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Here, from Wind Action, a timely editorial on the promises being made about industrial-scale wind power generation, jobs, the economy, and meeting energy needs in the U.S., and what the results have been. For more articles, go to http://www.windaction.org

WindAction Editorial

Wind energy’s broken promises

(Posted July 13, 2011) <!–
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Energy subsidies have proven fertile ground in the debt-ceiling debate now raging before Congress.

Congressional lawmakers arguing over how best to rein in spending, have set their sights on eliminating ethanol subsidies and oil and gas tax breaks. Renewable energy subsidies are also under pressure. Earlier this year, the Department of Energy’s Section 1705 loan guarantee was cut. The popular Section 1603 cash grant program created under ARRA is expected to expire later this year. And some industry insiders indicate the federal production tax credit, in effect since passage of the Energy Act of 1992, will be allowed to sunset at the end of 2012.

Our recommendation to Congress: Eliminate all of the energy subsidies. Let the economics of a freer market prevail.

Doing so will create winners and losers, for sure, but the public is far better served when industries compete for market share and profits rather than fight for political favoritism and handouts.

If you doubt this economic truism applies to the energy industry, consider the US wind market, which has relied on public funding since its inception over 30 years ago.

Wind — a trail of broken promises

The history of governmental handouts to the wind industry dates back over 30 years to the Carter Administration. Billions in public dollars have poured into the wind industry since that time and more is obligated every year for the next decade. Yet for all the promises made, we have little to show for the money spent. 

Promise #1: Meeting US Electricity Needs. A 1976 study by the Department of Energy estimated that wind power could supply nearly 20% of all U.S. electricity by 1995. By the end of 1995, wind represented only one-tenth of 1% of the US market. Today, wind delivers about 2% of the US electricity market. DOE now claims we will reach 20% wind power by 2030. Moving the goal post does not address the logistical and cost barriers to reaching the 20% goal. These barriers are significant and it’s time DOE considers the realities of what a 20% wind world would look like. It’s unlikely the scenario will ever be realized.

Promise #2: Reducing Cost. In the mid-1980’s wind power sold at around 25 cents per kilowatt hour. By 1995 prices dropped dramatically but were still double the cost of gas-fired generation, even after allowing for the production tax credit (1.5 cents per kwh in 1995). Today, wind pricing is even higher, despite continued federal support (figure 22, 2010 Annual Wind Market Report). Promises of technology improvements that could drive down costs have not translated into energy price improvements. 

Wind’s intermittency still means that high upfront capital costs are spread over fewer hours of operation which places upward pressure on the price of the energy sold. Cost pressures are also tied to policies on renewables. Aggressive renewable policies have placed developers in strong negotiating positions relative to energy buyers. They know full well that state regulators will approve their pricing demands and pass through the higher costs to ratepayers (footnote 50, 2010 Annual Wind Market Report). And with power purchase agreements now a requirement in order to attract investor financing, above-market energy prices are locked in for extended terms ranging between 10-20 years.

Promise #3: Improved Performance. In 1994, ninety percent of the US wind energy capacity was located in the State of California and operated at a 24% annual average capacity factor. In 2010, the capacity-weighted average capacity factor for Californian projects in 2010 was only 27.2%. In most regions of the US, wind operated at under 30% capacity factor. New York State wind performed at 22.7% last year. While newer technology has resulted in modest production improvements, US wind has failed to meet the promised 35% capacity factor

Promise #4: Jobs creation. Over eighty-percent of the nearly $6 billion in Section 1603 grants paid out in 2009 and 2010 went to wind energy projects. Yet by the end of 2010, the American Wind Energy Association reported jobs declined from 85,000 to 75,000. When installations dropped in 2010, it was no surprise that jobs dropped as well. And since growing the manufacturing base is predicated on installing more wind turbines it’s hard to see where job growth is sustainable.

The perpetual ‘infant industry’

Fourteen years ago, energy expert Robert Bradley wrote “Wind power has proven itself to be a perpetual ‘infant industry’ with its competitive viability always somewhere on the horizon.”

This week GE’s ecomagination VP Mark Vachon said this: “Without clean-energy mandates or tax subsidies, wind struggles to compete with cheap natural gas. And there’s uncertainty about those subsidies, particularly in the U.S. where Congress is looking to manage budget deficits.”

The American Wind Energy Association insists wind is now a mainstream energy resource but blames the 50 percent drop in US installations between 2009 and 2010 on a lack of long-term, predictable federal policies. After 30 years of paying the way for this infant industry, apparently the public has still not done enough to create a market for its product.

Has anything changed?

Call Congress. Remind your representatives that wind energy has yet to deliver on any of its promises. And history has shown we have no reason to believe things will change.

Eliminate all wind energy subsidies as part of the debt ceiling compromise. Let’s finally move on to energy solutions that can deliver on their promises. 

The North Gower Wind Action Group is a corporate member of Wind Concerns Ontario, and a signatory with the North American Platform Against Wind. Our view is that industrial-scale wind power generation projects need to be responsibly located…away from people.

Contact us at northgowerwindactiongroup@yahoo.ca  Join our e-mail list for updates and news.

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For many of us, it’s been exactly a year since we visited the North Gower Wind Action Group’s display in the community booth at the North Gower Farmers’ Market and discovered that the proposed wind turbine development, long rumoured to be “somewhere” west of North Gower, was in fact right smack beside the village boundaries, and close to hundreds of homes in North Gower and south Richmond.

Most of us were completely uninformed about the industrial turbine installation as it was proposed, and about wind energy in general. Who could blame us? The province of Ontario and the corporate wind lobby have devoted huge sums of money and plenty of marketing expertise to promote wind energy as “clean” and “green” and the province’s salvation in terms of job creation and power generation.

Now, a year out, with the reading and listening and learning we have done, we know what is truth, and what isn’t:

-the province’s setbacks are not based on any science whatsoever and are actually political; if setbacks were 1-2 km as they are in Europe, there would be NO industrial wind turbines in southern Ontario. But they have to be, because that’s where the transmission capacity is, and where the power is being used.

-the Green Energy Act, far from being legislation to encourage environmentally-friendly sources of energy production, is a deft move by corporate interests and the Ontario government to completely remove the planning powers of Ontario municipalities where these projects are concerned. Now, in the City of Ottawa, you can object to your neighbour installing a dormer on his house that will affect your property, but your rural neighbour who wants to erect 626-foot industrial wind turbines that will affect you, your health and your property values, can go ahead. (An example more to the point occurred a few years ago when an Island Park resident wanted to put up a small wind turbine in his back yard but was prevented from doing so for “safety” reasons; now, with the Green Energy Act, he could do it without restriction, but says he doesn’t want to upset his neighbours.)

-the corporate wind industry cries “coal is killing people” when scientific studies have shown that not to be true. Pollution in Ontario is due to industry, pollution from industry south of the border, and from cars. People who take ill in Ontario due to smog are made ill because of the heat and other health problems. Not coal. And yes, we should clean up coal: so let’s use the technologies that exist to do that. Same thing for hydro: gear it up.

-wind doesn’t work. Someone described wind industry as being like a car that’s running out of gas just when you need it the most. In fact, wind turbines NEED fossil fuel back up to function.

-job creation is a myth: studies done in Spain, Germany and Denmark show that their economies have suffered because of wind development, and that jobs are merely taken from other sectors. In Ontario, the only jobs created will be connected to manufacturing sites in southern Ontario (a political move to take the place of the defunct auto plants, but which will never employ those numbers of people)…as for construction of wind turbine sites, any local jobs created will be temporary.

-industrial wind turbines do make noise and cause sleep disturbance for some people. This seems particularly true for people living among arrays of multiple turbines. Health studies have shown that noise that disturbs sleep such as from traffic causes health problems; to pretend that the same isn’t true for wind turbines is deceitful. The corporate wind industry, however, can buy medical opinions apparently. But somehow, while they have $250,000 to fight the people of Arran-Elderslie, they don’t want to spend the $100,000 it would take to do a simple sleep study.

-the corporate wind lobby is very rich and very powerful, and protective of the millions they stand to make from Ontario citizens’ subsidies to this non-viable industry. Who says wind doesn’t work? Dragon’s Den’s Kevin O’Leary; the Globe and Mail’s Marget Wente; the National Post’s Terence Corcoran. One estimate is that every Ontario family will pay approximately $1800 in subsidies to the corporate wind industry.

-it’s a myth that Ontario communities and citizens can do nothing. We can empliy a variety of legal means, one of which is helping out the Ian Hanna legal challenge to the Green Energy Act.

A year of being angry in North Gower, a year of fighting for our community against big business interests that do NOT have the environment in mind, and that are focused only on profits.

The fight continues.

To contact the North Gower Wind Action Group, email northgowerwindactiongroup@yahoo.ca

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