A Free-Market Energy Blog

Worldwatch Institute’s Case Against the PTC (1984 vs. 2014)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- November 21, 2014

“Tax credits have been essential to the economic viability of wind farms so far, but will not be needed within a few years.”

 – Christopher Flavin, “Electricity’s Future: The Shift to Efficiency and Small-Scale Power,” Worldwatch Paper 61, Worldwatch Institute, November 1984, p. 35.

“Wind is competitive in more and more markets. But anytime there is uncertainty about the production tax credit, it all stops.”

– Letha Tawney, Worldwatch Institute. Quoted in Eduardo Porter, “A Carbon Tax Could Bolster Green Energy,” New York Times, November 19, 2014.

Christopher Flavin, president emeritus of the Worldwatch Institute, please call your office. Letha Tawney, Acting Director of the Charge Initiative, the Worldwatch Institute’s “signature renewable energy initiative,” please call your office.

The two of you need to conference. Thirty years ago, one of you said that wind power was ready to go it alone, to break away from the taxpayer. The other said just this week that with wind power’s was becoming competitively viable–but that the production tax credit (PTC) was still needed.

What’s going on?

Could it be that there are inherent problems with using such a dilute energy source to make electricity? That intermittency makes wind power unsuitable for on-grid, all-the-time-on power? That the long awaited competitive viability of wind power is a mirage?

Wind power is not an infant industry. It is not an energy source whose time has come. It is an inferior, obsolete energy source in the fossil-fuel era for fundamental reasons. “How is it that wind, with a 4000-year head start, is such a small player in the energy scene?” asked Howard Hayden. “Could it be—just possibly—that the answer has something to do with physics instead of economics and politics?” [1]

What will Worldwatch and like organizations be saying in 2044 to go along with 1984 and 2014? Chances are it will be that wind power still needs special government favor, cronyism, to compete.


 [1] Howard Hayden. Quoted in Michael Economides, “The Rhetoric and Reality of Renewables,” August 15, 2011.