably pay income tax in other states.
  • Income from "wind farm" lease payments to landowners would have local economic benefit only if that income is spent or invested locally - which is not likely if the landowners are absentee or the income is invested or spent elsewhere.
  • Increased tourist traffic, if any, from those wanting to see the huge machines is likely to be temporary because they would have only "curiosity value." The money that would be spent or invested locally by those who stay away because of the scenic impairment and other adverse impacts on environmental, ecological and property values could easily exceed the income from temporary visitor interest.
  • There probably will be an increase in demand locally for sand and gravel for the huge concrete bases for the towers and, perhaps, a few other materials and supplies. Some local businesses may see temporary increases in business during construction (e.g., restaurants).

How silly and cheap are these arguments? Wind power is tainted by  absentee landowners and money spent elsewhere by locals? It's like saying that a car dealership brings no economic value to the town it is located because the cars are manufactured elsewhere and the owner spends some of its money on goods from elsewhere? Come on.

As a matter of fact, land leases are a significant source of additional income for farmers, typically 1-2% of electricity sales (in fact, it is funny to see that the argument that only a few benefit from the outrageous amounts paid by wind farm to locals to "buy" them is used in the litterature of some anti-wind websites - and is actually used below in a separate argument).

The "sand and gravel" argument is absolutely stupid. A wind turbine requires small volumes of concrete - 50 to 100 tons for an onshore foundation. I'm pretty sure big traditional power plants use more concrete per MW or per kWh than wind turbines.

These minimal economic benefits will be much more than offset by:

  • First and foremost, the increase in electric customers' monthly bills - because electricity produced from wind is more expensive -- will be many times the economic benefit. If the electricity from MidAmerican Energy's proposed "wind farm" (identified earlier) were to cost only $0.015 per kWh more than electricity from other sources, the extra cost borne by electric customers would be $12,220,200 per year. (Keep in mind that higher costs for electricity mean that less money is available to consumers to spend for food, clothing, shelter, education, medical expenses and other needs, thus lowering economic activity.)
  • The cost of repairing roads damaged by the construction traffic (unless paid by the "wind farm" owner) and the additional cost of government services (e.g., police, fire protection) due to the existence of the "wind farm."
  • Other potential losses of economic activity; e.g., less tourism, less interest in moving to the area if it is one dependent on attracting people for primary or second homes, and the related negative economic impacts.

Again. NO IMPACT ON ELECTRICITY BILLS. In fact, the spikes in gas prices this winter created situations where utilities that had access to wind power did not require to increase their prices, as opposed to those fuelled only by gas or coal...

Road construction is always part of the construction budget of the windfarm, and paid by it.

As to the "cost of government services (police, fire protection) due to the existence of the wind farm", all I can say is: how stupid do they think we are?

In fact:
  • It many cases, it would be cheaper for electric customers to take up a collection and pay landowners not to allow wind turbines on their property!
  • In states such as Iowa where most large "wind farms" are owned by out-of-state companies, there would be a net outflow of wealth (dollars) from the state because of the "wind farm." Because of the high true costs of electricity from wind, the outflow may even be greater per kWh than for electricity produced from imported energy sources.

What stupid tripe. No electricity price impact. No outflow of wealth (dollars).

8) Various other subsidies shift large amounts of cost from "wind farm" owners to ordinary taxpayers and electric customers.

 The wind industry benefits from many other subsidies not mentioned above. These include:

  • DOE funding (now totaling several hundred millions of dollars) for wind energy R&D.
  • Guaranteed markets for electricity (even though the prices are above market) as a result of the insidious "renewable portfolio standards" that are imposed in several states.
  • Additional markets due to mandated purchases of "green electricity" by federal and state government agencies at above market prices - with the costs offset from the agencies' other programs. For example, forced purchases by the military services mean less money available for training, weapons and other equipment.
  • State programs requiring or encouraging electric utilities to offer "green" electricity at premium prices, seldom attract enough "volunteers" to pay the utilities' costs of buying the "green" electricity and administering the program. (The cost not recovered from customers paying premium prices is spread to all other customers.)

The renewable portfolio standards are not imposed in several states, but by several states (you know, democracy: laws are voted in by duly elected representatives, etc...). What they do is force utilities to source a minimum percentage of their electricity form renewable sources, or pay penalties. That does not give any priority to renewable sources. Wind power has a "guaranteed" market for a very simple reason: with no fuel cost, it has the cheapest marginal cost of production of electricity of all power sources, and thus is always dispatched first.

The next argument is basically that any subsidy to wind comes directly from the military budget and weakens the military - and is unpatriotic. Is that really all the arguments they have? And should we start applying that argument to the other energy producers?

As to the green electricity programmes, see this diary: Wind power now CHEAPER for US retail consumers... Green programmes now have waiting lists because they have turned out to be cheaper than normal power which is subject to the vagaries of hydrocarbon prices...

9) The big "winners" are "wind farm" owners and a few landowners who lease their land.

Electric customers and taxpayers are the big "losers." First, as demonstrated above, "wind farm" owners benefit enormously from the generous tax breaks and other subsidies that shift tax burden ordinary taxpayers. "Wind farm" owners also benefit from the revenue from the sale of electricity while shifting costs (e.g., backup generation and transmission costs) to electric customers.
Secondly, a few landowners who lease their land may be "winners" but their neighbors are the "losers." For example, landowners who lease land at the rate of $5,000 per MW of wind turbine capacity would derive income of $500,000 per year. However, if that "wind farm" achieved a 30% capacity factor and the electricity cost consumers only an extra $0.015 per kWh, the extra cost to electric customers would $3,942,000 per year9 or nearly 8 times the income received by the few landowners. That is why it would be cheaper for the electric customers to pay the landowners to NOT allow wind turbines to be built on their land!

To repeat, the big "losers" when "wind farms" are built are the electric customers who pay the higher true cost of electricity produced by the "wind farms" and ordinary taxpayers who absorb the tax burden escaped by the owners.

Just repeating itself once more, with a few contradictions... In 7) above, the benefits to the locals were negligible. Now they are "generous" and "enormous". Oh well...

10) Some in the wind industry and their advocates in DOE may claim that "wind energy" deserves the huge tax breaks and other subsidies because other energy sources have received even larger government-imposed benefits.

Ideally, subsidies for all energy sources would be reduced significantly, but the wind argument is fundamentally flawed because it does not take into account either the existing or potential contribution of wind energy in supplying US energy requirements.

My preliminary estimates indicated that tax breaks and subsidies for wind energy from the first few items in the above list will easily exceed $300 million in 2002 and may be higher in the years ahead. The wind industry's claims that it does not get its fair share of government subsidies should be considered in light of the small contribution that wind is expected to contribute in supplying US energy requirements. This small contribution (despite the enormous growth in subsidies) can be seen in the following table that is based on the Energy Information Administration's (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook 2004.

[table not included from original document]

As the table shows, fossil energy sources (petroleum, natural gas and coal, combined) are expected to supply 84.73% of US energy requirements in 2025 - or 212 times the 40/100 of 1% expected from wind. If wind subsidies totaled $300,000,000 in 2002, the industry's "fair share" argument would suggest that subsidies for fossil energy sources should be at least $63,600,000,000! Clearly, the wind industry's claim is without merit.

Because the subsidies to the rest of the energy sector are? We know about the $28 billion in extra tax breaks for this year under recent royalty exemptions. We know about the $14 billion in additional subsidies from last year's energy bill. We haven't even started to count the cost of military intervention in the Middle East.

In any case, one industry is a mature, profitable one, which has benefitted from tons of subsidies over past decades. The other is nascent industry.

See this, for instance:

Some wind energy advocates have claimed that wind energy could help reduce US dependence on imported oil. That claim is false because very little electricity is produced by oil-fired generating units (less than 3%) and that share is decreasing steadily. Older oil-fired units are being replaced with units using other energy sources (usually natural gas). Oil-fired turbines are used only when required to satisfy peak demand and intermittent wind turbines cannot be counted on to supply electricity during peak periods.

Dependence on natural gas has turned out to be just as bad, if not worse than dependence on oil. And as transport is moved towards electricity based solutions (public transport, plug-in hybrids, even fuel cells), the relevance of wind will increase even as an oil-substitute.

So altogether, we have:

  • "wind will cost you money, bills, taxes, bills, taxes"
  • "wind is small and therefore useless"
  • "wind will cost you money, bills, taxes, bills, taxes"
  • "wind requires outrageous subsidies"
  • "wind will cost you money, bills, taxes, bills, taxes"
  • "wind needs to be backed by 'real' power sources anyway"
  • "wind will cost you money, bills, taxes, bills, taxes"
  • "wind is not good for the locals"
  • "wind will cost you money, bills, taxes, bills, taxes"
  • "wind is unpatriotic"
  • "wind will cost you money, bills, taxes, bills, taxes"

Did you get the point? Do you believe it?

I tried to be thorough.
Please consider supporting the twin diary on dKos: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/5/14/101523/811

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 10:24:00 AM EST
We in the US have been bombarded by information from astro-turf organizations so frequently, that the first thing to do is to see who your opponent really is.

A web search on greenberkshires doesn't reveal much. Their web site gives no information on who the organization is, who are its directors, or how to contribute. In references from other places it is identified as a local organization dedicated to preserving the character of the Berkshires. So it may just be a technically unsophisticated NIBMY group.

I've travelled in the Berkshires frequently, and it is in the midst of gentrification after a long period of decline. It has become a prime spot for vacation homes, with skiing in the winter and cultural activities like the Tanglewood music festival in summer. So, it would not be surprising to find some local anti-development groups springing up.

These NIMBY groups seem to trade misinformation with each other. We know about the efforts of the Kennedys concerning the off shore wind farm near their home. But there is also a movement in upstate NY which makes no sense. The land is not especially attractive, most of what is in the region is faltering dairy farms and there is no prospect for any influx of industry or development.

The only argument not given in the analysis above was to compare the subsidies to wind farms with those to oil/gas and ethanol.

By the way upstate NY is going to build two ethanol plants. One seems to be totally new, but the other will be a converted brewery. How they will be powered was not mentioned in the news stories.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 10:53:18 AM EST
So it may just be a technically unsophisticated NIBMY group.

I think that's an understatement. The main criticisms of wind were all there, but it was terribly written.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 12:54:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, someone already provided the info in my dKos thread yesterday - the guy writing this, and his organisation, are apparently well known fronts for the nuclear and coal industries.

See here: http://www.dailykos.com/comments/2006/5/13/8838/11631/188#c188

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 01:58:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Good post.

I have one question though.

Maybe you have written about it before and I am just to stupid to find it, but anyway.

How do onshore wind power compare with offshore windpower when it comes to the cost of electricity? How much more expensive is offshore?


Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 11:43:23 AM EST
Thanks Jerome for putting  all this together.
Your conclusion leaves no doubt.

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)
by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 12:26:35 PM EST
I don't see why point 9 would be a problem anyway. The broke-since-1920 farmers in Southeastern Colorado who are suddenly able to lease a few acres of worthless sand to Excel Energy aren't complaining. Instead of getting handouts from the government to keep their "farms" "operational" (in quotes because their land is worthless both before and after the handouts), the area is suddenly producing something useful...


Option A:

Option B:

by asdf on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 01:45:11 PM EST
No time to comment further on cher J's excellent deconstruction effort.  Just wanted to say that farmers and other folks make some good money renting bits of land to cell phone companies to situate repeater towers -- that doesn't make cell phone service necessarily a bad idea :-)  nor have I heard NIMBY groups complaining about those cell towers (which admittedly are smaller than wind towers, but do tend to be on high terrain and skylines)...  just a stray thought.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 08:17:46 PM EST
Jerome, you are wrong in saying that the authors of this piece are putting scare "quotes" around words like 'renewable'. Try to explain with the pattern of "quotes" in these quotations, using your "argument":

...electricity from "wind farms" produce few local economic benefits ...
...landowners who lease their land may be "winners" but their neighbors are the "losers."
DOE's totally unrealistic "goal"...
...virtually no "capacity" value.
...lease payments to landowners, and "other" economic activities.

Clearly, they are using many of the "quotes" for "emphasis" in order to display their level of "literacy", or for some "other" innocent reason.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 08:24:27 PM EST

It's like a first-draft deconstructivist essay.
Sorry, de-constructiv-"ist".

by Number 6 on Tue May 16th, 2006 at 09:43:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for an excellent and well-documented critique.
One can only wonder what forms the production and distribution of energy will prevail over the next
few decades, but the nascent trend away from petroleum seems clear.

Hannah K. O'Luthon
by Hannah K OLuthon on Mon May 15th, 2006 at 03:06:27 AM EST
Windmills are prettier than smokestacks.

The most effective argument against windfarms is the aesthetic one- the presence of a windfarm will ruin the view. The danger for us is that this is true- a windfarm is an intrusion into a natural landscape. So we need to change the frame, because the choice is not between nature and windfarms, the choice is between windfarms and coal-fired electric plants.

Windmills are prettier than smokestacks.

This frame is the genuine choice at hand, and that sentance has a clear winner built into it. No way a smokestack (the word implies smoke) can be nicer than a windmill (think bucolic scene from the Netherlands of windmills, tulips and open fields).

Please consider using this in all discussions of wind power. Thanks for the starting point Jerome.

by US Blues on Mon May 15th, 2006 at 09:22:50 AM EST
"The Netherlands? So what are you smoking, Cheech?"

But seriously, good idea.

(And now I have to go look up "bucolic". Curse you Americans and your showy vocabulary! :) )

by Number 6 on Tue May 16th, 2006 at 09:52:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
pwn3d! Nicely done all!
by Number 6 on Tue May 16th, 2006 at 10:09:00 AM EST

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