Wind Power is a Lot of Wind

Posted by Don Fullerton on May 19, 2010

Filed Under (Environmental Policy)

You probably read about “Cape Wind”, a proposal to build 130 wind turbines off the coast of Massachusetts.  They will be 440 feet tall, covering 24 square miles of Nantucket Sound, with a cost of more than $1 billion. 

Yes, we need to shift from carbon-intensive fossil fuels to other cleaner renewable fuels.  But is this the way to do it?  An article in the NYTimes says “Opponents have argued that the venture is too expensive and would interfere with local fishermen, intrude on the sacred rituals and submerged burial grounds of two local Indian tribes and destroy the view.”

Yes, all those environmental costs need to be taken into account, but I think all those complaints are just a lot of wind.   I could care less about affecting the view of some rich Kennedy’s beachfront property.  No, for me, the problem is in later paragraphs, which say:

“The current price tag for a fully installed offshore wind system is estimated at $4,600 a kilowatt, nearly double the $2,400-a-kilowatt price for a land-based system, … .  By comparison, production tax credits and other incentives have driven the cost of land-based wind power to less than 5 cents a kilowatt-hour in some places, and that’s still more expensive than other sources like coal and hydropower.”

Coal is cheap!  Wind power is extremely expensive by comparison (and solar power is even MORE expensive).  Maybe those renewable alternatives are worthwhile, and maybe they are not.  But how can we ever tell, if policymakers keep trying to decide this issue for us??

Neither Barak Obama nor any other politician has the expertise to decide whether wind power is the right alternative, or something else.  They just want to “do something” about global warming.  Okay, fine, but the thing to “do” is to enact a carbon tax, or a permit price per ton of carbon dioxide emissions that reflects the true social cost of those carbon dioxide emissions.  THEN if wind is cheaper, we’ll get wind power!  And if wind power is still too expensive, then the true experts can get on with the business of finding what IS the cost-effective alternative to burning fossil fuel.

So ALL the arguments both for and against wind power are a lot of wind.   Any decision in the political arena will lead to excess costs.  A carbon price will allow the experts and the market to decide.