The much touted benefits of wind come with a fatal caveat: industrial wind turbines–suffering from intermittency, low average-usage factors, remote siting, relatively high (and all-up-front) costs–are uneconomic. So the fact that the Wind industry creates jobs and can piggyback on consumer-chosen, taxpayer-neutral, baseload power is no consolation.
The starting point of economics is that wants exceed resources. Market prices are therefore needed to allocate resources. Out of a wide range of technical possibilities (including wind-produced electricity), only a small subset is economic desirable as well. Think of a bullet train from Los Angeles to New York City–technically possible but uneconomic when compared to air travel. Only freely acting consumers in a government-neutral marketplace can decide the difference.
The new study cosponsored by the American Wind Energy Association, Electricity Markets, Reliability, and the Evolving U.S. Power System (full study; press release) basically concludes that an uneconomic resource can coexist with economic resources, at least to a point.
Yet the authors conclude that “market forces” are somehow independent of wind’s major distortions, such as ruining the economics of baseload generation through must-take and tax-credit subsidies. The AWEA press release reads:
“The transformation now under way in the electric power system is driven primarily by market forces,” said Susan Tierney, senior advisor, Analysis Group, and one of the authors of the report, along with Analysis Group Principal Paul Hibbard. “Low natural gas prices, technology changes, and flat demand for electricity have been putting financial pressure on and leading to the retirement of older, less economic power plants. This is a natural consequence of market competition. The result is a more diverse set of energy resources on the grid that is being capably managed in a way that provides reliable electric power.”
As if wind power was just another beau at the ball….
An Analogy of Wind’s Ruse
One searches for an analogy to capture the problems of wind power in relation to the findings of this study. Here is mine.
Assume a certain transportation vehicle was deemed “clean” and therefore preferable, despite being unsuitable for the market. First, this alternative car is more expensive. Second, the car’s propulsion system is intermittent. It has a trick motor that does not work in predictable ways. (A third problem is that all the of costs of these vehicles are fixed and incurred up-front, as opposed to regular cars whose costs unfold more over time.)
What we will now call the Crony Car (CC) is government-subsidized per mile traveled–so much so that the owners take it out for a spin although it is not really needed. And then there is a second government subsidy: The roads not only have to acceept unreliable Crony Cars, the regular (free-market) cars have to tow and otherwise assist the Cronies to ensure their continuous operation.
Yes the Cronies log miles. Yes, intermittency is overcome. But at what cost to the regular cars? And at what cost to those that depend on transportation service?
What About Wind Environmentalism? (Michael Hutchins)
Not a single word about the environmental impacts of large, commercial wind turbines and solar arrays and their associated power lines and towers, which are killing tens of millions of ecologically and economically important birds and bats annually, as well as altering important wildlife habitats.
When it comes to wind energy, siting is everything, and regulators are giving it precious little attention.
Wind Power’s Secret Job Numbers (Lisa Linowes)
“The wind industry claims it provides 105,000 jobs in the U.S. (up from 85,000 jobs in 2015), but validating this figure is impossible given that the industry remains the primary source of wind-related employment statistics.
In 2016, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics could only report employment of 4,220 in the wind electric power generation sector (NAICS 22115) compared to fossil fuel and nuclear which collectively employed 142,240 persons. We’ll have to ask the American Wind Energy Association where we can find the other 100,000 jobs.”
– Lisa Linowes, Executive Director, Industrial Wind Action Group
Wind’s Variability Problem (Kent Hawkins)
This study claims that variability and uncertainty are nothing new for grid operators and changes in wind output are canceled out by other offsetting changes in electricity supply and demand. But properly analyzed, renewable energy sources substantially increase the variability to which the rest of the electricity system must respond (see here, Tables 1 and 2).
– Kent Hawkins, contributor, MasterResource
Wind Requires Special Backup (Kent Hawkins)
This study claims that no extra backup needs to be added since the inherited (nonwind) system provides backup and most sources of variability cancel each other out, having a dedicated backup source for each would be highly inefficient and counterproductive. However, wind uniquely needs almost 100% duplicate (backup) generation resources (see here, Figures 5 and 6). The backup that is needed for all the rest of the system is in the operating reserve.
– Kent Hawkins, contributor, MasterResource
AWEA’s Press Release as Misdirection (John Droz)
Some quick comments about the AWEA press release:
1 – On that page it appears that AWEA advocates market-driven electricity solutions. We know that this is total hypocrisy as wind energy only exists due to the PTC and various state RPS mandates.
2 – AWEA repeatedly promotes diversity as a good thing. However diversity is only beneficial if all the choices are reliable and economical. Adding high-cost, unreliable electricity sources (e.g. wind and solar), are not a net asset to the grid or ratepayers.
3 – They disparage base load — yet acknowledge that wind+gas amounts to a base-load equivalent. That has been our position since day one, so it’s good that AWEA finally accepts this. So, whenever AWEA talks about replacing coal, their comparison (cost, CO2, etc) should be to wind+gas, and NOT to just wind alone. Our mantra is: there is no such thing as wind by itself.
4 – AWEA continues to make unsupported claims about CO2. The fact is that there never has been a scientific study that has concluded that wind energy saves any consequential amount of CO2.
5 – More importantly, there never has been a scientific analysis that has concluded that industrial wind energy is a Net Societal Benefit. What sense does it make to simply switch from one set of problem to another?