Wind Energy Can’t Stand Alone

A new Cascade Policy Institute–Reason Foundation study finds that wind energy is not suited to be the lone or primary source of a grid’s total electricity, due to its variable nature. If used to produce more than 10-20 percent of a system’s electricity, wind power increases operating costs because it requires expensive storage facilities or continuously available carbon dioxide-emitting backup power generation facilities.

In the Pacific Northwest, the backup to wind power has been provided by the Columbia River hydro system. However, hydroelectricity has even less carbon dioxide associated with it than does wind power. Displacing hydropower from the grid in favor of wind is actually a step backwards from the standpoint of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Two factors drive Oregon’s policy preference for wind power: subsidies to producers and Senate Bill 838’s Renewable Portfolio Standards. The Renewable Portfolio Standards force large utilities to procure 25% of their total power from politically designated “green power” sources by 2025. Both policies amount to a multi-billion-dollar tax on ratepayers, with net negative benefits for environmental quality.

As this study shows, policies favoring wind power are a mistake from both an environmental and an economic standpoint. Oregon legislators should repeal SB 838 and all wind power incentives in 2013.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Energy | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • DavidAppell

    Who funded this study?

  • valley person

    Given that our hydro system is and will remain the primary source of electricity, and that wind is not projected to be more than 20%, what is Mr Charles point exactly?

    • Bob Clark

      Oregon utilities have a mandate to get 25% of their power from renewables (as indicated in the article) with the belief wind power can provide most all of it. But we’ve already reached a point where wind power is forcing surplus hydro-electricity to be wasted (run past turbines without the generation) in favor of the higher cost wind power. The federal hydro power system for some odd reason is not thought of as renewable power according state and federal laws. As a result, Corporate/federal government, Blumenauer-like cronyism eating off federal subsidies is building and dispatching generating resources inefficiently.

      • valley person

        Well, if 80% were most all of it, that would amount to 20% total from wind, leaving the rest for solar and wave and maybe geothermal.

  • valley person

    Another small point. “Conservatives” are always complaining about the subsidies to renewable energy, but never seem to get around to acknowledging that the federal hydropower system was brought to us by the federal government, and the rates we pay are still to this day highly subsidized.

    Doesn’t this at least suggest the possibility that wind energy that one day provides 20% of our electricity will be equally taken for granted by the next generation?

    • Bob Clark

      The federal power system is not subsidized but is a self financing federal enterprise; selling surplus power on the secondary market and selling the rest at cost. It makes yearly debt payments back to the U.S treasury. Most all utilities as the federal hydro-power system carry large debt, and like other utilities it also must repay and refinance debt. If anything, the federal power system is actually being penalized for an inept environmental policy handed down by a know-it-all judge which wastes large amounts of the hydro-power system and requires other environmental transfer payments to keep the environmental country club of lawyers fully employed. Conservatives actually tried to privatize the federal hydro system so the federal government could reduce its debts, but politicians couldn’t have such efficiency; but rather endeavored to milk the federal hydro system for other purposes. (Hatfield could be rather RINO like.)

      Unlike the federal hydro system, the wind power projects are sucking off the federal hydro system by crying to the Blumenhauers of the region how BPA should continue to store their excess power output even when there is no extra room to store the power on the river because of physical and fish mandates handed down by mr know-it-all. On top of this, these wind power carpet baggers get a 40% (2.2 cent per KWH) pure cash subsidy payment from the federal government. Time for wind to stand on its own, or at least be self financing from here on.

      • valley person

        The federal hydro system was 100% financed and built by the US taxpayer, completed decades ago, and will take probably a few hundred years to pay off. Wind turbines are built by private developers using zero government financing but do take advantage of tax credits.

        Which approach is more government heavy?

  • A number of fossil fuel-funded groups recently set out to attack wind energy by paying for a new report (
    claiming wind energy is difficult to integrate onto the utility system
    and doesn’t provide the expected benefits. The only problem? The Reason
    Foundation’s analysis ended up producing results that contradict those
    claims and actually support the opposite conclusions.

    Despite using a seriously flawed methodology that understates the
    benefits of wind and overstates the challenge of integrating wind onto
    the grid, the analysis found that adding wind to the grid greatly
    reduces emissions of harmful pollutants and that wind energy can readily
    and reliably provide 50% or more of our electricity.

    It should be pointed out that the report’s findings actually understate
    the emissions savings of wind by incorrectly calculating an increased
    need for “backup” power plants as wind levels increase, and then
    incorrectly assigning wind plants a 10% emissions penalty for that
    “backup.” As we’ve explained previously, adding wind to the utility
    system does not cause a need for backup power plants (see links at
    bottom). First, all power plants are already backed up by all other
    power plants. It’s much easier for system operators to deal with gradual
    and predictable changes in wind output than the immediate and
    unexpected failures of large fossil and nuclear power plants. Utility
    operators already have a large supply of reserve power plants to
    accommodate unexpected failures at fossil and nuclear power plants as
    well as even larger and often unexpected changes in electricity demand.
    As a result, there is no need to build new power plants to “back up”
    wind. Second, even if wind did cause a need for new power plants to be
    built (which could theoretically happen as one approaches 100% wind
    power), the report incorrectly assigns the emissions associated with
    operating those power plants to wind (which double counts those
    emissions), when it should have only assigned the emissions associated
    with building those power plants, which the report itself acknowledges
    are trivially small. Even with that mistake, the Reason Foundation found
    that wind energy results in very large emissions savings (9% at 10%
    wind, 18% at 20% wind, 54% at 50% wind); correcting for that mistake
    would increase those savings by another 10%.


    David Ward, American Wind Energy Association

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