This is part two of a two part series. You can read part one here.
In the comments section of a recent article we wrote on Federal approval for the construction of 130 wind turbines off Cape Cod, Jerry Graf wrote a particularly analytical and we felt worthy reply, so good in fact that we invited Jerry to expand on his thoughts and write a guest piece for us. This he has kindly done and the following, published in two parts today, is his analysis not just of the Cape Wind Project but wind power in general in North America.
As another example of an economically non-viable project, a similar analysis can be made for the Great Lakes Wind Energy Pilot Project plan to place wind turbines offshore in Lake Erie near Cleveland. This projected 20 MW system will really generate 6 MW on an average basis, translating to 42.2 GWh/year, or a revenue return of $2.1 million per year. Operation and maintenance costs are projected to be just under $4.6 million per year, meaning that the $92 million investment will be completely lost, and losses will compound every year the wind turbines are in operation. It is notable and disconcerting that a large portion of the Great Lakes Wind Energy Feasibility Report is devoted to proposals to make the project appear viable with public spending to cover the investment losses and inflated electric rates for “renewable energy to pay the operating costs and attract investors. Other similar cases, big and small, can be found for land based wind turbine projects throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania, and other locations; and all are equally wasteful and ineffective.
Other than the waste itself, the real problem with expending resources subsidizing non-viable wind turbine projects is that this diverts resources from other efforts to improve our energy production strategy. Because of recent events, we are seeing quite a few emotional comments lately regarding the need to reduce US dependence on oil; and the recent tragic spill in the Gulf of Mexico is being used to justify investment in wind energy projects. However, it is reasonable to point out that, per the DOE EIA, oil is used to generate less than 1% of the total electricity used in the USA so one can effectively say that oil has nothing to do with the generation of electricity. Unfortunately, by increasing the cost of electricity, it is likely that we will make it more difficult to transition away from oil for the main reasons we do use oil, home heating and gasoline powered automobiles. Also, in the rush to promote wind generation, development and improvement of other more viable means of energy generation are being ignored. Instead of diverting resources to prop up wind projects we could be improving natural gas, nuclear, and coal generation. We could also be improving the distribution system (grid) to reduce losses and improve reliability. Further, by subsidizing and offsetting the current deficiencies of wind generation, we take away the incentive to make the necessary improvements that might make it viable in some cases in the future.
There are real reasons to oppose the subsidized rush to wind power generation that are not at all related to not-in-my- backyard (NIMBY) or other subjective arguments. It is necessary to ask the right questions and demand the right answers. The questions of “Who is going to pay? and “What are the real costs? are critical.