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Is Big Wind Bad Wind?

Wind power and environmental cost

There is no idea so benevolent and wonderful that it can’t be turned into an ugly mess by the U.S. government. Wind power, aka Big Wind, is an almost picture-perfect example of how government and crony capitalism can trash a perfectly legitimate industry. After all, it is quite a bold task to take a technology that is hundreds of years of old, call it new, and totally screw it up.

Wind energy as inefficient energy sourceThink about it, wind power isn’t new. Remember all those lovely paintings of the Dutch countryside, with cute little windmills dotted in a charming pastoral setting? Of course they weren’t as efficient as modern windmills, but they managed to avoid the NIMBY effect by not being ghastly either. On top of that, they co-existed with the local wildlife instead of killing birds.

The giant conglomerates behind Big Wind, General Electric, Iberdrola, Siemens, and E.on, to name a few, seem fixated on building wind farms in the most offensive way possible. In this world, wind farms must be huge, monotonous, and overwhelming. And for one reason or another, the corporate wind farm players can’t build these giant wind farms in the middle of nowhere, where they would not bother anyone. No, wind farms tend to get placed right on top of rural American towns. The same ones that have been struggling with the giant boot of government regulation for decades.

That is creating a heck of a backlash all across the U.S. and even in Europe. Maine is severely restricting wind farms and Vermont is banning them. Both states rely on tourism and they claim that, surprise surprise…tourist don’t want to vacation under a turbine.

Even rural America which has been in decline for decades doesn’t want Big Wind in their backyard. And that is the real surprise. You would think that depressed communities would be lining up to supply “green” energy to the entire nation. But more towns, counties and states are banning wind farms rather than inviting them in. The question is why?

Big Wind is About Big Subsidies

The ugly truth of the matter is that wind farms are built where nobody wants them, in a manner that isn’t even efficient, because it is about subsidies. Big Wind has become a giant pig trough for a handful of huge international corporations. These companies are big enough that they can shake the government money tree, and shake they have. Big Wind isn’t designed to create energy where and when it is needed, it is designed to capture subsidies.

After all, walk around any boat marina, and you will see windmills on many boats. They don’t create an eyesore or a noise problem. They just spin away, recharging batteries. There is no reason why homes and businesses in rural communities could not take advantage of the same technology and enjoy clean cheap power. Call it Small Wind. A windmill or two is hardly an eyesore.

Inefficient wind powerBut that isn’t how Big Wind operates. The places where they put the farms are almost never the beneficiaries of that energy. They are just the victims who get stuck with miles of giant turbines and electrical towers strung from here to the ends of the earth. The communities that are chosen by Big Wind to house their pork barrel projects don’t derive any benefit or tax subsidies, so they rightfully object to being saddled with the cost.

Of course, they get to pay anyway. The subsidies alone for wind power often exceed the entire price of generating electricity with clean fuels like natural gas. The largest companies in Big Wind received $176 billion in subsidies. It’s corporate welfare on a grand scale. And it is paid by the public for purely private gain.

Those subsidies are paid on a megawatt generated basis. So Big Wind has an incentive to produce as much energy as possible rather than what is needed in a particular region. It has a tremendously distorting effect on energy markets in general.

Germany, the reigning king of Big Wind, has had periods recently when their coal-fired plants charged negative rates. This is due to two factors, Germany has a law that renewable energy must be used before fossil fuel energy in their grid. If the wind and solar are producing at full capacity, the fossil fuel plants can’t sell their energy at all. Yet, because huge energy facilities cannot be turned off and on easily, they keep generating anyway. The result has been that while Germany produces almost half of their energy from renewables, they haven’t been able to close a single coal-fired power plant, because they need them when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. They haven’t been able to reduce their carbon footprint at all. The problem has become severe enough that Germany changed policy in 2016 and is dropping all subsidies for wind.

DOE Plans for Wind to Account for 20% of Power by 2030

Even though Big Wind has become the poster child for NIMBY projects and corporate welfare, the U.S. government intends to double down on it. There has never been an idea so unattractive that the corporate welfare queens can’t find a way to sell it to their pals in Congress.

Big wind mills kill birds and bats
Big wind kills a significant number of birds and bats every year. Including protected and endangered birds. Windmills are the number one killer of bats worldwide.

As Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute points out in the accompanying video interview, there are plenty of problems with Big Wind. One of the biggest is the amount of land that Big Wind requires. Bryce calculates that Big Wind takes 700 times as much land as a typical fracking operation when one compares the two energy sources watt per watt.

All of this is unfortunate, because there is no reason why wind should not be a viable piece of our domestic energy mix. It has a place. But, that place is being distorted with massive government give-aways that don’t encourage smart and practical wind energy. Instead it is all about big, bigger biggest. This imposes a heavy cost on the environment and the communities that are forced to live in a field of turbines.

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