The Wind Energy Fiasco, Writ Large

Until such time as electricity can be stored at scale, wind energy is a terrible idea. Across the U.S., wind turbines produce electricity approximately 40% of the time. That means they are unreliable. Since we expect the lights to go on 100% of the time, we need enough reliable energy sources–coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric–to meet peak load. Which means that wind energy is inevitably an expensive sideshow. Why do wind farms exist? Solely because of government subsidies. Warren Buffett, one of the largest wind farm investors, said:

[O]n 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.

If wind turbines are a bad idea, enormous wind turbines are worse. It is not good news that GE has announced the biggest wind turbine ever. How big is it? A bit shorter than the Eiffel Tower. And it is intended for offshore placement:

GE Renewable Energy will invest more than USD 400 million over the next three to five years to develop and deploy the largest, most powerful offshore wind turbine – the Haliade-X 12 MW.

Featuring a 12MW direct drive generator and a capacity factor of 63 percent, the Haliade-X will produce 45 percent more energy than any other offshore turbine available today, the company said.
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Towering 260 meters (853 feet) over the sea, more than five times the size of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, the Haliade-X 12 MW carries a 220-meter rotor.

This graphic puts the size of GE’s new turbine in perspective:

GE describes the capacity of the Haliade-X:

One Haliade-X 12 MW can generate enough clean power to supply 16,000 European households according to wind conditions on a typical German North Sea site. Based on a 750 MW windfarm and an estimated AEP, the Haliade-X 12 MW could produce enough power for up to 1 million households.

At 12 MW apiece, it would take 63 of these monsters to constitute a 750 MW wind farm. How they would be placed in the ocean, I don’t know. If it happens, it will be an engineering marvel. I suppose they would need to put lights on the rotors to warn low-flying aircraft, but that won’t help the sea birds. And even if someone installs 63 of these beasts in the North Sea, it won’t permit retirement of any conventional power plants, since the wind turbines will be useless whenever the wind doesn’t blow, or blows too hard. This is the kind of crazy project that can be explained only by the existence of massive subsidies for government cronies.

My state, Minnesota, has relentlessly promoted “green” energy in the form of wind. At least $15 billion has been spent on wind turbines and transmission lines, to virtually no effect, apart from the fact that electricity rates here have risen 23% faster than the national average. Taxpayers and ratepayers have been fleeced, and government cronies and utilities have profited handily.

My think tank, Center of the American Experiment, is the only group that has taken on the state’s feckless “green” energy policies. You can read our report, co-authored by Steve Hayward, here. Currently, we have billboards up across southern Minnesota, the area where wind farms are located. (No one develops wind farms in or near wealthy suburbs. Instead, they are located in rural areas and billions are spent on transmission lines to carry electricity to where it is consumed.) This is one of our billboards:

We also have radio ads playing across the state. This one will start tomorrow. It plays on the fact that, along with its other defects, wind energy is terrible for the environment:

The day may come when wind and solar energy are good ideas. If so, great. We will know that time has come when they are installed without government subsidies.

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