Wind power is a complete disaster
by Michael J. Trebilcock -- April 09, 2009
There is no evidence that industrial wind power
is likely to have a significant impact on carbon
emissions. The European experience is instructive.
Denmark, the world's most wind-intensive nation,
with more than 6,000 turbines generating 19% of
its electricity, has yet to close a single
fossil-fuel plant. It requires 50% more coal-
generated electricity to cover wind power's
unpredictability, and pollution and carbon
dioxide emissions have risen (by 36% in 2006 alone).
Flemming Nissen, the head of development at
West Danish generating company ELSAM (one of
Denmark's largest energy utilities) tells us
that "wind turbines do not reduce carbon dioxide
emissions." The German experience is no different.
Der Spiegel reports that "Germany's CO2 emissions
haven't been reduced by even a single gram," and
additional coal-and gas-fired plants have been
constructed to ensure reliable delivery.
Indeed, recent academic research shows that wind
power may actually increase greenhouse gas
emissions in some cases, depending on the carbon-
intensity of back-up generation required because
of its intermittent character. On the negative
side of the environmental ledger are adverse
impacts of industrial wind turbines on birdlife
and other forms of wildlife, farm animals,
wetlands and viewsheds.
Industrial wind power is not a viable economic
alternative to other energy conservation options.
Again, the Danish experience is instructive. Its
electricity generation costs are the highest in
Europe (15’/kwh compared to Ontario's current
rate of about 6’). Niels Gram of the Danish
Federation of Industries says, "windmills are
a mistake and economically make no sense." Aase
Madsen , the Chair of Energy Policy in the Danish
Parliament, calls it "a terribly expensive disaster."
The U.S. Energy Info. Admin. reported in 2008,
on a dollar per MWh basis, the U.S. government
subsidizes wind at $23.34 -- compared to reliable
energy sources: natural gas at 25’; coal at 44’;
hydro at 67’; and nuclear at $1.59, leading to
what some U.S. commentators call "a huge corporate
welfare feeding frenzy." The Wall Street Journal
advises that "wind generation is the prime example
of what can go wrong when the government decides
to pick winners."
The Economist magazine notes in a recent editorial,
"Wasting Money on Climate Change," that each tonne
of emissions avoided due to subsidies to renewable
energy such as wind power would cost somewhere
between $69 & $137, whereas under a cap-and-trade
scheme the price would be less than $15.
Either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system
creates incentives for consumers and producers
on a myriad of margins to reduce energy use and
emissions that, as these numbers show, completely
overwhelm subsidies to renewables in terms of cost
The Ontario Power Authority advises that wind
producers will be paid 13.5’/ kwh (more than
twice what consumers are currently paying), even
without accounting for the additional costs of
interconnection, transmission & backup generation.
As the European experience confirms, this will
inevitably lead to a dramatic increase in
electricity costs with consequent detrimental
effects on business and employment. From this
perspective, the government's promise of 55,000
new jobs is a cruel delusion.
A recent detailed analysis (focusing mainly on
Spain) finds that for every job created by state-
funded support of renewables, particularly wind
energy, 2.2 jobs are lost. Each wind industry job
created cost almost $2-million in subsidies. Why
will the Ontario experience be different?
In debates over climate change, and in particular
subsidies to renewable energy, there are two kinds
of green. First there are some environmental greens
who view the problem as so urgent that all measures
that may have some impact on greenhouse gas
emissions, whatever their cost or their impact on
the economy and employment, should be undertaken
Then there are the fiscal greens, who, being cool
to carbon taxes and cap-and-trade systems that
make polluters pay, favour massive public subsidies
to themselves for renewable energy projects, whatever
their relative impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
These two groups are motivated by different kinds
of green. The only point of convergence between
them is their support for massive subsidies to
renewable energy (such as wind turbines).
This unholy alliance of these two kinds of greens
(doomsdayers & rent seekers) makes for very
effective, if opportunistic, politics (as reflected
in the Ontario government's Green Energy Act),
just as it makes for lousy public policy:
Politicians attempt to pick winners at our expense
in a fast-moving technological landscape, instead
of creating a socially efficient set of incentives
to which we can all respond.
-Michael J. Trebilcock is Professor of Law and
Economics, University of Toronto. These comments
were excerpted from a submission last night to the
Ontario government's legislative committee On Bill 150.