Planet Gore

‘Is Wind Worth It?’ Not Really, Says the New York Times

On the New York Times’ Green blog, Matthew Wald asks the question, “Is Wind Worth It?” and, in doing so, demonstrates the degree to which wind power — once considered a panacea and the sine qua non of the environmentalist Left — is being exposed as an insufficient remedy to our energy problems. Quoting the Manhattan Institute’s Robert Bryce, Wald cannot help but note just “how much work it would be to bring about a major transformation in the electric system.” Put simply, he has to concede that the numbers just don’t stack up:

Mr. Bryce referred to a 2008 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, part of the Energy Department, that said the United States could get 20 percent of its electricity from wind by 2030. At the moment, about 40,000 megawatts of wind capacity are installed in the United States, producing about 2.3 percent of the country’s kilowatt-hours. (Wind is about 70 times larger than solar in terms of the energy produced.)

Hence, bringing wind up to 20 percent by 2030 would require a nine-fold increase, he noted. With the Energy Department calculating that a megawatt of wind costs $2.43 million to install, that would require investing $850 billion, or $44 billion from now until 2030.

Wald cites a counter-argument from Michael S. Goggin, the transmission policy manager at the American Wind Energy Association. But it is clear that Goggin is picking a fight around the edges.

Michael S. Goggin, the transmission policy manager at the American Wind Energy Association, suggested that Mr. Bryce should have paid more attention to net costs, not total costs. Wind production could save copious amounts of natural gas, he said, and could avert the construction of at least some fossil-fired generation required for reliability.

“He’s looking at wind energy costs in a vacuum,” Mr. Goggin said.

Next year, the cost of a megawatt of wind capacity will be below $2 million, not the $2.4 million that Mr. Bryce quoted from the government study, he added.

But Mr. Goggin acknowledged that introducing wind on a larger scale would mean tens of billions of dollars in new transmission expenses. Those lines could improve overall reliability and reduce peak energy prices in areas with strong electricity congestion, but some of the cost should indeed be attributed to wind, he said.

As such, Wald’s unavoidable conclusion is that, “thus far, it is not economics that is driving wind energy growth; it is the renewable energy mandates in force in 29 states and the District of Columbia.” When the New York Times concedes that your movement is largely the product of government force, you know you’re in a losing battle.