The Trouble With Wind

Wind power would be great, if it worked. Unfortunately, it doesn’t; not well enough to fuel the industrialized world, anyway. The Science and Environmental Policy Project’s The Week That Was notes:

In much of the Northern Hemisphere early March is noted for its winds, there is even a Hummel figurine titled March Winds. It appears that this March the winds may be blowing ill for the wind industry. There are two new studies from England about using wind power to replace coal plants to be shut down in order to reach carbon dioxide emission reductions mandated by the European Union, particularly the targets under negotiation for 2050. Both studies conclude that using wind power to achieve these goals is needlessly expensive.

One study, “Powerful Targets: Exploring the relative cost of meeting decarbonisation and renewables targets in the British power sector,” is by AF-Mercados Energy Markets International. It states that: “Without carbon dioxide reduction targets there would be no renewable or new nuclear.” It goes on to state: “If our only policy driver is to reduce carbon emissions, then the lowest cost way of meeting our emissions targets requires a mixture of gas and nuclear new build. Coal has no place in this least cost scenario – because of its emissions. Nor has wind, either onshore or offshore – because of its additional cost.”

The second study, a more detailed report by energy economist Gordon Hughes, now a professor of economics at University of Edinburgh, was prepared for the Global Warming Policy Foundation. The title asks: “Why Is Wind Power so Expensive?” This report estimates the cost of using wind to meet the 2020 emission standards is some £120 billion for wind turbine and back-up. While using gas-fired combined cycle gas plants alone, it would be £ 13 billion. No doubt advocates will quibble about the numbers, but even an obtuse Member of Parliament should understand there is some difference in magnitude between these numbers.

When estimating the cost of wind power, few studies take into account the enormous cost of back-up to wind, which is critical to provide reliable electricity. Professor Hughes does and therein is much of the enormous cost. Perhaps one day, affordable, reliable back-up, other than pumped hydro, will be available on a commercial scale, but it is not available today. The continuing bankruptcy of alternative energy companies in the US, with US loan guarantees, illustrates what happens when government policy is based on illusionary technology rather than one that actually exists.

What a novel idea–the government should base its energy policies on technology that actually exists! That is common sense, of course, but common sense is deeply unpopular with the Obama administration, since the whole idea of its crony approach to energy policy is to force taxpayers to subsidize technologies that otherwise would not exist in the marketplace. That, after all, is how the government can earn the maximum gratitude, in the form of campaign contributions, from its uneconomic cronies.