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Wind Energy: more money, more problems

The Production Tax Credit (PTC) is a federal subsidy that has been essential in starting and maintaining wind energy companies for almost two decades. Billions of dollars have been poured into wind energy, yet the industry remains unable to stand on its own without government help.

Not only can the wind industry not sustain itself without government aid, it is requesting a lot more money in aid. Many of the best locations in the United States to build a wind farm are located in desolate areas far away from industrial and population centers. In order for the wind industry to gather significant amounts of wind energy, a national electrical power grid is needed. In fact the highest winds speeds exist in the isolated and inaccessible Aleutian Islands located in Alaska.  

Offshore wind farms are especially having difficulties transmitting their wind energy to electricity grids.  In a report done by the Department of Energy called Wind Farm Grid Integration Using VSC Based HVDC Transmission - An Overview, S. K. Chaudhary, R. Teodorescu, and P. Rodriguez highlight the problems with transmitting wind energy from offshore farms to more populated areas.

VSC-based HVDC system is a viable transmission connection for large offshore wind farms, especially when long distances are involved. Relatively higher cost and higher converter losses may be acceptable in view of its flexibility to ensure compliance with the Grid Code requirements, facilitate ancillary services like reactive power support, voltage stability, power flow regulation, etc. Further development and competitive research on VSC technology is expected to bring down the losses and price as well. Further the stability and performance of the VSC based converters has to be studied for unbalanced grid conditions and asymmetrical faults.   

“Higher cost and higher converter losses” must be acceptable if wind energy is to be transferred from these remote wind farms. So why not just built a national electrical power grid to solve this problem? Unfortunately, according to a New York Times article written back in 2008, a system like this would cost $60 billion or more! I’m sorry, but the benefit of wind energy simply cannot be justified by the cost. 

Another issue concerning wind energy is that once the power gets to the grid, other fossil fuel based energy is needed to balance out the unreliable fluctuations of wind. Additional facilities on a wind powered grid are known as balancing facilities. Patrick Hedger, researcher at FreedomWorks Foundation, highlights the problem of fluctuating wind power grids:

“To stay competitive, the United States requires a reliable power grid; however, wind farms simply cannot produce the necessary even flow of power. This forces fossil fuel plants into a stop-and-go situation where they must work harder and burn more fuel to combat the unpredictability of the wind mills, creating more pollution than necessary to generate affordable and reliable power.” 

The unreliability of wind--powered grids causes the additional need of fossil--fuel based energy, driving up the cost of using wind energy while at the same time increasing emissions that wind is supposed to reduce. 

Americans for a Clean Energy Grid is requesting an expansion and upgrade to our electric power transmission and distribution system without acknowledging not only the heavy costs, but the environmental damage raised by wind energy. 

The Production Tax Credit (PTC) is pumping money into an industry that despite being heavily subsided for over 20 years now, demands an unreasonable amount of more taxpayer money just to keep it going. Call or write your Congressmen today and tell them to let the PTC expire.

The dream of an America powered by a vast amount of renewable wind energy is exactly that-- a dream. Let’s come back to reality and concentrate our efforts on more feasible and reliable sources of energy.


"Call or write your congressman" really??? A real journalist would never type that phrase.

It’s not just the subsidies, it’s the "extra" costs - like coal impacting us to the tune of >200 billion/yr in health bills (look it up) and the very real threat of GHG emissions etc. If you want the market to decide, that’s OK, just make absolutely sure the market gets ALL the information it needs, not just what you want it to have. Wind is more competitive than given credit for if all costs are factored. It is a smart hedge, and well worth the gamble. Price per kWh has dropped 3X since 2003 because the subsidies brought in the competition. They made it worth fighting for. Wind is now nipping at coal in levelized pricing - which is an amazing achievement. The subsidies are paying off for all of us if you look at the broader picture ( a cleaner, diversified energy mix) GE and others are coming out with grid scale storeage technology (meaning wind will no longer unreliable) All made possible by the market the subsidies created. The PTC doesnt have to last forever, wind is almost there (Gamesa's chairman only wants 5 more years). It would be silly and short sighted not to finish what we started.

David Ward

The one thing that Wesley got right was that the wind energy industry definitely equals more money; more money added to the American economy.

For example, since 2005 the wind energy industry has attracted more than $60 billion of new investment into the American economy as result of Production Tax Credit (PTC).

And the wind energy industry isn’t just adding money to our economy, because of the PTC, wind energy is creating higher savings for American consumers. For example, a recent study by Synapse Energy Economics found that wind can lower market power prices in large areas of the country of up to $9.4 billion annually.

By adding $60 billion to the American economy and an annual savings of $9.4 billion, wind energy investment really starts to add up to an American success story.

But all of this success can be put into serious jeopardy should our representatives balk at supporting the Production Tax Credit before the end of the year.

David Ward
American Wind Energy Association