Beyond the spin: The truth about wind energy generation

Lance Brown Contributor
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Since President Obama’s energy strategy meeting with Senate leaders has been postponed, the future of energy legislation remains unclear.

It is clear, however, that when the administration does meet with Congress, they need to develop a plan that will allow the United States to seek reliable and affordable power without damaging our ecosystems or precious natural resource base. As I’ve written many times, a “one-size-fits-all” approach will not work because reliability, cost, and/or the environment could potentially be jeopardized if we only seek to use one or two sources. The Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy (PACE) believes that discussions about any particular resource must include consideration of the resource’s cost, reliability, and cleanliness.

Based on these guidelines, an energy plan that is heavily reliant on wind-generated energy is not realistic. Although wind energy is clean and abundant in a few states like Colorado and Texas, it is not reliable or affordable for the majority of the country.

According to recent data by the Institute for Energy Research, only 1.8 percent of America’s energy comes from wind, because wind energy is difficult and expensive to transmit to the grid. For much of the country, wind is simply unavailable. If the wind blows enough to provide power, it often blows at night when energy demand is lowest. Since wind power cannot be stored, the power generated is useless as generators must be shut off or there will be risk of a power surge. Further, wind farms are often situated in mountainous or sparsely populated areas, which can make transmission unwieldy and cost as much as $15 per megawatt hour, according to the Heritage Foundation.

These factors have made our neighbors across the pond turn their back on wind energy. In the United Kingdom, for example, the National Grid actually pays wind farms to turn off their turbines and halt energy generation, according to an article published last week in the Telegraph. Since the energy cannot be stored, shutting down the grid is the only option when demand is low. The National Grid paid Scottish Power 13,000 euros—or almost $16,000—for a one-hour test shutdown of the company’s wind turbines, but the high cost is preferable to wasted energy filling the grid.

The problem, however, is that the UK’s energy companies do not just absorb these costs and continue to provide power to consumers. The costs are reflected in the consumer’s electricity bill. The Telegraph reports that the UK’s energy consumers are paying the equivalent of $1.22 billion annually to subsidize wind power and other renewable energy sources.

Again, UK’s consumers pay $1.22 billion for wasted power that they don’t even use. When you consider the size of the UK in comparison to the U.S., we can expect to see even greater amounts of money wasted on energy here at home should wind usage be forced upon us.

The goal of converting to an energy plan relying heavily on renewable sources is noble, but comes with a hefty price tag. With so many clean resources available—including nuclear power and natural gas—we shouldn’t force states to generate power from particular sources mandated by the federal government. Although the use of wind energy may make sense in a given state, it doesn’t make sense as a primary source of power nationwide.

As the energy debate continues, PACE urges Congress to examine all available resources on their reliability, cost, and environmental merits.

Lance Brown is executive director of PACE.