Not a Carbon-Free Breeze

By Sarah Ross

Why are Governor Ted Kulongoski and the Oregon Legislature spending millions of dollars pursuing what could prove to be carbon-emitting energy? While Oregon’s commercialization of wind power may appear to be carbon-free, it can bring a hidden carbon footprint.

Because of the unreliable nature of wind power, running a backup energy source is necessary at times when wind is forecasted to generate electricity but fails to do so. While wind is unreliable, demand for electricity is constant. Backup sources must remain running to compensate for any spikes in demand and lulls in wind generation. In many areas, this backup energy source, which is generating emissions but no electricity, comes in the form of carbon-emitting fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas.

In the Pacific Northwest, this back-up energy source has been hydroelectricity. This means that wind power is not actually offsetting carbon emissions, but trading one renewable resource for another instead. The Bonneville Power Administration, the federal power authority for the Pacific Northwest, has announced that hydropower can no longer compensate for wind’s unreliability, and BPA is considering building fossil fuel plants to use as a backup source.

Although wind power may seem to reduce carbon emissions, wind power’s unreliable nature makes these carbon reduction claims questionable. Politicians in Oregon should stop funding wind farms that will effectively create more carbon emissions or simply displace hydropower, a carbon-free energy source.


Sarah Ross is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Posted by at 05:30 | Posted in Measure 37 | 2 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • jim karlock

    But hydro is not renewable according to Oregon rules.

    (The rule were written by idiots!)

    BTW, the head of Oregon’s Climate Change Commission profits from carbon trading. See: sustainableoregon.com/conflictofinterest.html

  • Bob Clark

    I read in the Wall Street Journal, today, wind turbines may be only producing about 16% of their nameplate capacity. The standard is to use 30%, and this helps bring the true cost of wind power after significant subsidy down towards the 5 to 10 cent per Kwh range. The going price for natural gas and coal power plants by comparison is around 5 cents. So, if the average rate of production for wind is only 16% and not the often quote 30%, then wind power actually costs closer to 10 cents than 5 cent KWH. On top of this wind power is not without its own set of enviromental externalities. The wind turbines kill birds, and stringing tens of thousands of miles of new tranmission lines to get the power from the wind generators is not very pleasing to the eye. I would prefer punching a few holes in the outback of far northern Alaska to stringing these transmission wires.

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