Monday, December 24, 2012

For North America, Wind is a Waste of Money

A new report from the American Tradition Institute clearly spells out why big wind is a tragic waste of resources for North America. Even using very generous estimates and assumptions, the report nevertheless reveals that big wind costs at least 2 - 3 X more per unit of energy than more reliable forms of power such as coal, gas, and nuclear.
A fascinating new report by George Taylor and Tom Tanton at the American Tradition Institute called “The Hidden Costs of Wind Electricity” asserts that the cost of wind power is significantly understated by the EIA’s numbers. In fact, says Taylor, generating electricity from wind costs triple what it does from natural gas. That’s because the numbers from the EIA and wind boosters fail to take into account a host of infrastructure and transmission costs. First off — the windiest places are more often far away from where electricity is needed most, so the costs of building transmission lines is high. So far many wind projects have been able to patch into existing grid interconnections. But, says Taylor, those opportunities are shrinking, and material expansion of wind would require big power line investments. Second, the wind doesn’t blow all the time, so power utilities have found that in order to balance out the variable load from wind they have to invest in keeping fossil-fuel-burning plants on standby. When those plants are not running at full capacity they are not as efficient. Most calculations of the cost of wind power do not take into account the costs per kWh of keeping fossil plants on standby or running at reduced loads. But they should, because it is a real cost of adding clean, green, wind power to the grid.

Taylor has crunched the numbers and determined that these elements mean the true cost of wind power is more like double the advertised numbers.

He explains that he started with 8.2 cents per kWh, reflecting total installation costs of $2,000 per kw of capacity. Then backed out an assumed 30-year lifespan for the turbines (optimistic), which increases the cost to 9.3 cents per kwh. Then after backing out the effect of subsidies allowing accelerted depreciation for wind investments you get 10.1 cents. Next, add the costs of keeping gas-fired plants available, but running at reduced capacity, to balance the variable performance of wind — 1.7 cents. Extra fuel for those plants adds another 0.6 cents. Finally, tack on 2.7 cents for new transmission line investments needed to get new wind power to market. The whole shebang adds up to 15 cents per kwh. _Forbes
The report is far too generous to big wind in the real world. The actual lifetime of a big wind turbine is closer to 20 years than 30 years. During that short lifespan, significant funds must be spent for upkeep and replacement of expensive parts that are prone to breakdown.

There exist many other costs of wind power which remain largely hidden and otherwise unaccounted for, due to the underlying irrationality of forcing utilities and ratepayers to accomodate an inherently unreliable form of energy. As we discover how exorbitantly expensive big wind is turning out to be, and how unnecessary the faux environmental turn to the intermittent unreliables -- more and more taxpayers and ratepayers are likely to grow restless and more difficult to contain and control.

Germany, Spain, and California may well serve as test cases -- examples of government instigated high dives by entire societies into the shallow pool of intermittent unreliable energy. As the dependency on unreliable energy grows, the hidden costs to societies become more difficult to hide. Watch and learn.
“Because wind is an intermittent source of electricity, it needs appropriate amounts of fossil-fueled capacity ready at all times to balance its large and rapid variations,” said Tom Tanton, Director of Science & Technology Assessment at ATI and a co-author of the report. “Those primary fossil plants then operate less efficiently than if they were running full-time without wind, meaning that any savings of gas and coal or any reductions in emissions are much less than simple calculations would indicate.” _ATI

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