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Sustainable Society:  A society that balances the environment, other life forms, and human interactions over an indefinite time period.

 

 

 

 

 


 

Existing and Proposed “Wind Farms” Cannot Make a Significant Contribution to Wisconsin’s Electricity Supply and
Reliability or Pollution Reduction

 

Glenn R. Schleede*
November 1, 2000

 

Executive Summary
Introduction

Table #1: Electricity Produced by Wisconsin “Wind Farms” Compared to Total Wisconsin Electricity Production
Table #2: How many windmills would be needed to equal the kWh output of the following existing or proposed Wisconsin generating plants?
Table #3:  Comparison of Total SO2, NOX and CO2 Emissions from Wisconsin’s 28 Largest Fossil-Fueled Electric Generating Plants With Claims of Emissions Avoided by  3 Existing and 1 Proposed “Wind Farms”


 

Executive Summary

Building large windmills to generate electricity continues to be controversial. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), wind energy companies, and “renewable energy” advocacy groups continue to assert that windmills are an environmentally friendly way to produce electricity.  Others believe they are too expensive and their output too small and sporadic.  They question whether “wind energy” can make a significant contribution to electricity supply or the reduction of emissions.  Some who would have to live near windmills believe they present a health and safety risk, harm the scenic environment, threaten birds, and reduce property values.

The analysis underlying this report evaluated the potential contribution of wind energy to Wisconsin’s electricity supply and reliability and potential emission avoidance.  It also evaluates wind energy advocate claims and governmental policies that are encouraging the construction of windmills.  In summary, the analysis shows that:

·     Neither existing “wind farms” in Wisconsin nor two more “wind farms” now being proposed can make a significant contribution towards the state’s electricity supply and reliability or the reduce pollution associated with electric generation.  The electricity produced by all of Wisconsin’s existing windmills plus those now being proposed would equal about 1/4 of 1% of the total electricity produced in Wisconsin in 1999.

·     Even large numbers of windmills (even a thousand or two) would do little to reduce Wisconsin’s need to continue relying on coal, natural gas, nuclear energy, hydropower and oil for the production of electricity.

·     A large share of the true costs of wind energy is being shifted from the “wind farm” owners to taxpayers and electric customers and hidden in their tax and electric bills.

·     Alternatives are available that would be much more effective in increasing Wisconsin’s electricity supply and reliability and in reducing emissions.

·     Much of the justification for using windmills to produce electricity is false or misleading.


Energy companies and renewable energy advocacy groups have the right to pursue their interests.  Ideally, they would not mislead the public, media, Congress and state and local government officials by fostering unrealistic expectations about the potential contribution of wind energy.  However, it is the U.S. Department of Energy, DOE laboratories, Congress, and state officials (legislatures, utility commissions and governors) who are directly responsible for shortchanging consumers, taxpayers, and the people who must live near “wind farms” by:

·     Accepting the misleading claims of wind energy advocates.

·     Pretending that windmills can make a significant contribution.

·    Adopting the tax shelters and other subsidies that permit “wind farm” owners to shift a large share of the high cost of producing electricity from windmills to consumers and taxpayers.
 

Introduction

Various federal and state government officials - as well as “wind farm” developers and “renewable” energy advocacy groups have touted windmills as an environmentally benign and economically acceptable way to produce electricity.  Analysis of the facts, however, leads to opposite conclusions. 

Recognizing the facts, it’s hard to understand why advocates of wind energy have been so successful in:

·     Convincing the public, the media, regulators and elected officials that windmills can make a significant contribution to electricity supply and to emission avoidance.

·     Securing tax shelters and other measures that are so favorable to “wind farm” developers and so unfavorable to consumers, taxpayers and those who must live near “wind farms.”

The analysis underlying this report focuses on one state - Wisconsin - where four “wind farms” have already been built and where two more have been proposed.  To help provide a better understanding of the potential for wind energy, this report:

·     Presents recent data on the output from Wisconsin’s existing “wind farms” and estimates of the potential output from two proposed new “wind farms,” and compares that output to Wisconsin’s total electricity production.

·     Shows that the very large machines produce very little electricity.

·     Demonstrates that claims of emissions avoided by wind energy are inaccurate and, even if they were accurate, are so small as to be virtually meaningless.

·     Explains how a large share of the true costs of electricity from windmills is being shifted from the large companies that are building “wind farms” and hidden in bills paid by taxpayers and electric customers.

·     Identifies other misleading claims made by wind energy advocates.

·     Points out that federal and state officials have abandoned their responsibility to taxpayers and electricity consumers.

   

Total electricity from existing Wisconsin “wind farms” and two large “wind farms” now being proposed would equal about 1/4 of 1% of Wisconsin’s electricity production.

 

To help demonstrate the insignificance of electricity from windmills, Table #1, below:

·     Provides data on Wisconsin’s four existing “wind farms,” including their total electricity output during the 12-month period from July 1999 through June 2000.

·     Presents estimates of the potential annual electricity output from two new “wind farms” proposed for Wisconsin by two large, out-of-state energy companies.

·     Compares these outputs to the total amount of electricity produced in Wisconsin in 1999.

Data in the table demonstrate clearly that these 83 large existing and proposed windmills generate very little electricity and cannot make a significant contribution in supplying Wisconsin’s electricity or improving its reliability.  The table shows that:

·     The total output from the 35 windmills on four existing “wind farms” equaled 0.082% of the Wisconsin’s 1999 electricity production.

·     The estimated output from the 28 windmills that would make up FPL Energy’s proposed Addison “wind farm” would equal 0.091% of Wisconsin’s 1999 electricity production.

·     The estimated output from the 20 windmills that would make up Enron’s proposed Eden (Iowa County) “wind farm” would equal 0.113% of Wisconsin’s 1999 electricity production.

·     All six “wind farms” combined –with 83 very large windmills– would produce electricity equal to 0.286% –i.e., just over 1/4 of 1%– of Wisconsin’s 1999 electricity production.

 

Table #1: Electricity Produced by Wisconsin “Wind Farms” Compared to Total Wisconsin Electricity Production

 

Four existing “wind farms”

 Location

 Owner(s)

No. & Size of windmills

Total rated capacity

Electricity output: 7/1999 - 6/2000*

Capacity Factor**

Kewaunee County

Madison G&E

17 - 660 kW

11,220 kW

22,500,000 kWh

23.5%

Kewaunee County

Wisconsin Pub. Svs.

14 - 660 kW

  9,240 kW

18,500,000 kWh

22.8%

Town of Byron

Wisconsin Elec.

  2 - 660 kW

  1,320 kW

3,450,000 kWh

29.6%

S. of De Pere

Several WI utilities

  2  - 600 kW

  1,200 kW

3,261,000 kWh

30.9%

 

        Total

35

22,980 kW

47,711,000 kWh

23.6%

 

Two proposed “wind farms”

 Location

 Owner(s)

No. & Size of windmills

Total rated capacity

Estimated Annual Electricity output**

Est. Capacity Factor

Town of Addison

FPL Energy

28 - 900 kW

25,200 kW

53,000,000 kWh

24.0%

Town of Eden

Enron

20 - 1,500 kW

30,000 kW

65,700,000 kWh

Assuming 25%

 

For Comparison:

 

Total 1999 Electricity production in Wisconsin

58,158,000,000 kWh#

 

 

Electricity from 35 windmills in 4 existing “wind farms” as % of total Wisconsin 1999 electricity production

 0.082%

i.e., 47,711,000 ¸ 58,158,000,000

 

Estimated electricity from proposed Addison (Washington County) “Wind farm” as % of total Wisconsin 1999 electricity production

 0.091%

i.e., 53,000,000 ¸ 58,158,000,000

 

Estimated electricity from proposed Eden (Iowa County) “wind farm” as % of total Wisconsin 1999 electricity production

 0.113%

i.e., 65,700,000 ¸ 58,158,000,000

 

 Total - Electricity from 4 existing and 2 proposed “wind farms” as % of total Wisconsin 1999 electricity production

 0.286%

i.e., 166,411,000 ¸ 58,158,000,000

 

  * RENEW Wisconsin, Wisconsin utility web sites, FPL Energy’s October 11, 2000 conditional use permit application, and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 25, 2000. ** Electricity output (in kWh) divided by rated capacity x hours in year (8784 for leap year; 8760 for other years).  # Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Monthly, March 2000, Tables 7 and 62-66.

               

 Actually, the above analysis overestimates the potential contribution of “wind farms” since Wisconsin, in 1999, used more electricity than was produced within the state.

Wisconsin’s electricity demands are increasing rapidly.  In fact, the amount of electricity demand by and delivered to electric customers in Wisconsin in 1999 was 3% above 1998 amounts.  As recent announcements of plans for new generating facilities make clear, the significant amounts of additional electricity required for Wisconsin’s increasing demands can be satisfied effectively and at reasonable cost only by adding significant natural gas or coal-fired generating capacity.  Those demands cannot be satisfied by building large windmills that produce electricity only intermittently and then in truly insignificant amounts.  Fortunately for Wisconsin electricity users, WEPCO, WP&L and others have proposed building substantial new gas and coal-fired electric generating capacity in Wisconsin.

The principal reasons that windmills contribute so little to electricity supply and reliability is because:

·     Despite their large size, actual electricity output is small, and

·     They produce electricity only when the wind speed is within a certain range.  The actual electricity output at any time depends on the wind speed.  The full, “rated” output occurs only at speeds of 30 to 34 mph in the case of Wisconsin’s existing “wind farms.”

A critically important factor when evaluating the potential contribution of windmills is their “capacity factor.”   The capacity factor of any electric generating unit is calculated by dividing the net electricity output (in kilowatt-hours) by the rated capacity (in kW) times the hours in a year.  Because windmills are dependent on the availability and speed of the wind, they have very low (typically 15% to 30%) capacity factors.  This means that windmills produce only a small part of their “advertised” nameplate capacity.

On the other hand, the “base load” fossil-fueled and nuclear power plants that Wisconsin depends on for most of its electricity operate at much higher capacity factors –in effect, whenever they are needed– since they aren’t dependent on wind conditions.

 

Tens of thousands of Windmills would be needed to supply a significant part of Wisconsin’s electricity demand or replace electricity from existing power plants.


To help underscore the fact that windmills produce only a tiny amount of electricity, despite their large size, the following table compares the potential output from windmills with several existing generating plants in Wisconsin.  Specifically, Table #2 shows the number of windmills operating at a 25% capacity factor that would be needed to produce the amount of electricity (i.e., kWh) that:

·     Was produced in 1999 by several existing nuclear and coal-fired generating plants in Wisconsin.

·     Will be produced by a recently approved natural gas-fired generating plant if it operates at only a 70% capacity factor.

The data in this table help underscore the point that “wind energy” will never be able to make a significant contribution in supplying Wisconsin’s electricity demands.  As shown in Table #2, it would take:

·     3,587 windmills of the size proposed for the Addison “wind farm,” operating at a 25% capacity factor, to equal the 1999 electricity output of Point Beach nuclear plant,

·     4,407 windmills of that size and capacity factor to equal the 1999 electricity output of the Pleasant Prairie coal-fired generating plant, and

·     3,267 windmills of that size and capacity factor to equal the output of the planned new gas-fired generating plant at Kenosha, if the Kenosha plant operates only at a 70% capacity factor.

 

Table #2: How many windmills would be needed to equal the kWh output of the following existing or proposed Wisconsin generating plants?

Existing generating plants

   Plant name

   Company

 Rated (“nameplate”) Capacity

   Fuel

 Electricity produced during 1999 (kWh)

  Capacity factor

Number of windmills operating at 25% capacity that would be required to produce as many kWh of electricity

 

 

 

 

 

 

660 kW*

900 kW**

Point Beach

Wepco

1,047.6MW

Uranium

7,070,099,000

77.0%

4,893

3,587

Kewaunee

WPS

535.0 MW

Uranium

4,424,665,000

94.4%

3,062

2,245

Pleasant Prairie

Wepco

1,233.2 MW

Coal

8,687,081,000

80.6%

6,012

4,407

Columbia

WP&L

1,023.0 MW

Coal

6,661,989,000

74.3%

4,610

3,380

Planned New Generating Plant

 Plant name

 Company

Rated Capacity

 Fuel

Annual Production Assuming 70% Capacity Factor (kWh)

 

 

Kenosha

Badger

1,050.0 MW

Nat. Gas

6,438,600,000

4,456

3,267

 

Data Sources: Energy Information Administration, Inventory of Power Plants in the U.S., Table 20,  & Electric Power Monthly, April 2000, Tab.56A. Also, PG&E/Badger Press Release, October 13, 2000.  * Each such windmill would produce 1,445,000 kWh of electricity per year (i.e., 660 kW x 8760 hrs. x .25 capacity factor) ** Each such windmill would produce 1,971,000 kWh of electricity per year (i.e., 900 kW x 8760 hrs. x .25 capacity factor)

 

“Wind resource” maps for Wisconsin suggest that the areas with suitable wind conditions for “wind farms” are quite limited.  The potential areas are further limited by existing and planned land uses, recreational, scenic and other environmental considerations, the fact that many property owners do not want windmills in their neighborhoods, and the fact that “wind farms” must be located near existing transmission lines.
 

Any emissions that would be avoided by using windmills to produce
electricity in Wisconsin would be tiny, at best.

 

Wind energy advocates often claim that significant quantities of air emissions –sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOX) and carbon dioxide (CO2) – will be avoided if wind energy is substituted for electricity generated by using coal, natural gas or oil.  Even if the amounts claimed by advocates were correct (as explained below, they are not), those “reductions” are very small compared to either the emissions associated with Wisconsin’s electric generation or with the reductions that could be achieved in other ways.

Table #3, below, demonstrates that anyone seriously interested in reducing or avoiding emissions would not waste time and effort on building windmills to produce electricity.  The table shows the insignificance of the claimed “avoided emissions.” In summary, it shows that the claimed “avoided emissions” from 3 operating and 1 planned “wind farms” (61 windmills) combined would add up to a small fraction of 1% of the emissions from Wisconsin’s existing generating plants.  Specifically, the table shows:

·     Total SO2, NOX and CO2 emissions during 1999 from Wisconsin’s 28 largest fossil-fueled electric generating plants (as reported by the U.S. EPA).

·     Claims of SO2, NOX and CO2 emissions avoided by the electricity produced during the 12-month period from July 1999 through June 2000 by 3 of the 4 existing “wind farms” shown in Table #1 (as reported by the Madison-based renewable energy advocacy organization, RENEW Wisconsin).

·     Claims of SO2, NOX and CO2 emissions that would be avoided by the proposed Addison “wind farm” (as reported by FPL Energy).

 

Table #3:  Comparison of Total SO2, NOX and CO2 Emissions from Wisconsin’s 28 Largest Fossil-Fueled Electric Generating Plants With Claims of Emissions Avoided by  3 Existing and 1 Proposed “Wind Farms”

 

  Measurement

Sulfur Dioxide (SO2)

Nitrogen Oxides (NOX)

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

Total emissions in 1999 from Wisconsin’s 28 largest  fossil-fueled electric generating plants in tons*

 Tons

 211,300

 108,976

 51,453,428

 

Estimates of emissions avoided during the 12 months period 7/99 - 6/00 by using wind energy at 3 existing “wind farms” (owned by WPS, MG&E, & WEPCO) **

Tons  % of WI Total

83  0.04%

43  0.04%

31,500  0.06%

 

Emissions that would be avoided annually as claimed by FPL Energy for the proposed Addison “wind farm”***

Tons  % of WI Total

336  0.16%

132  0.12%

62,400  0.12%

 

    * U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Emissions Tracking System, Emissions Scoreboard 1999, Tables B-2, 3, 4.   ** RENEW Wisconsin Press Release, July 6, 2000.  Note: The press release reported a total of 126 tons of “acid rain gases,” which presumably is the total for SO2 and Nox emissions.  In the above table, this total was divided between SO2 and Nox using the proportions of the two pollutants shown in the table for WI’s 28 largest fossil-fueled generating plants. *** FPL Energy’s conditional use permit application, October 11, 2000, page 11-1, which indicates that the estimates are based on emissions from WEPCO’s generating plants.

             

As explained in detail in an earlier report, there are several ways in which Wisconsin’s electric generating companies could reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOX) and carbon dioxide (CO2) that would be much more effective than building windmills.  The alternatives include:

·     Building modern, new gas-fired, combined cycle generating units (like the one now planned for Kenosha, Wisconsin by PG&E’s Badger Company) to supply Wisconsin’s rapidly increasing demand for electricity and, possibly, replacing older generating units.

·     Repowering existing, older coal-fired generating units with modern gas-fired, combined cycle generating units.

·     Installing additional pollution control equipment on existing coal-fired generating plants (e.g., scrubbers to reduce sulfur dioxide and/or selective catalytic reduction - SCR and/or low- NOX burners to reduce nitrogen oxides).
 

Tax shelters and other subsidies for windmills shift costs from “wind farm” owners to taxpayers and electric customers, with those costs hidden tax and monthly electric bills.


Apart from tiny contributions that windmills could make to Wisconsin’s electricity requirements and emission reductions, it is important to recognize that even the advocates of wind energy agree that it costs much more to produce electricity using windmills than with generating units using the “traditional” energy sources (e.g., coal, natural gas, hydropower).

In fact, it is the widespread recognition of this fact that has led the wind energy industry and its lobbyists, “renewable” energy advocacy groups, electric generating companies, the U.S. Department of Energy, and DOE laboratories to lobby for a wide variety of tax breaks and other subsidies.

These interest groups have been amazingly effective.  Their efforts have resulted in a host of federal and state tax shelters and other subsidies that are available to “wind farm” developers.  When the effects of these tax shelters and subsidies are considered, “wind farms” are now a highly profitable venture.

Seldom mentioned, however, is the fact that the net effect of the tax shelters and other subsidies is to shift a large share of the true costs of the projects from “wind farm” owners to ordinary electric customers and taxpayers, and to hide those costs in tax bills and monthly electric bills.  This is accomplished in four basic ways:

·     Tax shelters (including accelerated depreciation, production tax credits, and property tax exemptions) that reduce the amount of corporate income tax and property tax paid by energy companies that build “wind farms,” with the result that the tax burden is shifted to other income and property tax payers.

·     Direct subsidy payments from the federal and/or state governments to wind energy companies (usually for R&D) and advocacy groups (for “studies” and lobbying) with the money coming from tax revenue or so-called “public benefit charges” added to electric bills.

·     Statutory or regulatory requirements, including so-called “Renewable Portfolio Standards” that increase the overall cost of electricity generation and, therefore, the rates per kWh charged to all electric customers.

·     Premium prices (often called “green pricing” programs) allowed by some state governments, including Wisconsin, wherein electricity producers or suppliers charge customers premium prices for electricity produced by windmills.

The tax shelters and other subsidies now available include the following:

1.    Federal tax shelters:  Current federal tax law provides two very generous tax shelters to owners of “wind farms.”

·     Accelerated depreciation.  “Wind farm” owners are permitted to use 5-year double declining balance accelerated depreciation to write off their investment.  The practical effect of this tax benefit is to permit the company owning the “wind farm” to recover 52% of its equity investment in the first 18 to 24 months and the remaining 48% in the ensuing 36 to 48 months.  Thereafter, the return on investment is infinite!

·     Production tax credit.  “Wind farm” owners receive a production tax credit of 1.7 cents per kWh of electricity produced during the first 10 years of operation.  The 1.7 cents is subject to upward adjustment each year for inflation.  In the unlikely event that the amount is not increased above 1.7 cents, owners of the two proposed “wind farms” would still receive approximately the following tax credits during the first 10 years:

 

                             “Wind Farm”                              Estimated Output (kWh)                               10 year Tax credit

    Owner                                Location                                  Annual                     10 Years                           assuming 1.7 cents per kWh 

FPL Energy                            Addison                              53,000,000              530,000,000                                            $  9,010,000

                    Enron Wind                             Eden                                  65,700,000              657,000,000                                            $11,169,000

            The U.S. Department of Energy provides direct payments of 1.7 cents per kWh to organizations (e.g., municipal utilities) that own “wind farms” but are exempt from taxation and, therefore, cannot take advantage of the production tax credit tax shelter described above.

2.   Federal R&D subsidies.  Tax dollars flowing through the U.S. Department of Energy are provided to various organizations in the wind energy industry (including the DOE’s contractor operated laboratories and profit-oriented contractors) to support research, development, demonstration and deployment (RDD&D) activities, and to advocacy and lobbying organizations such as the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).  DOE’s FY 1999 budget provided $34.4 million for wind energy, followed by $32.8 million in FY 2000 and a request for $50.8 million for FY 2001.  Some of tax dollars that flow through DOE are used to help pay for the cost of “wind farms.”

3.    State Subsidies.  Tax shelters and other subsidies provided by state governments vary widely among states.  Depending on the state, they may include:

·     Accelerated depreciation paralleling the federal benefit ―to shelter profits from state income taxes.

·     State production tax credits or direct subsidies (e.g., for R&D).  In some cases, subsidies are paid for with funds collected from electricity customers under “Public Benefit Charge” labels.  Such charges are, in effect, a “tax” but are collected by utilities rather than the state tax bureau and, therefore, tend to be less visible to electric customers than a charge that is clearly labeled as a tax.

·     Property tax exemptions.  Some states, including Wisconsin, exempt wind turbines from property and, in some cases, other state or local taxes.

4.    Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS).  Renewable Portfolio Standards are another way that “wind farms” and other eligible “renewable” energy sources are subsidized.  In effect, electric generating companies or other electricity suppliers are required to obtain a specified portion of the electricity they produce and/or sell from “renewable” energy sources.  To the extent that electricity from “renewable” energy sources is more expensive than from alternative sources, the cost is still passed through in one way or another to electric customers.  In effect, it becomes a tax on electricity produced from “traditional” energy sources (i.e., coal, natural gas, oil, nuclear energy or hydropower).

5.    Charging premium prices for “green” electricity.   Several states permit “wind farm” owners still another way to profit.  Electricity suppliers are allowed to charge a premium price for electricity produced from specified non-hydro “renewable” energy sources to those customers who volunteer to pay the added cost through “green pricing programs.”  The premium permitted in Wisconsin varies among utilities in the range of $0.02 to $0.033 cents per kWh.

As long as such premium charges are voluntary, there is relatively little basis for objection except that the full cost of administering the programs probably is not recovered from the electric customers who “volunteer.”  Costs not recovered from such customers would be spread to other customers of the utility.

Recognizing the truly tiny amounts of emissions that might be avoided (as explained above and below) and the adverse environmental impacts associated with “wind farms,” it is truly amazing that public utility commissions would sanction such programs.  Hopefully, those volunteering to pay the premiums recognize that the intrinsic value is limited largely to that which can be derived from cocktail party conversations.
 

Wind energy advocates understate the true costs of electricity from
windmills and overstate the amount of emissions that can be “avoided.”


When wind energy advocates make claims about the benefits of wind energy, they generally understate the true costs and overstate the amount of emissions that can be avoided.  They assume incorrectly that all electricity produced by windmills offsets an equal amount of electricity generated from other generating plants. This simply isn’t the case for two principal reasons:

1.    They ignore the need for backup generating capacity. As indicated earlier, windmills generate electricity only when the wind is blowing at speeds within a certain range.  The lower the speed within the range, the smaller the amount of electricity that is produced.  Thus, the electricity available from windmills is highly intermittent.  In the U.S., few people depending on electricity are willing to have it available only intermittently; i.e., only when the wind is blowing at acceptable speeds.  Therefore, other sources of electric generation must be immediately available so that electricity is always available on demand for customers’ homes, farms, buildings, factories and equipment, not just when the wind is blowing.

Because of this limitation on wind energy, other generating units, powered by “traditional” sources of energy –coal, natural gas, oil, nuclear energy or hydropower– must be immediately available to “back stop” the wind units and generate needed electricity whenever the windmills are not producing.  To provide immediate backup power, the other units must be either:

§ Producing electricity for the electric grid but at less than full capacity and efficiency, or

§ In “spinning reserve” status (i.e., operating and synchronized with the electric grid but not producing power for the grid) or “hot standby” (i.e., operating but not synchronized with the grid or producing power for the grid).

1.    Backup generating units give off emissions and incur costs allocable to wind energy.  Generating units operating in any of the above modes are incurring costs –even when they are a “back stop” to windmills.  The fossil fuel-fired units (coal, natural gas, oil) will also be giving off some emissions –even while operating in their backup role for windmills.

Fortunately, because the cost of generating electricity from windmills is expensive, the electricity produced from the other generating units is almost always less costly.  However the added cost of the backup units should be allocated to and counted as a part of the true cost of electricity from windmills.
 

Wind energy advocates overstate the potential benefits and contribution
of “wind farms” in other ways.



Unfortunately, the misleading claims made by wind energy developers and advocacy groups, officials of the U.S. Department of Energy, and DOE laboratories and other contractors and grantees are not limited to the understatement of the true costs and overstatement of emissions that can be avoided.  Instead, these special interest groups routinely engage in other deceptive statements such as the following:

1.    Citing “nameplate capacity” of a “wind farm” rather than kWh of electricity produced. Rated capacity, such as the 30 megawatts claimed for the proposed Enron facility is meaningless by itself.  The meaningful number is the kWh of electricity that is actually produced and delivered to an electric customer.  As explained earlier, windmills produce electricity only when the wind is blowing within an acceptable range and then seldom at their full, rated (“nameplate”) capacity.

2.    Numbers that are out of context or otherwise misleading.  Tables #1 and #3, above, showed that claims made by wind energy advocates about electricity output and emissions avoided are miniscule when considered in their proper context.  Such comparisons are necessary because wind energy advocates also persist in using numbers that have little real meaning.

For example, “wind farm” developers, advocates and lobbyists often cite the “number of homes” that could be served by the output from “wind farms.”  Such numbers appear to be deliberate attempts to mislead.  For example, RENEW Wisconsin claims that the electricity generated during the 12 month period from July 1999 through June 2000 by three Wisconsin “wind farms” was “enough to power 6,500 households.”  Such rhetoric is misleading because:

·     The electricity was available only when the wind was blowing at the right speeds –not when families in Wisconsin wanted the electricity.  Other generating facilities must be kept immediately available and, if not artificially displaced at times by windmills, would be providing needed electricity at lower cost.

·     Electric companies in Wisconsin serve about 2,300,000 residential customers.  Thus the 6,500 claimed by RENEW Wisconsin equals about 1/4th of 1% of the homes that must be served.

·     Residential customers account for only 31% of the electricity used in Wisconsin in 1999.  Industrial, commercial, and other customers accounted for 69% of the electricity demand.

FPL Energy’s latest application for a conditional use permit for its proposed Addison “wind farm” provides another example.  In what appears to be a desperate attempt to make its claims about “avoided emissions” look significant, FPL Energy showed its claims in pounds rather than tons.

3.    Availability of “wind resources.”  The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) often claims that the U.S. or parts of it have such great “wind resources” that it is the “Saudi Arabia of wind energy.”  Such rhetoric is totally misleading since it assumes that “wind farms” could be built in all or most of the geographic areas where the wind blows at speeds that are adequate for windmills.  In fact, many of the geographic areas counted by AWEA are not viable “wind farm” sites:

·     There are conflicting land uses; e.g., for forests, residential, commercial and industrial development, schools, recreation, scenic beauty, wildlife refuges, airports, highways, railroads, and many more.

·     “Wind farms” must be located next to existing electric transmission lines and, such lines simply do not exist in many of the areas counted by AWEA, particularly remote and sparsely populated areas that might otherwise be suitable for “wind farms.”  The small and intermittent electricity output from windmills does not possibly justify the high cost of constructing new transmission lines, even assuming that such lines could obtain approval and be constructed.

·     The greater the distances that “wind farms” are located from the places where the electricity is needed, the poorer the economics of wind energy because electricity is lost during transmission and the greater the distance, the greater the losses.

RENEW Wisconsin, a Madison-based wind energy advocacy group has also made misleading claims. The source of this group’s financial support is not entirely clear, but a page that formerly appeared on its web site indicated that it received significant financial support from Wisconsin utilities and AWEA.  However, the page with that admission was removed when the group revised its web site a few months ago.
 

In the case of wind energy, federal and state government officials have abandoned
the interests of consumers, taxpayers and many property owners.


When looking at the facts about the exceedingly small contribution that can be made by wind energy, its high cost, and its adverse scenic and environmental impacts, it is hard to understand why so many government officials ―particularly in the federal and state governments― have been co-opted by the wind energy developers, windmill suppliers and “renewable” energy advocates ―to the detriment of electric customers and taxpayers and some property owners.

The “analysis” needed to understand that wind energy cannot make any significant contribution to electricity supply and reliability or pollution avoidance and is not environmentally benign requires no more than 3rd grade arithmetic and some knowledge of the electric industry.

The facts are really not hard to understand.  Thus, there must be other reasons why government officials have gone so far in:

·     Pretending that wind energy can make a significant contribution, and

·     “Tipping the scales” so far in the direction of “wind farm” developers and “renewable” energy advocacy groups - at the expense of consumers, taxpayers and some property owners.

Perhaps these officials are merely joining what appears to be a trend toward ignoring the interests of consumers and taxpayers and embracing the views (and accepting the misinformation) disseminated by special interest groups.  Or, perhaps government officials - including those from the U.S. Department of Energy, DOE laboratories, state PUCs, state energy offices, state legislatures and the U.S. Congress simply are unable or unwilling to discern the difference between facts and “spin.”

Endnotes

1.  This report is the second in a series undertaken by Energy Market & Policy Analysis, Inc. and at its own expense to assess the potential for "wind energy" in individual states.  The first state report, Recently Announced Texas "Wind Farm" Projects Demonstrate that the Potential Contribution of Wind Energy is Limited, was released on September 13, 2000.  A slightly edited version of the report can be found on the following web page: http://www.poweronline.com/content/news/article.asp?DocID={0025F7C7-9ADD-11D4-8C69-009027DE0829}&Bucket=Features+%26+Case+Studies
2.  Total windmill heights often range from 250 to 380 feet tall. For comparison, the State
Capitol Building in Madison is 284.5 ft., the North Point Water Tower in Milwaukee is 175 ft., the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC is 300 ft., and the Statue of Liberty is 306 ft.
3.   Electricity demand in Wisconsin is continuing to grow.  Also, Wisconsin typically imports significant quantities of electricity from neighboring states.  Thus, the comparisons of the potential contribution of wind energy to only electricity produced within Wisconsin in 1999 tend to overstate the potential contribution of wind energy to Wisconsin's electricity requirements.
4.  Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Monthly, March 2000, Table 47.
5.  Lee Hawkins, Jr., "Utility emphasis shifts to providing adequate power," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Business Section, p. 1.
6. 
Wisconsin utilities' web sites.
7.  Claims of "avoided emissions" associated with the DePere windmills (2) and planned Enron windmills (20) have not been reported.
8.  Note that the claims of emissions avoided by existing "wind farms" appear inconsistent with those claimed for the proposed Addison "wind farm."  FPL Energy's claims regarding avoided emissions for the proposed Addison "wind farm" are nearly double in the case of carbon dioxide and nearly four times higher in the case of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides than those claimed by RENEW - despite the fact that the estimated kWh output for the Addison "wind farm" is only 11% greater.  The respective estimates are taken from the sources identified in the footnotes for Table #3.  It's possible that RENEW Wisconsin based its estimates on emissions from all Wisconsin electric generation (which includes a substantial portion of nuclear generation and some hydro), whereas FPL Energy has assumed that the output from its proposed Addison "wind farm" would displace the output from only certain WEPCO-owned facilities.
9.  Energy Market & Policy Analysis, Inc., Is There a Better Alternative for the People of Wisconsin than the "Wind Farm" proposed for the Town of Addison, March 24, 2000, pp. 11-13.  A slightly edited version of the report can be found on the following web page: http://www.poweronline.com/content/news/article.asp?DocID={0025F7C7-9ADD-11D4-8C69-009027DE0829}&Bucket=Features+%26+Case+Studies
10.  The practical effect of "Renewable Portfolio Standards" is explained in detail in an Energy Market & Policy Analysis, Inc paper with the title "Backdoor Btu Tax," available at the following web address: http://www.poweronline.com/content/news/article.asp?DocID={B8C34D6D-EE04-11D3-8C24-009027DE0829}
11.  U.S. Department of Energy, EREN web page, "Summary of Green Pricing Programs," September 29, 2000.
12.  RENEW Wisconsin
press release, July 6, 2000.
13. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the Washington, DC-based lobbying group for the wind energy industry has received tax dollars that flow through the U.S. Department of Energy - despite prohibitions in the Anti-Lobbying Act against using appropriated funds for lobbying purposes.
_____
Used with permission of the author.
* President, Energy Market & Policy Analysis, Inc.
P.O. Box 3875
Reston, Virginia 20195-1875
Email <EMPAInc@aol.com>

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