Published September 1, 2007 | September 2007 issue
To the Editor:
A July 2007 article in the fedgazette, "Green at any price?", raises a number of important issues regarding wind energy development. According to the author, renewable energy mandates may raise the ratepayer cost of electricity. Unfortunately, the risks and costs of maintaining the status quo and the hidden costs of not developing renewable energy are left out of the picture.
While the article pays lip service to "the true cost of continuing to rely on fossil fuel generation," it short-sheets the many ways cost is not being measured: environmental degradation to lakes and forests, increased medical expenses, the cost of transporting coal great distances by rail, disposing of nuclear waste, the risk of relying on volatile natural gas pricing and supply line disruption, not to mention reliance on the sometimes dicey out-of-state and out-of-country energy sources.
The author rightly calls attention to tax subsidies that make wind energy production economically competitive in a very warped energy market. But what about subsidies for other energy industries, such as depletion allowances for oil and gas, land originally given the railroads to develop rail lines, infrastructure benefits for the trucking industry that came with the development of the interstate highway system, technology development subsidies given the coal and nuclear industries or liability indemnification enjoyed by the nuclear industry, to say nothing of public payments for nuclear waste management? There is also the lost economic development opportunity derived from not having a reliable subsidy—wind turbine manufacturing in this country is stunted because manufacturers are reluctant to enter a roller coaster market dependent on unreliable congressional subsidy reauthorization. Other potential local economic benefits ignored are rental payments to landowners (mostly farmers) and the investment opportunity for in-state, probably rural, investors.
The author relies primarily on old technology utility representatives for his information. He might have looked into the new technology research developments coming out of wind energy, such as its use to manufacture anhydrous ammonia that could be applied relatively locally on farm fields or the off-grid conversion of wind energy into hydrogen fuel cell production. While the author notes serious technical problems with wind energy—namely, incorporating intermittent generation into the continuously generating energy portfolio and finding sufficient transmission line capacity—analysis sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Commerce has shown that the cost of adding wind into the mix, up to 20 percent of the nameplate system capacity, is negligible. While finding sufficient transmission line capacity is an issue, the author fails to recognize that underutilized transmission line sweet spots may be found to accommodate new electrical generation without necessitating the construction of new power lines, and more importantly, strategically developing the transmission system to collect energy from multiple distributed and dispersed generation projects will be vastly cheaper and more secure than the conventional transmission development mode of mile after mile of extra-high-voltage power lines to hook distant loads (cities) to large, remote, central-station generators.
To be sure, wind energy does not represent the answer to all our needs. Indeed, wind energy's downside is not completely known at this time. But what are the costs of not developing wind power? What are the alternatives to our ever increasing need for electrical energy? Drawing our attention to some of wind's problems is no substitute for looking at the complete picture of energy production and consumption. The problems with wind are a poor excuse for sitting on our hands and not recognizing the wonderful opportunity its development represents.
Chief Manager, Whirlwind Energy LLC
President, Cattail Bancshares Inc.