Experts question environmental and economic value of wind power
“The biggest failure of wind energy, oddly enough, is environmental.”
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Wind farms continue to pop up like mushrooms across Michigan’s landscape, and with them, plenty of backlash from energy, economic and environmental public policy experts.
Michigan ranks 15th for total wind generation nationwide, according to a 2021 study released by Commodity.com, which was updated last May. The study reports wind provides 8% of the total electricity consumed by the nation’s homes, government entities and businesses, while contributing 7% to Michigan’s electricity grid.
While proponents tout the environmental benefits of wind over other energy sources, it typically takes 18 months after its full installation before a turbine truly can be said to “have paid off its carbon debt,” according to Kevon Martis, a certified land use planner and zoning administrator for Lenawee County’s Deerfield Township.
Martis explained to The Center Square that the manufacturing and transportation of turbines to their destination typically requires overseas shipping to U.S. ports, followed by over-the-road transport requiring several diesel-fueled 18-wheel semi-trucks per turbine.
“The biggest failure of wind energy, oddly enough, is environmental,” Martis told The Center Square. “Not only do low-energy density devices like wind turbines have an outsized impact on the landscape due to the sheer mass of the machines and the quantity required, wind energy is a very expensive means of CO2 avoidance,” he said.
Martis referenced a study conducted by grid operator MISO “with respect to the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which showed that wind energy reduces CO2 emissions at a cost of $237/ton while the Obama administration itself only valued the social cost of carbon at roughly $40/ton.”
He also referenced a paper released by the center-left Brookings Institute showing wind energy and solar are not the low-cost means of avoiding CO2.
“Replacing coal with natural gas and nuclear is far cheaper,” Martis said. “So it leaves a serious policy question: If you have $1 billion of ratepayer money to play with, do you want to avoid one unit of CO2 with wind or six or eight units by fuel switching from coal to natural gas or building nuclear power? In fact, the reason the U.S. leads the Western world in CO2 reduction in the electricity sector is precisely because of fuel switching rather than renewable energy development.”
A study released this week reveals that wind turbines pose their own set of reliability and economic problems.
“The High Cost of 100 Percent Carbon-Free Electricity by 2040” details issues related to the complete adoption of carbon-free, renewable energy provided by wind and solar technologies.
The Minnesota-based Center for the American Experiment study was authored by CAE’s Policy Fellow Isaac Orr, Policy Analyst Mitchell Rolling, and Economist John Phelan. Although the study is specifically focused on Minnesota, Orr told The Center Square its conclusions also apply to other states such as Michigan that have adopted carbon-free energy mandates. Michigan-based Consumers Energy, for example, is proposing to generate 63% of all the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2040.
“Our report found that attempting to power the state of Minnesota using primarily wind, solar, and battery storage would cost a staggering $313 billion through 2050 and cause blackouts in two of the three years we investigated,” Orr said. “Prices would rise, reliability would fall; in essence, it would be the worst of both worlds. This proposal is gambling with the electric grid, which is an incredibly irresponsible thing to do.”
The CAE writers also conclude the state’s renewable mandates would result in the loss of 79,000 jobs and reduce Minnesota’s state gross domestic product by more than $13 billion annually.
“Renewable advocates often claim that wind and solar are the cheapest forms of energy, but our analysis found the true cost of meeting electricity demand with wind and solar was $272 per megawatt hour (MWh) and $472/MWh, respectively, when the cost of battery storage and overbuilding and curtailment costs were factored in,” Orr said. “This means wind turbines and solar panels are much more expensive than the power plants they replace.”
The additional costs of transmission, property taxes, load balancing and other embedded costs would drive wind-generated energy above $270 per MWh, according to the report.
“One of the key failures of the push to so-called green energy is a refusal to accurately account for any associated negatives of using wind or solar,” Mackinac Center for Public Policy Environmental Policy Director Jason Hayes told The Center Square. “While renewable energy advocates strive to track even the most minuscule costs associated with fossil fuels or nuclear energy, they appear to happily ignore many of their benefits, such as being a reliable and affordable source of electricity and transportation fuels.”
Hayes said renewable advocates focus on “claims of reduced emissions from wind and solar, while ignoring or downplaying the growing string of human rights and supply chain issues associated with transition minerals, or how they are eating up ever more acres of land,” he said. “Having a full accounting for the emissions associated with wind and solar is every bit as important as accounting for the emissions from fossil fuels. That full accounting would likely change more than a few minds on the actual value of renewables.”
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