November 11, 2005

More cons than pros

Kristin Calkins Rowe wrote in the Burlington (Vt.) Free Press ("Wake up on wind power," Nov. 7, 2005), "It doesn't take a genius to figure out there are more cons than pros in this debate." The most glaring cost of big wind is the industrial development of rural and wild areas, which inarguably degrades rather than improves our common environment. That is impossible to justify if the benefits claimed by the industry's sales material are in fact an illusion, propped up by subsidies and artificial markets for "indulgence credits" which allow the flouting of emissions caps and renewable energy targets.

Why do utilities generally support wind as a renewable power source?

Actually, they don’t. In Japan, as reported by Asahi Shinbun on May 18, 2005, utilities severely limit the amount of wind power on their systems, because, as documented above, "introducing too much of the electricity, whose supply can fluctuate wildly, can cause problems for utilities' power grids. ... If there is no wind, the utilities must rely entirely on other facilities. And even when wind power can satisfy all of the demand, they must continue operating thermal generators to be ready for any abrupt shortfalls in wind power."

With the movement away from vehicles such as the Clean Air Act, which actually reduced emissions, to so-called market solutions such as renewable portfolio standards (RPS), utilities must buy a specified proportion of their power from renewable sources or buy credits equal to their shortfall. As long as they can say that, for example, 20% of their power comes from wind, it doesn't matter if they're burning as much nonrenewable fuel as ever to back it up. Most importantly, however, "green credits" are generated in addition to actual electricity. They are an echo of the renewable energy already sold that is given as much, or even more, value than the real thing. Burdened with the directive to buy renewable energy, utilities want to be a part of wind power development so they can share in the lucrative sale of the credits.

Ironically, analyses for New Jersey utilities and by the U.S. Energy Information Agency have shown that the only effect on emissions that an RPS might have is to drive down the cost of exceeding emissions caps or missing renewables targets.

With rising fuel prices, however, many utilities have started to demand actual useful energy targets from wind facilities. As Renewable Energy Access reported on Nov. 7, 2005, from an American Wind Energy Association financing workshop in New York City, this has worried investors. Wind turbines produce only the very marketable appearance of green energy, not actual relief from other sources.

[Read the rest of this paper at]

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