A Free-Market Energy Blog

Wind Stimulus: Bad Green

By Glenn Schleede -- January 17, 2009

Investment in energy-efficient light bulbs would, in 5 years, save more than 5 times as much energy as an equal investment in a wind turbine would produce in 20 years.

This fact is clearly demonstrated with simple arithmetic!

First, calculate the potential output from a wind turbine. A wind turbine with capacity of 1 megawatt (or 1,000 kilowatts) would cost about $2 million.[1] If that turbine achieved a capacity factor of 35 percent, it would produce 3,066,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity in one year or 61,320,000 kWh over 20 years.[2]

Second, calculate the electricity savings from energy-efficient light bulbs. With energy-efficient light bulbs now selling for about $2 each, $2 million would buy one million light bulbs. Replacing a 60-watt incandescent bulb with a 15-watt energy-efficient bulb providing similar light would save 45 watt-hours in 1 hour. If the bulb were used 4 hours per day, year around for 5 years, the savings from that one bulb would be 328.5 kWh. One million bulbs would save 328,500,000 kWh over 5 years. [3]

Apart from the absolute savings shown, keep in mind that:

• Electricity that is saved doesn’t require building expensive transmission lines.

• Not all the electricity from a wind turbine reaches electric customers, because of line losses.

• The $2 million for a wind turbine doesn’t include the costs for 20 years of operation, maintenance, repair, and replacement.

Further, building “wind farms” creates very few jobs, because an overwhelming share of the capital cost of a “wind farm” is for turbines, blades, and towers that are built elsewhere and imported. Construction lasts only a few months and is done by temporary workers from outside areas. Few permanent jobs are created. Electricity produced is high in cost and low in value because it is intermittent, volatile, unreliable, and unlikely to be available when electricity demand is highest. Wind turbines do not replace the need for reliable generating capacity. They provide few environmental benefits and cause significant environmental, scenic, and property value damage.

[1] Joe Romm, quoted in bloomberg .com, January 15, 2009, “U. S. considers $7.7 billion in grants for green-energy projects.”

[2] That is, 1,000 kW x 8,760 hrs. per yr. x 35% capacity factor = 3,066,000 kWh. 20 yrs. x 3,066,000 = 61,320,000.

[3] That is, 45 x 4 hrs. per day x 365 days x 5 years = 328,500 watt-hours or 328.5 kWh. 328.5 x 1,000,000 = 328,500,000.


  1. MB  

    While a worthwhile comparison, the math is flawed. Having done wind deals, I can tell you that it’s more like $1.7 million for a 1.5MW turbine which translates into 91,980,000 kWh over 20 years at a CF of 35%. Regardless, point made about the power of efficiency.


  2. Bonji  

    Seems to me we should do both. Let the government make the wind investment because they have a lot of capital. Let citizens replace their own light bulbs. No reason to pick either or.


  3. Tom Tanton  

    MB–in today’s market if you can find 1.5 MW turbines for $1.7 million installed you’d be a VERY rich man just brokering deals. With the cost or concrete and steel, for just two items, coupled with PTC and RPS driven price increases, the average cost for wind turbines has skyrocketed in the last 2-3 years. Mr. Schleede’s $2000/kw is close to what turbines are going for and consistent with official EIA figures.


  4. Ernie Gurzler  

    I must object strenuously to your assertion that the federal government or any government has capital. Government has nothing except the power to tax, it has no resources , it cannot provide anything. It must take resources from someone and give it to another. So anything taken from the aggregate capital market by government means another more productive use of that capital goes wanting. See Frederic Bastiat What is seen is What is not seen. Bastiat.org


  5. JP  

    Government does not have a lot of capital. They have diverted capital from the private sector. The most efficient way of finding the best method of energy conservation is through entrepreneurs. The best way to get capital in the hands of entrepreneurs is to not steal it from them in the first place (i.e., taxation).


  6. Joel B.  

    I am also not sure why MB is complaining about the math being wrong, the complaint is like the following conversation.

    “no, your math is wrong, 2+4=6”


  7. Dave  

    It is my understanding that New York has 6 large Wind Projects up and running. Not one of them can produce 20% capacity. There is a study that inland Wind Projects in New York should use 10% capacity. When demand is figured in with the wind 10% is all you get. Lets do the math again. But the Wind Turbine companys can get tax credits for the cost of the whole project.


  8. GTW  

    I cant really comment on the bulbs side, but have been concerned on wind for a long time. In addition to the $ investment there is also energy investment. When one totals up the energy needed to produce all the Al, Cu, Cement etc, plus diesel & gasoline used in construction, plus ocean & land transport to the site & losses in getting KWH out, do we net any energy? I don’t know. I would love to see a thorough analysis.


  9. GTW  

    This cocept is known s EROEI or energy eturn on energy invested. Every energy source has such value. For oil, gas, coal this is very high. Again don’t know for wind. Suspect very low.



    do energy savings consist in efficient light bulbs ?




    How many windmills to produce ALL french electricity ?
    ( you can extrapolate for others Lands )



Leave a Reply